Workforce transitions: A tale of career pivots

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Did you know that Americans today average about 4.4 years in a job? For younger generations, that job duration tightens to a mere 2.5 years. This data comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and represents a dramatic departure from yesteryear’s 25 to 30 years in a job. Climbing the corporate ladder has been replaced by the concept of career pivot.

So, what is career pivot? According to Business Talent Group founder and CEO Jody Greenstone Miller, a career pivot means taking a path that looks different from a traditional one. She is a prime example. Her business cards have read lawyer, investment banker, special counsel to the White House, COO of a telecommunications company, and venture partner.

This isn’t a “throw-something-at-the-wall” career approach. A clear purpose is at the core and plays out over one’s career, especially in specific seasons of life. You need to match up your career objectives with your life cycle,” Greenstone Miller says. “This is seldom possible in a traditional career.”

Camille Blakely, a name many in our community recognize, was raised in Denver as one of six children. Her dad owned an ad agency but moved the family to Brush to take over her great-grandfather’s newspaper business. A good volleyball player, she snagged a scholarship to Colorado College, then took a job writing for Springs Magazine. When the person in charge of advertising quit, Camille took over and ended up loving it.

Next, she worked for Graham Advertising, where she went from media buyer to account service rep to a VP management position. She remained there for 13 years until she met her future husband Kyle, who had started Blakely + Company, a full-service ad agency, and joined him in the business.

Over the next nine years their business tripled. Kyle handled the business side, Camille focused on the people side. Then came a pivot. Camille was approached by one of her clients to help build their in-house marketing department. Her boss would be a former colleague, a woman she admired. The opportunity in Denver presented new challenges and a favorable time to diversify their income streams.

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Greenstone Miller outlines five strategies for a career pivot that reflect Camille’s journey.

1) Know what you want at in the current phase of your life cycle: Camille was ready for a new challenge.

2) Build your knowledge base, understand your gaps: She was attracted to a non-consultant role.

3) Leverage your strengths: Camille believed her consultant skill sets were transferable to an in-house marketing director position.

4) Market your skills: Her connections would help grow this company. 

5) Avoid common mistakes: Camille knew the company but was realistic and willing to work incredibly hard.

“Changing careers is uncomfortable,” Greenstone Miller says. “You may need to backtrack. You may fail.”

Indeed, even with good planning, failure came for Camille through no fault of her own. After two weeks, Camille’s boss left the organization. She committed to continuing the work she was hired for, evolving the marketing department and creating a strategic roadmap. However, after five months, she was laid off due to the company’s financial instability.

Still a client of Blakely + Company, they hoped she would return to the agency and continue to handle their account, but Camille’s integrity would not allow her to displace the employees that had been hired to fill the void when she left. Instead of disrupting the Blakely culture further, she decided to pivot once again.

Reflecting on the time spent with the Denver company, Camille realized she loved being a colleague on a team. Instead of managing multiple clients she was able to go broader and deeper. She and Kyle talked at length and agreed that she would again pivot and strike out on her own, preferably in the nonprofit sector.

“I would not have become as clear on what I wanted to do in this pivot without those five months with the Denver company, even though it didn’t turn out as expected,” said Camille.

Today, Camille is the marketing director for The Resource Exchange, where she is blending her marketing experience with a passion for its mission. I asked Camille how it felt to not be a senior leader.

“I’ve had success running a company and now I get to make a difference fulfilling TRE’s mission. We can’t always choose where life takes us, but if we keep our hearts and minds open, we’ll end up exactly where we should be.”

As in basketball, a series of pivots — moves that keep one foot firmly planted while the other swings forward — allows you to progress down the floor and reach your target. The one foot firmly planted is the key. I call it your purpose.

BJ Scott, an advocate for age-friendly workplaces, is the former CEO of Peak Vista Community Health Centers and its foundation. Contact: bjscott2325@gmail.com.

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