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Designing a job swap

A while ago I swapped jobs. Nothing unusual in that. People change jobs all the time, right?  Except … this swap was only for three weeks.

You see, I took advantage of the PaperCut Job Swap program - taking on a completely new role in the company. I want to share with you why I did it, my learnings, and how you can benefit from it in your workplace.

What’s PaperCut Job Swap?

PaperCut Job Swap is an opportunity for PaperCutters to shift from their day-to-day role to another position in the business, and trial doing something else for a limited time.

Job Swap started off as an experiment (I was the first!). We introduced it off the back of a staff survey that revealed our people were interested in opportunities to explore different career opportunities within PaperCut.

We’ve had several job swaps since mine - including a few across various global offices and time zones (and one that stretched to three months)!

Why should YOU do a job swap at your workplace?

Let me answer that by explaining why I did it.

I’m a graphic designer. And while I’m part of the marketing team, I spend loads of time with other teams - both professionally and socially.

One of the roles in the product engineering team has always intrigued me - the role of product designer.

It sounds cool - designing a product! But I didn’t know the first thing about it. What’s a product designer’s day look like? What skills do they need? What are the challenges (and successes)?

The job swap gave me an insight into the day-to-day of life as a product designer. I was given a project and deadline, with deliverables expected at the end of the secondment. In other words, it wasn’t playtime - I had to deliver on a project that was going to market!

And what this experience gave me was:

  • an understanding of what’s involved
  • an insight into whether I’d like to do the role
  • a realization that I could actually perform in the role

So why should YOU do it?

You get direct exposure to something you’re interested in. Instead of asking someone what a role’s like, you experience it.

You increase your knowledge and business context (become more T-shaped), building relationships with people you may not work with closely day-to-day. And of course you get to know whether it’s worthwhile for you to pursue longer term.

Another ‘side effect’ of a job swap is that it builds empathy. Often, we don’t know what challenges people face in a particular role or don’t understand how and why they make those decisions. By being embedded in that role for some time you build that understand and as a result empathy that you can then bring back and share with others in your team.

Before you dive right in, though, take a moment to ask yourself the following questions. These will provoke your thinking to help you (and/or your manager) gain a better understanding of what you want to achieve.

Why do this? What’s in it for you?

Is it to develop your career? Is it an opportunity to collaborate and work closely with other specialists within your company? Is it to gain insight into a different team environment?

You might be looking to seize the opportunity to collaborate with others. Or gain an insight into a different team.

Everyone wants to grow and become a better version of themselves. I took that opportunity. It was a chance to develop my career, expand my knowledge in a different field within design as well as in other areas of the business that I’m not familiar with.

Knowing what you want to get out of it is crucial - it allows you to set expectations and shape your outcome.

What will you be doing?

This might be tricky to answer depending on what role you’re going for. You might have no idea and that’s okay. Do a bit of research or chat to someone (internal or external) within a similar position you’re swapping in to.

Since my current role is somewhat similar in creative aspects (but not the same), I had done prep work to get a brief idea of the differences in responsibility for what a product designer would be doing.

This was what I was expecting:

  • Contributing to product UI interface
  • Understanding the UI design process (quite different from the graphic design process)
  • Learning new software/skills
  • Adapting to a different team environment and new structures
  • Collaborating with those I haven’t worked with before
  • Melting in info overload
  • Having a confused face / Swimming in confusion

What do you want to get out of it?

Keep in mind the duration of your job swap. It might be a few days or a few months. I had three weeks. I created a list of goals I wanted to achieve but also kept an open mind, as I had to expect the unexpected.

This acts as a guide and can be helpful for your mentor/manager for when they create a work plan for you.

My goals:

  • Increased knowledge on our product/end user
  • Understand the UI design process
  • Understand how other teams work and why they do things that way
  • Contribute verbally, visually, conceptually
  • Create stuff and have fun doing it.

Some of the work from my job swap

Your job swap’s approved - now what?

You’ve submitted your application and it’s approved! Woot! You’re super excited. But you don’t know where to start. How do you prep for this?

Follow these 10 tips to  start your job swap with peace of mind (and the right attitude).

10 tips for your job swap

1) Preheat the oven

DO NOT go in empty handed. You’re there to get straight into it and get as much out of it as possible (remember your goals). Don’t waste those days trying to learn how to use new software - that’s homework.

2) Be patient

It will take time. You can’t take on/learn everything in one day. Take in information, go home, reflect. let it absorb but also take the time to go over notes and reflect on your learnings throughout the day.

3) Be hungry to learn

If you’re not there to learn, what are you really there for?

4) Hang in there

It will be challenging. It will also be worthwhile.

5) Take your culture with you

Put your current team’s culture in a bag and take it with you to your new team. I can assure you they’ll admire the different perspective you bring to the team and vice versa.

6) Get to know your peeps

Bond over a coffee before you start. Go have lunch with them on your first day. You’ll feel more comfortable, trust me. Besides, they’re not strangers, they’re your colleagues.

7) Ask a million things

There’s no such thing as a stupid question, right? There’s also no such thing as asking too many questions. Let your curiosity and mind go wild.

8) Stop Slacking

Don’t use Slack or Lync or whatever instant messaging service your company normally uses. Get up and go talk to your team members. Yes it can be easy to resort to emailing/virtual messages or be glued to your desk. But seriously, get up and do it.

You might even find out some interesting facts about them and become best buds. You’ll thank me for it later.

9) No expectations = no disappointments

Go in with an open mind. Yes,  do set yourself goals about what you want to do but also free up some of that mind and take everything as it comes.

10) Notebook necessity

Part of a newbie’s “can’t live without it” survival kit.

Get a new notebook and start fresh (It helped me to separate my graphics /marketing mindset) and remember to take it with you everywhere you go.

There were loads of learnings, team insights, knowledge building, mistakes, collaboration, challenges, problem solving and fun during my job swap.

If you ever get the chance, just do it (insert Nike symbol here). Would recommend 11/10.


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