Want Career Success? Volunteer for Tough Jobs

The July 17, 2011 Wall Street Journal Sunday had a column by Dennis Nishi called “Getting Out of a Slump.”  In that column, Mr. Nishi told the story of a couple of different people who were feeling stuck and not moving toward their career success.  Both of these folks, Michael Locke and Shelly Curt were able to get back on track by volunteering for challenging assignments.

Michael and Shelly’s stories reminded me of the career advice in Tweet 63 in my career success book, Success Tweets. “Be visible.  Volunteer for tough jobs.  Brand yourself as a person who can and does make significant contributions.”

Being visible is a great way to jumpstart your stalled career success. Volunteering for tough jobs is the best way to become visible.  Tough jobs usually come in two flavors: 1) things no one else wants to do; and 2) tasks in which success is not guaranteed.  Volunteering for both types of jobs will get you noticed in a positive way.  Trust me here.  This is good career advice.

Let me give you an example.  Several years ago, I was working for a very large company.  This company was committed to supporting the United Way.  Every year, they conducted a huge campaign encouraging all employees to contribute.  Running the campaign was a job no one wanted to do.  Who wants to ask their coworkers for money?

One year, I volunteered to run the headquarters United Way campaign.  Actually, my boss suggested that I volunteer, so I did.  I ran a successful campaign, bringing in a higher percentage of donors and a higher absolute dollar amount than the previous year.  It was a lot of painstaking, detail work.  I also had to manage a group of other volunteers who were canvassing their departments.

What started out as something I felt I had to do, turned into a great career success experience.  I met several senior executives in the company.  I met several influential people in New York City.  I demonstrated my ability to manage a large, complex project and bring it to a successful conclusion.  And, I felt good about myself when I visited a couple of the agencies who were receiving funds from my company’s contributions.

More important from a career success perspective, I ended up getting a promotion as a direct result.  One of the executives I met during the campaign liked what he saw in me, and offered me a position in his business unit.  I created positive personal impact (with her at least) – and moved closer to my life and career success goals — by taking on a job no one wanted and doing a good job with it.

Taking on a job in which success is not guaranteed is also a great way to move in the direction of your career success goals.  I have a friend who took on a very difficult job when he was a District Sales Manager.  His company’s CEO had a son who was a slacker.  He had a couple of jobs with the company and had failed miserably in both of them.  My friend was asked if he would fill one of his open sales positions with the CEO’s son.  Several of his friends advised him against this – telling him that the son was not a good performer, and never would be.

My friend took on the task.  He welcomed the CEO’s son to his sales team.  He worked with him extensively.  By the time he was finished, the CEO’s son was a good performer – not a great performer, but a good one.  My friend took on a tough job, one in which success was far from guaranteed, and succeeded in it.

He created such powerful positive impact with the CEO that his career success moved rapidly.  He went from District Sales Manager, to Regional Sales Manager, to VP of Sales, to the President of his business unit, in the space of six or seven years.  Some people said he was in the right place at the right time.  While that may be true, he took advantage of an opportunity that many people told him to avoid.

Stephen Covey suggests thinking of jobs and/or tasks in one of four ways.

  • Not Important, Not Urgent
  • Not Important, Urgent
  • Important, Not Urgent
  • Important, Urgent

Volunteering for tough jobs that no one else wants to do falls into the Important but Not Urgent bucket.  Important but Not Urgent tasks will give you the most payback in your journey to life and career success.  We all tend to get trapped by urgency.  However, non-urgent tasks that are very important to your career success can slip through the cracks if you don’t take advantage of opportunities that present themelves — like running a United Way campaign, or managing a senior executive’s slacker son.

You don’t have to volunteer for every tough job that comes along.  However, by occasionally doing so you will be creating positive personal impact and moving closer to your career success goals.  Creating positive personal impact is an important, but not urgent task.  You don’t have to be building your reputation every day, but if you never take on a job that will help you build it, you won’t achieve the kind of life and career success you want and deserve.

While it’s important to volunteer for difficult jobs, it’s also important to do the job with enthusiasm.  A while back, I read an article on enthusiasm by Judy Williamson, Director of the Napoleon Hill World Learning Center, at Purdue University Calumet.

“Enthusiasm is a powerful motivator when it is sincere and heartfelt.  It is a spirit that inspires us to move forward positively in a direction of our own choosing… Only the results of enthusiasm can be seen, not enthusiasm itself, because it is an abstract concept.  Love, faith, honor, loyalty, and beauty are also abstract concepts.  They cannot be perceived directly with the naked eye, but can be seen indirectly in the results that they cause to happen…

“A certain charisma develops within the enthusiastic person.  Crowds respond to the ‘electricity’ that this person generates when they walk into a room, address a crowd, deliver a speech, or just work for their cause.  Enthusiasm becomes a catalyst for change when it is sincere.  People jump on the bandwagon of an enthusiastic person because they want to feel the energy for themselves.  Greatness demands enthusiasm.

“To be enthusiastic, act enthusiastically.  Allow yourself to feel the energy and lightness of being that develops when you embrace the higher vibrations of your spirit.”

The “charisma” that Judy describes is what I call creating positive personal impact.  When you create positive personal impact, you are building your life and career success, because others will notice you, want to associate with you, help you and follow you.

Enthusiasm will help you create positive personal impact.  People respond to enthusiastic people.  When you’re enthusiastic about what you’re doing, you and other people feel that you can overcome great obstacles.  It will seem as if the entire universe is lining up to help you achieve the life and career success goals you’ve set for yourself.

The career success coach point here is simple common sense.  Successful people create positive personal impact.  Visibility is a key to creating positive personal impact.  Follow the career advice in Tweet 63 in Success Tweets.  “Be visible.  Volunteer for tough jobs.  Brand yourself as a person who can and does make significant contributions.”  Taking on tough jobs is an important, but not urgent task.  You don’t need to take on one after the other, but you do need to find places where you can shine and volunteer for the job.  If you never volunteer for tough jobs you will be losing the opportunity to create positive personal impact and build your career success. When you volunteer for tough jobs, do them with enthusiasm.  Enthusiasm will help you create positive personal impact and build your career success brand.

That’s my career advice on volunteering for tough jobs.  What do you think?  Please take a minute to share your thoughts with us in a comment.  As always, thanks for reading my daily musings on life and career success.  I value you and I appreciate you.


PS: If you haven’t already done so, you can download a free copy of my latest career success book Success Tweets Explained.  It’s a whopping 390 + pages of career advice explaining each of the common sense tweets in Success Tweets in detail.  Go to http://budurl.com/STExp to claim your free copy.  You’ll also start receiving my daily life and career success quotes.


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