Pivot on purpose: How to navigate an intentional career transitionFeatured

At 25, I achieved everything I had set out to do.

I was top of my class at my post-grad consulting job, on the fast-track for promotion to manager. I had networked my way into the target group at my firm, earned high performer bonuses, and nearly 2x’ed my salary in 3 years…

But I was burned out, and the promise of another level of stress was no longer worth the paycheck.

I asked myself, “Is this all there is?”

I decided to stop climbing the ladder and instead jump lily pads toward work that gave me energy vs. drained it. I put a pause on business school apps to do some soul-searching before jumping into a job search.

I wish someone had grabbed me, looked deep into my eyes, and told me right then:

Any pivot is possible with the right purpose, positioning, pathway, and preparation.

I learned this the hard way through trial and error as I pivoted from consulting into early stage startups. Now, I’ll walk you through each step to save you some of the self-doubt and struggle that often comes with making a career transition.

Purpose: Unlock clarity on your career vision

Before you can evaluate opportunities, you must define your purpose. If your goal is to intentionally pivot toward building a career you love, it’s best to think about your work in the context of your life.

Get to know yourself. Evaluate the activities and environments that give you energy, your interests, your skills and strengths, and your values. Use this to craft your career vision — then, zero in on how your next role can help get you there.

Get clear on the parameters for your next role and your objective for this job search. Choose your target role and industry or sector. Distinguish must-have vs. nice-to-have elements across work environment, compensation, and location. Use this as a filter for every opportunity.

In my own reflections, I confirmed I wanted to be an entrepreneur one day. I thought about the next move as a step that would get me closer there. I set a near-term objective: join an early-stage startup to learn how companies get built, products get made, and teams get hired. I’d bring my problem-solving skills from consulting and in turn, I’d learn the skills that would show me how to be a founder.

Once you have clarity on your target — commit to it. When you have a strong enough why, you will figure out the how. You don’t have to know how it will happen, you do need to go all-in.

I was scared to commit to early-stage startups for a few months because I was nervous it wouldn’t work out for me. Everything changed once I stopped entertaining jobs I didn’t want and went all-in. It still took some iteration to figure out my target role family and sector interests, but I was committed to exploring this new direction.

Positioning: Craft a compelling brand and story

Your personal brand and career transition story must position you as the best possible candidate for your target role. This goes far beyond your resume, especially if you’re transitioning in any way.

Lead with value and results in your resume and LinkedIn profile. Provide context for the scope of your role within the organization — what you drove, led, or grew. Quantify as often as possible.

Ensure your LinkedIn profile highlights your unique value proposition. Tap into the unique combination of skills, experience, and interests you bring to the table. This becomes easier when you’ve done the self-reflection steps to know yourself and choose target roles that are fully aligned.

Answer the question: “What do you want to be known for?”

If you’re not sure, think through a value proposition statement such as:

“I help [who you help] with [what you do] by [how you do it].”

Craft a hero’s career transition story that connects where you are today, the skills and experiences you bring with you, and what you’re looking for next. I practiced my elevator pitch story in every coffee chat and interview until I dialed in on what I wanted and how to position myself. It was an iterative process.

The biggest mistake candidates make: telling their whole story in chronological order. Bringing up irrelevant information only clouds your story and dilutes your value proposition. Instead, pull out only experiences that demonstrate your skills and expertise that are relevant to the role. Lead with your value proposition. Choose 3 core skill areas to demonstrate and share examples to back it up. End with what you’re looking for next and how this specific opportunity lines up.

The only way to improve your story or brand is to complete a draft, get feedback, and iterate. Done is better than perfect every time.

Pathway: Run a stand-out strategy

A career pivot is non-linear by default. The most effective job search strategy has never been to apply online in a sea of applications— but especially not in 2024. The combination of tech layoffs and AI tools has led to an overwhelm of candidates that look exactly the same on paper. Hiring managers are desperate for top candidates to stand out.

It doesn’t make much sense to spend time reflecting on what you want in your career and creating a compelling brand and story just to hope someone chooses your name out of a pile, does it?

Networking and referrals have always been the best way to land a job, but relationships are more important now than ever. Your strategy is this: find the right pathway. Do this through strategic networking, building your online presence, and leading with value in every interaction.

Don’t spend hours doom-scrolling job boards or LinkedIn. Make a target company list and get in touch with team members at those companies — ask them about their career story and the business problems they’re working on. When you reach out to decision-makers, share value deliverables that show you have the expertise they’re hiring for. Try using Loom videos to stand out in introductory emails. And don’t be afraid to follow up.

Need access to more opportunities? Join a community dedicated to your target role or sector. These are the best places to convert cold connections to warmer ones and uncover companies you may not have known about.

