A Realist’s Guide To Making A Successful Career Change
A Realist’s Guide To Making A Successful Career Change
Whether you need a total career change or a couple of tweaks, here’s how to switch things up without sacrificing everything you’ve worked for

There’s one thing making a career change when you’re, say, Victoria Beckham. Questionable pop singer to respected fashion mogul is no mean feat, but let’s face it; a net worth of millions and an A-list network will help things along nicely. But assuming you have neither to hand, choosing a new direction when you’ve already scaled your fair share of the career ladder isn’t out of the realms of reality. Nor does it involve sliding back down to the bottom rung if you don’t want it to.  

Liz Ward, founder of Slick Pivot, describes herself as the UK’s first “pivot coach”. She favours the term pivot' because finding the right direction for you doesn’t always mean a complete U-turn – sometimes it’s more of a repositioning.  

“It involves looking at what is going well and where you’re experiencing areas of tension, which is where you start looking to make changes, be they professional or personal,” she says. “So you love being a personal trainer but you’re frustrated by your current earning capacity? You might need to up your digital skills to create a profitable online offering. Or maybe you’re in marketing. You’re great at communications and campaigns but you’re craving more purpose. Perhaps you could put those skills to use in the corporate responsibility department instead.” 

Changes can come in all shapes and sizes. It can mean a complete career turnaround, from pastry chef to personal trainer, or it could be slight tweaks: a different role in an organisation you love. 

“Women can choose a part of their role or skill set that they already love and make the most of it,” Karen Meager, founder of training and consultancy company Monkey Puzzle and author of Real Leaders for the Real World, agrees. “It also means they do not need to ‘leave behind’ all of their previous experience, which can be hard to do psychologically when you’ve spent years training for a profession.” 

Make The Change

Not only is the pivot becoming more popular, but it’s also becoming essential to women’s professional development. According to the InHerSight research, the top three reasons women wanted to change careers were the need for more pay (32%), a need to do something they believed in (16%) and, most worryingly, experiencing burnout (13%).  

Meager believes that a career change can certainly tackle the latter: “It can help prevent burnout in particular because you are focusing on an element that has a lot of meaning for you, that meets your values.” 

Part of the benefit of pivoting is that you can tweak your job to suit your own dreams. Indeed, in a separate survey by US financing company Guidant Financial, the main reason female entrepreneurs in the US set up their own businesses was to pursue their own passion. Although, reality check – while setting up your own venture can definitely help with work-life balance in the long term, Meager cautions that in the short term, it doesn’t always help. “A lot of businesses fail in their first few years, so unless you already have something scoped and up and running, be prepared to put a lot of time and energy in, especially at the beginning.” So, the burning question is how to do it. 

Define Your Dream

Ward believes in giving yourself time to dream. “I often suggest to clients that they write down their perfect day almost like a future diary entry - what would you be doing, both personally and professionally, what environment would you be in, what would be happening?” From there, it gets even more creative: “Create a physical vision board and turn your words into pictures,” Ward says. “Let those visuals guide your unconscious mind towards change.”  

Do an audit of your strengths. “You want to pivot from a place of strength, to maximise the core skills you already have,” Ward explains. “I have a client who was a graphic designer and became a PT. All those branding and design skills were key to building her new business profile when the time came - she hasn’t abandoned any of her key strengths despite a big career pivot. Bolster some internal reflection with feedback from colleagues and trusted friends. Ask them what they think you’re good at and what tasks they’d trust you with.” 

Work out what your boundaries are.“Making a successful pivot is often about changing a mindset. It’s about rewiring old patterns and learning new habits,’ explains Ward. “To make sure you leave your comfort zone put in strict boundaries. For example, if you want to work from home more. don’t say yes to a role with international travel. Find the strength to say no to the offers that aren’t what you dream of creating for yourself.  

Start to Live it ASAP

Don’t just plan in theory - to avoid wasted time and disappointment, walk in your dream shoes as soon as you can. ’For more than six years I dreamed of starting up a Yorkshire pudding street food stall,’ admits Ward. ‘I finally spent six months building a business plan. Eventually I went to a street food market and talked to a successful stall holder and realised after about 20 minutes it was not a life I wanted for myself at all. Dream abandoned. I really should have done my due diligence a lot sooner.’  

Find some pivot pals. ‘Ask people who’ve done it the questions you need answering,’ advises Ward. ‘Go with one very specific question and only ask for 15 minutes of their time.’ Also, she adds, ‘Consider a professional coach. They will hold you to account, help you set targets and are a great sounding board. Expect to make an investment of around £1500-£2000 over a six month period. Most coaches work remotely now and will do check in sessions every few weeks.”  

Set a 90-day plan and don’t overwhelm yourself. ‘Ask yourself what success will look like in three months’ time and set yourself learning challenges to meet that. Look at your strengths and then look at the gaps you need to fill in. It might be something technical like learning to build a website or it could be something internal like improving your negotiating skills. Write down your learning goals and then only focus on one or two at a time. Commit to spending at least 15 minutes every day working towards them." 

Moving Forward

“Be good,” pleads Ward. “Really learn your new craft and aim to become an expert in it. If you struggle with focus, there’s a great book called Deep Work by Cal Newport all about the benefits of going ‘deep’ into something, avoiding distractions and being as productive as possible.” 

Don’t think too far into the future. ‘It ties us up in knots and leads to perfectionist planning - and before you know it, you’re telling yourself all the reasons it won’t work,” says Ward. “I say, start small sand tell yourself that this is the pilot period. If you don’t feel that you’re committing to it forever, it allows you to experiment and removes the risk.” 

Build and grow your support network, both with supportive cheerleaders that you already know, and other people who are going through their own pivots. “People with a pivot mindset can really fuel each other,” she adds. “Remain curious, never turn down an opportunity and always approach any situation with an open mind.” 

Call it what you like - a change, a pivot, a tweak, a turnaround - but if you want to make it happen, now’s the time to start.  

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