Now is a great time to make a drastic career change

Giving advice
Photograph by David Woolfall—Getty Images

This year, change is not optional. 

If the past nine months of the pandemic leave you longing for normalcy and business as usual, your career prospects may be dim. 

That’s because not a single industry can enter 2021 with the previous ways of doing business. In a Deloitte survey of 3,600 executives, nearly three-quarters identified “the ability of their people to adapt, reskill, and assume new roles” as what’s most needed to navigate the future. And yet, only 17% said their workforce is ready to take the necessary action to do so.  

Employers themselves are not off the hook. A McKinsey survey of 800 U.S. workers found only one-third believe their organizations strongly connect actions to purpose. McKinsey says employees “living their purpose” are more likely to improve their levels of work effectiveness; they had four times higher engagement and five times higher well-being than those who do not connect work to their purpose. 

In 2021, both employer and employee will need a whole lot more from each other. It’s an opportune time to make drastic, fundamental job moves, according to Ambika Nigam, founder of a career-focused startup.

“We’re in this universal moment of pause and reflect. This has never happened in the world,” she says. “People are asking, ‘Is this what I wanna do in life?’ It’s rare to have the question be shared on both sides.”

In May 2020, Nigam, who has worked in design, finance, product, and marketing, launched Zeit, a platform for career path discovery. Besides the fact that workers are looking for employers who match their purpose, Nigam found other key influences on the job market:

  • Geography is no longer a barrier to opportunity. Having to stay in a certain city or even within a designated commuting distance forced many workers to not even consider certain roles or industries. Not anymore.
  • Employees were once measured by their IQ. Then came EQ (emotional quotient). Now it’s all about AQ (adaptability quotient). 
  • Companies need to do more with less. Layoffs, hiring freezes, and furloughs have forced those left behind to become scrappier and learn new skills. And that has changed the expectations around new hires. 

So whereas employers might have once tried to fill jobs with someone who’s done exactly the same thing previously, they are currently more open to career switchers. This makes now the perfect time to try your hand at it.  

After a COVID-related layoff from her marketing job and much “soul searching,” in her own words, Jayoon Yi became director of hardware product at Room, which makes soundproof phone booths, private offices, and meeting areas for open offices. She thought long and hard about what she wanted to do differently in her next gig. 

“I didn’t want to go back to consulting or strategy,” Yi says. “I wanted to work with a physical product.” When she interviewed at Room, she felt like she’d found her match: “What matters to me the most is that I do something I enjoy and that I am part of a mission I believe in.”

A new role in 2021 might mean more than navigating a brand-new industry—it means new ways of working, too. Yi says starting remotely makes it harder to build social capital and the relationships one needs to execute. But, she notes, “it’s an opportunity to start without a personal bias, the bias that you create in your first impression. I find it easier to have a heart-to-heart conversation on Zoom or at the call level for issues that are personal or emotional. You’re not so dominated by tensions or conflicts.”

Switching careers in the middle of a pandemic also gave her a chance to rethink work habits. She says she is more diligent in record-keeping now, relying on spreadsheets and software to track progress and measure goals. 

As companies begin to make new hires, they are indeed rethinking what they are looking for. Zeit founder Nigam goes so far as to proclaim: “Linear career paths are dead.

“When companies have hired career transitioners, they get an additional 2,200 hours of work, the equivalent of 200 additional projects,” Nigam says. 

After four years at a Big Four accounting firm, Sierra Scoggin realized her favorite part was not the regulatory aspect of her job—but the interactions with clients. 

“I had been looking for new jobs for about a year, but only looking for new jobs in New York,” she says. When lockdown began, her 500-square-foot apartment in Brooklyn felt suffocating—and her search expanded. 

“It gave me more flexibility to do more interviews,” she notes. “When I was working in the office, it was so stressful, trying to manage interviews. The pandemic made it a little easier to search.”

She just joined Afterpay, a platform linking merchants and customers with a “buy now pay later” option, as a client success manager. She moved to Los Angeles last weekend. 

A résumé that shows a willingness to embrace risk—in roles, industries, even location—is an asset in these uncertain times, says Nigam. New hires from different industries approach everything with a unique lens. 

“People who transition in their careers are flexible and resilient. They are familiar working with amorphous environments and have eclectic skills to hit the ground running,” she says. “If you make a linear move, two plus two equals four. If you make a pivot, two plus two equals five.”

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