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Reinvent Your Job, Before Someone Else Does

Teri Heck just landed her dream promotion - and she designed it herself.

A human-resources manager at Motorola, Ms. Heck had spent the past 10 years fine-tuning her employee-relations skills.

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She now wanted to focus on organizational development. With two small children, she also wanted more flexibility.

But such a position didn't exist at Motorola. So she started looking elsewhere. When her boss got wind of the move, the two started talking.

In May, Heck will start a new job, but still at Motorola. As a project consultant, she'll do everything from redesigning training programs to streamlining policies and procedures. "Professionally, it is unlimited as far as how much I can grow. Personally, I have a lot more flexibility."

Nationwide, a growing number of workers are creating new jobs for themselves or reinventing their current ones.

The timing couldn't be better.

Continuous downsizings and mergers are creating gaps in companies that need to be filled.

And with everyone from retailers to chipmakers facing worker shortages, businesses are more willing than ever to do what it takes to keep top talent.

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"Today, companies recognize that they have to give people an environment where they can grow in order to keep them," says John Challenger of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas in Chicago.

Creating a brand new job is far from easy. Bosses eager to keep workers in their current slots can stonewall even the best-laid plans.

Yet in a time of constant change, it often pays to reinvent your job before someone else does.

Those who have made the transformation say the key is matching their talents and aspirations with a company's needs.

Take Rose Fass.

After 15 years fast-tracking up the management ranks at Xerox, Ms. Fass was tired of spreadsheets and budget crunching. But she loved managing people.

The year was 1990 and Fass headed Xerox's East Coast division. A recession was taking hold, and Xerox was looking to change the way it operated.

Fass and her co-manager decided to empower their workers. They let employees in on hiring decisions, implemented teams, and tried flexible work arrangements. The strategies worked. The division's numbers turned around, and within a year it was outperforming all other divisions.

Fass didn't want to stop there.

Aiming to implement the same practices companywide, she spent the next six months talking to the vice president of human resources. And in 1993, she stepped into a new job: worldwide program manager for the empowered workplace.

A year later, she and a colleague formed Xerox's Center for Organizational Transformation, an in-house operation to improve the way employees work.

Her advice: "Don't wait to get permission or for the right doors to open. Start doing what you want to do where you are." If you can show some success, she says, you'll have a stronger case.

Another key persuader is a written proposal.

A solid job description helped Kyra Mancini land her dream job.

A year and a half ago, she joined Career Development Services in Rochester, N.Y., as a research assistant in the library.

With a master's in career counseling, she wanted to move into writing and training people to use the Internet for career searches.

So in January, she handed her two supervisors a description of her ideal job. She also met with them regularly to remind them of her interests.

Ms. Mancini also tried to increase her visibility in the company. She started editing the company newsletter and giving presentations during the company's "lunch and learn" talks.

Her persistence paid off.

The company was looking for someone to write reviews of career books. Mancini got the nod.

She'll start her new job as "information coordinator" next month.

She reckons that if she hadn't been assertive, she probably wouldn't have been considered.

Her advice: "Try to make yourself visible within the company. Volunteer for extra things. If there's a newsletter, try to get mentioned. And take advantage of any training opportunities."

If you take the plunge, but management nixes your proposal, don't fret.

"If they turn you down, it was still worth the effort," says Marilyn Moats Kennedy, president of Career Strategies in Wilmette, Ill., "because you are marked as someone who went through a significant effort to do something that was useful to the company."

How to Invent a Job

Job hopping has become the trend of the hour, but workers should look in their own backyards before they leap.

Changing jobs too often, career experts warn, can leave you with a rsum long on titles and short on accomplishments.

One alternative: Work at creating a new position for yourself right where you are. This is not a task for the unmotivated. It takes work - lots of it - and some pretty smart politicking as well.

"Workers need to start by asking themselves, 'What are the things I really do well, and how can I get to do more of them?' " says Marty Nemko, a career strategist in Oakland, Calif.

Here are some tips from those who have done it successfully.

* Test out your idea on someone you can trust, such as a mentor.

* Find out whom to sell your idea to. Try to bring your boss on board.

* Write up a job description complete with title, duties, and department where the job belongs.

* Explain how the new job will benefit the company (not you).

* Get additional training to bolster your case.

* Make yourself more visible in the company.

* Polish your public-speaking skills. You might have to present your idea to a variety of audiences.

* Try to suggest a replacement for your current job, and offer to train that person.

* Don't wait for the door to open. Start doing at least a part of what you want to do right where you are.

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