How to Make a Career Pivot, with Jenny Blake
These days none of us need to be told that change is the one constant in the workplace. Our job responsibilities change regularly–and so do our careers. The old model of climbing the corporate ladder or sticking with one profession for life is giving way to more fluid, transient, and cross-sector careers.
Just 27% of college graduates have a career related to their major. And the average American worker switches jobs–if not entire careers–every 4.4 years.
So how do you create career stability in a constantly changing job market? By perfecting the career pivot.
This week’s guest, Jenny Blake, is an expert on pivoting. She defines a career pivot as “a methodical shift in a new, related area, based on what’s already working” and encourages job seekers to continually refocus on their strengths and passions. Jenny explains how you can make a successful career pivot at any stage in your career.
This Week’s Guest
Jenny Blake is an author, career and business strategist and international speaker who helps people organize their brain, move beyond burnout, and build sustainable, dynamic careers they love. She is the author of PIVOT: The Only Move That Matters is Your Next One and Life After College.
Resources from this Episode
- Check out Jenny’s books “Free Time: Lose the Busywork, Love Your Business” , Life After College and“Pivot”
- 14 Signs It’s Time To Leave Your Job | Forbes.com
- PIVOT: The Only Move that Matters Is Your Next One
- Life After College: The Complete Guide to Getting What You Want
- Strengths Finder 2.0
- Pathfinder Writing and Career Services
- Pivot Podcast
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
- Land Your Dream Job in Portland (and Beyond)
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m Mac Prichard, your host and publisher of Mac’s List. Our show is brought to you by Mac’s list and by our book, “Land Your Dream Job in Portland and Beyond.” To learn more about the book and the updated edition that we published on February 1st, visit MacsList.org/book.
Hey, Ben. How are you?
I’m doing great. As our listeners might now, the book comes in 3 editions. We’ve got a paperback, a digital version for your Kindle, iPad, or Nook, and we’ve got a PDF version that you can view online. I’d mentioned before that the paperback version is our best seller, but the PDF version is really popular, too.
What I hear from our readers who buy the PDF is they not only enjoy the book, but they get with it a set of videos, an audio interview, and tips sheets and checklists that you can use to turbocharge your job hunt. You can find a complete list of all the extra resources that come with the PDF on the website, but they include things like a salary negotiation checklist, 10 steps to success, or a fact sheet about how to work with recruiting agencies as well as video and audio interviews with career experts. Again, these are available only to people who buy the PDF version of the book. You can learn more by going to the website.
These days, none of us need to be told that change is the one constant in the work place. Our job responsibilities and the skills required change regularly and so do our careers. One estimate says Americans now average 4.4 years in a job. Just 27% of college graduates have a career related to their major. The old model of climbing a corporate ladder or sticking with one profession for life is giving way to the career pivot.
Today, we’re talking about career pivots, what they are, and how you can make them. Ben Forstag has a website that will help you figure out whether it’s time to leave your job. Dawn Rasmussen, our guest co-host, answers a question about how to follow up on an interview once you start pursuing your next career. I talk to this week’s guest expert, Jenny Blake, author of the forthcoming book, “Pivot: The Only Move that Matters is Your Next One.”
We’re in the Mac’s List studio, and joining us this week as our special guest host is Dawn Rasmussen of Pathfinder Career and Writing Services. Dawn, it’s great to have you back.
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it, Mac.
Yeah. You were one of our first guests here on the show. I have to give you a shout out. Your episode remains one of our most popular in downloads.
Wonderful. That’s great to hear.
Yeah. Let me ask you 2, Dawn and Ben, have you ever made a career pivot?
Boy, have I ever!
Tell me about that, Dawn.
Oh, gosh. Well, let’s see here. How many? I started out in television actually. I switched over to the hospitality industry. Then, I switched over into education and teaching. Then, I switched over into sales and marketing. Then, I switched over to owning my own business, so which one would you like to talk about? Just kidding. We don’t have 5 hours. Ben?
I’ve done a couple, as well. I started off in outdoor education, which is a pretty niche field, and then got into nonprofit management, and recently made the move from nonprofit to the for-profit space, working here at Mac’s List.
