For the first 25 years of his career, Scott Shute worked mostly in customer service-related leadership jobs. But in September 2018, he embarked on an entirely new career path, becoming head of mindfulness and compassion programs at LinkedIn.
The move began with a desire to do something different -- Shute, who had been working as VP of global customer operations at the company, was longing for a truer sense of work-life balance.
“I wanted my outside-of-work life to be exactly the same as my inside-of-work life,” he says.
A student of mindfulness and meditation, he began leading an employee meditation class once a week, which turned into other initiatives such as a 30-day mindfulness challenge -- an initiative that has since grown to 1,600 participants. It wasn’t long before he was known among his coworkers as “the mindfulness exec.”
That momentum translated into a real job moment when LinkedIn’s CEO decided he wanted LinkedIn to lead the charge on compassion. Shute felt that this was the time to turn his side project into a full-time position. He pitched his bosses on a role in which he would not only drive a culture of compassion and mindfulness within the company, but prove its impact on productivity, job satisfaction and the customer experience.
His efforts paid off.
“I’m in love with my work. It’s not without challenge, but it’s definitely what I want to do with my life,” says Shute. “I find that I’m excited to come to work on Mondays. This fulfillment spills over to everything I do. I’m happier, more creative, more giving, more patient. I’m a better version of myself.”
Shute’s story isn’t a one-off. In fact, at a time when companies are looking for fresh ideas to help them navigate a rapidly changing job landscape, experts say there’s an opportunity for workers -- particularly creatives -- to engineer roles that suit their own interests and aspirations while benefiting their employer.
“Seeing a need and creating a new position to fill that need can be a great career move,” says Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group, a creative staffing agency. “This is especially true in the creative and marketing industries, where teams need to innovate to keep up with demands in today’s ever-changing climate. If you can show the initiative to be at the leading edge of that change, you can position yourself and the organization for the future.”
David Shing’s career story is a perfect example. Originally hired to lead AOL’s marketing efforts in Europe, Shing maneuvered into the self-created role of “digital prophet” in 2011. It was a move sparked by his outspokenness: then-CEO Tim Armstrong was looking to change the company’s lengthy mission statement and had asked employees to weigh in. Shing told him AOL’s vision at the time “stunk,” and because of that, he was asked to take part in formulating a new one. He also began speaking on panels, presenting at conferences and developing a forward-thinking perspective that began to ripple across AOL and the industry.
“We weren’t just for old people,” he says. “We had women and fashion and other brands, but we needed a point of view to get noticed.”
By being able to build a new mission at the business, and now its parent company, Verizon Media, Shing made himself invaluable.
“Tim [Armstrong] didn’t have to allow me to do that job but holy crap has it worked out for us in this organization,” he says.
While there’s no one path to convincing your company to let you do your dream job, career professionals say it’s critical to figure out how your aspirations and interests intersect with the company’s needs. From there, it’s about convincing your company to let you pursue those goals.
Dona Sarkar, a former engineer who now works as an executive at Microsoft, says the best way is to start small. She’s had firsthand experience: In her role as head of Microsoft’s Insiders Program, a community of Microsoft fans who engage in conversations about the company’s products, she wanted to launch an initiative to help entrepreneurs in emerging markets grow their businesses. She and her team got approval for a six-month test program, promising to bring back ideas that would help Microsoft better serve customers in those markets.
“The most important thing to keep in mind is to do the smallest, least expensive experiment you can,” she says, adding you should “definitely call it an ‘experiment,’ which is always a success -- you either prove a theory true or not.”
Ask yourself: What are some assumptions you have about your solution and how will you test it? For instance, do you think it will build awareness, drive customers or help convert people into users? How can you test your riskiest assumption about your solution early?
When trying to prove yourself, it’s important to build a network of supporters within the company, says Sarkar. Think: Who can help you as you look to prove your case for a new type of role? What sort of mentors and sponsors can you have advocating for you? Who is willing to be the "victim" of your experiment?
Finally, remember to communicate any success you’ve had in your experiment so that you can continue to build momentum and attract more support, Sarkar says.
Domeyer of The Creative Group adds that your approach should entail doing extensive research, including reviewing the current trends, determining what skills you need for the role and creating a draft of your potential responsibilities, along with any salary requirements.
“When it’s time to share your dream job plan with your manager, make sure you present your research in full, highlighting how the new position will help the business,” she says. “You and your manager can then work together to develop a plan to execute it.”
Andrea Huspeni is a New York City-based freelance journalist and editor. Prior to freelancing, she was the Special Project Director at Entrepreneur.com, where she oversaw staff series, along with contributors' posts.