Why it’s important to consider a career pivot during career transition

Job Search Skills
Paul Slezak

Tom sat opposite me clearly in a state of shock. 

He’d made a great name for himself throughout his career as a stellar B2B marketer and for the last five years had been driving the go-to-market strategy and leading the marketing team for a well-funded startup. That was until a private equity firm came along and acquired the company and decided to make some big changes resulting in a dozen very unexpected layoffs. 

At least the PE firm had been decent enough to offer the impacted employees an opportunity to meet with an experienced career coach as part of the redundancy process. 

“Nobody could have possibly seen this coming”, Tom said staring at the glass of water I had given him.  

There was no point suggesting that it would have been nice if the CEO had at least given him a bit of a confidential heads up as to what was happening. After all, Tom was a member of the leadership team. Instead, he was told about 15 minutes before being introduced to me. 

“No offence to you”, he continued (still gazing at the glass of water). “But how the %#*& are you supposed to tell me what I should do now?” 

“I’m not just here to tell you what you should do now”, I said choosing my words very carefully. “I’m really here to help you work out what you can do next”. 

Over the years, I have sat opposite hundreds of people in Tom’s position, and I am well aware of how difficult it is not to take a redundancy completely personally. It can be an extremely overwhelming not to mention a very emotional experience. Having said that, I have found that one way to help bring the impacted employee back ‘into the moment’ and away from the increasingly hostile thoughts towards their (now former) employer and away from the rapid onset of self-doubt, is to ask them a question that for the most part they wouldn’t be expecting moments after being told their position has been made redundant. 

“If you could do anything at all, Tom, what you would want to be doing?”, I asked. 

“I guess I’ll have to start looking for another job in marketing”, he replied now making slightly more eye contact with me. 

Not at all unexpected. 

This is a very natural response – the sense of urgency to simply continue along the exact same career path when one’s personal identity is so closely tied to a job title. 

“But that’s not what I was asking”, I said wanting to ensure Tom appreciated the importance of my question. “What would you want to be doing if you could do absolutely anything at all?” 

“If money wasn’t an option”, he asked? 

Excellent. Now I knew we were both on the same page. 

“Absolutely”, I said. 

“I’d probably apply to do my MBA”, he said. “Or maybe I’d just go traveling for six months”, he continued. “Actually, you know what … I’ve had this idea for a novel or a film script for years … I’d love to bring it to life. Gosh I could even do that while traveling”. 

He sat up straight, reached for the glass of water and skulled it. When he put the empty glass back down on the table, he had a big smile on his face. 

As part of any career transition process, it’s important to ensure the candidate starts to think differently; to think outside the box. 

Helping impacted employees explore possibilities beyond their current role can be an extremely powerful exercise. 

I remember once sitting opposite Vanessa – a head of communications who had just been laid off. When I asked her the same question, she said she’d always had a burning desire to become a physiotherapist. Today she has a great practice and I’m now even one of her regular patients! I also asked the question to an in-house lawyer once whose role was made redundant when the decision was made to outsource all the company’s legal work to an external firm. Theo is now a vet and thriving in his second career. And Ian was once a chef in a five-star restaurant but was let go during the Pandemic.

Today Ian heads up the integration and configuration team for a fast-growing Salesforce consultancy. These are all examples of ‘career pivots’ following an unexpected redundancy. 

Of course, I appreciate that sometimes there are financial constraints, and that the next salary payment is the only thing that matters. But encouraging ‘blue sky thinking’ and the possibility of a true career pivot is something that I have always believed can make the career transition process even more meaningful.  

Believe it or not, sometimes having your position made redundant can be a blessing in disguise … especially if you are willing to separate your identity from your role. 

What skills and passions does the impacted employee have outside of their current responsibilities? If they weren’t doing their current job, what activities or pursuits genuinely excite them? 

As a career coach, I always encourage my candidates to embrace creativity and to think beyond conventional boundaries; to reflect, share, and creatively express their identity beyond their role; and to foster a broader perspective on their potential paths and interests.  

 I reiterate that the goal is self-discovery and not simply an updated CV, punchy LinkedIn profile and introductions to recruiters. But if that’s what they really want help with, I will naturally make it a priority. 

For anyone facing a job loss due to redundancy, it can be a challenging experience. But it can also present opportunity for growth, reinvention, and a fresh start. 

 Work closely with your career coach to reflect on your values, both personally and professionally and consider those values which you may want to prioritise in your next chapter. At the same time, consider what you truly enjoy doing, both inside and outside the professional realm. This period of self-assessment can guide you towards a career that aligns more closely with your personal interests. 

It goes without saying that you should reach out to your professional network for support and guidance. Let them know that you are open to completely new opportunities. This often leads to valuable connections and unexpected doors opening.  

A career transition, especially after a redundancy, is a process that takes time. 

Use this time carefully and think about exploring industries or roles you may not have considered before. Look for the silver lining, embrace the change, and view the redundancy as a perfect opportunity for reinvention. 

Before becoming one of the most successful authors in the world, J.K Rowling worked as a secretary. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a body builder before becoming The Terminator, and later entering politics serving as the Governor of California. And Howard Schultz worked for Xerox before transforming Starbucks from a Seattle-based coffee house into a global brand. 

These examples along with Vanessa’s, Theo’s, Ian’s (and hopefully Dan’s) stories, too, highlight that career pivots are not only possible but can lead to remarkable success and fulfillment in entirely new domains. 

Remember, at Jobaccelerator we help outplaced employees land their next role faster with our on-demand job search portal that serves personalised, high quality and curated content, coupled with guidance from expert career coaches.