Explore New Opportunities by Applying Design Thinking to Your Job Search

In their book Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans from Stanford describe methods for incorporating design thinking into career planning that might be particularly relevant to those who are thinking of exploring new paths due to the impact of COVID-19.

Below is an abbreviated overview, to get you thinking about whether this design-thinking based career-planning model could work for you.


Life design starts by acknowledging that we all face gravity challenges. Gravity challenges are problems that, like gravity, can’t be changed and that we have to learn to work around. In 2020, the world of job seekers is facing a gravity problem due to the economic instability created by the pandemic. The design-thinking approach is to accept gravity problems as a reality and find ways to work around them.

Has your path been shifted by current events? Are you feeling stuck? Unsure where to start, and what your options are? Use Mind Mapping to explore your world of experience and identify new paths and options to research.

Find your way by connecting more deeply with your daily life. Take note of your daily activities and interactions and your observations or feelings about them. Are there courses or teams you love? Is there work that you are drawn to? Is there anything that fills you with energy? Interactions that bring you joy? What would you change? Anything you want to do less of? Track your daily life for a week or more to look for patterns.

Many of us are in challenging times right now, so if this activity does not generate meaningful information, move onto the next step with the information you have from the last year or two about what energizes or drains you. For some, however, the current crisis may be a catalyst for your values, interests, and talents.

There are a few areas of the market where we could see more opportunities in the current climate, including remote work solutions, healthcare, medical supplies, media streaming services, gaming, online shopping, home exercise, and supermarkets. Are any of these industries paths you want to pursue?


Now that you’ve mapped out some new options and reflected on your work/life preferences, design three different potential lives. Get creative with them: what work will you be doing, what will your day look like, where will you live? How do you feel about the options?

If you need further guidance on what lives to design: Option 1 can be your planned path – one you’ve been preparing yourself for or that seems like a natural step with your experience and education, Option 2 is the path you’d take if Option 1 was not available, and Option 3 is your dream path, if money and image were not important.


Now it’s time to figure out if your designs can work for you. Talk with your career advisor or career coach, connect with classmates or fellow MIT Sloan students through the MIT Sloan Photobook Directory, or the MBA Full-Time and Summer Internship Directories or the MFin Internship Directory on Your CDO, sign up for a career session with an alumni on the MIT Alumni Advisor’s Hub, or explore the Alumni Network page on Your CDO to see more options to connect.

After your advising session, and scheduling informational interviews with classmates and alums, do any of these paths seems like a good option, ones you can make happen? Are you particularly excited about any of them?

If your prototype has promise, you should be finding opportunities – either through more connections, more things to explore, or even job opportunities.


Making career choices can be difficult. Making a choice can feel like you are putting a permanent stake in the ground. It’s important to remember that these choices are not permanent. Many master’s graduates stay in their first job after graduation about two years. Most people have multiple careers during their lifetimes. The challenges of the current job market won’t prevent you from designing a great life over the long term.

Choosing is the only way to move on to the next step of your path. The choices won’t end with that one decision. From there, you will have more choices, and you will have more leaning experiences to help you make good choices. So if you are unsure about the opportunity, take comfort in the path that it’s not permanent, and it’s a vital part of the experience of designing your life.

And of course, schedule an appointment with your career advisor or career coach to talk through your potential paths.


Now more than ever, failure to achieve a goal, like a particular job or path, is not an individual challenge – it is something we are all facing together, in our own ways. We must find a way to move forward in the direction of opportunities – building on the experience we gain from setbacks, reaching out for support, and acknowledging we still have power to change our future by our actions.


This is the most important step for many people. As Bill and Dave point out, we all live and design our lives in collaboration with others. Identify your team, which can be made up of classmates, fellow Sloan club members, professional organization members,  alumni, your career advisor, and any ad-hoc or organized job search teams. Identify 3-5 people who are supportive, reflective, attentive, offer good counsel, and are empathetic and respectful of the process. Think also of those who will be able to respect your confidentiality. Remember: you don’t need a team who has all the answers, you need a team who can support you in finding answers and opportunities, asking the right questions, and making decisions for yourself.

Check out these resources and reach out to your CDO career advisor or career coach. Questions, email askcdo@mit.edu.

By MIT Sloan CDO
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