Good Question: How can I make a career pivot in a pandemic?
Chanèle McFarlane shares her advice.
“This last year has allowed for a lot of personal reflection. I’m starting to wonder if I’ve chosen the wrong career, but I don’t know if now is the time to do something about it. How can I make a career pivot in a pandemic?”
Certified Career Strategist
Chanèle McFarlane is a multiple award-winning Certified Career Strategist, TEDx Speaker and Writer. As the Founder of her career advice website, Do Well Dress Well, she has built an international audience around her approachable and practical advice on personal branding and career strategy. Chanèle is a sought-after public speaker who has spoken for several organizations, universities and colleges across North America. Her expert commentary has been featured in media outlets such as Fast Company, Elle Canada, FLARE Magazine and more. She is also an on-air career expert who has appeared on Breakfast Television, Global News’ The Morning Show, CHCH Morning Live and Rogers TV Ottawa. Chanèle has been recognized as one of PR in Canada’s Top 30 Under 30, one of the Top 100 Black Women to Watch in Canada and one of the Top 25 Women of Influence.
Well, this is certainly the question I have been asked most often over the last year!
The first thing I want to say is that if you’re questioning whether now is the right time to make a career pivot, the answer is unequivocally yes.
The news is currently full of negative narratives surrounding the labour market. Everyday there are headlines that suggest the future of work is bleak and that unemployment rates will continue to increase.
Yes, some industries — such as travel — have been severely impacted, but there are others that are very much thriving with opportunity. For example, the healthcare and online education industries have grown exponentially since March 2020. People are successfully making career pivots and landing new jobs during the pandemic — and you certainly can too! Sure, there is a lot of uncertainty right now, but with the right strategy, it’s very much possible.
As someone who has made several career pivots (I even did an entire TEDx talk on it!), here’s my best advice for navigating a pandemic career pivot:
Start with self-reflection
I always suggest beginning your pivot process with deep self-reflection through a Stop, Start and Continue exercise. This requires you to create three lists: 1) What would you like to stop doing?; 2) What would you like to start doing?; and 3) What would you like to continue doing? By no means will these lists be exhaustive; you can certainly continue to edit them at any time. However, this exercise is particularly helpful in eliminating some of the initial overwhelming feelings we tend to get when we’re starting the pivot process. What you write down serves as a great starting point and helps you get one step closer to figuring out your next phase.
Conduct a skills audit
Once you’ve completed this exercise, keep your pen in your hand because you’re going to continue the self-reflection through a skills audit. First, take some time to jot down all of your transferable skills. In other words, what skills do you have that are valuable in any industry? This could be things like communication, problem solving, and project management. Next, do you have the skills required for the future of work? According to Forbes, having a growth mindset and critical thinking are among the top skills for 2021 and beyond. We live in a ‘skills economy’ which means that in most industries, employers place the highest value on your specific expertise, compared to your educational credentials.
Do your research
Once you’ve done some self-reflection and auditing of your skills, it’s time to do some research! Read up on the industries that pique your interest, review job descriptions, and look through the Linkedin profiles of people who have the roles you’re interested in. What did their career path look like? What skills do they have? What education and/or professional credentials are required?
Additionally, you want to ensure that there are actually employment opportunities available in your industry of interest — and that the future outlook is positive. The Government of Canada’s Job bank website is an excellent resource for this research. In fact, they’ve developed a page that outlines the Outlook for COVID-19 Impacted Occupations for each province. It’s important that you don’t skip this step because you could run the risk of investing time (and potentially, money!) into attempting to pivot into a dying industry.
It’s also a great idea to reach out to people for informational interviews to ask them about their jobs, how they got into the industry, and any advice they have for someone looking to get started. Attending events is also an excellent way to build your knowledge and expand your network.
Choose education wisely
You may do your research and come to the conclusion that you won’t be able to pivot successfully unless you gain more educational credentials. I would never discourage anyone from continuing their education, but I challenge you to really think if you actually need to go back to school or if you just need to see the value in your existing experience. Women tend to count themselves out of opportunities by seeing themselves as underqualified. In Linkedin’s March 2021 Workplace Confidence Index, they found that women were far more likely to consider education as a job-seeking strategy, with 40% reporting that they would be willing to go back to school part-time or online, compared with just 26% of men. If you were to read a job description and you realized you had 9 out of 10 requirements, would you still apply? You might not need further education but perhaps just a little more work experience. If you’re currently employed, find opportunities to take on new projects and/or find a volunteer organization looking for pro-bono support on a site like Catchafire.
If you uncover that pursuing more education is in fact the best choice, be sure to choose a program that connects you with industry professionals and allows you to gain as much real-world experience as possible. When we feel stuck in our career, it’s seems easy to just decide to go back to school — but remember that your skills and work experience are still the most valuable for competing on today’s job market.
Immerse yourself in the industry
Now once you have a good sense of what field you’d like to pivot into, it’s time to completely immerse yourself in it! When I was looking to make the pivot from digital marketing to employer branding, I made sure to immerse myself in anything and everything related to the industry. I followed the top thought leaders on social media, I signed up for events, and I read tons of articles, studies and books to fill my knowledge gap. You want to gain a strong sense of what’s happening in the industry, the language they use, and who the key players are. This will be invaluable when interviewing for roles because you’ll be able to demonstrate your understanding of the field and, more importantly, your commitment to continuous learning.
Rebrand your résumé and online presence
Making a successful career pivot also requires you to do a bit of rebranding. Update your résumé and Linkedin profile to emphasize your transferable skills, as well as any key industry terms. As you immerse yourself in content and events in your new industry, start to share this information publicly on your social profiles, especially on Linkedin. (With nearly 700 million users and more than 4 million hired through the platform in 2019 alone, you’re missing out on opportunities if you’re not actively using Linkedin!). It’s important to let your network and potential employers know about your new career focus, especially if you already have an established personal brand that’s heavily centered around your previous role or industry. Re-share interesting articles, talk about the events you’re attending, and engage with people in the industry by leaving insightful comments on their posts. Once you get comfortable with that, I encourage you to start writing your own articles. Over time, not only does creating content help you to reinforce your own understanding, but it is one of the best ways to attract new career opportunities. After all, you never know who could read it — anything is possible on the internet!
I know it may seem like making a career pivot is a lot easier said than done, especially in the middle of a pandemic. Author Cal Newport puts it best though: “Compelling careers often have complex origins.” That couldn’t be more true. Once you’re on the other side of the pivot, you may just realize that this new role or industry is exactly what you were meant to do and you’ll uncover a career path beyond even your wildest dreams.