Excerpted from the book Beyond the Job Description by Jesse Sostrin. Copyright © 2013 by Jesse Sostrin. Reprinted with permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
Your entire working life is based on a myth. It all began when you arrived for your first job interview. After you answered a few questions about your background and experience, the interviewer likely gave you a single job description that described the tasks and functions required by the role you would fill in the organization. When you were hired you got the job and the title to match it. Any training and orientation you received followed that position description, and you were given tools to help you carry out the functions of the job effectively. As you were introduced to new colleagues, you told them the name of your position and then described a few of the most prominent tasks in your new role. Likewise, when you asked team members what they did, you heard the same superficial rundown: title, function, and a few basic tasks. From that point on, the myth was firmly set in place. All of the expectations about your contribution to the organization were based on your job description, title, and the day-to-day tasks and activities they required.
This sequence of events describes the typical experience that the vast majority of people in the world of work live through every day. However, if you have spent even five minutes on the job, you know that something is wrong with this picture. What the team and organization need from you does not always match what your job description says. The tasks and activities you are responsible for completing are often not the most important things you could be doing. And, actually fulfilling your responsibilities can be much harder than it looks due to the everyday obstacles that emerge as you work with people and navigate through the unexpected challenges of your day.
The reason that the expectations you have about work do not match your actual experience at work is because your working life is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the true demands of work. …
Nobody told you this, but the day you were hired you actually accepted two jobs. The first was the position you interviewed for, including the title and all of the tasks and activities outlined in that job description. The second “job-within-the-job” included the unspoken, unwritten work that, among other challenges, requires you to manage constant change, effectively collaborate with others, navigate confusing workplace politics, and get your best work done with a perpetual shortage of time and resources.
Nobody trained you to succeed in this hidden work, and by and large you have been left alone to confront the everyday pitfalls it brings. If working both of these difficult jobs was not hard enough already, staying relevant at work in today’s hypercompetitive job market requires you to get ahead of the change curve by steadily increasing your skills and abilities and finding innovative ways to go beyond your primary job description in order to add increasing value to your organization.
These two elements combined – the challenges of your “job-within-the-job” plus the need to add value to your organization through continuous learning and performance–represent what I call the hidden curriculum of work. 2 If your current job could be outsourced, downsized, or automated and if you worry that someone else younger, smarter, and hungrier is right behind you, then your best chance of staying relevant in your career is to learn how to navigate your hidden curriculum of work. Learning how to reveal this hidden side of work and gaining the confidence and know-how to meet its everyday challenges will make you Future-Proof and give you the best chance for a long, successful working life.
You need a plan that will help you stand out, stay ahead of the change curve, and push you to contribute more of you. With an eye toward the everyday, you need to stop interpreting your work through your standard job description and quit waiting for opportunities to show people what you can do. When you operate in the SMW [standard model of work], you take a back seat in your own working life. If you will not step forward to drive, who will? If you are not willing to do that right now, when will it happen?
To regain your power you have to create your own path to success at work by looking within your job description to discover your “job-within-the-job.” By clarifying your vital purpose and value-added contributions, and then coming face-to-face with your hidden challenges, you will work well over time and add increasing value to the organization. When you find that mutual agenda that aligns your contributions and needs with the needs of your team and organization, you will stand out, stay relevant, and thrive in your world of work.