A career coach and former Googler breaks down the 4 steps to making a change in your career

Jenny blake headshot
Jenny Blake. Mark Hanauer

The thought of making a career change can be terrifying, and for good reason: Work is a huge piece of most people’s identity, not to mention their livelihood.

Even if you hate your current gig, why leave the devil you know?

If there’s anyone who gets these feelings, it’s Jenny Blake, a career coach and the author of the new book “Pivot.” Blake started out on the AdWords product training team at Google; then helped launch Google’s Career Guru program; then left Google after publishing her first book, “Life After College,” to start a business based on her blog and book.

In “Pivot,” she guides readers through the process of pivoting — making a career change, however big or small — so that it’s less intimidating than it might otherwise seem.

The main thing to know about Blake’s pivot plan is that it involves a lot of careful planning and introspection — so even if the final outcome doesn’t look exactly the way you imagined it, presumably you won’t wind up broke, unemployed, or regretful.

Blake visited the Business Insider office in September to talk about the four steps involved in the pivot process:

1. Plant

Blake draws an analogy between a career pivoter and a basketball player:

“When a basketball player stops dribbling, they ground down on their plant foot. And in terms of career paths, your plant foot [is] your strengths, your existing assets, what you’re already good at, who you know, what you already have experience in, and your one-year vision of what success looks like a year from now.”

The idea here is that your next career move should be based on what’s working well in your current career stage.

One way to do that, Blake writes, is simply by asking yourself: “What am I insanely good at? When do I feel most ‘in the zone?’ What natural talents have I refined into strengths over time?'”

2. Scan

“The basketball player can scan for passing options with their pivot foot. So while you have one part of you that’s rooted in your existing strengths, then you have another part of you that is scanning for people, skills, and projects that look interesting for this next direction of your career.”

This is where networking — or at least some version of it — comes in. Find people you can learn from; and think about what Blake calls your “warm connections,” or mutually beneficial relationships that help both parties’ careers.

You’ll also want to figure out where there are gaps in your knowledge or skills. Maybe you need to know more about the audience you’re hoping to serve in your next role, for example.

3. Pilot

“This would be the basketball player starting to pass the ball around the court. Piloting is about running small experiments with 10-20% of your time to test the three Es: Do I enjoy this new area? Can I become an expert at it? Is there room to expand in the market?

“And you can repeat plant, scan, pilot, plant, scan, pilot, over and over — in some cases for months, if not years, perfectly happily, just experimenting.”

Blake advises against spending an excessive amount of money, energy, or time here.

Some potential pilots she recommends are: Taking on advisory board positions with other companies, holding focus groups and creating prototype solutions for participants’ needs, and trying out side projects at work in addition to your regular duties.

4. Launch

“Eventually it comes time to make a shot, or what I call in the pivot method, ‘launch.’ So this would be when one of your pilots starts taking off and you decide to go all in on the new direction.”

There are a number of ways to know when you’re ready to launch, Blake writes. Maybe it’s when you have enough money saved; when you finish a big project at work; or when you acquire a certain number of clients.

The most important thing to know, Blake said, is:

“By repeating plant, scan, pilot, you reduce risk, but ultimately when it comes time for a launch, whether it’s quitting your job or starting a business, you go all in, even with the remaining uncertainty.

And most pivoters I spoke with don’t regret their decision. Even if things don’t pan out exactly as planned, by the time you launch you know that you would regret staying in place more than launching and then having to readjust if things don’t work out as planned.”

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