During my pivot, everything shifted when I joined a community specific to startup job seekers. I not only got a ton of feedback on my transition story, but I gained access to a network that was more than willing to help. I got warm introductions directly to hiring teams and gained the confidence to reach out to others. I created Notion docs or pitch decks with ideas based on the job description as a way to stand out.

Preparation: Master the art of interviewing

Luck results when preparation meets opportunity. Preparation differentiates well-qualified candidates from elite job seekers who convert interviews into offers.

These are my 7 core elements of interview preparation:

1) Research the company. Understand their mission, values, products, business model, and customers. Use the product if you can.

2) Study the role and skills needed. Think through the problems you’d face. Show up with ideas on how to solve them — a deck or Notion page can help articulate your ideas.

3) Prepare thoughtful questions. Prepare questions about the company, role, and team you can't answer through research. Tailor questions to your interviewer.

4) Know your why. Ensure you can answer “Why this role/company?" based on how the job lines up with your goals.

5) Personalize your introduction. Tailor your “Tell Me About Yourself” elevator pitch to end with why this role/company. Record yourself practicing it out loud.

6) Refresh your career stories. Review your 5-8 “tell me about a time” stories. Demonstrate key skills, company values, and handling issues at work.

7) Set up a pre-interview routine. Get your energy up. Play a favorite pump-up song, power pose, detach from everything else, get focused… and release the outcome. Your energy matters!

After interviewing with 30+ companies and spending hours preparing, I was still getting rejected in the final rounds. One piece of feedback changed everything: “You sounded too rehearsed. You weren’t as creative as we expected in some of your responses.”When I released the pressure to interview perfectly, everything changed. I landed 4 offers over the next 4 weeks. Prepare like a champion, but don’t lose your personality in the process!

[Bonus tip: After the interview, attach a Loom video in your thank you email to stand out.]

Perseverance: Persist when you feel like giving up

A career pivot is always challenging. There are times when you want to take the easier path… a role that’s similar to your past, one that feels safe but you know deep down is settling.

You must avoid shiny objects in order to make the change you deeply desire. Go back to the commitment you made to pivot toward work that’s more aligned. Find support and accountability from those you trust.

View rejection as redirection — the hiring process is more about selection than rejection anyway.

Community support was a game-changer for me. I got the encouragement, feedback, and accountability needed to stay on course. My job search actually sped up when I got more targeted — and focused on celebrating wins and having fun along the way rather than waiting for the final job offer to feel proud of myself.

After a long journey, I successfully made the pivot from consulting to startups. I joined Dover, a recruiting tech company because I care a lot about making recruiting better.

And I had been right. Joining a series A company was the perfect stepping stone to entrepreneurship for me – I started a career coaching business to help mid-career professionals get clarity and pivot to more energizing work with confidence.

Now that I’ve learned more about recruiting, resilience, and change — and coached others through it — I know this: any pivot is possible with the right purpose, positioning, pathway, preparation… and a healthy dose of perseverance.

Share with a friend who’s looking to make a career transition right now!

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Thanks so much for sharing all of this, Katy! I'm in the process of changing my career from education to femtech and I connect with a lot of the things you're saying. Really needed to hear some of the perseverance advice. I haven't even gotten 1 interview yet so I'm feeling quite frustrated. The networking aspect is crucial though and is where I've been shifting my focus. Glad to hear this is aligned. Thanks again!
@laurarose5 hey Laura!! Hang in there I know a career pivot is particularly challenging. Your story is one of the most important pieces. Once you have that dialed in, sharing that via strategic networking (rather than simply on a resume) is key. let me know if you're looking for more hands-on coaching support & we can set up a time to chat!
This is such a brilliant post - thanks so much @KatyCulver. I have a couple of questions:- Do you have any communities that you can recommend that are specific to start up job seekers?- Do you know where I might find some examples of Loom videos to stand out in introductory emails and thank you videos following an interview?- Lastly, any tips on networking? I feel like I am reaching out to people on LinkedIn - through connection requests and inmails and am not getting many responses!Thanks!
@tessadixon hey!! thanks for your questions:1) NEXT is a community specific for startup job seekers (I'm involved with them!). UpEmployment Accelerator is also for startup job seekers. They're paid though, not free networks!2) I need to write up a guide on how to create a standout Loom video :) I don't have particular ones from folks to share (most people don't like to share them publically). Essentially saying your elevator pitch is a great start. Here's a good structure for your elevator pitch: This isn't quite enough info for me to diagnose what might be happening, but I would recommend using email whenever possible so you can send follow ups! Need to ensure that you're making it about them, not about you when networking.lmk if that helps!!
@KatyCulver this is a brilliant post and it came in at the right time when am working on aligning my values and how to position myself for future success.