A year ago, Valerie Howes was in a pandemic-fuelled funk. Her Toronto editing job had gone up in smoke when her publisher folded. It was just the latest in a series of layoffs she’d endured over the span of 15 years, and watching the Canadian media industry’s gradual disintegration left her disheartened.
But it wasn’t until her landlord evicted her (wanting to cash in on soaring housing prices), forcing her to move into pricey new digs, did Ms. Howes make a drastic change.
The veteran writer and editor reached out to contacts, made career inquiries, and in May, 2021, she and her daughter left Toronto for Fogo Island, a 2,000-person community off the northeast coast of Newfoundland. She’d started a new job – in communications for Shorefast, the charitable organization behind the world-famous Fogo Island Inn – remotely in March before moving east.
“I do feel I have more balls to juggle in my new role, but it’s stretching me,” she says now. “The change has been exciting and I have no regrets.”
Ms. Howes is one of countless Canadians who have pivoted to new careers in response to the unprecedented turmoil brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Between lockdowns and layoffs, unemployment jumped to 6 per cent in August, 2020 from 3.5 per cent in February, 2020, and many employees were left scrambling, looking for a job – any job – even one in another sector. In other cases, the pandemic brought something else: more time to contemplate career choices.
Alan Kearns, managing partner and founder of Career Joy, a leadership and career coaching organization with offices across Canada, says he isn’t surprised people are looking for a change. Usually before any large professional leap, there’s an “external awakening event” he explains. “I always call them the Ds: death, divorce, disease and disappointment,” he says, “and the pandemic is a major disruption,” adding another D-word to his list.
But whatever it is called, is it actually a good idea to change trajectory during job market chaos?
“It’s always the right time, if you’re ready,” says Mr. Kearns.
Here are seven tips to get you prepared for a successful career pivot. Yes, even now.
Don’t jump right in. It might be tempting to start applying for anything that looks tempting in your newly chosen field, but you’ll be wasting your time, cautions Wayne Greenway, chief executive officer for Career Aviators in Guelph, Ont. “In reality, you have an 8-per-cent chance of landing an interview applying online cold to a job,” he explains. And that doesn’t even take into account that you likely don’t yet have the typical skills the potential employer is looking for.
Know yourself. Instead of spinning your wheels and firing off résumés, determine what you actually want from your career, and what skills and qualities you can offer employers. that can be easily applied to a new field. What are your strengths? What have you been successful at in your current or past jobs? What do you value most and what are you curious about? Mr. Greenway explains you’ll find the right fit when considering all these factors.
But be practical too. According to Mr. Kearns, the adage of “Do what you love and the money will follow,” is a bunch of hooey. Launching a new career is far more complicated than that. Like it or not, you still have to consider the strength of the sector or industry you’re planning to jump into. Some are healthier than others. Think education technology, health care or change management versus travel. Know that some sectors are languishing, but, with work, dream jobs are still to be had. It just won’t be easy.
Don’t go back to school. Unless you need a specific professional certification to break into the industry, further education is not the best path, Mr. Greenway says. “If someone is hiring, they want somebody who is competent to do the job. Taking a course doesn’t make you competent. It makes you knowledgeable,” he explains. Instead, reach out to four or five people in the industry and have a career conversation. If most of them recommend specific training, go for it. Otherwise, don’t bother. Save your time and money.
Get friendly. The easiest way to pivot? Even during a pandemic, it’s possible to network. In fact, it can be even easier. With everyone so accustomed to virtual meetings, it’s possible to network with people across Canada and even abroad. Or join an association as a “friend” or non-professional member and attend monthly meetings on Zoom.
Consider moving laterally. Mr. Kearns points to the theoretical accountant who likes music. Sure, she could try to become a drummer for a famous band. “But what about this: Apple Music needs accountants?” he says, explaining it’s possible to use the same skill set in a different sector.
Tell a story. Tempted to bring up your pivot plans on your cover letter? Don’t bother. “Here’s the reality: Most people don’t read a lot of cover letters,” says Mr. Kearns. Instead, the best way to pivot is to keep talking to your new network – about 40 people, if possible according, to Mr. Greenway. And keep talking. Then update your LinkedIn profile and craft a story in the “about” field that outlines the steps you’re taking to pivot. Discuss your successes in work, leisure and in your volunteer positions. Show off your passion and commitment.
“You want to have a powerful story,” Mr. Greenway says. “You want to show the train’s moving and you’re driving it.”
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