I’ve done the same. I stared out working for human rights organizations in Washington D.C. and Boston, and made the switch to politics, government, and political communications. Then, went to work at a university, and then eventually started my own businesses almost a decade ago, now, so a lot of change. We’re going to be talking more about those changes and how people can make them with our guest expert, Jenny Blake, later in the show.
First, let’s turn to Ben, who is always out there on the internet looking for tools you can use, blogs, podcasts, books, and other resources that can be helpful in your job search. Ben, what have you uncovered for us this week?
On today’s show, we’re talking about making a change in careers. I’m sure our guest, Jenny Blake, will provide a lot of insights on how to make that specific career pivot. For my resource this week, though, I want to focus on one of the first steps that we have to think about when you’re making that change, which is deciding to leave the job or the career that you’ve already got. Quitting your job is a scary thing, especially if you don’t have a clear picture of what you’re going to do next. I know there have been times in my life where I’ve been generally unhappy in my job, but I didn’t leave either because my unhappiness wasn’t acute enough or because I was too afraid to move. I think the big thing for me when I was a younger person was I was just really passive about my career.
I know in one specific job, I got stuck in a pattern where I would reach a breaking point with my position, and then they would offer me a pay raise. That would buy me off for a couple months, and I’d be happy. Then, 2 months later, I’d be right back at that same breaking point. Instead of leaving that job, they would just offer me another raise, and I would stay there. I probably stayed there a couple years too long because I got stuck in that cycle. Mac and Dawn, have you ever had a job where you weren’t entirely happy, but you also weren’t sure it was time to move on?
Yeah, I have. It was a difficult situation because the job that I was in, I had just started it actually. I realized that they hadn’t really told me all the details about what the job involved. I don’t tell this to many people. Why not tell it to 10 thousand people? Anyway, there was one aspect of job I had no idea how to do, and I’m a pretty resourceful and smart person. I remember going to a conference that was discussing about how to actually execute that portion of my job, and I broke down and started crying. I don’t like giving up, but I just knew at that point that was not the right job for me because one half of my job, no problem. It was done. I was making changes. The second part I had not a clue, and it hadn’t been really told to me in the interview about that emphasis. I had to make a change because I realized I just could not do it. It was hard. It was scary, too.
For me, I think of an organization where I work that was getting off the ground and growing. It was experiencing dysfunction. It was not a place that worked well. Because of that, there was a lot of conflict, and it was not a happy place to go to work. I had only been there a number of months, and I just thought, “I need to stick this out.” I hung on for almost 2 years before I found another opportunity. It did get better, but the lesson I took from that experience was if it’s not working after 3 to 6 months, you probably should move on.
Yeah, I think one of the themes that you hear in each one of our stories is that sometimes, there’s a virtue to quitting. Oftentimes, we’re told, “You never want to quit. Quitters never win. Winners never quit.” Sometimes, it isn’t the right fit for you personally, or it isn’t making you happy. There’s a virtue in quitting.
My resource this week is a cheat sheet to provide you some perspective on when you migth want to consider leaving your job, when it would be a virtue. It’s a post from Forbes.com, and it’s titled “14 Ways to Tell if its Time to Quit your Job.” It’s a real long article, and they go into depth with each one of these points. I’m just going to read the kind of top lines here.
Here are the 14 things you might want to think about:
1. If you’re miserable every morning. I’ve been there. That’s a tough one.
2. If your company is sinking, like Mac’s experience.
3. If you really dislike the people you work with and/or your boss.
4. You’re constantly stressed, negative, and/or unhappy at work.
5. Your work-related stress is affecting your physical health.
6. You don’t fit in with the company culture and/or you don’t believe in the company anymore.
7. Your work performance is suffering.
8. You no longer have good work/life balance.
9. Your skills are not being tapped.
10. Your job duties have changed, increased, but the pay hasn’t.
11. Your ideas are not being heard or used.
12. You’re bored and stagnating at your job.
13. You are experiencing verbal abuse, sexual harassment, or are aware of any other illegal type of behavior.
14. You’re just generally not happy.
I think all of these are good points to think about. The one caveat I would throw in here is that there are times in every job where you might feel like this for a little bit, and it’s about differentiating whether this is a temporary feeling or it’s been going on for 3 to 6 months, as you pointed out.
