Job morphing is when you take your so-so job and, through patience and your own efforts, find a way to vastly improve it. Kind of like magic or alchemy, you work to change your job into something totally different and waaaay better for you.
I get lots of comments from people who feel trapped by their jobs. And granted, at times jobs shove you into a corner with seemingly no room to maneuver.
While some people call it bad luck and passively wonder when their luck will change, others take things into their own hands and find ways to take action, making a much tastier lemonade out of life’s lemons. With the help of job morphing, you can too.
Real-life examples of job morphing
Here are some of my own personal experiences with job morphing, followed by 20 basic career tips to help you create your own luck. Hang in for those or scroll down. They can help. But first a sampling of my own real-life job morphing experiences:
Jackie Mason’s off off off Broadway show
I was a theater major in college. During the summer break, when I was home visiting my parents, I heard that Jackie Mason was producing and starring in Last of the Red Hot Lovers at Grossinger’s Hotel. My ears perked up since I had a passion for theater and show biz in general. So when I heard they were looking for someone to sit at a table in the local supermarket and sell tickets, I ran to get the job.
It was boring. And, because this was during a time when Jackie’s popularity had waned, I couldn’t sell more than a few tickets in an entire day. We actually ran half-price shopper specials. One women came to me and said “$2? I wouldn’t give you 2 cents for Jackie Mason!” But rather than think “Uh oh! I got myself into a boring, dead end job,” I did the best I could and set my mind on getting to work with the production company anyway.
Job morphing opportunity knocks
One day, the production manager came to check out sales, and I explained the trouble we were having and presented her with a list of ideas. She dragged me to see Jackie and told me to tell him my ideas. I was all of 19.
But I stood there and told him what I thought and they put me in charge of expanding sales. I also made a point of chatting with other people in the company as much as possible, and found out that tickets were being sold at various prices – but no good records were being kept.
So I told them I could do that (not that I ever had) and started pulling together some accurate records and better pricing methods. I did a good job, stayed tuned in to the network (he had a slew of people around him), and soon I was put in charge of the front of house activities. All from saying “yes” to selling tickets at a supermarket.
Charge-It theatrical ticket sales
This was a theatrical ticket selling operation. (Yes … more show biz.) I had decided to try my hand at being an actress and wanted a flexible-hours job to go with it. So there I was, an MBA in Finance answering phone calls and taking ticket orders.
But I applied my business skills and made a point of plugging in to what was going on in the company; and then I heard there was a better, higher-paid job processing same-day tickets. So I focused on being one of the best (highest-volume) operators and making myself known to the supervisor.
Good to stay aware of what’s going on
One day when I heard her talking about the same-day stuff, and I told her I’d like to try it. Within a few weeks, I was in the new job. And there, I had my first contact with middle management, with whom I made a point of being friendly and helpful.
And I did the new job as well as possible, almost completely error-free, which was how they judged performance. And I even came up with a better method for tracking the information. Soon I was approached about a management job there. All within about 4 months. Job morphing. (Oh … I didn’t take the job since I wanted to retain flexibility for my acting, but the opportunity was there.)
Secondary mortgage broker job morphing
I was temping at the time and got a 1-week reception job at a secondary mortgage brokerage firm. (This is a business that finds buyers and sellers for huge mega-million dollar packages of bank mortgages.) I answered the phones pleasantly and with good energy.
It was a small office, but the owner barely noticed me. But I noticed everything I could. I listened in to what was going on. One day, I heard the owner sounding upset, talking to someone on the phone about a “rate of return” for a mortgage package. And he had a new calculator that was frustrating him because he couldn’t get it to answer the rate question. Opportunity. And luck. You see, I had studied rates of return in school and had the exact same financial calculator!
And then I made my job morphing move
So I walked up to the owner and asked if I could help him. He looked at me – he was very preppy and a bit stiff – and said “What do you know about these things?” (I could almost hear the unspoken “little girl.”) And I just smiled, asked “May I?”
And I took the calculator, coming up with the answer he needed. He offered me a job as a very-well-paid secondary mortgage broker the next week. (By the way, years later this experience helped get me a fabulous job working for a major environmental organization. A good reminder that what we do now isn’t forever … but it may be a piece of what we need for a dream job later on.)
