How to make a career change without losing the salary you worked so hard for
Last week at the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) conference, I sat with a group of incredibly talented, high achieving women as the organizers scrambled to find extra chairs for the overflow. What those women wanted to know was “How to find purpose and fulfilment in the latter stages of their career.” The panel did an excellent job talking about volunteering with the HBA and their own pivots into entrepreneurism as ways to find fulfillment. Many of the women in the room seemed to be wanting more time to dive deeper. Yes, they were up for volunteering. Yes, entrepreneurism sounded enticing. And still, some wondered “what if I want to try something new for me in corporate? How can I pivot without losing so many of the things I fought and worked hard for throughout my whole career?” And I couldn’t help but agree that we can give back and still want more for ourselves.
So, as someone who has taken a lot of twists and turns in corporate and later into entrepreneurship, here are some ideas on how to pivot within corporate – or take the leap to something totally different.
How do I know WHAT to pivot to in my career?
- Define your core values. Values represent who you are right now. They are principles that you hold to be of worth in your life. Unlike morals, which often come from outside of ourselves and are a shared set of rules of behavior we govern ourselves by based on the expectations of others (society, our religion, etc.), values are not chosen. They are intrinsic to you. Create a working draft of 3 to 5 values that resonate for you. Then define what each of these specifically mean for you. For example, if you select freedom, does that mean you want to define when you work or what you work on or both? What level of freedom is needed to feel you are honoring your values? Once you have an understanding of your core values, these can be used as a filter to determine which opportunities meet your needs and what levels of each value needs to be present for you to feel fulfilled. (If you need a little help getting started, subscribe to my mailing list and download my values wheel.)
- Play. I know, it sounds really simple and you’re thinking what does this mean in a corporate setting? Follow your curiosity. If you think a certain project sounds interesting, someone else’s department, another company’s project, or even a specific person, start talking to that person or people working in those areas and see how you might be able to explore or even better contribute some time in those areas. Start small from a lunch, to shadowing someone, to a short-term project. And don’t tack it onto your current workload. Gain agreement to take something away from your current workload. It’s important to remember that play is not about perfection or having the right answer. Try to tap back into your childhood days where you took the crayons and colored outside the lines (maybe even on the walls despite your parents’ pleas). It’s not about pretty or perfect, it’s truly play. And you can decide how much you want to push your play (and risk) by how much you take on. Your values will also become more clearly defined as you play and experiment with different areas allowing you to really know where and when to make the full pivot.
How do I justify my curiosity to my organization?
Think about how your pivot can help your organization. And, before your roll your eyes, even if you are a scientist that’s used to designing rule-following experiments with strict protocols, trying your hand at graphic design or the arts can be a great way to reinforce risk-taking and creativity. As you prepare to get your organization on board, the more you can tie your interests to organizational strategy, trends, and commitments, the better chance you will have on gaining alignment. Here are some tips for tying your passion projects into the organization:
- Look at organizational values and initiatives. Look at what your organization talks about on their internal website, in your performance cycles, in their awards ceremonies, and even their annual reports. For example, if creative thinking is a value, you have yourself an avenue for talking to graphic design. If they are pushing better wellness, could training as a yoga instructor serve you and the organization in that pursuit?
- Understand your organization’s trends. Pay attention to your organization’s trends. What are they most fearful of? What are they celebrating? You can find a lot of information on this in talking to people or looking at annual reports – and in investor presentations if you are a publicly traded company. For example. If your organization is having a hard time recruiting new talent, will allowing you to teach a class heavily attended by twenty-something’s once a week also allow you to gain insights on how current college students are selecting employers?
- Know your industry trends and growth directions. For example, in the pharmaceutical industry, there is a huge movement toward health equity, bigger strides being taken in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, and technical advancements in digital health integration. How can your passion project help your organization gain insights or help you include this thinking in your area, or even help other areas integrate what you know in support of these initiatives?
- Know what your company values about you today. It’s likely you have some strengths that your organization currently utilizes. Are you the person that’s known for getting things done? For recognizing talent? For fixing complex problems? If so, use that. How can those skills help the department and/or organization you are targeting?
How do I keep my salary if I want to do something that is completely unrelated?
The key here is your network. Let’s be honest. If you are currently working in marketing and now want to be a doctor, it will be hard to do that without going to medical school. Though, in some countries, there are shorter degree conversion programs for a number of professions. However, even then, using the power of your network can result in a higher starting salary and better position.
- Believe in yourself first. If you don’t believe your worth your salary, no one else will. Spend some time looking at how your current experience can help you tackle this new adventure. Not sure how it might benefit you? Ask. Talk to others in the industry about their day-to-day work, their biggest challenges, the qualities they see in those that are successful and spend time looking at how your years of experience, your growth, and your passion might make you a good catch for your new department or employer.
- Experiment. See how you can experience the job or industry so that when you get into an interview situation or career conversation you have some real-world examples as to how you fit, how your passion brought here can benefit them, and more. As you play, make sure you are building up mentors and developing sponsors in your new area of interest. These are the people that are going to help you move departments or change organizations and justify that you are worth your value within the organization.
- Use your network. This is key. Just like if you were looking to get a different corporate job, reaching out to people you know that work in that department or company can go a long way. Simply applying on job portals without sponsors within the organization or department you wish to join will be problematic when you get to salary discussions. Also, consider the fact that the more you network, the more likely a position will be created that fits you rather than trying to fit you into an existing spot. It’s best to start thinking about which organizations or departments interest you and to cultivate those relationships over time. Consider using a common negotiation tool like an influence map to help you visually map out who you need on your side to land a new position at the salary you want.
- Do the math. I’m a firm believer that you don’t have to start from scratch but like any negotiation, you need to pull the comps. If others working in the area you are looking to pursue make half of what you make even at the most senior levels of that position or field, then you need to seriously consider if that will be enough for you – and/or start thinking creatively about what really matters to you. I encourage you to explore how much money really is enough for you? And if the answer is more than what that position offers, you may need to start considering creative approaches. Are there ways to honor your values and passions in a different or hybrid position or another type of organization for example? This is a great place to enlist your mentors or a career coach if you are having trouble.
- Make the pie bigger. As a former negotiator, I learned in early days that simply claiming value from the existing pie resulted in a lackluster results. Make the pie bigger. How can you pivot into something new and make something entirely different given all of your own lived experiences? Maybe the pivot your seeking does not yet exist and you are just the right person to create it.
How do I get my organization on board with a career pivot?
- Have your business case prepared. See the tips above on how to justify your curiosity. Test it out with your mentors and sponsors.
- Make sure you have a sponsor at your destination department or company – and if possible, in your current company or department. It makes the play phase much easier if you can paint the picture for your organization as to how the experiment(s) will work and have influencial people supporting the benefits of it.
- Show your passion. Make it personal. Share what made you curious in the first place. An engaged employee is worth its weight in gold.
- Prepare your backfill. As you play, see if other people are interested in experimenting in your area. If you take on extra projects as part of your exploratory phase, make sure you have agreement to take away some of your current responsibilities and consider who might be able to fill that gap. This can be a great way to prepare for your replacement if and when you make the leap to a new area, not to mention to build a culture that recognizes the value of play within their organization.
- Know your value. Be confident in what you have contributed to the organization thus far and what you can do moving forward.
Whether you want to make a leap within your company or outside into a completely new profession, the steps do not really change. If you keep your curiosity a secret, it’s unlikely anyone can answer your call. Talk to people and trust the fact that learning and growing in any direction will only make you that much stronger for both you and your organization.