Inspiring stories: The power of pivoting job roles

Written by India Johnson

In job terms, to ‘pivot’ means to take your career in a different direction. It aptly describes the pivotal moment many people experience when life makes them take stock of their current professional circumstances, whether out of necessity or want. 

It’s far from a new concept, in the career-change sense, but the way ‘pivoting’ is talked about in recent years feels distinct from times gone by. Perhaps this is down to the fact that we, as a society, are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of fulfilment, flexibility and wellbeing when it comes to work. Or maybe it’s that, in these uncertain times, being nimble, open to change and adept at thinking on our feet is simply necessary. Most likely, it’s a combination of the two.

Hearing from the professionals who’ve successfully pivoted

Statistics show a clear rise in occupational switching between April-June 2020 compared with in the same period last year. We wanted to explore this trend with the aim of opening up the topic to those who may be thinking of pivoting but aren’t sure how to take that first step. 

In this two-part series, we look at the inspiring real-life stories of four pivoter professionals who recently decided it was time to make a change. Thanks to our partner, UnderPinned – who provide a supportive place for freelancers to sort everything from their invoices to their portfolios – we were able to chat to Dom, Lucy, Maxine and Kelly to find out about their experiences first-hand. 

First up, we hear from Dom and Lucy.

Gaining a new perspective: Dom’s story 

Dom had been aware of a niggling desire to change his career for some time before, like so many others, he was unfortunately furloughed and then made redundant due to the Covid-19 pandemic. At the time, he worked as an account manager in advertising – a role he’d fallen into after graduating uni. 

“I was drawn to advertising for its creative opportunities but I had little knowledge of the specific roles that existed within it. I naively assumed they were all ‘creative’,” he explains. Starting out at Saatchi & Saatchi felt good enough for Dom at first (or, as he puts it, at an agency his mum had heard of, with a job that paid his rent). But his feelings soon began to change.

“So on I worked for seven years, treading water, consciously aware this wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life but not sure what to do about it. I moved around thinking that would solve the problem, but it wasn’t the agencies (mostly) – it was me.” 

It’s a story that many can undoubtedly relate to. In the flurry of getting hired after graduating – of landing a ‘decent’ job to bridge the gap between student and fully-fledged professional – the notion of following any sort of passion can easily get lost. That’s if you even know what you’re passionate about in the first place. 

In March 2020, Dom was furloughed from his job. 

“At first it was worrying and uncomfortable. Then I started to become more comfortable with it. And then I started to enjoy it,” he says. “It was the first time in years I had actually taken an extended break from [work], and it was in that break that everything came together in my head.” 

Like for so many others, the career-change wheels were set in motion for Dom out of a mixture of necessity, and having the (lockdown-induced) headspace he needed to finally work out what he wanted to do. 

“Writing was always my creative outlet and my biggest regret is not honing that earlier in my life so I could actually make a career out of it. Copywriting felt like the obvious path for me, not least because I had been around it for years in advertising. It combined my natural love for writing with the experience I gained over years in industry,” Dom explains, going on to describe how a shift in mindset was needed in order to approach this new potential branch of his career. 

This involved getting used to the idea of going from having a solid CV and years’ of experience, to having an empty portfolio that would need building up from scratch. 

“The ingredients were all there, but I realised I needed to prove it. So I poured all of my attention into building a portfolio, and started hustling jobs – from friends and old colleagues – to fill it.” 

Dom goes on to point out that he feels it’s important for first-time freelancers not to get too hung up on their portfolio feeling quite bare at first, though. “That’s often the biggest psychological hurdle for me – feeling like ‘who’s going to be impressed by this?’” he says. “But everyone has to start somewhere, and any portfolio is better than no portfolio, after all.”

Despite admitting that the move feels scary, Dom sums up succinctly what pivoting, for so many, is all about: “That thrill of starting again – this time with a really clear, informed idea of what’s good for me – feels liberating.”

