In How to Make the Most of a Job That’s Not a Good Fit, I discussed how to cope with and exit gracefully from a job you don’t enjoy. But what if you like your current company and don’t necessarily want to leave — you just want to do something different from what they hired you for? It is often possible to pivot within a company and create your own ideal role — even if it’s a job that doesn’t exist yet. Here’s how:
To begin, you’ll need to lay the groundwork.
Pitch special projects.
If you want to reach beyond the job you were hired to do, you’ll need to make your own opportunities.
Say you’re currently in a traditional administrative or sales role but would love to be a bit more creative at work. If you’re a good writer, you could volunteer to contribute to a company blog or create one if it doesn’t already exist. Excellent at shooting and editing video? Pitch a series of instructional videos to attract more clients. Audit the company’s YouTube channel and make recommendations. Offer to create fun and on-brand 15-second videos for your company’s Instagram account. If there’s no designer on staff and you have solid design skills, create a series of branded infographics about the industry that will position your company as a thought leader.
Projects like these are a huge value-add to your employer, as many businesses — especially small ones — struggle to generate creative marketing content. After a while, it will become obvious to your team that you have valuable skills outside of your current role — and that’s the first step toward a more formal shift into a new position. It’s important to also keep doing a stellar job at the role you were hired for while you take on these additional projects. Otherwise, you’re undermining your efforts. Delegate what you can, and be willing to put in longer hours to achieve both.
Match your skills to a specific business need.
Of course, the special projects you pitch and take on have to fill an actual business need. Coming from a place of solid and thorough understanding of your company’s goals and objectives will lead you to the right idea. Research what industry competitors are doing, and identify areas where they excel that your own company does not. Whenever possible, back up your idea with well-researched data and case studies to prove the value of the project you’re pitching.
Fill any experience and skill gaps.
What if you’re not confident your skills are developed enough to pitch that special project, or you don’t have enough experience in the type of role you want? This is where you may need to take some classes. If you’re a skilled artist but don’t know Photoshop that well, take some graphic design courses at your local community college or online. If you’re interested in Web design but don’t know how to code, there are a variety of courses to choose from. If you need to learn more about a specific industry, there’s probably an online course for that. If you already have a degree and you just need to build on some existing skills, chances are you don’t need to earn another entire degree to make a career change. Earning a professional certificate demonstrates initiative and lends credibility to your new skills, but even a few classes can suffice if it teaches you a new skill.
You may also consider volunteering your skills for a local nonprofit. The organization may not be in a position to hire someone for the job you want to do, but anything you do there still counts as experience. Volunteering is a great way to boost your resume and build a portfolio of work.
For online education resources, see Lifehacker’s Plan Your Free Online Education at Lifehacker U. Skillshare, Lynda, Udemy and General Assembly offer online courses. Codecademy is a great (and free!) resource for those looking to learn how to code.
Once you’ve demonstrated your capabilities and built a rebranded reputation among your colleagues and supervisor, it’s time to formally propose a shift. Again, make sure the job you want to do is something your company actually needs, and be sure your employer has noticed the work you’ve done so all of this feels like a natural next step for you.
Make the ask.
Depending on the kind of relationship you have with your employer, your approach may need to differ, but the best way to open the subject is to be conversational. You might even frame it as a request for guidance. Explain that you’ve really enjoyed the side projects you’ve worked on for the company and would like to have more responsibilities like them. Many intracompany job shifts take place over time and aren’t necessarily an abrupt change, so be flexible and open to more nuanced plans. Have ideas ready for how to manage your workload: delegating your original responsibilities to someone else, making processes more efficient.
If you get negative feedback, it might be time to leave your job for one that better fits your goals. This is why you don’t want this conversation to be an ultimatum of any kind if you don’t have another job lined up. Accept the feedback gracefully, and reaffirm your commitment to the company and team.
In the meantime, start your job search with a resume and LinkedIn profile branded for the type of role you want (see: 3 Ways to Use LinkedIn to Break Out of Your Career Rut). Continue building your experience with those additional projects and volunteer work. With persistence, you can create your own path — with or without your current employer.
For more advice on career design, check out: How to Design Your Own Career.
Photo credit: Getty Creative