In the workplace, we rely on our job titles to determine the scope of our role. We comprehend so much based on titles that contain “manager”, “supervisor”, or “coordinator” within them. While titles still remain important to how we define our work, a new wave of skill learning, and the ability to wear many hats within a company means our titles aren’t always accurate to the work we do. What qualifies someone as a Genius or a Specialist? How do we define our job and capability when a new project comes our way that challenges what we thought we knew?
The Skill Ripple
Many workers — typically millennials — find themselves in this exact predicament; working “assistant” or “junior” roles, yet getting senior tasks that don’t always feel like the type of thing an assistant or intern does. That isn’t to say the challenge isn’t accepted. With statistics showing millennials needing reinforcement in their work, and studies showing they are twice as bored than their previous baby boomer generation, a younger generation of workers find themselves reinvigorated when management delegates something more complicated. In fact, 64% of millennials would rather make $40,000 at a job that keeps them on their toes, challenged and interested, than be at a “boring” job where they make $100,000.
This is creating a ripple effect in which many employees will gladly stay a “junior” or “assistant” in a company if it means that every once in awhile they’re doing tasks their supervisor or management sometimes do; especially if the company is small enough that the work directly affects the Director, or even the CFO.
The fancy job title is even starting to becomes something to be wary of for many applicants. Simply because the title could be misleading. Starting a new gig, new employees may find out they aren’t doing anything they thought their title represented; or, they simply overestimated the authority of their role because the title sounded so flattering. Now, many applicants looking for work may look beyond the title to see what the job posting says about the job description. Is this going to be a reputable place that teaches me more, sees my skillset, and values when the output from the task is well done? If not, it may be a position to second-guess; especially if the interview reinforces these anxieties.
However, this isn’t a feeling unique to a younger working demographic, or to new hires: feeling empowered by management who picks up on your unique skill sets and trusts you enough to take on something new is rewarding to anybody, no matter how long you’ve been with a company. While looking for these opportunities before you start a new job is important, many people in existing companies may not realize they could have access to new work opportunities, if they want to; but how do you even spot an opportunity to learn a new skill, or take on new responsibility? Some tips include:
- Being Open to a New Task: It’s easy to get caught up in our everyday projects at work, but when your boss or supervisor comes to you with a project outside of your skill set — take it on! Being open to a little more work might mean working on something new, exciting or challenging. Also, you could create an impression that you’re the one to go to when there’s a tight deadline or a challenge that needs some fresh eyes; meaning more advanced, skill-heavy projects could come your way. Plus, it could reinforce an aura of trust and dependability, further influencing your possibility for advancement, if that’s something you want.
- Ask: Management may not realize you’re interested in stretching your skill set. If you have the bandwidth to try a project, tell your boss. Transparency and asking questions is one of the best ways to find out about a new opportunity. Otherwise, you could be left picking up the coffees for the meeting, rather than taking minutes — or even eventually chairing it — just because you didn’t ask when you saw a window of opportunity.
- Find An Outlet for Learning: Sometimes it’s not about a skill set you already have, but getting a chance to learn how to operate with a new skill. Whether it’s YouTube, a certificate program, an after-work seminar — or even asking your boss to attend a local summit or conference — find ways to branch out and discover. A chance to learn can garner attention of management, and give you the mastery to take on a challenge or task.
- Must-Have: An Office Culture About Learning: While being conscientious about taking on new skillsets at work will help get you farther, it only will work if management takes your request seriously. The onus isn’t always on the employee to be challenged, and most of the time, skill learning only happens when you’re given a chance. Fostering an authentic environment of learning and teaching can make employees feel like they can ask for more responsibility, without fear of being shut down. An office can have the best office chairs, work stations, and a cool interior, but without the right attitude towards advancement and reward, it can be toxic. Which leads to…
- Saying Sayonara: If you don’t feel like growth is on the horizon where you are, opportunities to increase your skillset are little to none; or what you wanted previously has changed, it might be time to consider a new direction. Putting in your resignation tomorrow is of course not practical. Instead, take a moment to consider what you want, what you need, and if there’s a reason you’re not happy. From there, you can make the right decision for you, and your current employer.
Despite a growing emphasis on skill learning and feeling capable beyond your job title, it’s tough to garner the confidence to pursue a career based on honing and gaining new mastery. Pursuing skills don’t always pay the bill. But while attractive benefits may keep you shooting for senior positions, the whole conversation can be eye-opening in how we view what we are good at; allowing us to appraise ourselves beyond a label or position title. We’re all capable of learning something different, and if it doesn’t change our career paths, at least it can give us a boost in our personal morale. What will you do today to be a little smarter, savvier and ready to try something different — at work, or for your own personal goals? Whether you’re looking for a promotion or not, now’s the perfect time to find out.