This week at work, a senior manager and I were considering how best to fill a new position (that needs to be filled quite quickly) and whether it should be filled by a successful applicant from a recent generic recruitment round, or whether it was necessary to open the opportunity up to all internal staff first in case an existing staff member was interested in this new role.
This got me thinking (and fuming a little) about how many staff fail to take control of their job options, and instead expect that organisations will serve up potential new roles like they’re at some kind of buffet waiting to peruse the options and make their choice! Now, don’t get me wrong – I support merit selection and transparency in recruitment decisions, but I also believe that staff should be able to (and be expected to) be more proactive about pursuing roles of interest to them without the need for or expectation of formal, organisation-initiated recruitment processes.
I don’t think I’ve seen a staff survey, outcomes from a Divisional planning day, or Divisional ‘action plan’ that doesn’t propose the creation of some sort of job swap/staff mobility program to provide staff who have been in their position for a while and are seeking a change in role, with a facilitated opportunity to move to a different one. That said, for all the proposals I’ve seen, I’m not actually aware of a single program that has actually been successfully rolled out. I find myself frustrated at staff who continually ask for these mobility programs to be created to facilitate their movement. These staff seem to feel stuck and helpless and dependent on the organisation to set out a series of opportunities for them.
People have far more control over their jobs than they believe. If you want to be in a different role in your organisation (regardless of whether or not that role currently exists) you have enormous power to make it happen. How? Really, all you have to do is ask…
If you have an area identified that you’d like to work in (or person identified that you’d like to work for – I always tend to pick the person first and role second), ring or email the manager of the area, tell them that you’re interested in what they do and ask if you can buy them coffee. I tend to pick people that I’m attracted to working for, rather than subject areas, and have initiated a couple of new job opportunities (and developed a number of good mentoring relationships) simply by sending an email that said ‘I’m interested in what you do and like how you do it, can I buy you a cup of coffee?’ (of course it’s important that you are in fact genuinely interested in what they do and like how they do it!). The worst that they can say is no. And even then, you’re likely to get points for being proactive (and for a little bit of flattery), which doesn’t hurt in building your profile in the organisation.
When you meet for coffee, have a couple of questions prepared. Be interested in finding out about the content of the work and the team/manager. Tell them honestly why you’ve approached them. Explain how you think your skills/knowledge could add value to their area and ask if there are any current (or likely future) opportunities that might align.
And don’t limit your thinking to the roles that currently exist in the organisation. My last role didn’t exist before I filled it. I had grown tired of what I was doing (probably a little burnt-out too) and didn’t think the work best aligned with my areas of strength. However, I liked working for my Branch Head, believed in the importance of the work that the area was doing, identified a number of areas for improvement in the way the Branch operated, and felt that I could add value through addressing these areas of improvement in a role that aligned more closely with interests and strengths. I pitched the idea to the senior management team. And they said yes. I worked in the role for 18 months, grew the team from 1 (me) to three, delivered (what I think were) pretty substantial business improvements, learned lots and enjoyed a number of new personal and professional challenges.
Not sure what you want to do or what possible roles exist in the organisation? Well, that’s your job to figure out. Get to seminars and meetings. Read staff bulletins. Talk to your colleagues. If all you’re doing is sitting around waiting for your dream job (or even just your next job!) to be advertised, you’re greatly reducing your chances of ever finding it.
As a manager, I’m very open to interested employees cold-calling me. If you want to work for me, don’t wait for me to advertise a job. Call me, and tell me how you could contribute (which may be in a way that I hadn’t even thought of). Sure, there’s a risk that there might be others out there that have equivalent (or even better) skills/experience, but frankly, if you’ve self-identified the opportunity and are proactive enough to pursue it, then that definitely counts in your favour. It’s in my interest to ensure that my work and my leadership is visible to others, to increase the chances that great potential staff are aware of what we do and might contact me to explore opportunities for working together.
So, don’t wait for your dream job to be advertised. Chances are it won’t be. Identify it (or create it) and go and make it happen.
[Note – Anne-Marie Slaughter has a great post on a similar topic on the HBR blog – Design Your Own Profession.]
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