It’s important for people to remember that they do have choices. Sometimes, you have to stay with a job because you have bills to pay, and the pay check is important. You do have to do that, but that doesn’t stop you from also thinking about what your next move is going to be and where you might go, and taking steps to do that while you continue to work in a job that, frankly, isn’t meeting your needs anymore. You do have choices.
Yeah. Obviously, some of these are a bit more of a deal-breaker than others, right? If you’re being sexually harassed, verbal abuse, or there’s something illegal going on, it’s probably best to leave as soon as possible. Others, where your work/life balance is suffering, that’s one of these things where you might look for a long-term trend. Is it trending towards getting worse or getting better? You’ve got to make those decisions, and like you said, you’ve got some flexibility in how you direct your career.
Well, thank you, Ben. If you have a suggestion for Ben, please write him. His email address is Ben@MacsList.org, and he may share your idea on the show.
Now, let’s turn to you, our listeners. Our guest co-host this week is Dawn Rasmussen of Pathfinder Career and Writing Services. She joins us here in the Mac’s List studio to answer one of your questions. Dawn, what are you hearing from our listeners this week?
Well, this week, we have a question from listener BJ [Roshanich 00:10:13]. BJ writes in and says, “I’ve recently had an interview with a prospective employer, but after several weeks, I haven’t heard back from them. How do I appropriately follow up with the company?” Well, that’s a toughy. You have to try to get ahead of this situation. Probably the key thing you need to do is during the interview, before it concludes, is you need to actually ask and set the stage for a follow up process, instead of just leaving it dangling. First of all, if you can proactively say, “What’s the next step? When are you making a decision,” that kind of thing. Then, if you do forget, sometimes people get a little nervous in interviews, so you should be following up. When you have a sense, maybe a week or so after they are done interviewing people, it’s good to send an email. You should send a thank you right away, either by email or by snail mail. That’s always a good business process to follow, but really, it’s getting ahead of the 8 ball and understanding how their process operates so that you can actually respond accordingly.
Yeah. Excellent advice, Dawn. This is a question we get a lot, and the best way to answer it is to do exactly what you recommended, which is to ask at the end of the interview, “What’s the next step? How’s your process going? How can I follow up?” They’ll tell you. Thank you, Dawn. If you have a question for us, please email us at communitymanager@MacsList.org. These segments are sponsored by the 2016 edition of “Land Your Dream Job in Portland and Beyond.” We’ve made our book even better by adding new content and offering it in the formats that you want. For the first time ever, you can read “Land Your Dream Job in Portland and Beyond” as a paperback book, or you can download it onto your Kindle, Nook, or iPad.
Whatever the format, our goal is the same: We want to give you the tools and tips you need to get meaningful work that makes a difference. For more information, visit MacsList.org/book and sign up for our special book newsletter. You’ll get updates there that aren’t available elsewhere, including exclusive book content and special discounts.
Now, let’s turn to this week’s guest expert, Jenny Blake. Jenny Blake is a author, career and business strategist, and international speaker. She helps her clients through big transitions, often to pivot their career or business. Jenny is also the author of 2 books, “Life After College,” which is based on her blog of the same name, and “Pivot: The Only Move that Matters is your Next One,” which will be published in September.
Jenny, welcome to the show.
Mac, thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor.
Yeah, it’s a pleasure to have you. What is a pivot, and why does it matter?
I define a career pivot as a methodical shift in a new related area based on what’s already working. What I noticed was that in my own career, I kept bumping up on this really confusing question of what’s next, every few years. I thought, “There must be something wrong with me. I’m only supposed to have a mid-life crisis and a quarter-life crisis. Why is this happening every 2 years?” For a while, and we see a lot of shame and blame around millennials. We call them job-hoppers and entitled. I had been working at Google, and I thought, “I must be one of those because every few years, I’m feeling really confused about what’s next.”
It wasn’t until I realized 2 things: One, this is accelerating for all of us. It wasn’t just me. As I started to talk to more people, I realized we’re all experiencing this shift more often. Then, two, the thing that really got me out of it, because I thought, “This is so inefficient. I can’t go through a life crisis every time I need to shift my career.” I realized that it wasn’t until I looked at what was already working and doubled down on it that I was able to move more seamlessly in the next direction. Rather than thinking about big leaps, I started to examine what was already right underneath my feet. That’s where I got the idea of a pivot, like a basketball player who has one foot firmly grounded. That’s your strengths and what’s already working. Then, they scan the horizon for opportunity with their pivot food.
