Making a professional pivot
In this post I’m exploring the practical and psychological steps we might need to take to bagsy a bigger or significantly different job to the one we’re currently in. Interested? Come with me for four minutes or squirrel it for when you decide you want to become Director of the British Museum instead of shooting for Head of Audit or to become a freelance wildlife photographer instead of doing PR for an insurance company.
Last year I was elected to St Albans City & District Council (a four-year volunteer role that sits alongside my day job*) and many people asked whether this was my first step to becoming an MP. The thought had crossed my mind but I’ve no drive to leave what I currently do and I’d only entertain the idea of it if it were to stand in the constituency in which I live. With me knocking doors for candidates in this year’s local elections, residents have once again asked about my designs on Westminster. It got me thinking about what it takes to pivot in our careers and how dressing for the job you want, not the one you’ve got, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Map the credibility gap
As a bare minimum, getting the job/contract/volunteer role/piece of work (from this point I’m going to refer to these things as ‘the target’) comes down to whether the people in control of the decision think you’re credible. Of course there are many other factors at play too but if people don’t see you as credible you’re out of the running.
- What makes you credible for the target, as you are now?
- And what else would your biggest fans add to your answer?
- What strengths, qualities and experience would the ideal candidate have?
- So what’s the gap you can work on filling?
Let’s consider the chemist who’s spent 6 years post PhD lecturing and researching at a prestigious university who now wants to become Director of Research and Development at a pharmaceutical company. She has an excellent research background; subject expertise; financial management and project management and she has cache coming from Cambridge. Her gap is around leading a team and commercial experience. Plugging the gap is within her gift.
Work out what’s in your control
When going for any target there’ll be things you can directly control; things you can influence and things you have no control over. The chemist above could:
- Look for opportunities to move into management within her university
- Seek collaborative research projects with private enterprise
- Approach pharmaceutical companies about a secondment
- Find a mentor through the Chartered Institute of Chemistry
- Take a less senior role in a pharmaceutical business with a view to clinching the R&D role later
- What action can you take, without reference anyone else, to get closer to where you want to be?
- What’s the best thing that could happen if you did those things?
- What niggles or worries could you set to one side (because you have little control over them)?
Pinpoint whose opinion matters
Going back to my example of becoming the MP for where I currently live, the first hurdle is getting my political party to adopt me as their candidate. This can be tricky if the central office of your party sees the seat as a ‘safe’ or winnable (they often parachute people in who they really want to get elected) and that would be completely out of my control. What I can do is influence the members of the local association and its Chair and attempt to make them feel so positive about me that they fight to have me as their person. We’re talking about me needing to influence 200 people or so.
Reflect on how you want people to perceive you
I often ask coachees to come up with five words to describe how they want a target person or group of people to view them and how they think that person or group perceive them now. This is often part of an internal career development conversation and the need to ‘win over’ the gatekeepers to certain projects or opportunities. This honest reflection leads into a conversation around what she thinks she needs to stop, start and continue doing to change perceptions of her. (What she wears has never come up in the conversation).
Think of the person or people who can facilitate you achieving the target:
- What do you think they think when they hear your name?
- What words would they use to describe their ideal person?
- How close or far away are you from the ideal?
- If you don’t know the answers to these questions, how could you set about discovering them?
Break it down, make a plan
Now it’s time to make a plan – cue energizing, sneaky background music – and the trick is to be crystal clear on what the target is and why you want it. If you have a compelling vision you’ll be so much more motivate to craft a plan and see it through. A plan is simply a list of actions with dates attached.
- What action, if you did it consistently, would give your chance of success the biggest boost?
- What can you do this week to drive towards the target?
- If everyone said well done for trying regardless of the outcome, what would you do before September? The end of the year? Before your next milestone birthday?
Build your belief and dial up your drive
Ultimately you’ve got to believe you can nail the target and when you do that conviction is contagious. It is possible to make big corporate leaps despite what recruitment consultants say and stranger things have happened than a maths teachers becoming head of operations at an adventure holiday company or an IT project manager setting up a successful events management business. Your conviction and drive can be hugely persuasive because confidence, passion and positivity are a very attractive combination. As a small, fluffy related aside I recently strode into French Connection in a very buoyant post haircut mood. They didn’t have what I came in for but I found the same thing in a dirty blue (‘bluebell’ I’m told) and this cranked my good mood another notch. I bounded up to the till sporting new bobbed hairdo full of the joys and was served by the manager who asked about my sprightliness. She gave me a 10% discount for being sunny.
Which workmates are stretching for a bigger role? Which of your friends wants to quit and do something different? They might appreciate you forwarding this for the coaching questions.