Seizing Opportunities: Taking the Jobs No One Else Wants

three woman having a meeting

After enlisting in the military, one of the first things I heard was, “Never volunteer!” and never take the job that no one else wants. So during the months and months of training, I adhered to that advice. Unfortunately, that strategy didn’t always work out for me. I was often “volun-told” to complete a task or to take the lead on an event. Whether I wanted to or not.

Much later in my career I realized that those volunteer “opportunities” could be the hidden gems of career advancement. So rather than looking away when my supervisor asked for a volunteer, I learned to evaluate each opportunity and assess the value I could get from raising my hand. And rather than deleting that email requesting help on a group project, I would reply with a firm “Yes” knowing that it was another chance for me to increase my influence in the organization.

What’s In It For Me?

So how exactly does taking the job no one else wants help to advance your career? And why should you agree to perform work – especially unpaid – that no one else is raising their hand for? One major reason is so you can stand out from your peers.

woman sitting in front of a computer while talking on the phone

At my first major full-time position, I volunteered for unpaid work in the equal opportunity office. I would be helping employees navigate the process of filing claims of workplace discrimination. This was not popular work to be involved in.

It was also very different work from the full-time job that I did on a daily basis. And I had to complete my paid work assignments first before working on these “unpaid” assignments. This meant that I often left work much later and worked evenings and weekends to keep up with everything.

I See You: Volunteering and Visibility

But there were a lot of benefits to doing this work that other employees never considered.

  • I was meeting with almost every high level manager and executive at my location. This was because employees would often name a senior manager as a party to their complaint to add supposed “credibility” to their claim.
  • Because I had to interview leaders and managers throughout the location, I gained name recognition among the leaders.
  • I used these interviews to display several of my other talents and strengths, such as organization, commitment, and skill in resolving conflicts among employees at different levels.

Eventually, the organization’s leadership began to call on me to oversee higher visibility employee disputes. I received specialized training and was able to travel to several other locations to lead or assist with workplace concerns. I also had the opportunity to make presentations and to deliver training to leaders and employees in the organization. Other employees began to see me as an expert in the area of dispute resolution and I was able to resolve issues that could have gotten much bigger.

Wave Your Hand in the Air

Because I had volunteered to do a job that only a few other people were willing to do, I received opportunities that my peers did not receive. I also received bonuses and special awards for my volunteer work.

One of the biggest benefits of my volunteer work was the opportunity to gain new skills that I used later in my career. When my full-time job ended due to a reorganization, I used the skills gained from my volunteer work to compete for a new position. I got the job along with a significant pay increase!

Over the next ten years, I continued to benefit from other volunteer opportunities. Some of these assignments came with high stress work requirements and longer hours. But the benefits ranged from increased pay or promotions to being selected to participate in highly valued training or conference events.

The jobs that no one else wants are the exact ones that offer the best opportunities for potential growth. The reason is because these jobs will normally require the largest investments of your time, energy, and skills.

A Small Win Is Still a Win

My years of volunteering in the workplace were well worth the effort I put into each assignment. The jobs that no one wanted provided a platform for me to outshine others around me. Although your lifestyle might not allow you to volunteer for every high profile opportunity, you can make it a practice to take on even smaller projects or tasks that over the long run will show a pattern of dependability and a willingness to get the job done.

So the next time you have the opportunity to “take one for the team” and volunteer for a job no one else wants, remember that these are the jobs that may have the greatest impact on your career. And that type of impact might just be what’s need to move you to the next level.

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