I think that will be very reassuring to many of our listeners because a lot of people believe that changing jobs every few years is a problem, and there must be something wrong with them if they’re doing that. What I’m hearing you say, Jenny, is that’s the new normal.
Absolutely. In fact, research shows that the average employee tenure is 4 to 5 years. Among people 25 to 35, it’s now about 2 to 3 years. What I noticed in writing the book over the last 3 years was almost none of the people I interviewed at the beginning were doing the same thing by the time I went to fact check. Even what I had seen in the research, I thought, “Okay. People are shifting every 3 years or so, maybe 3, 4, or 5.” That was not even the case with the people I interviewed. I couldn’t keep up. Even now, as I’m getting ready to send the book off to press, I cannot keep the stories current. I’m going to put something on the website with what people are up to, but it was shocking to me.
Not all of this is by choice. It’s not all people who are saying, “I’m bored. I want something new.” In many cases, they were laid off. Their company was acquired. Maybe their company was acquired, and then they got laid off. They started their own business, realized it wasn’t for them, and went back to employment. There were so many reasons for these career pivots that I think for everyone listening, the message is just don’t beat yourself up. If you’re at a pivot point, it’s totally normal and has to be expected, whatever the reason.
Recognize that change is normal. It will come every few years. It’s not only about changing jobs. It’s about changing careers. Let’s talk about how people manage that process. What are some basic tips that you give people who are considering a career pivot?
I do want to add that some people pivot within their role, so it’s not always about pivoting career. Sometimes, it’s just about defining, “I’m hitting a plateau in my role.” A lot of these people who I interviewed are really high achievers. They just want to make sure that they’re learning, growing, and ultimately, making an impact. In that case, it can be a good exercise no matter where someone is who’s listening right now to say, “Okay, what’s my one next move? What would be really exciting?” That’s where I recommend people start is I have this 4 stage process: plant, scan, pilot, launch. Plant is about look at what’s already working. What are you enjoying most, even if it’s only 10% of your current day-to-day work? What’s the 10% that you love? When do you feel most in the zone? What are your biggest strengths? What did you love to do as a kid? One year from now, what does success look like?
A lot of people get overwhelmed by that question because they don’t know. They don’t know the exact job, company, or even industry or location. Start broad. Just say, “How do you want to feel a year from now?” What kind of environments energize you? About how much do you want to be earning? If you can even start to paint a broad picture, it’s like putting a pin in your maps app. Now, you know a little bit of where you’re going, and you can scan for people, skills, and opportunity that will help you get there.
Then, the third stage, pilot, is about running small experiments. Take the pressure off to solve your whole career conundrum in one fell swoop and instead look for tiny experiments that you can run. At Google, we had 10 and 20% projects. Anyone in their career can think of it the same way. My blog started as a 10% project on nights and weekends and later became the foundation of my business, but I had no idea that’s what it was going to become at the time.
Last stage is launch, so people have gone through those first 3 steps: the plant, the scan, and the pilot. How do you see people launch?
You can cycle through plant, scan, pilot continuously, over and over, until you feel ready to launch. The first 3 stages are a cycle. It’s about reducing risk, seeing what’s out there, getting more comfortable, and someone could plant, scan, pilot, and be doing that for years. There’s no time crunch. I’ve worked through this entire model with someone in 10 minutes. With my coaching clients, maybe it’s 3 or 4 months, but if someone’s generally happy, plant, scan, pilot, they may not need to launch.
Launch is typically when we see the all-in moment. If someone is going to quit a job, start their own business, or move to a new city, the launch moment is when they really pull the trigger and move in the new direction, fully in the new direction. With launches, there’s not a guarantee that it’s going to work exactly as you have planned, but by reducing risk through piloting, experimenting, and grounding in your strengths, the launch becomes less panic-inducing. That’s really the goal.
