A few years ago, a colleague of mine (let’s call him Josh) completely upended his life. He was newly divorced, hated his job, and wanted to move to a different state. He woke up one morning and thought, “I don’t want this life anymore.”
In that same position, most of us would take the long way ’round; we’d figure out where we wanted to live, try to see if we could find a job opening there, maybe start applying for a few jobs, even if they weren’t directly in our field or didn’t quite match our career aspirations.
That isn’t what Josh did.
He knew exactly what he wanted. He was an avid outdoorsman and a talented interface designer. He used online apps religiously to chart trails he’d hiked, miles he’d biked, mountains he’d snowboarded on, etc. But most of the apps were clunky, ugly, didn’t integrate, and didn’t sync up well with the associated website experience.
Josh was sure it didn’t have to be that way. And he was also confident he was the guy to fix it.
Within three months, Josh was hired at a major outdoor sporting goods company to lead their app development team. He packed his bags and moved to Colorado, having landed a dream job that he created for himself.
Josh didn’t wait for the right job to appear. He created it. And here’s how he did it.
Target the Company or Companies You Want to Work For
If you’re creating a role for yourself, you’ll have to be very targeted in your approach. Knowing the industry you want to be in isn’t good enough. Your pitch needs to be tailored directly to a specific company’s goals and challenges.
Research the company. Understand what they’ve been working on, what is working for them, and what isn’t. Evaluate their competitors.
In Josh’s case, he knew he wanted to live in Colorado, and he wanted to work for an outdoor specialist. He chose his particular company because he was familiar with the brand, he used their products, and importantly, he believed he had something to offer them.
Identify a Problem You Are Uniquely Qualified to Solve
As a customer of this company and an avid user of their applications, Josh was intimately familiar with how the apps worked–or, in this case, didn’t work. But aside from being a user, he was also an expert in interface design. So not only did he understand the product from a user’s perspective–what he wanted to do, what he couldn’t do, and what he couldn’t do well–he could also identify different ways to fix these problems.
The reason any role exists in a company is to solve specific problems and meet particular needs. To define a position, first, identify a need. It must be a need with real financial impact on the company; otherwise, they won’t be interested in fixing the problem. Additionally, it’s vital that the problem or challenge aligns with the company’s current business objectives. To discover those, you may have to do some research. Press releases, keynote addresses, recent publications, and direct conversations with current employees are usually great sources of information.
Your pitch should also include a summary of why you are the right person to tackle the challenge. Your work history, soft skills, personal network, and relevant experience may all be useful data points to bring up. When you’re creating a job, bring your whole self to the table. You are more than a set of skills; you are a problem-solving machine that will add tremendous value to the company.
Design a Compelling Proposal to Solve the Problem
To demonstrate the problems with the sporting goods product, Josh documented his experience using the app, highlighting what was broken and how he would fix it. He put the process into a visual format (he used a prototyping software standard to his industry) and made sure it was easy to read and beautiful to look at. He also made sure it was concise and easily accessible. (Ever try to email a 100-megabyte file? Yeah. It doesn’t usually work.)
Your proposal should be specific, concise, and elegant. It should identify the business problem before articulating a fix. Your solution should be easy to understand yet detailed. The format you choose for your proposal will likely vary by industry: are the people you’re pitching to highly visual? Do they prefer reports? Some companies love Powerpoint, some might prefer Visio, others Invision. Choose a standard format that makes sense for your audience.
The above advice is contrary to what we know about applying to a traditional job. In the latter case, you seldom want to give away your expertise (or to “work on spec”); you want to be hired to solve a company’s problem. But this advice assumes that the company understands it has a problem that needs fixing. In the case of a person who is creating a job for himself, it’s usually beneficial to sell yourself and your knowledge to gain the hiring manager’s interest and attention.
Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile
Ensuring your LinkedIn profile is in top shape is mandatory when applying to any position. But when you’re creating a job for yourself, it’s even more critical.
- Ensure your work history reflects your expertise in the domain you’re applying for. Rewrite as necessary to capture the right keywords and relevant skills.
- Make sure your recommendations are up to date. If you hadn’t had a recommendation in a while, as a trusted colleague to provide one. If you are comfortable, let them know about the position you are applying for so that their recommendation aligns with your goals.
- If you have relevant blog posts, articles, videos, etc., that demonstrate your expertise, make them available and findable on your profile.
While in traditional job searches it’s beneficial to ask a friend or colleague to submit your resume on your behalf, this tactic isn’t always successful when creating a position. In traditional job hunts, a recruiter is looking at hundreds of resumes: yours stands out because you had a personal referral. In this case, however, you’ll be sending your resume directly to the person you’d like to work for. Your resume already stands out because you are not competing with hundreds of people, and you’re not dealing with a recruiter. Additionally, making direct contact yourself is very powerful–a quality that will elevate your likelihood of securing a response.
Of course, if you have internal advocates that can champion your cause, always reach out to those folks. But this should happen after you’ve submitted your resume and proposal for the job you’d like to create.
Josh submitted his proposal, resume, and detailed cover letter directly to the graphic design manager at the sporting goods company. They were so impressed with the package he presented that he garnered a phone call within a week. Within a month, they flew him out to Colorado for an interview. They made him an offer a week later.
Creating your own job doesn’t have to be an impossible challenge. But it’s also not as straightforward as applying for an existing position. With the right approach, however, it’s definitely doable. And the rewards are usually well worth the effort. Good luck out there.