Career Change vs. Career Pivot

Young female professional contemplating a career pivot

In a recent blog, Bright Horizon’s Academic and Financial Coach, Melissa Kessler, shared her story about finding her dream job. Her dream job wasn’t her first job, nor her second job. Melissa’s story may resonate with many as it’s not unusual to wind up in a career that is no longer, or never was, a good fit. With self-reflection and a foundation of skills and experience, along with simply taking action, you will likely improve your job satisfaction. Like Melissa, you too can wind up in your dream job.

According to a Gallup Poll, which tracks the engagement and well-being level of employees in the U.S. workplace, “the fact that only 36% of employees were engaged in their work in 2020 leaves much room for improvement.” When someone reaches their disengagement point, thoughts of career change permeate hopes and dreams. Thus, it’s not surprising that an estimated one-third of today’s workers are, for a variety of different reasons, actively or casually searching for a new job. Many factors can lead to career dissatisfaction. Often it’s because a job doesn’t satisfy personal and professional values critical to happiness. Examples of key values may include: doing work that produces achievements, or contributing to the betterment of society, or related to creativity, variety, or challenge. Are you in touch with your most important values? Can you name your top three?

Of course, not every job is perfect. Some career frustration comes with the territory. Not every job or career change is a positive one. Not everyone lands a dream job. The point is, before making a career change, think carefully, do your homework, know what you need for career satisfaction, and be sure to consider your values. What are the possible solutions? Have you thought about job enhancement? Is a complete career change a viable option? What about a career pivot?   

A career pivot starts with the foundation of skills, experience, and knowledge you have developed thus far in your career, and then shifts slightly to a new position that better aligns with your values and ideal work. The career pivot involves a less drastic shift. Although a complete career change is possible, it can be complicated. The fact is that the further away your target job is from your current career path, the more challenging it will be to get hired. 

A major transformation involves changing several career variables; a pivot involves changing few variables. Examples of a career pivot include: changing your job function with your current employer or remaining in your current function but changing to a new company or industry. In a career pivot, you’re using your already established foundation of skills and experience rather than starting anew. And, let’s face it, hiring managers usually focus on job-relevant skills and experience in selecting qualified candidates.  

It is beneficial to evaluate your current job, focusing on the pros and cons to determine possible solutions to your career situation. Maybe you don’t need a complete career reinvention. After all, a complete change may take a disproportionate amount of time, effort, and financial resources. A career pivot may be a much more viable option.   

The most successful career moves start with self-reflection. Ask yourself important questions. What is it about your current position that is working for you? What is not working?  What is missing? Are your key values being met?  

Further self-reflection is not only about your wants and needs. It is also about what you can offer an employer. What are your skills and strengths, your experience and abilities? How will you convince a potential employer to hire you?  

After self-reflection, clarification of your key values, and identification of your skills, the next step would be to research the job market. Are you aware of other positions at your current employer? Are you current on what’s going on in your industry? Do you network internally and externally to learn about related professions? Have you looked toward the match between what you have to offer and what exists in the job market?

I'm sure you noticed there are a lot of questions directed at you. That’s because the fundamental answers to your next career move lie within you. Introspection is key. It's essential that you are acutely aware of what tasks you enjoy, topics that grab your interest, activities you participate in, magazines you read, and podcasts you find meaningful, and again, your values.  Then, identify your common themes of interest, research and evaluate the job market, and connect the dots to determine the match between what you want and what the job market offers. These steps will help empower you to determine the career move that is best for you.  

Stay tuned for upcoming blogs on career topics.

Written by: Barbara Van Dyk

April 21, 2021

About the Author

Barbara Van Dyk headshot

Barbara is an experienced career counselor with a Master’s Degree in Counseling & Guidance from New York University, an undergraduate degree in Business Administration, and more than 20 years’ experience in the academic and corporate worlds.