You see it in the job description: “other duties as assigned.” You assume it’s boilerplate language. I mean, how outlandish could those other duties actually be? As someone whose career has seen its share of unusual jobs, I can say that not all of those other tasks are glamorous or even interesting. However, they provided opportunities for growth or skill development.
What Are You Talking About?
Depending on the size of the business, you might end up doing things that you didn’t exactly sign up for…at least in your mind. I worked in a corporation where our particular department changed locations within the building four times in one year. What comes with moving? That’s right: clearing, packing, and relocating desks, hauling boxes, and moving other equipment. You might not be on the heavy-lifting side of the job due to physical or medical restrictions, but trust me: they will find something for you to do. If the office still has desk phones, you might be responsible for moving those down the hall.
Note: This doesn’t happen everywhere. In other businesses, there are unions that protect the jobs of those who move things, in which case you might find yourself having a discussion about what you can and cannot move yourself.
If you’re the only (or one of the few) literary people in your area, the odds are good that you might end up taking meeting minutes at some point. I know some folks who resented that task. I looked at it as a way to learn what was going on in the organization. And the odds were better than even that if I were sitting in the meeting, I would be taking notes anyhow, if only to remind myself what I learned. The plus side of taking minutes “officially” is that you have a bit more freedom to interrupt and ask questions for clarification.
During slower times in the office, I sought tasks I hadn’t originally been hired for, but turned out to be pretty entertaining and useful. I was hired as a proposal writer for a medium-sized defense contractor in Northern Virginia. However, when things got slack–as they do when proposals aren’t happening–I helped rewrite and even redesign the company’s website and developed marketing sheets for some of the company’s products and services. In time, the company had come depend so much on me doing my many “side jobs” beyond proposal writing, they needed to hire another technical writer to cope with the workload!
Because proposals were part of the business development department at the aforementioned defense contractor, I got experience staffing the company booth at industry conventions, presenting our products and services to corporate executives and members of the armed services.
In another company and another line of work (writing information development documentation), I volunteered to track departmental metrics–anomalies, server downtimes, etc. The department manager liked charts and graphs, so this was my opportunity to learn how to use the charting function in Microsoft Excel. I also learned a bit more about IT operations.
I was writing blogs for the Science Cheerleaders and ended up being asked to serve as an event manager, logistician, and booth assembler/staffer. That experience from the defense business came in handy!
As the vice-president of space advocacy chapter, I was (again) the literary guy in the group, and so got tasked with writing the proposal when the chapter decided to bid to run the national organization’s annual meeting. Along the way, I was shaping the conference to be what I wanted, which included some things I’d liked at previous events and wanted to avoid based on my experience with others. Then I got the job of making the conference’s pitch to the national organization’s board of directors (presentation skills!). I went further down the rabbit hole of volunteering when I secured the job of conference chair, where I had to quickly learn the leadership tasks of keeping volunteers on task, motivated, and heading in the right direction. (I don’t recommend this last sequence if you’re a serious introvert. In addition to all the practical leadership stuff I picked up, I learned that I hate being in charge!)
Challenges can arise in the non-volunteer world as well. In my day-job life I was asked to proofread managers’ personal development plans, resumes, or job descriptions. Another time I got asked to write an article for another department’s newsletter. In these cases, it turned out that I was operating outside the scope of my company’s contract. Therefore, it you’re operating on a government or some other subcontract and asked to do something that’s outside your usual job duties, you might ask if what you’re doing is “in scope.” I had to learn to ask. My years in the service industry drilled into me the ethic of responding promptly to requests. However, that could get me into mild trouble if I said yes to a request without checking. The answer might be yes, but just be certain, if only to save yourself the lecture later.
Meanwhile, if you get assigned or volunteer for one of those magical “other duties as assigned,” look at it as an opportunity to do something different. Variety has its place.