Instead of preparing to go back to school, recent college graduates are busy launching their careers or testing the waters in their desired industries.
While I could discuss tips for making strong first impressions, building your network, writing a resume, and nailing the interview, I’m going to let you – the job seeker – in on one piece of invaluable career advice: embrace “other duties as assigned.”
You’ve probably seen these ambiguous four little words in an employer’s job ad. Maybe you thought nothing of it, or maybe you envisioned which “other duties” the line implied. Now, imagine you’ve been hired for an entry-level position that will put you on the fast track to your dream job. After a few days in your new role, you’re asked to do things that weren’t clearly stated in the job description or didn’t come up in your training. For example, you’re tasked with taking notes during a department meeting, sorting mail, watering the office plants, making coffee, or walking the boss’s dog.
These “other duties” may seem trivial, especially when you’re young and eager to move up the ranks, but your employer has a good reason for tapping you for help. In most cases, they are testing you. Recognizing your potential as a valuable, tenured team member, your employer wants to help you grow. Alternatively, you could be on the chopping block and your employer is giving you a last shot at proving your worth. (But hopefully, that’s not the case!)
Acing the “Other Duties” Test
Instead of deeming “other duties as assigned” as a punishment or busy work in your entry-level job, approach extra responsibilities with enthusiasm. Jump on any opportunity you can to show leadership, initiative, and ownership. Plus, you’ll earn appreciation from your colleagues and eliminate downtime. Trust me on this one – boredom in an entry-level position is more common than you’d think. It may sound great to get paid to “do nothing,” but being bored at work is no picnic.
To look at it another way, consider the soft skills that seemingly insignificant tasks reinforce. Let’s revisit the above examples: Taking notes during a meeting improves your listening skills. Sorting mail addresses organization and attention to detail. Tending to office plants and walking your boss’s dog teach responsibility. Change your perspective and you’ll be more likely to learn something new and useful.
But what happens if you don’t know how to do what’s asked of you? There is no shame in asking questions or seeking clarification. Your employer will appreciate your desire to do things the right way. Above all, never say, “That’s not my job” – view new tasks and challenges as opportunities to grow and earn the trust of your higher-ups and coworkers.
If you want to take your approach to “other duties as assigned” one step further, don’t wait around for marching orders. Pursue cross-training opportunities – learn a bit about what everyone does (especially if you work for a small company) so you’ll be prepared to help if the chance arrives. Ask your busy coworkers if you can lend a hand and lighten their load. And, if there’s nothing to do, spend some time catching up on industry trends or brushing up on a skill that will help you progress in your career.
Lastly, no matter which “other duties” you tackle, put safety first. Know your boundaries and what’s appropriate. For example, you’re not going to reorganize your entire department’s desks, scale the side of your building to wash the windows, or take it upon yourself to completely revise the employee handbook.
So, next time you see “other duties as assigned” in a job description or are asked to do something out of the ordinary at work, don’t panic. Embrace it. You may have a great opportunity in front of you to shine, show initiative, learn, and grow.
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