Dr. Kaushik Sridhar

Six ways to pivot your career in a time of uncertainty

Reading Time: 5 minutes

A few months ago, I made a temporary career pivot. Others may call it a major career change, but I respectfully disagree. My reasoning lies in the definition between the two. To pivot, for example, means to turn or rotate. A change, on the other hand, means to be different, to transform. In others other words, to go in a different direction. Take the game of basketball as a great example of individuals and a team dealing with shifting circumstances. Rules of the game demand that in certain circumstances a player can’t move one foot from a designated spot. But while holding the ball and keeping that one foot glued to the floor, they are turning and twisting in as many directions as they can, looking for an opening.  Know all the angles. This is a ‘pivot’.

My Pivot

The job market shake-up from Covid-19 has seen wide-spread redundancies, business closures, and big earning industries frozen. There have been pay-cuts and reduced hours as businesses weather the storm of Covid-19. If your career has been irrevocably damaged or you are facing redundancy you might feel the need to reinvent yourself professionally. Or you could pivot. Using the skills, knowledge and previous training in what was your chosen career could easily transfer to another.

I’ve been pivoting for more than 20 years. First, from being a professional tennis player into tennis coaching, then from athletics to business/management, then into corporate social responsibility, from management consulting into healthcare, and, most recently, from a corporate role into the world of academia.

COVID-19 created the perfect atmosphere for a temporary career pivot into academia. A corporate professional for over a decade, I was somewhat heartbroken as the job I was so passionate about was cut abruptly in the fall-out from Covid-19. But no sooner than the event occurred, I was soon offered multiple lecturing contracts with some of Australia’s leading universities to teach three different MBA courses including Corporate Governance, People, Culture and Contemporary Leadership and Corporate Sustainability.

I spent a few years at university doing an MBA and a PhD before fully entering the corporate arena, so academia was familiar turf for me. I have also been (casually) teaching at various universities since 2009. For me, getting into academia was initially about adding another string to my bow.

Teaching at university on a part-time basis is completely different to my corporate role but it is complementary. When I talk to business schools, they are always seeking people coming from industry who have had operational and line management roles, because they know how things work in practice. This is particularly important for MBA students because these practitioners bring that real-world experience and many industry contacts to cohort.

I am not a full-time academic and I do not intend to be at this stage; I currently split my time between consulting, advising start-ups and academia, all while looking for that next amazing corporate role! With any luck, my next career pivot in about 10 years will be into coaching, mentoring and speaking on the development of sustainable, socially aware and profitable businesses.

As I look back, an informal pattern has emerged in how I orchestrated various career pivots in my professional life. Along the way, I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors whose advice at key moments performed miraculous reversals on my thinking. I hope that sharing this advice will help others successfully navigate their next professional chapter.

Keep your eye on your ball

I recently caught up with a well-known sustainability industry expert. As we chatted, he asked about my career and I explained my ambitions but was struggling to decide between various opportunities. What he said next was like the proverbial bolt of lightning: “Kaushik, you’re going to fit into a lot of people’s plans. The only question that matters is whether or not they fit into yours.” Right there and then, the penny dropped. I realised that being crystal-clear in my criteria and priorities was the only way I would avoid getting sloshed around by every conversation or distracted by the next shiny opportunity that came my way. In short, keep your eye on your ball, not on all the opportunities out there that others might have in mind for you.

Lean your ladder against the right wall

What you do with the talent you’ve been given should – and will – be largely determined by you and you alone. Gone are the days of working for a single company that outlines an enriching and varied career for you that spans the next three decades. As we move further toward the gig economy, the ability to determine your own career path becomes an essential professional skill. Before you climb, be sure your ladder is leaning against the right wall. The best way to do that is to get your fundamentals right, be crystal-clear in your thinking, deliberate in your networking, and ensure you have the right mindset and framing to make the decision.

Understand your transferable skills

These are the skills you’ve gained throughout our career. In addition to your job, these skills can also come from your volunteer work, hobbies, sports, and other life experiences. They can be used in your next job / career without any further refinement. They are transferable from one job to another. Think of a transferable skill as riding a bicycle. No matter what position you apply for, if the ability to ride a bike is a requirement and you know how to ride a bike, that is a transferable skill. In business transferable skills can be things such as managing people, reading a profit and loss statement or knowledge of Lean.

Know your strengths

Understanding your strengths is another factor in your ability to make a successful career pivot. Knowing what drives you, what makes you “tick” is critical to the career pivot. Your strengths, once known, may lead you to an entirely different place then where you are today. For example, one of my greatest strengths is being a creative problem solver. I would not want to pivot into a role that does not allow me to use this strength. Keep in mind, that often your strengths are also transferable skills; I can be a creative problem solver in any industry, job or career. However, if I don’t know that I’m a creative problem solver to begin with, I might be more likely to change careers rather than pivot.

Understand your personal brand

Whether you realize it or not, you have a reputation within your personal and professional lives. That reputation combined with your strengths is your personal brand. Understanding your personal brand is the ultimate way to make a successful career pivot. More than just your appearance, your personal brand conveys to others who you are, what are you known for and how you add value to any situation. To really understand your personal brand requires self-reflection and a good deal of effort on your part. However, there is no other more important personal development process one can engage in, than discovering your personal brand. Knowing who you are, how you operate, and in a sense, what makes you tick will not only help you make a successful career pivot but it will also ensure that you pivot in the right direction.

Believe in yourself

Change always involves risk, fear, discomfort and uncertainty, but navigating it successfully depends on one thing: believing in yourself. When it comes to changing your life, knowing that something better awaits you and believing that you deserve it isn’t half the battle. It’s the entire war.

One of the key things is to embrace change and invest in yourself. So be prepared to continue investing in yourself, whether that’s a course or training, developing your skills, and maintaining your contacts.

Changing course can feel overwhelming, but it can be done. All you need are clear short and long-term goals and a roadmap to get there. As Jack Welch once said, “Control your own destiny or someone else will.” There’s never a bad time to make a successful career pivot. Life and work will be different once the storm passes. By following these strategies, you’ll be prepared for whatever the future holds.

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