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Here's Your Next Career Move: Pivot

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Have you got that restless feeling, like you’re not achieving enough in your career? Tempted to look for a new job or throw it all in and move to the Maldives? Yeah, me too. All the time. It’s that mixture of ambition, indecision and talent that can leave us ambivalent and confused about work. If, like me, you’re always whispering to yourself “What next?”, I’ve found a book – and a woman – who can help.

Jenny Blake is a 32-year-old careers strategist. She cofounded the Career Guru programme at Google, where she helped more than 1000 people negotiate their next professional move. And now, bless her, she’s written a book that shows us how to do the same. It’s called Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One and it’s a genuinely fresh take on an increasingly terrifying job economy. I skyped with Jenny to hear her wisdom on reviving, ditching or changing careers. Here are her best tips.

Ditch the five-year plan and get a one-year vision
The work economy is moving so fast your next job might not even exist yet. The 9-5 work structure is changing, the internet is creating new roles, and people are staying in jobs for an average of just three years. With all that going on, how can we possibly make five-year plans anymore? It’s more realistic to work on a one-year vision.

Jenny says: “Start by doing an inventory of your existing strengths and interests. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to say, ‘I’m hitting a plateau, I’m getting bored at work, what’s out there?’ and the first thing they do is look outside themselves. Just pause, first, to take an inventory of what you want and what your core values are. Put together a one-year vision by asking, ‘What does success look like a year from now?’ A lot of people skip that part because they think ‘Oh, I don’t know, that’s why I’m stuck, if I knew I would be doing it’. But in actuality, we can unpack some known variables. Change the questions you ask yourself to things like: How do you want to feel a year from now? What kind of impact do you want to make? What would you like to become the go-to expert on? Who do you want to be surrounded by? What kind of work environment excites you? That way, even if you don’t know of an exact opportunity yet, these start to become your filtering criteria.”

Master the sensible job-hop
It ain't wise to quit at the first sign of trouble, or every time you feel unhappy. It is wise to strategically change jobs when it’s necessary, smart, or the right time.

Jenny says: “Shorter-term employment is our new reality, both by choice and by circumstance. I don’t believe in just categorically blaming millennials for being job-hoppers. Of course there are some people who quit at the first sign of displeasure and they never really stick it out long enough to give it a chance. Barring the people who irresponsibly job-hop, the truth is that, for the vast majority, they just want to know that they are learning, growing and making an impact. And if that’s not happening, I believe it’s smart for them to explore options of what’s next because otherwise they’re going to get pivoted. If you’re not adding value to an organisation, they’re not going to be loyal to you either.”

Pivot! Pivot! Pivot!
In basketball or netball, to pivot is to keep one foot firmly on the ground while moving the other, looking out for places you could throw the ball. In that episode of Friends, to pivot is to help Ross get his sofa up the stairs to his new flat. In Jenny Blake’s careers bible, to pivot is to make a smart, short-term move in your career. As she writes in her book, The Pivot has four stages: planting (staying where you are), scanning (looking for options), pilots (small experiments to test boundaries and acquire skills), and launching (taking the leap to a new job or project). She preaches patience and research, not a rash quit-and-dash.

Jenny says: “I noticed when I changed careers successfully it’s because I leveraged something that was already working – a strength, an interest, a connection. So one thing that’s important is that a pivot is not a 180; it’s a way to methodically answer the question ‘What’s next?’ in a way that leverages your existing strengths and interests and visions.”

Climb off the career ladder
Get off the damn ladder, girl, it’s an antiquated metaphor. It’s not about going up or even sideways in the professional hierarchy – it’s about collecting the best possible skills for the career you want.

Jenny says: “We’re familiar with the career ladder model and we don’t even need to say anymore that the career ladder is out. People viscerally feel this. I recommend thinking of your career like a smartphone, not a ladder. So on a smartphone it’s up to you to download different apps for different skills and experiences. When I started looking back and connecting with others, I realised that that’s what puts our career back into our own hands – we hit the download button on the apps and we get to customise what’s on our phones. Apps can be big and small, so we don’t have to wait until we have the perfect career move lined up.”

Get a friendtor
Getting a mentor has been all the rage for ages now. But it can be difficult to negotiate the power imbalance and to find the right person. What about a friendtor, then? A mentor-friend hybrid with whom you can brainstorm formally?

Jenny says: “The point of a friendtor is not to have a venting buddy. The more productive thing to do would be to find someone who might be in a similar position and go through the pivot method and ask exploratory questions of each other. Find someone who energises you, who is not necessarily pursuing the same goals. You’ve got to enjoy brainstorming with this person and they should be a good listener, interested, engaged and share similar values. I have one friend – we structure our friendtor calls. We call them 30-30-30s. We have 30 minutes of catch-up with each other, 30 minutes brainstorming for my business and 30 minutes brainstorming for his. So no matter who you find as your friendtor, you can set up a structure for those conversations. Maybe in an hour, it’s a 10-minute check-in and hello, 15 minutes brainstorming for person number one, 15 minutes brainstorming for person number two and then 10 minutes of follow-up and then closing out and identifying next steps. The key is not to give each other advice; you don’t need to be the expert on another person’s life. Rather it’s about asking big, open-ended questions to facilitate their best thinking.”

Good luck, pivoters.
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