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Five Strategies for Making a Career Pivot

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Five Strategies for Making a Career Pivot

Business Talent Group CEO Jody Greenstone Miller explains how to build your knowledge and leverage your strengths.
An illustration of a hand holding a compass | iStock/Hong Li
iStock/Hong Li

Today, Americans average about 4.4 years in a job, a dramatic departure from yesteryear’s 25 to 30. For younger generations, that job duration tightens to a mere 2.5 years. The idea of climbing the corporate ladder has been pushed aside by the concept of career pivot.

Business Talent Group founder and CEO Jody Greenstone Miller is a prime illustration. Her business cards have read lawyer, investment banker, special counsel to the White House, COO of telecommunications company Americast, and venture partner at Maveron.

Understand your gaps. Ask yourself: What do I know? What skills do I have? What do I need for the next step?

Miller recently offered the GSB community five tips to pivoting successfully in an interview with Michelle Landrey Cline (MBA ’98), sponsored by Stanford GSB and the Stanford Alumni Association.

1. Know What You Want

Your life has a cycle, Miller says, and you value different things at different points. “You need to match up your career objectives with your life cycle, which is something that was not possible in a world of a traditional career,” she says.

Take advantage of resources including friends, colleagues, alumni services, and professional services who can help you determine what you want, and when.

2. Build Your Knowledge Base

You must understand your gaps. Ask yourself: What do I know? What skills and experiences do I have? What do I need for the next step?

“You’re really doing an inventory,” Miller says.

Once you find your weaknesses, determine how to improve. Maybe it’s as simple as learning new software. Maybe it will involve going to conferences, reading trade publications, or taking classes.

Also, internships aren’t just for 20-year-olds, Miller says. Consider them or pro bono work to get a foot in the door.

3. Leverage Your Strengths

Analyze your current skills and consider how they might be transferable. Someone with an executive background, for example, already understands human resources, the legal department, and marketing. “Those are very transferable, and the fact that you are coming from a different industry may make you more desirable because you can bring lessons from one industry to another,” Miller says. Someone who helped scale a startup from 20 to 100 people has a replicable skill useful in other industries.

Also, think broadly. An entertainment industry background might be very attractive to technology companies, which are trying to make greater inroads into content.

“Look at your skill set and see the gold nuggets in it, and imagine how you could apply them in a new venue,” Miller says.

4. Market Your Skills

Think both online and offline. Online, update that LinkedIn resume, but think beyond the chronological resume — if you’re switching industries, you’ll need to connect dots for people. Show them why your skill set is transferable.

Offline, leverage your network. Help your closest friends and colleagues see what you’re trying to do and how your skills translate to a new career, and they can help on your behalf.

“It’s marketing, where you have to do a little more of the heavy lifting than you would typically do,” Miller notes.

5. Avoid Common Mistakes

When people pivot, they must remember three keys: Be realistic, patient, and willing to work incredibly hard.

Changing careers is uncomfortable, Miller says. You may need to backtrack. You may fail. You must give yourself enough time and space.

Get into the mindset that you are a brand-new employee. Be fluid and opportunistic. Look for ways to make an individual impact.

“You want to show that you can make a contribution, and you want to make it in a way that lets people understand that this is going to work,” Miller says.

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