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When There Isn’t A Job Description

Reality check: According to World Economic Forum data, over the next five years 75 million jobs will be lost and at the same time 133 million new jobs will be created (we just don’t have categories or labels for them yet)–change is happening faster than humans can adapt. There is a strong chance that you will be approached about a role in the near future, and the hiring manager will not have a job description for it–because it’s never existed before.

What will your answer be? Equally important, how do you navigate working in a new role when you can never say “that’s not in my job description” because you never had a job description to begin with? I’ve spent the past five years of my life in a role that has very little to no job description, and I’m here to tell you that it can be one of the most freeing experiences you can imagine–if you have the right constraints around it. The people, culture, mission, and the impact.

INVESTIGATE

How do you learn more about people and culture if you don’t work there? You can rely on reviews at sites like Glassdoor, Indeed, or even Yelp/Google. My caution would be to not take each review at face value (angry customers are more likely to leave a review than happy ones). Look for trends and sentiments that are repeated multiple times–these are the ones to pay attention to.

Another way to learn about the people and culture is to find people in your LinkedIn network who work at that organization, reconnect with them, and ask for the inside scoop. No matter what the employer branding/marketing says–your manager and teammates will make the biggest impact on your day to day happiness with the “culture.”

The mission and impact of the company are typically more public. You can google them and read what they do — not what they say — in terms of their social/community impact if that is meaningful to you. Let’s say that this company passes your tests and you have to consider an actual offer.

So, you want me to accept this job, but you don’t have a job description for it?

Maybe, maybe not. But here is a quick framework you can use to identify if this could be the right role for you. Money absolutely talks, but if the money is there and the following three things are missing, you won’t last long.

1. Do I like the people?

You could work at the #1 best work place in the world ™ and still hate your job if your boss, or your team don’t suit you. Work where you like the people. Work where you can play long term games with long term people. Are you the kind of person that keeps work/home separate? Do you become immediate “work-family” with your team? Do you like to go out with your team multiple times per week, or do you keep more to yourself? Find your fit.

2. Am I going to learn something?

In the future of work, it’s more about skill sets and experience than it is about titles and status. Make sure that you are staying focused on the skills and experience you are adding to your portfolio that you will need next. Remember, if you feel too comfortable, you’re probably not learning/growing. Who will be there to support your learning/answer your questions? Does the organization have formal resources and processes in place to help you grow?

3. Will I actually enjoy it?

You spend the majority of your week at work (even if you’re remote). Make sure when you are exploring a new opportunity that it’s something that will make you excited to get out of bed in the morning

The people are great, the role seems interesting, and I’m excited to get started but…still no job description. What’s next?

As I mentioned before, I’ve worked in a role without a traditional “job description.” Instead I’ve had a goal: grow our Direct Hire search revenue in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis year-over-year. It’s specific, it’s measurable, and it’s actionable. Do you notice what isn’t stated in the goal? How to get there. That’s all up to me.

WORKING WITHOUT A JOB DESCRIPTION

STEP 1: KNOW YOUR GOAL

My goal is short and simple: grow direct hire search revenue. What is yours? You should be able to simplify it down to a single actionable sentence: “Achieve [x]  quota attainment by [y] date.”, “Ship [x] lines of code every [y] period of time.”, “Retain [x]  percent of customers with an NPS score of at least [y] as measured [in this time period].” Everyone’s role has a goal, whether you’re a CEO trying to return value to shareholders/investors, or a frontline maintenance tech keeping machines online and running. Once your goal is clearly stated, then you can work on the rest.

Questions to ask in an interview/exploratory conversation:

  • What do you need the person in this role to achieve or deliver in the first month? 90 days? 6 months? Year?
  • How is this currently being accomplished? Who is involved in getting it done?
  • What is keeping this goal from being accomplished right now?

