by Emma Jane

12 Nov 2015

Correlating the demands on, and capacity of, an individual

When I was unsuccessful in a job application a while ago, my mother gave me excellent advice.

It was entirely fair that I hadn't gotten the job. It would have been a stretch, but more importantly, I had read into the description elements which weren't responsibilities the employer perceived as valuable for the position. I believed I could do the job, but the job I thought I could do wasn't the position they were hiring for. My mother's advice was this: "Write the description for the job that they should have hired you to do."

As part of the application process, I'd researched the company, I'd talked to current and former employees, and I'd researched what that position looked like when it was in the context of a different company. Although I'd had extremely limited exposure to the inner workings of the company, I put on my consultant hat and wrote down the rationale for why my dream job should exist, how it solve problems for the company, and what the key responsibilities should be for the position. I didn't write it in first person. I wrote it as a reusable job description that just happened to fit me exactly. In my debrief call with the company to talk through why I hadn't been successful, I had the audacity to ask if I could send them my job description. My brutal optimism didn't win me a position, but it was a very powerful exercise.

This technique is older than the sun itself, but it had never resonated with me. It just seemed like setting myself up for failure to be so selfish; and in moments when I could convince myself that it wasn't selfish, I knew it was definitely arrogant to tell a company what exactly I should be doing for them. But mother sometimes knows best, so I sat down and wrote the description for the job I thought I'd been applying for. It included all of the reasons why my experience was an asset, and all of the problems I would help that company to solve. It clarified what made me excited to go to work each day.

The company was very niche, so the job description was unlikely to apply anywhere else, but it the description had elements which were transferable to other companies. I made the active transformation to someone who solved problems for companies as an employee, rather than an external consultant, and rather than be a puppet who should just be put to work. I gained confidence in talking to companies who'd never heard of me. I told them what kinds of problems I wanted to solve. I grew accustomed to saying "no, thank you" when their problems didn't fit my vision. Perhaps even more fun, I would think of who would be the best person I could think of for each role; I would make introductions when and where I could. (Later I realised I was actually networking and wondered who I'd become.)

I'm so excited with this new-found power, that I want to wave the magic wand so you can have it too. I want to weave a beautiful narrative that results in you experiencing your own transformation. Instead, I'll give you this homework:

  • Nicholas asks you to answer the following question: "Suppose you could design your dream job that you'll be starting on Monday. It's at your ideal company with your ideal job title and salary. All you have to do is tell them what you want to do at your job and you can have it. What does your job entail?" Read the blog post behind the question, it's great.
  • Amye told me once that she writes a one page executive summary for how she plans to rock the first several months of a new position before she gets an offer for the position and discusses it with the folks she's interviewing with.
  • My mum advised me to write my job description after I had been unsuccessful in my application for a job. If you've been applying for jobs recently that you haven't gotten, can you write the description for what you would have rocked for that particular company? Perhaps there are reasons why you're actually relieved you didn't get the job? Write those down too.

Each of these homework pieces ask you to clarify what you are after, and how this will help a particular company to succeed by your presence.

This story has a post script to it. At first I wasn't going to include it, but I've decided it's important. During a panel discussion on burnout in tech, Lorna gave the audience an absolute gem of advice:

If you quit your job without dealing with burnout you will bring your victim habits with you. Please deal with it.
Lorna Jane Mitchell

Burnout is an outcome of a misfit between demand on and capacity of an individual. There are a lot of resources about burnout, but the Velocity panel pointed specifically to Prof. Christina Maslach's work (video here). Even if you have no intention of moving to a different company, I encourage you to go through at least one of the exercises listed above either by yourself, or with a trusted friend. If you're on the road to boredom or burnout, it may just be the edge you need to re-align your passion, your capacity, and your employment.

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