Pivoting mid-career to a different profession is far from straightforward. Though I began my career in academia as a Classics PhD, I then pivoted to a job as a digital media specialist at a digital marketing agency. After that, I moved on to marketing at an industrial copper wire manufacturer.
At each transition, I have had to navigate radically different skill sets in fundamentally different careers. I want to think that there were overlaps between the roles that I held, but in reality, the similarities are small. You have to do some serious squinting to discern any common features among all three.
At a time when millennials are hopping jobs more frequently than ever before, career pivots will become more common in the years ahead. Right now, there isn’t a simple path to make that transition, but as I learned from experience—following these maneuvers can help make the change less daunting.
1. Skirt HR and avoid recruiters. Discover a way to communicate directly with the hiring manager
Most job applicants for any given job will check off certain boxes. If they meet the specific skill sets and experience required for a listing, an applicant tracking system (ATS) will flag them and notify the recruiter.
But career pivoters tend to be light on the listed job requirements, so HR personnel and recruiters are fundamentally disincentivized from even thinking about forwarding their application to the hiring manager. Their job is to filter out high-risk applicants and discover the applicants that—on paper—most align with the particular attributes a hiring manager is seeking. Yet the most highly skilled applicants may be a costly disaster for an organization if they lack the fundamental soft skills.
Whether through an email, phone call, or handwritten letter (you don’t hear about those much anymore), find out who the hiring manager is and then reach out. They’re not being solicited every day. This is your chance to get in front of the audience that matters the most.
2. No matter your age, consider an internship as an entry point
Organizations might see career pivoters as high risk. Therefore, the onus is on them to find ways to minimize that risk for the prospective organization.
The pivoters can prove their worth by mitigating the risk for the new organization by persuading a manager to create a six-month trial period internship. If the pivoter demonstrates his/her/their worth, it can potentially lead to a long-term position.
Career-pivoting applicants need to come up with creative ways to craft their skill sets as transferable and then articulate what they may look like in an internship. Even if the internship doesn’t lead to a full-time position, at the very least the candidate has some actual new career experience that they can parlay elsewhere.
3. Don’t submit your résumé to a website. Call or appear in person at the company to speak with the manager where you hope to pivot
An extraordinary, gifted individual doesn’t always translate into an email or a résumé. Résumés are fundamentally two-dimensional documents attempting to capture the rich complexity of individuals.
Consider an interview transcript. You lose so much of the texture and the conversation. Résumés are no different. They can’t capture the whole person.
So once the candidate knows who the hiring decision-maker is, they should show up in person. If they can capture the decision-maker’s attention, they can make an impression that lasts much longer than even the most impressive résumé.
4. Unless you are committed to a career that demands full-blown re-schooling, avoid jobs that require years of training and accreditation
Certain positions such as medical doctors, electrical engineers, and lawyers require extensive training and degrees—for obvious reasons. Know the time limits of what you are willing to commit to training. This way, you’ll avoid wasting your time on a pointless job hunt.
5. Craft a compelling narrative on why you are looking to go from X to Y
Humans think in stories, not in facts. Any hiring manager will want to know “what’s your story, and why you’re seeking to make this change?” Craft an unforgettable answer to that inevitable question. This is an opportunity to articulate how past interests and goals have brought you to this point, and how your core values, soft skills, and hard skills will be valuable to this new organization.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Undoubtedly, some are more helpful to extroverted personalities. Current HR systems are fundamentally not suited to screen for highly talented candidates but who do not align with the traditional skill sets outlined by the hiring manager. Yet the reality is that there are many job listings where the skilled candidates will fall outside this filtering system. In the current hiring system, career pivoters will have to discover creative solutions to get hired for jobs that don’t align with what’s on their résumés.
Mike Zimm received his PhD in Classics from Yale University. He is currently the director of marketing at Kris-Tech Wire, a copper wire manufacturer.