Your Job Description is Killing Your Career
The one simple thing that is very likely to kill your career prospects is to diligently do your job day after day. Good enough really isn’t.
I participated in a panel discussion last week that included career advisors, student placement officers, recruiters and HR professionals from both the public and private sectors. One phrase kept coming up in different contexts that got me thinking.
That phrase was ‘job description’.
The public sector recruiter for a large municipality and the HR person for an educational institution agreed that they had difficulty creating engaging job postings to attract candidates because they cannot tweak a word of the job descriptions. In unionized environments, job descriptions have to be vetted by the union reps and once approved, not a word can be changed without first obtaining buy-in from the union.
This is because the description in the job ad details what the incumbent will be doing on the job, and the parameters of this are subject to the collective agreement. Someone cannot be asked to do something that is not in their job description, and that has not been collectively agreed to in advance.
The other context in which job descriptions were mentioned by the panel was in reference to interns or new hires on their first job. Apparently people having obtained (or who are in the process of obtaining) their professional credentials frequently turn their noses up at tasks that they think are ‘beneath them’ or that aren’t specifically in the description for the job they thought they were signing up for.
The fact is, virtually all career growth and advancement comes from doing things that aren’t in your job description. Both by taking on more, working on more advanced tasks to learn new skills or prove what you can do, as well as doing things that are “beneath” you to prove that you’re a team player. When something needs doing, you’re the one who’ll roll up your sleeves and say, “let’s get it done.”
At one of the first websites I wrote for, I was hired on contract to ‘Canadianize’ American content, edit and publish articles. I found quality of the editorial was lacking, and simply sticking Canadian references into American stories seemed disingenuous. I started writing and publishing original content instead. Having genuinely local information and insights on the site almost immediately increased the audience. I was promoted and offered a permanent staff writer position.
Because the tech team was in the United States, it was very difficult and time-consuming to get anything changed or built on the website. I started coding my own templates and landing pages. So increasingly, people across departments began asking me to build more and more pages, plug-ins and emails for them. I’m self-taught at coding, but it’s easy to learn and it needed to be done. It’s far outside the job description of a content editor, but within two years the entire website look and feel was my code, and I had been promoted again to manager of all online content.
During that period I also occasionally wore the very hot, heavy, company mascot suit at public events to promote the brand – frequently these would be in the evenings or on weekends. That was also pretty far from the mandate of my role and the standard 9-5 schedule, but it’s in the going above and beyond, doing more, pitching in, that real career advancement comes from.
You shouldn’t have to build into someone’s job description that they may sometimes have to work late for a product launch or project crunch. The team should be made up of people who’ll stay late because there’s work to be done and they want the team to succeed.
If you’re a 4:59er, you’re in the wrong job. And if in unionized environments you can’t expand your role, take on more responsibility through ambition and determination, that’s a big problem with unions.
Your job description should be the strict minimum that you do. Having a successful attitude means not looking at your job as doing just what you’re paid to do, but seeing it as an opportunity to showcase what you really can do. All career growth comes from this.