The Realities of Pivoting Careers

The Realities of Pivoting Careers

Building a successful career is a very long journey. It takes time. In many cases decades.

What happens when you’re eight years into that journey and you think you took a wrong turn clear back at the beginning?

I’ve been there. In 2015 I was eight years into my career as a grain and feed merchandiser. I had experience trading profitably in several different markets. I had managed teams. I had run facilities. I could originate, arbitrage, market, ship, store, backhaul, and negotiate with the best of them.

But I wasn’t happy.

After much reflection, I decided to leave a good paying job and a respectable career track to go into recruiting. No offense to my fellow recruiters, but this was perceived as “a step in the right direction” by pretty much nobody.

Through my experience of “pivoting” from a long career journey in merchandising to a new career in recruiting, i’ve learned some valuable lessons.

If you’re considering a career pivot, I have some good news and bad news for you.

First, the bad news:

  • In many cases, changing careers won’t solve your problems. Think deeply about what problems you have with your current career situation. Boss? Company? Customers? Hours? Expectations? Culture? Most of these are not problems with your career field but are likely unique to your current situation. In many cases, staying on the same career track but finding a situation that can solve these problems will be your best bet.
  • Your “transferrable experience” is not so transferrable. “Sales is sales whether I’m selling cell phones or feed ingredients.” I often hear similar statements, and at the risk of sounding blunt: No. No. It’s not. Sure, there some aspects of sales and other skills that can be used across industries. However, that does not mean that your success in one industry merits your rewards in another. It doesn’t work that way. I have often used the analogy of a steakhouse. If a customer orders a steak and he is brought chicken, he does not want to hear that it’s the best chicken he’s ever seen in his life and that it’s much better than having a steak. No. He wants a steak. In the same way, hiring managers want recruiters to bring them exactly what they’re looking for: someone with legitimate direct experience in the industry.
  • Neither is your salary. Sure, you can always change career tracks. However, the decade it took you in your last industry to work up to making $80,000 per year? That decade is likely irrelevant when starting in a new industry and your new salary will reflect this. The salary issue is one that prevents a lot of people from making the move, and understandably so. The thought of cutting your salary by 30, 40, or 50% would require quite the lifestyle change.
  • A recruiter probably will not be of much help to you. Recruiters do not work for candidates, they work for hiring companies. Part of a Recruiter’s job is to network with as many potential prospects as possible, but it’s certainly not their job to “get you in the door”.

Now, the good news:

  • It could be just what you need to reach your full potential. In some cases, you have made the career journey in the wrong direction, and you can find a path that works better for you. In my experience, I feel that running my own recruitment company is a much better use of my skills and interests than merchandising. I feel more challenged, rewarded, creative, and fulfilled than ever before.
  • You can work your way back up the “food chain” much quicker the second time around. Your experience, while perhaps not directly transferrable, is an asset. Though you may have to drop a few rungs in the ladder to start a new career track, you can also rise up a lot faster than most due to your proven ability. This is why I try to encourage those unsure about “starting over”. If you really have the talent, drive, and ambition, you will be back at your current career level much quicker. But that still means you may not start off that way – you have to put in the work.
  • You don’t completely lose the “career equity” if you want to go back. In the 14 months since I left the field of merchandising I have received a number of calls from companies asking if i’m interested in going back. One of them within the past few weeks. I don’t say this to brag, but to bring up the point that my eight years in the industry still exist. They still have value and count for something. The point here is that if you are absolutely convinced that a career change is necessary and you’re wrong, you can always go back to the industry where that experience will still be valued. Of course, this value will depreciate over time the longer you are away.

How you should use this information:

  • Identify exactly what it is that is causing you intense dissatisfaction in your current career.
  • Determine if perhaps the root cause of your dissatisfaction can be fixed without making a change so you can avoid the risks.
  • Articulate clearly how you know that a new career truly will fix your problem(s).
  • Know that you will likely have to prove yourself all over again in a new industry, possibly starting back and the beginning.

The point? Pivoting careers is tough and risky, but that doesn’t make it wrong. If you are convinced you need a change, start with the advice above and then find ways that you can network extensively in your new targeted career fair. Do this while you still have your current job.

Just because pivoting careers is risky does not mean you can’t mitigate that risk by keeping your current job while you network, look for opportunities, and begin showing value to the new industry during your off hours. Share relevant articles on social media, write about current topics, interact with industry influencers on Twitter. You can lower your risk and increase your odds of a successful pivot by using tactics such as these.

Have you successfully pivoted career tracks? Please share your story in the comments!

Tim Hammerich

Tim is a strategic communications consultant, founder of AgGrad, and the host of the "Future of Agriculture" podcast. Originally from California, he is now based out of Boise, Idaho.