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When to Take the Job Nobody Wants

Like me, you’ve probably heard leaders advise that one way to get ahead in your organization or industry is to volunteer for the job that nobody else wants.

I got to talking about this advice recently with a seasoned leader in one of the organizations we serve. As we reflected on his own, very successful career, his thoughts on the advice to volunteer for the job nobody wants came down to two words:

Yes, but…

He said that this advice tends to oversimplify a critical career decision. Yes, this can be a powerful strategy for career advancement, but only with three key considerations.

Here are the three things you’ll want to have clarity on, before you volunteer for the job nobody wants:

1. Know What You’re Committing To

It’s tempting to hear advice like, “Volunteer for the job nobody wants,” and then jump into one, without fully considering the commitment. In his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, one of Dale Carnegie’s central principles is:

Get all the facts.

Like many things in life, the devil is often in the details. There is, after all, a reason that other don’t want the job. It’s important to fully appreciate those reasons before you jump on board.

Unlike getting assigned a position, you often have more time and leverage when deciding if you’re going to volunteer for a job. Take that time to ask questions and more fully understand exactly what success will look like.

Here are a few things you’ll want to get clarity on:

  • What are the metrics I’ll be measured on?

  • What obstacles will likely hold me back?

  • How much support from management is being offered?

  • What resources will I have at my disposal?

Be cautious about moving forward with any new role until you have clarity on the areas above.

2. Determine Your Odds of Success

A job that is expected to be difficult is often an unpopular one. A lot of people are fine with playing it safe and not taking on difficult work, thank you very much.

You can expect that any job that nobody else wants is going to be a tough assignment. Tough assignments can often be huge opportunities, but you also want to determine your odds of success.

If the job is tough, the upside should be substantial. That doesn’t just mean financially (although that’s always a consideration) but also what future career opportunities, influence, and relationships will likely come when you are successful in achieving or exceeding the goals of the role.

If the reason nobody else wants the job is because it’s apparent to almost everyone that the odds of success are very low, be very careful. Once you agree to the job, failure in the role will almost certainly be associated with you personally, especially if you volunteered for it.

3. Inventory the Skills You’ll Need

You may have determined that you have a good handle on the fact and that the upside on the new role is worth the challenges and risks.

But it’s pointless if you don’t have the skills you’ll need.

Saavy professionals will take time to inventory the skills they’ll likely need in order to be successful and assess how they line up. Even better, get input from other professionals who may see blinds spots that you don’t and can more accurately help you determine what you’ll need and if you have it.

You’ll never have every skill you’d want for a challenging assignment, but it’s important to determine if you have enough of what you’ll need and that you can reasonably expect to develop areas that are lacking.

Aim for Clarity, Not Certainty

You should never expect certainty on the three considerations above. After all, a job nobody else wants is inherently riskier and uncertain than other roles.

However, taking the time to get more clarity on these areas will help you make a better decision about a riskier move that can ultimately help both the organization and you be more successful.

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