STEP 2: MAKE SURE YOUR GOALS ALIGN WITH YOUR BOSS(ES)’

When you start creatively working towards achieving your goal, you might find yourself going off in many new directions. For me, growing revenue could mean hiring more recruiters, launching new brands, investing in training or technology, playing with pricing and fee negotiation, and on and on and on. In your new role, you may find yourself flooded with ideas–just make sure that those ideas and initiatives align with your boss (or bosses) goals as well.

If your success is measured by top-line revenue growth (how much money you billed by the end of the year), you might not notice how much money you are spending to make money. If you understand that your supervisor’s success is measured by profitability (how much is left over after expenses) it might change some of the techniques you employ, and be a little more thrifty,  to reach your goal.

Questions to ask yourself, and your leader(s) from time to time:

  • What are your top priorities right now?
  • How is your success being measured?

When you align your interests with others on your team, you’ll find a lot more willing partners and more resources.

STEP 3: KNOW HOW TO DIRECT TRAFFIC

One vulnerability of working in a role without a written job description, is that a lot can be added to your plate. It’s important that you constantly monitor the portfolio of projects you’re working on and keep your team aware of your bandwidth. It’s inevitable that from time to time one of two things will happen: you’ll have two different leaders ask you to accomplish the same thing in two very different ways, or you will have someone ask you to drop what you’re doing and work on their project (at the expense of your original goal). In the olden days, you could whip out your “that’s not in my job description card” — now, you need to learn how to navigate this conflict.

What happens when two leaders give you different directions?

In a new role, there isn’t always a clear reporting structure and you may end up getting conflicting messages about what you should be prioritizing, or how you should be approaching a project from different leaders. When this happens, it’s time to call a quick time-out and get everyone into the same conversation as soon as you can. Best if this can be done as a live conversation (in person is better than video which is better than a phone call). When you’re having a difficult conversation like this, you want to be able to gather the nonverbal cues that come across in a live meeting. Once everyone is together in the same place, at the same time, lay everything out on the table. Start by making sure everyone agrees on the same end goal (they should), and then walk through the different paths that you are being asked to take towards that goal. By the end of this conversation, hopefully all three of you will agree on one path, and you can move forward with less friction and clearer priorities.

What if having no job description suddenly means EVERYTHING is in your job description?

Hopefully it doesn’t get this far. If you’re constantly unloading the camel, there will never be a straw that breaks the camel’s back. Every once in a while things can get out of hand. If you are in a situation where you’ve said yes too many times, you’re getting off track, and emotions have built up, it’s time to have a conversation with your stakeholders. You may want to hide behind an email, but when you are trying to influence you really need to be in a live conversation (face to face is best, video is second, and phone is ok). They need to see/hear your sincerity. Here are a few word tracks to help you get back on track:

  • “When I first accepted this project, my bandwidth was different, since then … has been added into the mix. Would it be possible to change the deadline on …..?”
  • “How does this support the goal of _______________”
  • “You and I discussed that x was important, help me prioritize this correctly….”
  • “I can absolutely do that, however, spending x% time on this project/initiative/etc. now may take away from _______. What are your thoughts on how this should be prioritized?”
  • Confirm the results of your conversation through email

STEP 4: GET FEEDBACK

  • Schedule regular check ins with your supervisor, teammates, and reports. Regular, 360-degree feedback is healthy, and it will help to keep you focused on the right things at the right time.
  • This regular communication also gives you a checkpoint to keep your leader aware of how many projects you are working on (they may not realize how much is on your plate), or it could also be the right time to discuss taking on more responsibility or to switch the focus of some of your projects.
  • This doesn’t have to be super formal. Whether you are catching a supervisor or direct report at the beginning/end of a meeting, grabbing a cup of coffee, or setting aside dedicated time just make sure you are having these conversations.

The new world of work promises a lot more autonomy, but also a lot more ambiguity as it relates to our day jobs. If you stay focused on working where you like the people, you are learning, and having fun, and you stay proactive with your communication, you may find yourself in your dream job — even if there isn’t a description for it.

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