Why You Should Think Beyond Your Job Description

Many years ago when I was still a book editor, I remember a women from the marketing department scurrying down the aisle towards the young, fresh-out-of-college coworker who sat directly opposite me.

“Could you proofread this for me, please? I’m under a really tight deadline.” The marketing lady held out a stack of papers expectantly. Yes, this was back in the day when most editing was done on hard copies.

The young woman, slowly dragged her eyes away from her computer monitor, glanced at the papers, and shook her head.

“No, I can’t. That’s not in my job description.” Then she turned back to her work.

In fact, this young editor could have proofread the manuscript. That’s what editors do! She was being huffy because the work wasn’t for her specific client.

The poor marketing lady looked confused and maybe a little insulted. She let out an exasperated sigh and darted down the hall to find someone else who could help her.

That situation has always stuck with me, and I wish it were the only time I’ve seen someone act like an entitled asshole in the workplace. But alas, this scenario popped up over and over in my 10+ years in the corporate world.

When you work in an office, you can’t be self-absorbed. Your job description might be limited, but the point of your whole job is to support the company.

And that means swallowing your pride and doing things that aren’t in your job description. I promise you that doing so will greatly benefit you in the end.

In this case, nice girls do finish first.

Here are a few things I did in my corporate career that were “not in my job description”:

  • Went to Starbucks to buy coffee for 9 people, all with different drink orders.
  • Organized and hosted the Take Your Kids to Work Day events 4 years in a row. Note: I don’t have kids.
  • Stood in a booth for 8 hours while smiling and selling textbooks at least once a month.
  • Made millions and millions of photocopies. Sorry, trees.
  • Led an informational meeting about why employees should bike to work. Note: I don’t know how to ride a bike.
  • Organized a team-bonding mini retreat with games and a karaoke contest.
  • Arranged a huge going away surprise party for member of the senior staff.
  • Filmed more than a hundred employees singing a Beach Boys parody song in honor of the above mentioned staff member. Note: I had to teach them the lyrics and melody of this song that I had only heard for the first time the day before.

And even though I work for myself now, I still do things that are well outside the job description of “life coach”:

  • Design all the graphics on my website.
  • Answer administrative emails and schedule appointments.
  • Take my own photos or find stock photos for every blog post.
  • Create and manage the distribution of my digital products, ezine, and promotional email campaigns.
  • Ensure all payments and subscriptions go through without incident.

Still not convinced that you should think beyond your job description? Here are 3 compelling reasons to open your mind.

You’ll Be Seen as a Team Player

By doing tasks outside your job description, you’ll position yourself as someone who people can go to when they’re in a jam. And who doesn’t like being the hero who steps in and saves the day?

You’ll be a team player, not just to your coworkers but to your customers and clients too. My readers are often shocked when I respond to their emails personally rather than through some assistant they assume I have working for me.

It puts me on their level. I’m right there with them.

I’ve worked with other coaches and professionals in the past, and it’s kind of a bummer when I can’t actually reach the person I want to talk to. It puts up an invisible wall between us.

What can you do to act more like a team player? Maybe you could offer to help someone who has too many projects to manage, or you could volunteer answer the phones while the front desk assistant goes on break (I did this a lot back in the day).

You’ll Be More Well-Rounded

I know you want to be an expert in your particular job, but what happens if that position is no longer needed? What if your company decides it’s time to downsize?

If you step up and do things beyond your job description, you’ll be more well-rounded…and that means more valuable. Personally, I’d be less likely to keep an employee who can do only one job versus someone who can do the work of 2 or 3 people.

But what if you have your own business? Learn everything you can about your industry and all the non-leader roles that play a part. That way, if your website crashes, you’ll know how to fix it. Or if a payment doesn’t go through, you’ll know how to solve the problem.

You’ll grow your business faster if you can be proactive and move forward rather than waiting for someone else to make it all better.

Is there some aspect of your job or business that you’ve always wanted to learn? Now’s your chance!

You’ll Move Up to the Next Level Fast

Remember that young woman who refused to proofread a stack of papers? Later, she complained to me that she was tired of being passed over for promotions. Of course, it was no surprise to me that no one took her seriously.

In my first job as Assistant Editor, I was told during the hiring process that I could expect to be promoted to Editor around the 2-year mark. I took that as a challenge and worked my butt off to learn the ins and outs of the organization…and that meant doing things outside my job description.

That extra effort got me noticed by the senior staff. Just 6 months later, I was promoted to Editor.

If you want to move up in your corporate career, get out there and show them that you’re willing to do more than what’s expected of you.

And while you’re at it, go ahead and do more than what’s expected of you in every area of your life!

For you entrepreneurs, you’ll grow your business more quickly when you don’t have to pay other people’s salaries—and you’ll have more money in your pocket! I’ve watched friends go into tremendous debt because they hired out every task they could instead of doing the work themselves.

Put on your big girl panties and do the work, at least for the first few years.

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  1. Mary Ellen on January 20, 2015 at 10:51 am

    This reminds me of a story my dad told me a long time ago. My dad owned an engineering firm and he hired a guy who he thought would be a good fit with the company. This guy shows up for work 15 minutes late everyday and finally my dad said Rich why can’t you get here on time and Rich says that he takes the bus so that is why he is late. My dad says Rich why don’t you get an earlier bus and Rich says (and I am not lying) well that would put me here 15 minutes early. There are those who are a special kind of stupid.

    • Sage Grayson on January 20, 2015 at 11:36 am

      Wow, that’s crazy! It shows that this employee thought his time was more important than the company’s time. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Dana Lynn Thompson on January 20, 2015 at 7:01 am

    Definitely agree! I work in a small PR office of 3 that supports an entire university. As part of a small team everyone has to do things that might not be in their job description. I sometimes take pictures at events, volunteer to man the VIP box ticket table at football games, and we have mission days a couple of times a year where all staff members go out and landscape, paint, move furniture, spread pine straw, or whatever the campus needs. It makes for a tight knit group of people who willingly help each other out even when it’s not part of their “job.” It creates a great work environment!

    • Sage Grayson on January 20, 2015 at 9:46 am

      That’s a great point, Dana. I do notice that smaller organizations are better at getting employees to think beyond their job descriptions…and in effect, become a stronger group.

  3. Lucy on January 20, 2015 at 4:28 am

    Great advice, Sage! In my first job I worked for a massive corporate. I had a strategy that I used with great success many times over. I would voluntarily take in extra responsibilities, price my worth over an eight week period then ask for a pay rise on the back of all the extra work I was doing. It worked like a dream!

    • Sage Grayson on January 20, 2015 at 9:44 am

      That’s an awesome tactic, Lucy! Way to demonstrate your worth. Thanks for sharing.