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Want to Make a Career Pivot or Career Change? What's the Difference?

On the surface, these two things may sound like the same thing, but they're not.

A career change is an entirely different track than you're currently on. What you're doing now has little to no relevance to what you would do if you changed careers.

A career pivot is taking the core skills and experience you have and making an adjacent move into something different, but where those skills can still be leveraged and remain core.

Career Pivot Examples

A career pivot, and one that I've made, would be going from a sales role into a recruiting role. They're different in a lot of ways.

For example, in a sales role, you can fill your pipeline with a large number of leads, and your goal is to land as many as possible.

As a recruiter, you can fill your pipeline with a large number of leads (or candidates), but your goal is to only land one of them.

There are different overall processes, but many core skills are transferrable between the two roles, especially when it comes to the early phases of the work done by each.

In a sales role, you are actively seeking prospects, engaging with them through email, phone calls, and other messaging, and trying to set up an initial call or demo.

As a recruiter, you're doing the same thing. You're actively seeking candidates who fit your open role's criteria, engaging with them through email, phone calls, or other messaging to schedule a call (phone interview).

The prospecting, engagement, and phone interviewing skills you gained in sales could be directly applied to a career pivot into recruiting.

Career Change Examples

A career change can often be more challenging to make than a pivot because you likely need to develop a new skill set.

Sometimes, a career change involved going back to school and getting a highly specialized degree.

You may think the most difficult areas to make a career change into would be that of a doctor or a lawyer because of the amount of time it takes to go back to school and the potential cost involved.

But, I know a couple of people who have changed careers in this way and actually became a doctor and a lawyer.

One example is my former doctor in Seattle. Before becoming a doctor, she was a software engineer. She had gotten a degree in computer science and started down that career path. She later decided to become a doctor, went back to school, and successfully made the change.

To this day, she's been the best doctor I've had. In fact, when I moved four hours across the state in 2016, I continued going to her until she decided to make a pivot within the field and was no longer accepting patients.

Another example of a career change is a friend of mine who lives in Denver. When we first met back in 1997, he was essentially a rocket scientist. He was an aerospace engineer who had his undergrad degree from the University of Illinois and his Master’s Degree from Georgia Tech. Both are prestigious schools in this field.

His first job out of college was working at Lockheed Martin, where he was part of a team that designed the Atlas V rocket.

Though not as dramatic as going from a software developer to a doctor or from an engineer to a lawyer, I've also made a career change. My move was from sales and recruitment to marketing.

Despite having a master's degree with a focus in marketing, going back to school isn't necessary for the move I made, nor is it a requirement for other kinds of career changes.

It's safe to say that not all career changes or career pivots are created equally. Some require going back to school, some don't. Others may involve more sacrifice when it comes to income, and others may not.

Start Small and Make “Small Bets”

Similarly, you don't have to quit your "day job" and make a leap with both feet into your change or pivot. In fact, I would highly advise that you don’t do this. It will only add more stress and pressure. You need to have the flexibility to be able to fail and not lose your house when you do.

This failure is how you’re really going to learn. It’s, no doubt, the best teacher anyone could have.

Instead, making a change or pivot can be done incrementally.

By starting small and exploring different areas, you uncover something you never knew existed or had never considered. That can be a game-changer (and a life changer).

What I mean by this, is to go into your new endeavor being open-minded and flexible. As I’ve heard it referred to in the past, ‘make small bets.’

You’re smart enough to help people in your target market solve a problem or work on a project. Say ‘yes’ to small, short-term projects that will help you get some exposure and experience in the areas you’re considering.

Don’t Niche Down Too Far Too Soon.

However, what you don’t want to do is take on a project where you’re focused on solving multiple problems or are expected to be a ‘jack of all trades’ in your area of expertise. This only leads to becoming a ‘hack of all trades.’

Eventually, you will find your niche area of focus. This will be the area that you are most interested in and provides a relatively untapped opportunity within that market.

A couple of questions to ask yourself along the way:

  • Do I enjoy solving this problem?
  • Is this a common problem companies need help with?
  • Is solving this problem impossible or just difficult?

In Conclusion

Making a career change or a career pivot isn’t impossible, but it takes time. Successful people don’t become successful overnight. By the time you notice them, they’ve already been at it for years.

Start small and don’t quit your ‘day job.’ You need to be able to fail and if you don’t allow the space necessary to learn this way, you will end up quitting too soon, often when your big break is right around the corner.


Photo by Yeshi Kangrang on Unsplash