Why Dream Jobs Are a Myth: Using Design Thinking in Your Job Search

I was fortunate to participate in a design thinking workshop last week at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University (aka the d.school) with other consultants from around the country. While I’ve used and taught design thinking for years and it’s a central part of the job search approach I use with my career coaching clients, it was refreshing to be in the midst of it again as a practitioner and it reminded me why this approach can be so transformational when applied to your career.

1. It helps you think in new and creative ways: the core belief of the d.school is that “everyone has the capacity to be creative”. I don’t consider myself a particularly creative person in the traditional sense, but being together with a group of new people doing everything from improv exercises to brainstorming and prototyping was a great reminder for me that I, and all of us, do have creative ideas – we just need the right environment and structures to unlock them. Making time to get away from your day to day and engage in activities that turn on that creative part of your brain – whether pursuing a hobby like art or music, taking an improv class, or doing a brainstorming exercise with others – will get you thinking in a different way and unlock some new ideas about where you may want to go in your career, especially if you are feeling stuck.

2. It’s focused on learning about others’ needs first: the first stage in design thinking is Empathy, focused on understanding the needs of your end user and then designing a solution from there. By learning about the needs and problems of potential employers you can better understand what problems you want to help solve. The best way to do this is through conducting informational interviews with people in the industries and organizations you’re interested in. Bringing curiosity and a learner’s mindset will help you find out what is truly interesting and exciting to you, and helps you build relationships with organizations so that you’ll be seen as the person that can solve their problems. The best jobs are usually those that are not found on a job board, but through connecting with people and organizations that are doing work you want to be a part of.

3. It assumes there is no one right answer: this might be the most important takeaway from this approach. It frees you from the idea of perfection and helps you move forward in small steps. One of the biggest places people get stuck in the job search is thinking that there is one dream job out there for them and that they need to figure out what that is. The reality is that there are a number of paths that could make you happy, and if you are set on finding your dream job you may be waiting forever. Realizing that there is no one perfect job out there can be a big relief (at least it was for me), and through a process of learning and experimentation, you can find or even create opportunities you may never have thought of – in my case, becoming a career coach!

4. It can feel messy and non-linear: while there are stages in the design thinking process, it’s often necessary to cycle back through them and it can feel somewhat chaotic and messy when you’re in the midst of it. Sound familiar? While the job search can feel like this too, in both cases it’s reassuring to know that it’s normal and that using a consistent process will yield results, just not always in the way or place that you might have expected. By paying attention to what you’re learning along the way and adjusting your approach based on the feedback you’re getting, you’ll consistently get closer and closer to your end goal: a role and organization where you can use your talents and strengths to solve problems you really care about.

How have you applied design thinking in your career? I’d love to hear in the comments. For more about using the design thinking process in your job search see Want a New Job? Why You’re Doing it Wrong and How to Do it Right and the book Designing Your Life. A few other helpful articles include:

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