Career Pivot: An Eyes-Wide-Open Approach to Changing Your Professional Direction

Changing directions in your career can be both exciting and bewildering. But you’re not alone. More than 49% of professionals change industries at some point (Indeed, Career Change Report, October 30, 2019).

Whether it’s a subtle shift from one industry or job function to another, or a complete 180˚ flip off your current course – you are far more likely to succeed with the proper game plan in place.

Know Where You are Headed

The overwhelming number of clients that tell us they are ready to change career paths start the conversation by saying “I am done with (INSERT CURRENT FIELD), I am going to make a change”. This is a critical first step because of 1) the recognition of discontent, and 2) the willingness to verbalize something that has probably been boiling up over time.

But once the sweeping declarations have been made, it is time to look forward. Instead of saying “I don’t want X”, start shifting the focus toward your end goal “I am looking to move into Y space”. The proactive framework is forward looking and helps manifest positivity and action.

For those that truly know only what they DON’T want to do, that’s ok! Start thinking about the aspects of your current area of expertise that you do love. What are you good at? What do you find yourself doing when you know you should be doing something else? What parts of the job get you excited? Start exploring ways you can put those interests and strengths into action elsewhere.

You may also consider professional development assessments to help reinforce your self-awareness. We recommend Gallup’s CliftonStrengths, which focuses on your innate talents and how they can maximize your effectiveness in the workplace.

Be Honest About Where You Are Currently, and What You Still Need

Even if you are a titan of industry in your current role, a career pivot is going to require an honest look at the skillsets you have, and those that you have yet to acquire. Once you have an idea for the type of career you want to move into, you need to do an assessment of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities to grow and the threats or limitations that may act as obstacles to your pivot.

Review job descriptions for the type of role you would like to have. What skills are you currently doing in your existing role? What functions have you dabbled in, but weren’t the core focus of your previous work? What do you have zero knowledge of?

Also, assess your deal-makers and deal-breakers. Will you need to take a temporary pay cut to pivot at a level that will help you grow? Are you going to have to take night or weekend classes to grow your skillset? There will always be a give and take when you are looking to make moves – so put a line in the sand on what you need and what you’re willing to give up to achieve these goals.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job (if possible)

If you are choosing to make a career pivot, and lucky enough to do it while gainfully employed in a somewhat tolerable situation – stay that way! Your next move may require a step backward financially, so try to keep that cash flow coming in as long as possible.

Better still – if there is a function within your current company that will gain you experience to help you in your career pivot—go for it. Talk to leadership about your interest in learning a new skillset and make the time to add it into your current responsibilities.

Expand Your Network

One of the best ways to learn about a space is to talk to those already working in it. Talk to and expand your network with professionals that can provide guidance, mentorship and support as you learn new skills, and can give access to opportunities and industry trends you may not otherwise be aware of.

Networking groups and industry-related organizations can be great ways to connect with communities of professionals that seek to lift each other up within a chosen field, as well. Many are inexpensive and don’t require formal certification to join.

Learn the Language

Once you are ready to get out there and apply for roles in your new direction, make sure that you are speaking to your audience. Start tailoring your resume’s language to that of the job descriptions for the roles you’re seeking.

For instance – if you are pivoting your sales career from hospitality toward more technology-focused, you’ll find that while you are accustomed to saying “guests” and “clients”, most tech industry sales jobs will say “customers” and “accounts”. Your resume will have more fighting power if you use the terms that the recipient can relate to.

You may also discover that you need to re-frame the your accomplishments on your resume. Review job descriptions for your target industry and look at consistent themes. What have you done that demonstrates impact, relevancy and understanding of the road ahead?

In The End it is About Planning

You CAN change career course. But it is critical that you step into the next chapter with a clear goal, an honest self-assessment and a robust understanding of the area you are trying to break into.

And If You’re Doubting Yourself

According to Indeed, 88% of career changes say they’re happier since making the move (Indeed, Career Change Report, October 30, 2019). Your move may take one step, or it may take two to three, but you can have the career you want.


Holian Associates provides strategy, resources and coaching for every stage of your career. If you need help with job search strategy, career transition, resume creation, LinkedIn development, interview preparation,  professional strengths coaching, or navigating your job search as a college student or recent college grad, email us at or give us a call at (925) 451-3183.

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