The danger of adhering to your job description

As is starting your career wasn’t hard enough with a new schedule (no more summers), delayed gratification (promotions aren’t guaranteed), skill acquisition (a key tenet of Entry Level Escape, there’s also a bunch of new unspoken and unwritten behavioral norms that lie in wait to trip you up. These trip wires will sneak up on you for a few reasons:

  1. Generally, you will not receive explicit warnings to avoid them
  2. They feel right, especially in the face of agreement from peers
  3. They aren’t obviously catastrophic – you won’t see the damage until it’s too late

As your Entry Level Escape coach, I’d like to dedicate a few posts to disarming trip wires so your One Year Plan doesn’t turn into a Five Year Plan.

If you like where this is going and want to learn to grow as a professional and set yourself up with your best chance at promotion in about 12 months, check out Entry Level Escape:

What is a job description adherent?

The job description adherent is someone who adheres to their job description to an extent that is detrimental to their career progression. It comes in two primary flavors. The first is someone who turns down or otherwise resists work that doesn’t align with their role. The second is someone who turns down work that is outside of their current capabilities. Each has a different motivation, the former doesn’t want to do something while the latter thinks they cannot do something, but the result is the same, a task is left undone or done with grumbles. As this post continues, I’ll chip away at both of these because regardless of why one feels the urge to cling to a job description, it’s career limiting to do so.

What’s important to recognize is that like all trip wires, this is not wrong. You were trained to do a clearly defined set of things, you were hired to do a clearly defined set of things, you are paid to do a clearly defined set of things, so why do something outside of that clearly defined set of things? Well, the reason is that there’s opportunity in leaving the confines of your job description. Just like I encourage getting outside of your Primary Skills with Complementary Skills, I am going to encourage you to get outside of your job description.

If your entry level role is a prison, strictly adhering to your job description is like welding the door shut.

What’s in it for you?

When you are asked to do something, at a minimum you have an opportunity to increase rapport or improve your relationship with whomever is asking you. At best you unlock supplemental opportunities to have Impact. When you’re in the midst of your One Year Plan, i.e., your promotion project, you need to score as much rapport and Impact as possible, so reaching beyond your job description is all upside. Furthermore, in addition to reputation and Impact by choosing to hide behind your job description you are signaling to the world that you don’t actually want a promotion. Think about what a promotion is, it’s a transition from your current job description to another, more senior, job description. Your clinging to your current job description simply adds that much more resistance to the promotion process. Remember, you don’t get promoted for mastering your current role, you get promoted for demonstrating success, or at least substantial potential for success, at the next level.

In an era of “quiet quitting”, which is job description adherence, you have a chance to stand out by refusing to be limited by a job description. Since shedding the shackles of your current job description is a key action to make your Entry Level Escape, let’s break down the reasons why you’d be tempted to do so in order to overcome them.

That’s not my job, but I’ll help you anyway…

Getting asked to do things that are not your job is can be tricky, there’s no reason to sugar coat it or pretend otherwise. However, analyze the situation to understand why the task found you:

  1. Are you a familiar name for someone looking for help? Here’s your chance to help, whether by doing or by making a connection on their behalf. You never know when a small favor today gets you invited to participate in a big-ticket project down the line. Typically, I advise emphasizing “just doing it” for requests that are discrete and within your capabilities and emphasizing making connections for requests that are likely to recur or are outside of your capabilities.
  2. Are you simply at the end of a delegation chain? If that’s the case and you refuse to do the task it just rolls up to your manager (or their peer) which directly undermines your promotability. Remember your manager and their organizational layer, have profound influence on your promotion case.
  3. Is the task just a lesser form of something you’re trained to do? This can be common for more specialized skills sets like data scientists being asked to do very simple analysis or just raw data pulls when they’re trained for much more intense work. Take it as an easy win (and see #1).
  4. Is the task something more advanced than you can do today? If this is the case don’t say “I can’t do that”, instead say “I can’t do that yet” and then ask if there’s resources to help close any skills gaps and / or additional time for you close the gap independently. In other words, you basically ask them to help you help them.

Putting this into action

Remember, we’re in the era of “quiet quitting” and there’s no better way to sabotage your promotion opportunities than to “quiet quit” even unintentionally. It’s inevitable that you’re going to be faced with work that isn’t aligned with your job description. The key for you is to contain your initial reaction and analyze the situation. If it’s a matter of “don’t want to do it”, take advantage of the chance to stand out and boost your reputation and consider that making connections can get you essentially the same favorable outcome as doing it yourself. If it’s a matter of “can’t do it”, just add the word “yet” and work with your manager or the requester to find a path forward. Finding a path forward to help while also leveling up is the absolute best possible thing for your career. You’ll increase your reputation both for helping and for being resourceful and you’ll likely increase your Impact. Take advantage of these opportunities when they arise, they’re special.

If you found this post helpful and want more ways to grow as a professional and set yourself up with your best chance at promotion in about 12 months, check out Entry Level Escape:


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