The Next Wave
Looking to give your career a boost? Put your hand up and volunteer for new opportunities.
- Carly Burnham
- March 2019
By making it known that I was looking to learn new things and try new skills, an abundance of requests started coming my way.
One of the earliest pieces of career advice that I actually acted on came from my mother. I accepted a job that was turning out to be a poor personality fit for me. The position did not use any of my strengths and forced me to keep working with my weaknesses. The job was at a large organization that I truly believed in and whose culture I enjoyed. At the time, I didn't understand exactly what my strengths were and how they could be applied to find a job that was a better fit for me. I told my mother how frustrated and overwhelmed I was at the thought of applying for a new position within the company. I knew I had to do it, but I had no direction or understanding of what the next best move would be.
Then she asked me, “Do you remember what I said when you were feeling out of place or bored during high school?” I confessed that I did not remember. She said “I told you: When someone asks you to do something, say yes. It might be new and scary, but you should say yes. This is the same situation. You might feel overwhelmed by taking on new projects and balancing your standard responsibilities, but you'll get to meet new people and develop or demonstrate what you are good at and what you love.”
I did listen to her advice in high school, and through those extracurricular activities, I met some of my best friends; many of whom I am still close with today. So, I thought her advice might be worth trying to jump-start my career, too. I began paying more attention to announcements at work that were looking for volunteers or applicants for additional responsibilities. I asked my manager for stretch opportunities. When I learned about an opportunity, I attended a meeting and looked for responsibilities that I was interested in and that I believed I could accomplish well. I reached out to the chair of the committee, introduced myself, and offered my help. If there wasn't anything specific, I signed up for the committee's mailing list and kept my eyes open for my chance to make an impact. I became involved in advisory boards, social committees, volunteer organizations, associate resource groups, educational opportunities and a handful of other projects within this organization.
By making it known that I was looking to learn new things and try new skills, an abundance of requests started coming my way. And, I did what my mother said. The response, “Yes, I'd love to help with that!” became a part of my daily lexicon. My performance in my “day job” improved as I became more well-rounded and learned the art of time management. And, just like in high school, I formed some very strong relationships throughout the company. I was exposed to facets of the insurance business that I never thought about before. I learned as much from networking as from the actual work I did on those projects.
For professionals who are just beginning their careers, I cannot think of a faster path to understanding your organization and our industry. Look for opportunities to say yes to extracurricular activities. You will get your name out there, build valuable relationships and learn skills that are outside of your day-to-day purview.
One caveat to this advice, however, is that you must do this extra work wholeheartedly, and this can become a challenge after you've been on the “Just Say Yes” train for a time. Next month, I will share how and when I learned to say no. Saying yes is great for visibility, but saying no is essential for protecting the quality of your work, and thus, your reputation.
Carly Burnham, CPCU, MBA, has been in the insurance industry since 2004. She blogs at InsNerds.com and can be reached at email@example.com.