When I called career strategist Jenny Blake to talk about job shifts, my motivations were admittedly selfish. I had just made a career switch myself: After working in a business role at Quartz, I’d pitched myself for a new one in its newsroom (and landed the gig). I wanted to know how Quartz readers could approach career changes—or, in other words, pull off the proverbial pivot. But I also wanted to hear how I could make the most of my own.
Blake has spent years thinking about shifts, switches, and restarts at work. She’s the author of Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One, the host of a podcast about career shifting, and someone who’s made plenty of turns in her own career. And when I asked Blake about making a pivot, she was attentive to how I phrased the question.
“I actually think you can just say pivoting,” she said. In other words, she was proposing I use pivot not as a noun, but as a verb.
As I thought about her suggestion, I started to wonder if this choice was more than a matter of syntax. Maybe it was a philosophical one, too. As Blake put it, pivoting isn’t just about making one move. It’s the product of many micro-movements, of taking small and experimental steps toward what’s next. If you want to pivot, you need to see it as an action. You need to treat it as a verb.
My own career change came after years of stallout. After working in a few roles supporting newsrooms, I realized that I really wanted to jump into the news itself. But I got stuck thinking about how I’d leap, rather than doing anything to move me towards the jump.
So I shifted: I’d stop thinking and start doing. I began spending some of my free time pushing out article ideas and pitches, emailing editors who might consider a contribution from me, and writing stories on the side. When an opportunity opened with Quartz at Work, it didn’t feel difficult to get myself in motion—because I already was.
Pivoting doesn’t have to involve a major career change. It can be a turn towards a new industry, a new project, or a new set of skills. Maybe you’re in the market for a move, or maybe, like me, you’ve made some momentum.
Wherever you are in your work, Blake offers one way of thinking about how you can make changes both big and small. It’s a four-step framework she calls the Pivot Method.
The first step to pivoting begins with understanding the base of your existing strengths and skills. “Planting is being rooted in what’s already working,” Blake says. That base helps you define your values and priorities for your next move.
How I did it. I looked at the experiences I’d built up and liked most in my current work. For example, in my previous job, I regularly came up with special series pitches for the newsroom—a coverage skill, I realized, that was also key to being an editor.
Test it yourself. To find yours, you can try an exercise like the 3x5=3 (and a related worksheet), which helps you identify and distill the transferable skills you’ve accumulated from every job you’ve ever held.
After examining that base, look at the options that surround you. Here’s an image Blake suggests: picture yourself on a GPS map, where you can plot both your current location and the destination where you want to end up. You want to scan for the people, skills, and projects that can take you to that destination.
How I did it. When I started to seriously consider my switch, I began talking with friends who had similar jobs in different newsrooms, then took reporting workshops to sharpen my skills.
Test it yourself. You can try any combination of these tactics:
- Have exploratory conversations with people who understand the path to your destination
- Research the skills that can help you move ahead
- Pick up projects that push your knowledge and skills further
Once you’ve figured out the path of your pivot, set up personal pilot projects that head there. Those are small, low-risk experiments that test if you like the direction you’re headed in, and they provide feedback on what worked and what didn’t.
How I did it. I began pitching magazine editors with my ideas, collecting helpful feedback and commissions along the way, and found the work invigorating. By then, I’d heard Quartz at Work was reimagining some of its coverage. So I wrote up a seven-page memo of topics, stories, and sources for the editors, along with how I thought they could shape the section.
Test it yourself. Blake says a solid pilot will help assess areas she calls the three E’s. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I enjoy this?
- Can I become an expert at it?
- Is there room for expansion within my team or the market?
Cycle through the first three steps as many times as necessary to feel confident in the path you’ve picked. Blake says they should get you 80% to 90% of the way toward your goal. Once you’ve hit that, it’s time for a larger commitment with a launch.
How I did it. That seven-page memo? It landed me an interview for an editor role, and later the job itself. I’m now two months into my new role, where I report on work, edit our section, and deliver this newsletter to you.
Test it yourself. Blake offers a template that can help you prepare for the big launch. Inside, you can pick your set financial benchmarks, establish dates and milestones, and track your way to momentum.
“The big secret is we’re always in a continual pivot,” says Blake. As we search out and test new directions, we’re readying ourselves for big changes—even if we don’t see them in our small steps.
What’s already working in my career, and how can I do more of it?, we might ask ourselves. More importantly: What can we try next?