Curating Opportunity: An Alternative Approach to Job Crafting

Tony Stark’s side hustle when he’s not racing cars or making billions.

A lot has been written and presented on the subject of job crafting. If you aren’t familiar with the topic, you can Google research from Wrzesniewski and Dutton (2001). They basically framed tasks, social relationships and perceptions as “raw materials” to construct or craft the meaning of a person’s work and their corresponding identity.

Job crafting is a simple visual framework that can help you make meaningful and lasting changes in your job — in good economies and bad.

A 2010 companion article by Harvard Business Review (“Managing Yourself: Turn the Job You Have into the Job You Want”) and an updated 2013 submission by the original authors (“Job Creating and Meaningful Work”), breaks it down:

Tasks:
You can change the boundaries of your job by taking on more or fewer tasks, expanding or diminishing their scope, or changing how they are performed.

Relationships:
You can change the nature or extent of your interactions with other people.

Perceptions:
You can change how you think about the purpose of certain aspects of your job; or you can reframe the job as a whole.

The above research, articles and documentation postulates that job crafting is a method for redesigning your job engagement while employed. It involves redefining your job to incorporate your motives, strengths, and passions… all to gain a greater sense of control at work.

However, I’m finding that job crafting is just as effective, if not more-so, outside of the office and not at work. Two main reasons for this…

First, it’s much harder to curate your job while employed. I applaud anyone to takes the time to really define a meaningful engagement at work, but you have to carve out time to make it happen. In this day and age, there’s little room for this sort of exploration if the demands of the job keep you focused on the short term rather than the long term.

Second, work environments on the whole tend to be less supportive of recasting your role. This is especially true for UX. You are contractually paid to perform certain duties, and now you’d like to change, augment or renegotiate those? With a supportive manager, sure. Outside of that, I haven’t seen it work without some sort of advocate.

Please understand… the above criticisms aren’t meant to degrade the original work the authors of job crafting have hypothesized and spoken for. I’m merely advocating for a different way of going about it altogether.

Here’s how it works

If you’re interested in this alternative approach to job crafting, just follow these simple steps.

  1. Look up approximately 7–10 online job descriptions that interest you.
    They can be in your current industry, or an industry you’re currently exploring. Search by either title or keywords, and omit the location.
  2. Start a new document for job crafting (GDocs, Word, TextEdit, etc.)
  3. Take your first job description, and start to copy/paste parts that speak to you into your new document.
    Here’s an example of some categories I’m seeing in different job postings when doing a search for ‘UX Director’ on Indeed.com (no location specified):

    - Job Description
    - Duties/Responsibilities
    - Competencies
    - Preferred Experience
    - Minimum Qualifications
    - Perks/Benefits

    Let’s go to “Duties/Responsibilities” first. When I look at the job description, the first couple of lines are:

    - Lead the digital creative strategy and execution plan for all digital channels.
    - Manage and design front-end website pages, landing pages, e-mail templates, banner ads, social media ads for all digital assets for (company) and other affiliated sites.
    - Design to include multi-page layouts, landing pages, banner ads, retargeting ads and other web-based graphics

    Since I’m personally looking for more ‘brains’ than ‘hands’ work, I ‘ll copy the first line above (- Lead the digital creative strategy…) and put that into my new document for reference.
  4. Repeat Step 3 for the rest of the job descriptions you have, or until your Job Craft document is just under 2 pages (whatever comes first).
    At this point, you should have roughly 2 pages of reference material to work with. Let’s start trimming it down with the next step.
  5. Highlight the most important line items in each category that reflect your ideal engagement.
    Try to highlight at least 3, but no more than 5 items for every category in your job crafting document.
  6. Save a new version of your job crafting document (Version 2), and delete whatever lines you didn’t highlight in Step 5.
    This helps you focus on the important aspects of the role you’d ideally like to take on, and removes distractions going forward.
  7. Finally, create a ‘Ideal Engagement’ section at the top of your document.
    Summarize what you’re seeing. What have you highlighted that really resonates with you? What would be really exciting to work on every day?

    Here’s an example from a recent session with Aliana Layug, an amazing design talent who recently joined Union Standard Insurance Group as a UX Designer:

    “I’d be responsible for conceiving and conducting user research, interviews and surveys, and translating them into wireframes and prototypes. I’ll also design the overall functionality of the product and continuously improve the design to optimize the user experience and achieve business goals. I’d ideally report to a Senior Product Manager or similar role.”

Iterating and Refining Your Job

Now that you’ve curated your first Job Crafting document, it’s time to do some refinement and apply some tweaks. Consider the following processes and techniques to improve upon your results:

  1. Elaborate on other aspects of the job.
    You’re going to need the right environment for you to prosper with this new role. Write out 3–5 items you would want from a great team and a supportive boss. How would they hold you accountable? Do you want to work for a servant leader? Jot all that down.
  2. Reverse keyword searching
    Go back to the internet and search for opportunities, using particular keywords or phrases from your top highlighted items. You might be surprised at the type of roles that come up. Capture and bookmark those roles for later consideration.
  3. StrengthsFinder
    If you’ve done a StrengthsFinder assessment, or worked with a Strengths Coach to understand your native strengths, use that to your advantage. Underline particular items in your job crafting document that align with your top 5 strengths.
  4. Socialize your findings with trusted friends and family
    Get some great perspective and show your job crafting document to others you trust. Ask them what job title they envision when reviewing your work. Do they know anyone they currently does what you describe? Can they make formal introductions?

Putting Job Crafting to Work

Now that you have a master engagement document to work from, here’s where you can go with it:

  • Start ‘Job Crafting’ with your boss
    If you’re currently employed, have a 1 on 1 with your manager about your results and the concept of job crafting, but don’t bring your master document with you. Instead, use it as a reference for traditional job crafting exercises and how you can change your engagement at work.
  • Post your results in an online article
    It’s a bold move Cotton, but why not showcase what you’re really after? Let others in your network (and ideally outside of it) know what’s going to engage your next learning curve and intrinsically motivate you. You can’t go wrong posting to LinkedIn. On Medium, you can post it yourself or work with a well respected organization to promote your article.
  • Network, network, network
    While finding individuals that do the work you want to do many be difficult, getting their available time might be next to impossible. I would recommend taking a page from Scott Burkun’s recent book ‘Friend of a Friend’ and develop relationships with your existing networks’ contacts. The more options you have for socializing what you want to do, the better.
  • Schedule meaningful conversations to move things forward
    When you eventually find the right person to talk to, you can offer to pay for lunch/coffee or just have a 15 minute conversation over the phone. Another option is to schedule a Table-4-Eight event to invite others to the conversation. Whatever works for you.
  • Go your own way, and do what you want.
    Having difficulty finding a job that covers what you want to do? Can’t job craft you way to a better experience at work? Have you hit a wall where the only option is to heavily compromise? That may be a sign that what you’re pursuing is unique to you, and you shouldn’t ignore it. Take a page from Keir McLaren and look inside yourself versus looking externally.

Curate your next engagement

Job crafting is an excellent method for exploring your professional engagements and giving meaning to your work. If you give this approach a try, I guarantee you’ll gain some additional perspective about both your near-term job satisfaction and your long-term career outlook.

If you liked this article, please consider sharing it with a friend. If you have come constructive feedback (negative, positive or somewhere in between), I’d love to hear from you.

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Robert Skrobe

Robert Skrobe

I run Dallas Design Sprints, The Design Sprint Referral Network and Talent Sprints.