Schwab: from temp to job creation
I was living in San Francisco and between jobs. I decided to do some temp work again. (I sometimes do that just to see what’s out there.) Schwab was great for temping. It was a well-run company and I got to see a bunch of different departments from my oh-so-useful vantage as a receptionist or admin.
One day I landed in a department doing Year 2000 (Y2K) preparation for bank software and hardware. I liked this idea and started looking for ways to make my 3-week job into something longer. They had me doing simple data entry into an Access data base. This was all new to me, but in my spare time I started teaching myself how to use Access – including some fancier stuff.
A new job is born
Soon, I was their go-to person for Access and they asked if I could stay longer. I negotiated a higher rate and became part of the team. Then I saw that we could make improvements to the entire inventory system and I proposed this to them saying I could make it happen for them. Of course, I again negotiated more money (and more 3 months later).
Now admittedly I did have to psych myself up a bit to propose these things, since this was all new to me. But determination and a little moxie can really pay off. And anyway, I was willing to put in as much of my own time as was needed to make it work.
Job morphing to bank project manager
I needed a job quickly when I moved back home to New York and realized I’d have to take anything. A friend of mine who worked at a German bank heard they needed a low-level IT security officer. Once again, something I’d never done.
But I needed a job and was willing to learn. I didn’t like most of what the job required. Way too routine and too much detail for my taste. And my immediate boss HATED me. She didn’t feel comfortable that I had a master’s degree or that I had a resume with higher level jobs.
But I treated her with absolute respect and always did my job the best I could. Still she just didn’t like me. For the first 4 weeks, she didn’t even set up a desk for me in the security office and I couldn’t do that without her. It was rough.
Creating your own opportunity
But then I noticed that the notes we were working from to reset people’s systems were pretty disorganized and not very good. So I proposed that I take on documenting all the systems.
While I was not all that keen on details, I also saw a way to give myself a special project that was important to the company. And, more importantly, this work was not in her face. She actually liked that I was doing this. It wasn’t a threat to her. I learned later on she thought I wanted her job. As if!
So, with job-morphing radar still on — but knowing sometimes you have to watch and wait — I settled into my work and even started to enjoy it more as days became more pleasant for me. And I turned out some really good documentation — one more thing I’d never done before. (Years later this skill got me LOTS of well-paid consulting work.)
But I kept my ears open
And I made a point of getting to know people in other areas of the bank. And then about 6 months later I heard that a project manager job was opening up in their Y2K team. My head perked up like a pointer dog smelling prey. Once again, luck. I had some Y2K experience and I emphasized that fact.
And I got the job. Plus a big raise. And a start of many more years of earning a living working in IT.
OK. You might have guessed by now that I have even more stories like these from all kinds of jobs (at various levels) in the public, private, non-profit, and even academic sectors. But I chose these few examples to at least give you some basic idea of how jobs can morph if you just keep your eyes open to opportunity. Even a bad or boring situation can lead to something interesting with YOUR help!
20 tips to help your job morphing
- Let go of self-doubt.
- Stay aware and be alert.
- Be daring.
- See yourself succeeding.
- Be open to possibilities.
- Stay tuned in around you.
- Build networks.
- Be visible.
- Step up when opportunity presents.
- Find a niche.
- Learn new skills.
- Don’t be afraid to take on new things.
- Attitude, attitude, attitude.
- Do the best job you can.
- Present solutions and/or improvements – not just problems.
- Stay positive and optimistic.
- Be there for others.
- Don’t let obstacles – or misses – stop you. Know they are temporary and try again.
- Be a go-to person.
- Focus on what’s possible rather than getting stuck in what’s wrong.
A few more thoughts
And remember … we help make our own luck – or at least we should be ready to take advantage of a situation when luck happens.
Opportunity itself is a form of luck. The secret is not only learning how to set the stage for opportunity, but also learning how to recognize it when it shows up. And when it does … practice the WTF philosophy:
Whether it works this time or not
Go for it with all your heart!
[Article updated in 2020]
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