Let’s talk about risk for a moment because many people, while they recognize that change is a constant, they’re uncomfortable with change and the risks involved. What are some of the ways that you see people manage risk as they go through this process or make a pivot.
One of the diagrams in my book is called The Risk-ometer. It’s taking the temperature of where you currently are on an inner feeling of risk. Someone could either be in their comfort zone, everything’s fine. Their stagnation zone, that’s where they’re hitting a plateau, actively bored, or sometimes manifesting as physical symptoms. Then, in the other direction, we have a stretch zone. Something feels edgy and exciting. A panic zone, downright terror. When a lot of people think about risk as it relates to career, career change can be very scary because it seems to threaten our most fundamental needs on Maslow’s hierarchy of food, clothing, and shelter. This is how we earn a living and pay for our life, so the thought of rocking the boat can be panic-inducing.
The goal in the pivot process is look for activities that put you in your stretch zone but not your panic zone. That’s up to each individual to assess moment-by-moment. If they’re getting overwhelmed, and they’re kind of paralyzed, that’s usually a sign that they’re thinking too big and that the next steps they’re considering are in their panic zone. Try and chunk it down smaller and smaller until you’re squarely in your stretch zone.
Similarly, to have some awareness around are you comfortable right now, or is it approaching stagnation? The idea about pivoting is that it’s really a mindset. It doesn’t have to be these huge crisis points in our lives the way that it was for me for a long time because by monitoring and noticing when we start to fall into this stagnation zone, we can then take the steps to come out of it. The first step is that awareness.
One of the points you made earlier was about the importance of playing to your strengths. Can you talk about the advantages of doing that because sometimes I think people think that they have to take risks or put themselves in places where they’re constantly uncomfortable. Why do you recommend that people start by playing to their strengths, Jenny?
When I reverse engineered what factors led to my most successful career pivots and then I started to study this for dozens if not hundreds of other people, I noticed that there was always a connecting factor. That was either their strengths, so ways in which they had become an expert or things that they really were good at, or people that they knew. Your network can be part of your strengths, as well. Usually, it’s both. People you know are not going to offer you a job unless they know that you’re really good at something. It was never looking at their weaknesses and trying to fix them that led to the next opportunity, and I’m not saying that’s not a good thing to do. I’d recommend, if those of you listening haven’t already, to check out the book “Strengths Finder 2.0,” either as an assessment, so you can get your top 5 strengths. In the introduction to that book, Tom Rath talks about how much more effective we are when we emphasize and invest in our strengths rather than trying to fix our weaknesses.
Particularly when pivoting, one of the biggest pitfalls is people tend to obsess over what they don’t like, what they don’t have, and what they don’t know because of the fear factor. A lot of times in career change, I’ll even say to a coaching client, “What does success look like a year from now?” They’ll say, “Ah. I don’t want to be so stressed out every day. I don’t want to be bored. I don’t want to dread going to work.” “Okay, that’s kind of a start, but it doesn’t put fuel in the gas tank.” That’s going to keep the car spinning its wheels in mud. By looking at strengths and what’s already working, now the person can figure out how to double down on those and shift methodically in the new direction, whereas just minimizing weaknesses doesn’t really propel someone forward.
One of the things that you wrote about in your blog about pivots is that sometimes, people go down this road, they make a pivot, and they unexpected results. Can you tell us more about that, and how people should manage that?
Well, unexpected results could be one of 2 things. One, the results surpass your wildest dreams. I’ve seen so many people who once they were clear that they were ready to make a change, and they started taking those first courageous steps, the universe, whatever someone’s kind of spiritual beliefs are met them halfway. Opportunities seem to fall out of the sky. Part of that is I call it the universe rolling out the red carpet. For every courageous step they took forward, another roll unfurled on the carpet, meaning a person showed up, an opportunity, one next clue on their path.
The other side of a pivot unexpected is things might not work out exactly as you planned. Nobody I talk to, and there are many people, Mac, who came to me when I was fact checking. They would say, “Oh, don’t bother putting my story in the book. I pivoted again.” Almost as if they were discouraged that their first pivot didn’t work. Nobody regretted making their launch decision. Even, I had 2 friends who quit their job, very high earners on the stock, the open outcry pits on Wall Street, they quit to start an urban farming business, and a year later, they folded it. They both went and found other work, but they don’t see it as a failure. They felt so alive. That time really taught them a ton about themselves and about business. Even though they pivoted again, it still all was in a positive direction, which I call up and to the right, like a revenue chart.
