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Want to Stand out at Work? How to Go Above and Beyond Your Job Description

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni profile image

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni

A woman sitting and smiling.

Do you feel undervalued, bored, or burnt out from your job? If so, you aren’t the only one. According to a 2017 survey, a majority of American workers feel unappreciated, with 44% of respondents believing they are “always or often overlooked.” 

Though you may feel like you’re doing everything your supervisor asks of you, this isn’t always enough to help you stand out among your coworkers. But you do have power over your contributions and impact in the office—you just need to know what kinds of opportunities to look out for.

Gain perspective 

To understand what is expected of you in the workplace, the best resource you have is the first thing that caught your eye: your job description. Though you may not have reviewed it in a while, it is worth revisiting to understand how your employer envisioned your role. You were hired because you checked a lot—if not all—of the boxes. Once you have mastered what is required of you and have a stronger understanding of the dynamics at your workplace, you are in a position to determine how you can stand out.

Think of your job description as the foundation on which your impact is built. But becoming a standout employee often means moving beyond these foundational duties. So how can you go that extra mile?

Take on new projects

Finding new opportunities at work always requires awareness and curiosity. But if your work tends to be project-based, you may need to be more proactive to find out what's coming down the pipeline. There are a few things you can do to identify these projects early on:

  • Speak to your manager. This seems obvious, but for some, it can be daunting. This doesn’t need to be a one-time conversation; it can be an ongoing one where you check in to see what’s coming up, and, if you feel so inspired, pitch yourself for a project of interest. To start this dialogue, you could be straight-forward and just ask what’s coming up next. Or you could remind your manager of what you’re working on and what your contribution has been:

I’ve really enjoyed working on [CURRENT PROJECT] because I learned [NEW SKILLS], which helped me figure out [PROJECT RESULTS]. Since we’re wrapping up soon, I'd love to discuss what I may be able to work on next.

  • Learn from your co-workers. Even within the same team, each person takes ownership of a specific aspect of work. In keeping an open dialogue, you can share different perspectives and compare notes. This is a productive way to see if there are challenges you can help resolve.
  • Review completed projects. Look at old reports or presentations to see what has been done in the past. In seeing the work that your team has delivered, you can learn what has clearly worked—and what could have been done better. You can share your findings with your manager and team, and volunteer to track deliverables on your next project.

Improve organizational culture

Your impact at work doesn’t have to be confined to project-related work; you can also dedicate your efforts to improving organizational culture. These things might be difficult to spot as they often fall outside the scope of your job description. But there are some questions you can ask yourself to find these opportunities:

  • What challenges do I face in delivering my best work?” List out the things that have felt like obstacles. This can be anything from a defective office printer to a difficult boss. Then evaluate your answers—do you have the power to change any of these problems? If so, start planning how.
  • What would have made my first month on the job easier?” Did you have an onboarding guide? Would it have been helpful to shadow a more senior team member for a week? Use your experience to explore how new hires can more seamlessly transition to your team and organization.
  • What complaints have I heard repeatedly around the office?” Common complaints are signals for opportunity. They let you know what’s holding your coworkers back, what’s frustrating them, and the changes they’d like to see. Let them inspire your solutions.
  • Are there tasks no one will volunteer for?” Every workplace has tasks that nobody wants to do—be it taking meeting minutes or starting a birthday celebration fund. These are ripe, relatively low-effort opportunities for you. Your boss will be grateful!

Take the initiative

Once you’ve identified new opportunities to sink your teeth into, you’ll need buy-in from your manager. You’ll have to reassure them that these new responsibilities won’t get in the way of the work you were hired to do. So, make sure you:

  • Detail what you want to work on, and how it will benefit your team and organization.
  • Let your manager know what specific times or days you will devote to these new tasks.
  • Provide your manager with regular—weekly, biweekly, or monthly—updates, so they can see the results of your efforts.

Being proactive and taking the initiative is just the first step to making lasting change. Sharing a plan not only ensures you think about your contributions strategically and helps you track your progress—it also helps your team recognize your impact.

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Nisha Kumar Kulkarni profile image

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni is a writer and creative coach in New York City. She helps women living with chronic illness and mental health challenges to pursue their passion projects without compromising their health.

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