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Next Time You're Making a Career Move, Try Design Thinking

Emily Lamia profile image

Emily Lamia

Two people looking at post its, stuck on a glass.

If you’re thinking through your next career move, you’re probably scouring articles with tons of advice on how to figure out and land your next position. These resources are often filled with suggestions like networking, updating your resume, and reconnecting with former colleagues.

But here's the thing: While most of us know what we should or could be doing to make the transition happen, it can often feel like there’s something holding us back, or the necessary steps feel awkward or like they’re missing something?

If you’re actively seeking out new opportunities and feel like the standard approach to job hunting isn’t serving you this time around, there’s another approach you can try to finding meaningful work: Design think your next move.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is an approach to problem solving that involves breaking down the problem, generating ideas, creating experiments or prototypes, and implementing experiments to test those prototypes. Once you've tested prototypes, you'll be ready to make changes and test again, leading you to a better solution.

One of the most important pieces of design thinking is the "bias to action," meaning that you'll build your way forward through experimentation and doing. You can’t know how something is going to go until you try it out!

Why is design thinking useful?

Design thinking can result in more innovative, human-centered solutions that produce quality outcomes. A great example is when Michael Schurr, a third-grade teacher revamped his classroom space using a design thinking approach.

Michael asked his students what they liked and didn’t like about their classroom and implemented changes to the physical environment allowing the students to be more comfortable in their space.

You may be thinking, “Well that sounds great if you’re trying to design the world’s most comfortable school desk, but how would you use a design thinking approach to a career change?”

Consider Anne; she’s a paralegal at a law firm and doesn’t like it at all. She’s thought for a long time that teaching might be her calling but she’s not sure it’s what she wants and doesn’t know how to make the transition. So how would Anne go about applying design thinking to her situation?

Let’s break down the pieces of design thinking and think about how they’d apply to Anne's challenge.

1. Understand the pain point

The first step is understanding the problem you’re trying to solve. Do you dislike your career field? Is it the specific organization or your particular role?

In Anne’s case, she'll need to determine whether it's the field of law, her particular firm, or her day-to-day work as a paralegal that is leaving her feeling unhappy. And what is it that she thinks she’d really like about being a teacher? Is she interested in working with kids, building curriculum, or the ability to achieve balance in her life with time off during the summer and around the holidays?

The more specific Anne can get about what it is that she thinks she’s interested in, the clearer her potential options become.

Challenge: Ask yourself, “What do I particularly dislike about my work now?” or “What is it specifically that I’m drawn to about another line of work I’m considering?”

2. Ideate

Once you know what it is you’re trying to solve for, you can come up with lots of ideas to test.

In Anne’s case, she’ll brainstorm ideas and topics that relate to the education field. For example, spending time with kids, decorating classrooms, collaborating with other teachers, working at an education nonprofit, working at a public or charter school, working at the Department of Education. The list can go on and on.

Challenge: How many types of ideas, topics, and jobs can you come up with that may relate to your area of interest? And if you’ve got clarity around the type of work you’re interested in but you need to brainstorm organizations, learn how to draft a target employer list.

3. Create experiments and prototypes

You wouldn’t buy an expensive suit before trying it on, right? So why would Anne leave her paralegal position for a teaching job without gathering enough insight and experiences to know that it’s the right fit?

Often, that’s what many of us do. We think we’ll be more happy in a different industry or role, so we network and apply our way into a position which turns out to be our first taste of what it’s really like. This may work out, but it can also be a recipe for disaster. The key is to figure out ways to test out your interests and ideas before you make the move.

In Anne’s case, she could offer to babysit her friend's ten-year old every Saturday afternoon for a month to see if she really enjoys spending more time with kids. She could spend a full day creating a lesson plan or worksheets for students and see how it feels. She could volunteer at a local library or children’s museum. Or she could try to shadow a teacher for a day at a public school nearby in order to experience up close what it’s like to be in the classroom.

Challenge: How would you test out elements of a job or career path that interest you?

4. Test

This should be the fun part!

Anne will be able to gather valuable information testing her prototypes to see if she really does enjoy working with kids, or really does like creating lesson plans. If she doesn’t like these things, she may want to re-think her transition to teaching. She may also discover she likes creating lesson plans, but doesn’t want to work with ten-year olds. So for her next prototype, she could brainstorm ways to test out teaching people of different ages.

One of the best parts of testing is that it's also a creative and effective way to build up your resume. If you’re trying to make a switch into a different kind of job, employers want to see that you’ve volunteered or gotten experience somewhere that proves you’re capable of excelling. Prototypes give you great content for your resume, networking conversations, and interviews.

The next time you’re feeling stuck with traditional methods of career changes, think about how you could start doing the thing you’re interested in with design thinking strategies.

Happy prototyping!

What career prototypes have you tested, or are you considering? Tweet at us @idealistcareers and let us know how it goes!

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Emily Lamia profile image

Emily Lamia

Emily Lamia is the Founder of Pivot Journeys, which offers career coaching, group programs, and organizational consulting to teams that want to build strengths-based cultures that increase engagement, collaboration, and productivity.

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