“Copywriting is the natural destination for now,” he concludes. “But who knows what that could lead to in the future.” 

Find out more about Dom’s work >

Expanding horizons: Lucy’s story

Lucy’s initial ‘pivotal moment’ happened when she went to New Zealand on a working holiday visa and got a taste for contracting. She was working in digital marketing, and describes how the change – or awareness of a need for change – was gradual for her. 

“[It had] its roots in my husband and I starting a street food business, The Panini Project in December 2018. This was a complete departure from our office jobs and it’s been a great experience,” Lucy explains. 

Often it’s this kind of ‘side hustle’ that ignites that initial spark, prompting professionals to think outside the box and to discover that their skillsets could be suited to a whole range of different jobs. It’s a trend that’s on the rise, with one study predicting that, by 2030, 50% of the UK’s workforce could be running ‘side hustles’. 

In Lucy’s case, it’s what planted the seed of inspiration that led to her next pivotal move.

“Towards the end of 2019 I was going through a tricky time at work and it was a prompt for me to try freelancing. I knew that I wanted to continue working for my employer, so I made a flexible working request,” Lucy says. She’s now working part-time and spends two days a week working for herself, and on a business she and her brother recently launched, Nine Seven Digital.

So what was, or more aptly, is the pivoting experience like for Lucy? 

“Cliche alert, but it really has been a steep learning curve!” She confirms. 

“I’ve had to learn about pricing and doing my taxes for the first time (Finmo helped with this one). I’ve leant on my organisation skills and been quite strict at planning and delineating my time. Some of the work between my two roles is similar, such as managing digital projects, but it’s also opened up the opportunity to work on different things.” 

She goes on to describe the positive experience of working in both employed and self-employed roles:

“As my freelance work is with smaller businesses, it’s given me the chance to do broader marketing work, outside of my usual remit, such as strategy, email marketing and content.” And even though Lucy sometimes ends up working weekends, she’s happy in the knowledge she can give herself the occasional afternoon off when she wants to. 

“I also think freelancing has also helped my growth in my employed role, sometimes having a day away works wonders for my clarity and energy,” she says. This ties in with another trend that seems to have arisen out of people taking on side projects; one study shows that despite a quarter of ‘side hustlers’ working a 50-hour week, they feel happier and more content in their main job role than when they didn’t have a side hustle going on.

Speaking about her future, Lucy talks about striving to be positive. But she’s also aware of the darker side of the coin when it comes to pivoting out of necessity:

“I don’t have any words that do justice to how difficult this year has been for so many and how the pandemic has shown up the inequalities that have existed for far too long. In the world of work, I think it’s highlighted that no job is forever and being able to pivot could help us weather the storms to come.”

Advice to future pivoters – from those who’ve made the change:

Dom says: “I’m not a great advice giver, but one step takes you to the next. If you have an idea what you want to pivot to, don’t be afraid to take that first step, no matter small or insignificant it looks from the outset. The steps only get bigger from there.

Lucy says: “If you’re able to, it’s a good idea to have a financial safety net of savings before you make a change […] Speak to others who are already doing what you’d like to move into and find out about their experiences […] Just because something doesn’t feel like your expected career path or what others think you should be doing, doesn’t mean it’s not right […] If you’re able to have work lined up before taking a chance, you might feel less pressure. Trust your instinct and believe in yourself.”

The prospect of pivoting job roles can be daunting, but as Lucy and Dom’s inspiring stories go to show – the rewards truly can be vast. 

In Part II of this series, we’ll be hearing from two more professionals to discover what their experience of pivoting job roles has been. Keep an eye on our social media channels for its release.

Thinking of starting your own side hustle? Find out how to register as self-employed >

A big thanks to UnderPinned for enabling us to write this piece:

UnderPinned is an online platform that gives you everything you need to stay productive and keep your freelance business thriving, from the pitching stage right through to payments. Their aim is simply to make life easier and better for freelancers, while championing creatives doing amazing work.