Most of these experience, we learn from then. Even if what seems like a quote “failure” from the outside is still up and to the right in terms of our fit and what’s best for us. We’re never really done. Anybody who loves learning, growth, and making an impact, there’s always this sense of exploration and risk. Part of it is just learning to embrace that uncertainty and not take it personally, like it’s some kind of shortcoming.
Good. That seems like a good place to stop. Jenny, tell us about what’s coming up next for you.
Right now, I’m finishing up the very last edits on the book, which is exciting. That’s my big pivot, is the book will come out in September, which I’m thrilled about. In the meantime, I’m having a lot of fun with the pivot podcast, trying to interview experts on how to be agile in this economy. If change is the only constant, how do we get better at it?
Great. We’ll be sure to include links to the podcast and to your blog, which I know has information about your book, “Pivot: The Only Move that Matters is Your Next One,” coming out from Portfolio Penguin Press in September.
That is correct. Yep, you got it.
Well, thank you for joining us, and you can learn more about Jenny, her work, and her books at JennyBlake.me. We’ll include links to all of those sites in the show notes. Thank you, Jenny.
Thank you so much, and a big thanks to everybody for listening.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studios with Ben and Dawn. Ben, Dawn, what were the most important points you heard Jenny make?
I really like the central pieces of her book, which is that you can make small changes throughout your career regularly. Back in my grad school days, when I was studying political theory, there was this idea of path dependency, that if you went too far in one direction, you were stuck there, and you couldn’t make choices anymore. I think some job seekers think that way, as well. “I studied accounting in college, so I can never do anything else besides accounting for the rest of my life.” I like the idea that she has that you can gradually transition to other things, no matter where you are in your career. It might take a little bit of time to go from your accounting background to becoming a professional actor, but you can gradually make that transition if you make the right steps.
There’s a book I think we’ve mentioned before on the podcast called “Mindset” by Carol Dweck, who is a professor at Stanford. She talks about how people often get stuck thinking they’re only good at one thing, and that many people who enjoy early success are afraid to take risks because they worry that if they try something that they don’t excel at, they’ll jeopardize their success. They just don’t continue to grow in their careers. They get stuck in one place. I think what I heard Jenny say was how important it is to have a mindset where you’re not only open to change, but you learn how to navigate it because it’s coming. It’s coming early and often throughout your career. Dawn, what were your reactions?
I had sort of a interesting thought while she was talking. I think her idea of taking it one digestible chunk at a time is a great one, but there’s also the problem of analysis paralysis. Because there are so many choices out there, there’s, number 1, the fear of failure, number 1, but then number 2 is like, “Well, there’s so many choices. What do I figure out what to do?” Many years ago, there was a company based here in Portland that let people try out or test drive their dream job. It was an opportunity for you to see if you like it and get sort of the inside scoop on what does this job really involve so you know if you want to move in that direction or not. I’m just looking it up on the internet, too, and it seems like there’s been a proliferation of other organizations starting to offer the same thing. I think it’s a brilliant stroke of genius, really, to come up with these test drive opportunities really to see, “Okay, is this something I want to do?”
It helps with the comfort level too because if you don’t know quite exactly what it entails, there’s a lot of unknowns. If you actually get in there and get a taste of it, you have a better sense of what you’re getting yourself into, whether it’s going to feel right or not.
That’s a great point. I think experimenting and trying new roles is always helpful, and it gives you a change to try something before you commit.
Before you buy.
Yes, exactly. Well, thank you, Dawn. Thank you, Ben, and thank you, our listeners. If you like what you hear on the show, you can help us by leaving a review and rating at iTunes. This helps others discover our show and helps us serve you all, our listeners, better. One of the reviews we received recently is from Spring Rocks, who writes, “I find the very perspective of the hosts interesting. Their advice is actionable, and the tone is encouraging. Also, they stay on topic, and the show title’s and notes make it easy to decide which episodes to focus on.” Thank you, Spring Rocks, and we do our best to stay on task.
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