September 4, 2012
Pivoting your way to career change
If you're like most job seekers, chances are you're looking for positions similar to those you've held within companies and industries you're already highly familiar with. If you're contemplating a career change, however, it might require some significantly different thinking than you've engaged in previously.
One option you might consider is "pivoting" your way to a new opportunity.
In one of the best business books I've read in quite a while -- "The Start-Up of You," by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha -- two acclaimed entrepreneurs share their combined wisdom on the subject of business/career success and the ways in which the path to getting ahead has changed. (Hoffman is the co-founder and chairman of LinkedIn.)
Among many great insights in the book, the authors emphasize that many companies today are founded on a Plan A, in terms of how they expect the business to unfold, but eventually end up pivoting to a Plan B -- following a new business model, or opportunistic angle, that turns things around and takes them even further than their original plan envisioned.
Even in the Seattle area, I've seen examples of companies reinventing themselves, on the fly, in this fashion. For example, Coinstar was founded simply to provide grocery-store customers with a handy machine for counting up and cashing in their spare change. The company has since expanded its horizons and added complementary services such as DVD-rental boxes in a quest to dominate the easily forgotten "fourth wall" of the grocery world: the front of the store.
Similarly, there's Classmates.com, which used to strictly serve as a Facebook-like application built entirely around school alumni groups. The company has broadened its focus and rebranded itself as Memory Lane, a site focused on helping people track down the music, movies and memorabilia they loved as they were growing up. This seems like a sensible pivot on the original business model, offering ample new revenue possibilities.
Job hunters can follow similar principles if they want to break out of a rut or explore a new direction. For example, if you're not 100% thrilled with your current career situation, consider exploring opportunities with:
• Companies in related industries. If you've worked in the restaurant industry for many years, you might think about targeting the hotel industry, given the shared emphasis on customer service, reservation systems and hospitality.
• Companies that leverage the same tools/technologies you're skilled in using. If you used SharePoint software quite a bit in your last role, look for other companies that also use it heavily in their operations and communications.
• Companies that sell to similar customers as the employers you've been with. If you previously worked with high-net-worth clients in the banking industry, for example, try approaching high-end real estate developers or luxury travel companies for potential opportunities.
• Companies that sell/market their products in a similar way as your previous employers. If you worked for a firm that sold its products through call centers, contact employers in other industries that rely on telesales to drive revenue.
• Companies that would value your network of contacts. If you've amassed a large circle of friends in the public sector, based on your previous work in a government agency, ask yourself what firms are looking to do more business in the business-to-government (B2G) channel.
• Companies that are bound by similar regulatory restrictions as your previous firms. If you worked in an organization that had to comply with strict requirements from the FDA, EPA, SEC or a similar regulatory body, explore opportunities with other companies that are also under the purview of the same agencies.
Sure, you can always pursue an occupation that has nothing to do with your career path. But don't discount similar roles that you could easily pivot into. This seems to be a strategy that many companies are following these days -- and when job hunters get creative and follow suit, interesting possibilities seem to materialize.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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