In times of immense change and transition, it’s natural for us to take stock of our lives and reevaluate our futures. That is certainly true of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left millions unemployed and many others questioning their chosen career paths.
In fact, 63 percent of workers who lost their jobs because of the pandemic have changed industries, according to a 2020 Harris Poll survey conducted for USA Today. The top reasons respondents pivoted to new fields were being laid off or fearing layoffs, needing higher pay, feeling there was no room for growth in their current jobs and no longer enjoying the career paths they were on.
While the pandemic has undoubtedly upended our lives in varying degrees, the disruption also presents an opportunity to make constructive and lasting career changes.
If you’re thinking about pivoting to a new industry but are unsure how to take the first step, we spoke with Lori Shreve Blake, senior director of Alumni and Student Career Services at the USC Career Center, about how to successfully shift to a different field.
Should You Shift Industries?
Before you start making moves to change careers, Shreve Blake says there are two key questions you should ask yourself: “What are the demands of the new industry?” and “What are my transferable skills?”
If you’re a K-12 teacher, for example, and want to transition to a position at an entertainment marketing firm, you would switch from a nine-month schedule to a year-round commitment, which would result in less free time during the summer and holiday seasons.
“Understanding the ebb and flow of that business, of that particular industry, of that particular job, is key for changing careers because you want to know what you’re getting yourself into at the end of the day,” Shreve Blake told USC Online.
Shreve Blake, who has led career advisement and programming initiatives for more than 20 years, suggests setting up meetings with people who work in your desired field to glean “the good, the bad and the ugly” of whatever role you’re after.
“I really want job seekers to put on their journalistic hat and talk to people who … work in jobs that they want to work in,” she said, stressing that each field has its own set of unique demands.
Breaking into the Field
The next step in planning your career pivot is to identify which skills you can transfer from your current job to a new role. That starts with analyzing job postings.
“That job description is really your roadmap to how to write the resume … You want to highlight those transferable skills,” Shreve Blake said.
If you come to realize that you have little crossover experience, however, there are plenty of opportunities to pad your resume through your present position.
Shreve Blake recommends asking your manager if you can assist with company initiatives outside of your role that align with your future goals. That way, you’ll be able to provide concrete examples of how you’re pushing your career forward when you’re making a leap between vastly different positions.
Job seekers can also build up applicable skills by volunteering on the side. Whether you commit to an association once a week or just a few hours each month, you’ll be able to underscore that experience on your resume.
“Then you not only have your full-time gig, but you also have your part-time gig to present [to hiring companies]. That can be very powerful to parlay you into that next job,” she said.
Joining industry-specific organizations is another way you can begin moving into a different field. Going back to the entertainment marketing example, you could become part of the American Marketing Association or connect with members from a local marketing group on LinkedIn, said Shreve Blake.
“Usually people who are in those professional associations are actively employed, and so those are potential leads,” she explained, adding that 80 percent of today’s jobs are the result of networking.
Where Should You Pivot?
If you’re confident you want to change careers but are having trouble narrowing down your options, Shreve Blake suggests going back to the basics: a personality test.
At the USC Career Center, her team favors the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the 16Personalities test, which offers a free online evaluation that includes a list of potential job titles.
“To do a self-assessment first and really drill into what you’re looking for is important,” Shreve Blake said.
Another simple way to brainstorm possibilities is to make a pro-con list for your current position, identifying which qualities you want to seek out in your next role. Although you could still decide to move industries, you may also choose to transition to a different position within the same company or field.
Room for Education
In some cases, you may be required to obtain an advanced degree, such as a master’s or graduate certificate, in order to land a new position.
“There are going to be situations where you’re just going to have to go back and get that master’s degree in order to keep moving forward,” she said.
One USC alumnus referenced by Shreve Blake worked at a Big 4 consulting firm for years until he decided to explore a career in computer engineering. From there, he built up his savings so he could quit his job and attend graduate school full-time, ultimately gaining employment as a computer engineer at a technology company.
While he had the financial stability to return to school full-time, most master’s degrees can be earned on a flexible, part-time schedule, especially if you enroll in an online program.
“Online programs can be efficient for working professionals,” Shreve Blake said. “In the past, we thought traditionally a master’s degree [took] two years. But now, at USC and many other offerings, you can get that degree in a year and keep moving forward.”
By joining an institution like USC, you will also open yourself up to an entirely new network of educators and peers who can help advance your professional goals long after you graduate.
And though numerous companies are in the midst of hiring freezes or downsizing, there are still opportunities to be had. It just takes a bit more networking and cultivating those professional and alumni connections, according to Shreve Blake.
“Even in a pandemic, pre and post, the Trojan Family is alive and well,” she concluded. “There are Trojans opening doors for Trojans.”
Learn more about the online graduate programs at USC.