WHEN TO SHIFT
Do it early, do it thoughtfully,
and avoid the pitfalls of being
Going from covert ops to cannabis cultivation might seem like
a startling shift, but in the fast-changing economy in which Stanford
GSB graduates must navigate, it’s no longer uncommon to radically
reinvent a career. In previous generations, workers often stayed in
a particular industry for decades, ideally with the same high-prestige
employer, gradually rising through the ranks as they built upon their
accomplishments. But such stability seems almost as outdated as rotary
telephones in an age of technological disruptions and rapid economic
shifts, in which entire industries can suddenly become obsolete.
Stanford GSB experts say this new reality is creating a more dynamic
career arc, in which graduates change employers while also reinventing
themselves. But instead of being spontaneous, these career pivots tend to
be carried out through an orderly, structured process designed to identify
transformational opportunities and leverage existing skills.
CAREER PIVOTS ARE BECOMING THE NORM
Like Hodgin, many students come to Stanford GSB with a career shift in
mind. A survey of the 2018 graduates found that after graduation, 65%
changed their work function, while 56% shifted to a different industry.
“The prevalence of career pivots has significantly increased over the
past several decades, and we expect that pattern to continue,” explains
Carly Janson, acting assistant dean and director of the school’s Career
That’s in keeping with a national trend. “The average employee tenure
is four to five years, and most people change roles several times within
that,” explains Allison D. Kluger, a lecturer in management at Stanford
GSB who teaches a class in personal branding and recently created a new
course called Strategic Pivoting for Your Next Chapter. “There’s a reason
for this — technology, automation, and the proliferation of startups
all challenge the concept of job security and stability. But it also offers
a plethora of opportunity.”
Kluger herself has plenty of experience with career pivots. She switched
to academia after a 25-year career in broadcast media and entertainment,
during which she was one of the original coordinating producers of ABC’s
The View, served as a host and executive producer for the Global Shopping
Network, and cofounded an e-commerce website.
“The shift is that a lot of people want to have a sense of purpose,” says
Kluger. “Money is certainly a factor, but people also want to have a job
that provides a sense of work-life balance. And they want to feel as if
they’re adding value to the world.” She also cites the emotional benefits:
“freedom, adventure, flexibility, and opportunity.”
While workers can make career pivots throughout life, Kluger notes,
the realization that it’s time for a change often hits when they’re young.
“With your first job, you’re dipping your toe into the pond,” she says.
“You’re just glad to have a paycheck. But after a while, you realize that
you need something more.” It’s not an uncommon epiphany: An August
2018 Gallup poll found that only 34% of U.S. workers feel enthusiastic
about and committed to their work and workplace.
Rather than waiting for dissatisfaction to take a psychological toll,
Kluger recommends being careful to look for its early signs. “Do a frank
self-inventory,” she says. “What are you getting out of each day? Is it like
the movie Groundhog Day, or are you excited by new challenges?”
But seeing that it’s time to make a change is just the start. “You don’t want
to drop everything that you’re doing and just rush headfirst into a major
Asia and the Middle East.
While Hodgin loved the challenges of being a SEAL, he eventually
realized that it was time for a new line of work. “I decided to go to
business school,” he recalls. “I didn’t have an industry in mind, but
I wanted to use the next few years to experiment and see what I liked.”
As a result of that process, he’s found a new calling that, like
his old one, has an element of risk and adventure. He’s CEO of
Biopharmaceutical Research Company, a t wo-year-old startup that’s
seeking to produce high-quality, standardized marijuana for use in
scientific and medical research.
“There’s a real opportunity, in a federally compliant fashion, to
advance scientific research on cannabis while doing a lot of good for
the country,” Hodgin explains. “As I started to explore the idea, it
invigorated me, like how I felt when I was a SEAL. And I realized that
we could potentially help a ton of people. That makes it easy to go to
work in the mornings.”
Allison D. Kluger is a lecturer in management at Stanford GSB.
Marcela Ochoa earned her MBA at Stanford GSB in 2015, and
George Hodgin earned his in 2017.