Helen Tupper: Look before you leap into a new career

‘Pivoting’ your career is tough to do, but can be achieved much more successfully if you take steps to prepare.

marketing career

When I worked for Virgin Management, we were asked a series of questions to help people get to know us better. Questions ranged from ‘what did you have for breakfast?’ to ‘what’s your favourite book?’ and one of the most memorable for me was ‘are you a planner or a daydreamer?’.

As a part-planner, part-dreamer, it was a difficult choice, but it did make me think about what those daydreams centred on and it was often a new idea for a business or some creative opportunity to nurture an existing venture. I had a great role at Virgin, followed by a very rewarding role at Microsoft, but those dreams of a different path have remained and it turns out I’m not alone.

Research by the London School of Business and Finance found that 56% of people aged 18 to 55 are open to a major career move. This type of move is often referred to as a ‘career pivot’ – the decision to move into a career in a different role or sector, but which still makes use of your existing skills. Examples of career pivots include Hugh Pile moving from L’Oreal CMO to scaling his family’s business and Sarah Ellis moving from a successful career client-side to become managing director of agency Gravity Road.

READ MORE: Why Sainsbury’s Sarah Ellis made the rare move from brand to agency

So, on the basis that half of the people reading this have some interest in taking a different path, there are some steps to consider before you leap in.

When to pivot

Pivoting brings many challenges. You may lack experience versus your peers or you may need to develop new skills to be as successful as you are in your current role. Timing therefore becomes important in helping you to prepare and to land your pivot successfully.

Think about the skills you will need and invest in them now before you make the move. For example, my own forthcoming pivot requires some new legal and financial structures to be set up; I need to complete this work before I can confidently move forward.

Your mindset is also important: many people tie their identity to the work that they do and pivoting may change that identity. This is often a challenge for people who have climbed the ladder in a more traditional career and then find themselves in a new role where status or hierarchy is less of a defining feature.

If this feels like you, speak to people who have made this transition to understand how they view success and spend some time reflecting on why you want to pivot. This ‘why’ will become important for your resilience as you make your move.

How to pivot

If you feel like you have a supportive employer, one of the most powerful things you can do is to be transparent about your ‘why’ and what you’re thinking about doing next. There may be an opportunity within your current business that could help you to learn or move towards the thing you really want to do. Alternatively, your current company may be able to give you a secondment or flexible working arrangements so you can explore the reality of your move.

Clearly, this is far more challenging if it represents some element of competition for your employer, so bear that in mind. By being very clear about what value you are creating for your employer and remaining committed to this, you are most likely to earn their support.

As with any job move, transition is made easier if you can kick-start your first 30 days in your new role. Think about what you would like your first 30 days to look like and what action you could take now to create that reality.

Our careers are going to last many years and pivots are likely to be an increasing feature as we seek to deliver our best work and be our best selves. Thinking through the when, how and who of a pivot will support that process.

For example, in my pivot, I would like to be working with one or two organisations a month that have a progressive view of people development and employee engagement. I can set myself up for success now by researching these companies and reaching out to people for an introductory coffee.

Typically, there are three actions you can take to fast-track a transition. These are to formally learn new  skills, to informally build new relationships or to establish your profile and brand in the new space (achieved by writing or speaking for example).

Who to pivot with

Very often, people just think about themselves in the context of a pivot. It becomes about ‘what am I going to do next?’ and ‘how am I going to do it?’. These are very valid questions, but pivoting is difficult. It is far easier to stay on your current path, so you’ll benefit from having a strong support team in place to manage through the challenges.

Activate a personal board of advisors to help you as you transition. There are four roles to think about on your board: the challenger, the supporter, the inspirer and the peer.

A challenger will ask you the difficult questions, the supporter instills confidence, the inspirer shows you the art of the possible and the peer brings objectivity and perspective back. If you only focus a limited time on building your network, make it on these roles, to create a strong foundation for your career move.

Our careers are going to last many years and pivots are likely to be an increasing feature of the twists and turns as we seek to deliver our best work and be our best selves. Thinking through the when, how and who of a pivot will support you in that process.

Oh, and my pivot? In October, I’ll be moving from commercial marketing director at Microsoft to work full time on Amazing If, helping people to develop the skills to succeed in a ‘squiggly career’.

Visit the ‘Realising Your Potential’ stage at the Festival of Marketing on 10 and 11 October. Book at www.festivalofmarketing.com

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