Somewhere along the line I picked up the habit of volunteering for things. If there was a dirty/difficult/unexpected job to do, I learned to raise my hand and say, “Sure, I’ll do that.” Part of this probably resulted from the fact that I would end up getting “voluntold” anyway, so why not just accept reality and purposely jump into some unwanted task?
The common thread
There has been an advantage to this sort of behavior, and that advantage is experience. “Experience” is often the thing you get when you don’t get what you want. I’ve picked up a lot of odd jobs this way, some good, some not as good: handling complaints, handing out product samples as part of a marketing campaign, blogging about science education, running events, working front desk at hotels other than my current assignment, running letter-writing campaigns, et cetera.
Do you see a pattern here? If not, the pattern is simply this: the assignments were something different that I hadn’t tried before.
The plus side of volunteering
All these weird little jobs I’ve taken on over the years are what help distinguish my resume from someone who’s done exactly the same job within the limits prescribed by the description in a want ad. “Other duties as assigned” is a running gag at NASA, for example, since it usually means you could end up with any number of odd jobs not included in the official description of the role one applied to do in the first place.
This past weekend, for example, I volunteered to help my friend Cynthia with an event in connection with ScribbleSpace. I started out by helping her set up her table as part of a “Santa’s Speakeasy,” an adult section of a neighborhood food and shopping fair. Things were getting a little congested, and I found myself volunteering to take orders for (and serve) holiday-themed cocktails. It wasn’t in the original job description, but the job needed to be done, so I raised my hand and took responsibility for doing it well.
The willingness to go outside your regular work duties is part of what makes your resume more interesting and also what helps you stand out in an interview.
The volunteering experience sort of reminds me of going for rides in the car with my dad. “Let’s go for a ride, son” might mean a trip to the dry cleaners or it might mean a drive into the city to have a pizza. You just never knew. What my father did as a way to get me to appreciate the ride also applies to work experiences: learn what you can learn, you might actually enjoy it. I’ve roped friends into volunteer work and, like me, some of them have had fun, made new friends, picked up new skills, or even found new career paths.
Bottom line: if your manager, peer, or customer asks you to do something not in your job description, say yes. You never know what might happen.