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I was just hired in a junior position. My company employs about 120 people. However, I have very little work to do. It might just be because we're between projects, but I get the impression that this will happen fairly often.

I think I have the potential to be useful doing work beyond what is in my job description. What would be the best way to find out if there are any tasks I can do that don't strictly fit my job description?

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related question –  Dibstar Jan 10 '13 at 15:05
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Good question! I've edited it a bit to make it a bit more general/applicable to other jobs. –  Jim Jan 10 '13 at 15:14
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7 Answers

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I would just start helping out...

Tell the person who is currently doing the job that you have some down time and would like to help him out if he needs it. If he says yes, have him assign you some tasked in a unofficial way.

You need to be very careful with this, only do this if you know that you are doing a good job at what you have been officially assigned and that your boss is happy with it. If not, he WILL get annoyed that you are focusing on other stuff and may blame that for the lack of quality...

Your primary job takes priority.

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Don't leave your supervisor/manager out of the loop in this, though. (and especially if the person you're talking to is above your supervisor- personal experience). Otherwise, upvote. –  Solemnity Jan 12 '13 at 5:03
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The answer depends almost entirely on what your boss feels is appropriate. Whilst in theory managers should be interested in developing their subordinates and expanding their skillsets, the reality is often that skills that don’t relate to work they manage are viewed as extraneous at best, and a threat at worst (as you may find you love doing the other work far more and then ask to switch teams).

I think the best way to approach this would be to show your immediate boss the potential benefits in being cross-skilled as this will make any potential disagreement a lot easier to overcome. Care will need to be taken as it’s expected for a lot of junior positions that the work won’t necessarily be as stunningly diverse as we all wish for, but as long as you’re polite and can justify why you want these skills I would have no concern going to your manager.

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The best way in my experience (as helper, helpee, and manager) is to find some specific task where you can help and approach the person who is currently working on that. This places the onus of identifying a suitable task on you, not your manager, which your manager will appreciate, and it will lead to a better fit because you know your skills better than anybody else.

For example, suppose you're a trainer and you want to help out with testing. (Hey, stranger things have happened. :-) ) Look at the projects that are currently being tested (or queued for testing), compare to the areas you know about (for example because you just prepared a class on a similar topic), and go to the person who's handing out testing tasks on that project. Say something like "I have some spare cycles coming up and I see you're about to start testing Project X. I have some background on Technology A and would like to learn more about (type of testing). Could you use my help? I'm happy to take the less-interesting tasks."

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There is no special way to ask this, to my knowledge. You can just tell your manager that you are underutilized at the moment and ask if there is something you could work on. If they don't have something, you can ask if they mind if you offer to help someone else. I would recommend doing this privately.

I stress checking with your manager first from my own personal experience. I once was in a situation where my duties didn't take 40 hours per week for a brief period. The group I developed products for was over extended. I thought helping this group would help me learn to do my job better, as well as allow them to get more done. Since it was also overseen by my manager, I went to him and offered to help them out. Surprisingly (to me) he said no; then he explained that the nature of that group's work was such that I could easily get pulled into helping them full time and he couldn't afford to lose me in my product development role. Furthermore, it would take some time to become familiar enough with that group's work to become productive. With approval of new products expected shortly, he wanted me to start that as soon as possible. He was concerned that if I started working with the other group, and then approval of the new products was received, I would either leave work undone with the other group or delay start on the new products.

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This one is hard because you mention outside your job description... and I have been there before too.

Your manager usually wants you to stay in his/your box of work.

He doesn't want to lend you out for work outside your description - because you are the asset he has paid for, trained, hired, etc.

If you start looking and asking for work outside of his realm, you risk being labeled as no longer interested in your group. Just be careful of that.

Now if the other work is still under his direction, that may be different - so look into that.

The other thing to be aware of is, can the work out side of the description be considered learning for a future value to your manager. This is more along the lines of I would really like to be trained in X can I be mentored by Y. But, I am not getting that vibration from your question.

I would sit down with him and ask what type of things can I work on right now, so when things start to pick up - they will run more efficient and smooth. Or, is there work someone else is doing within the job description that you can help them, etc.

I am not saying it is "bad" to look for work outside of your description but be careful not to disconnect yourself...

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I think it depends if it is a professional job or not. If your manager wants you to stay in a box at a professional job, it is time to find a new job. I've made a very successful career out of doing both the job I'm paid to do and the job I want to do. Good management quickly realizes the potential and rewards it. The key is that you have to know you can do it well and take initiative to do so in a way that isn't arrogant and shows you are trying to do the best for the company. –  AJ Henderson Jan 11 '13 at 4:29
    
@AJHenderson: fair enough......I like that better if that is how it can work. –  Greg McNulty Jan 11 '13 at 16:41
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I've made my career out of doing just this repeatedly. I always made sure my job duties were done quicker than they needed to be and then I looked for how I could help out. I identified the areas that I was strongest in and that needed help and did those things.

With good management, they should rapidly see the potential and reward it accordingly when positions are available. It does mean often working beyond your pay grade, but you can also move forward a lot faster doing the job you want in addition to the job you are paid for and doing both excellently.

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i think you might be asking this question too soon. As you stated, you just got hired, so the lack of work could be just a temporary thing. In some companies this kind of valleys can last even one or two months, then the real grind happens.

So, having that in mind i suggest to be patient, wait a couple weeks more and see if things change.

In the meantime you could start learning new stuff on the internet, things that can help you later in your work. And, why not? ask for permissions to leave early and deal with personal chores now when you have the time.

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