Taking Advantage of Your Opportunities

Every job is an opportunity. I must have heard this or something like this from my immigrant grandmother and her daughter thousands of times while growing up. The thing is, they were right, and I’ve seen that that applies as much to the world of work as it did to household chores.

My mother’s favorite question after I’d finished a chore was, “Is that the best you can do?” That’s as good a place to start as anywhere. If you’re doing your best (with a clear understanding of your customer’s or employer’s needs), your work will stand out and recognized.

Another thing to consider when doing a job is whether you’re doing the bare minimum or whether you’re going beyond the mere job description. Anything above-and-beyond is adding value to what otherwise might be a thankless, painful, or unpleasant task. Are you doing something better, faster, cheaper, safer, or with more courtesy than others in the same position? When employers are looking for “go getters,” that’s the sort of behavior they usually mean.

One other way to increase your value in a position is to grow the job. What this usually entails is identifying areas where your skill set could be put to use in new departments, for new customers, or on new tasks that (again) were not in the original job description. This habit of looking for growing your job is especially useful in positions where the employer/customer is not entirely certain what the role is supposed to encompass.

For example, I was hired as a proposal writer at a small defense contractor in the DC area. They’d never had a tech writer before and weren’t entirely certain what to do with me when there weren’t proposals to write. My solution to the “down times” was to start poking at the company website and identify ways to improve that. When that project was done, I walked down the halls and started talking to the individual engineering departments to see if they needed any editorial help with their various tasks. In that way, I ended up writing brochures for security systems and technical requirements for military-grade water and petroleum pumps. When proposals started coming in again, my boss found that we needed to hire an additional writer because the company’s technical writing demands had increased, and that demand had increased because I went out in search of ways to make myself more useful.

So there you have it: if sweet-talking the boss or being on the company cheer squad don’t strike you as fun ways to get recognition, you can always try something crazy like improving how you do your job and expanding the scope of what you were hired to do. That behavior, in turn, can lead to other opportunities elsewhere that you hadn’t anticipated. It’s worth a thought, anyway.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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