Getting the Most Out of Grunt Work

by Joe Lavelle on July 5, 2011

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What were some of the responsibilities that were a part of your first job out of college?  You usually don’t go right from “Pomp and Circumstance” to CEO without paying your dues along the way.  Maybe you had to pick up your boss’ dry cleaning every Tuesday or spend hours collating documents together for a presentation you knew you would not be invited to attend.  Looking back on those days now, do you see some benefits to these tasks that you probably resented at the time?

Lindsey Pollak, bestselling author and career consultant, recently wrote a great piece entitled “Why ‘Grunt Work’ Matters” in which she encourages 20-somethings to embrace these less-than-glamorous duties as opportunities to learn and grow in their chosen professions.

For instance, Pollak writes that everything you do helps to define the personal brand you are developing.  Do you want to have the reputation as someone who will work hard and efficiently at any task, or a person who won’t contribute when you think the work is beneath you?  A young college graduate who thinks his degree puts him above any task that is for the benefit of his company will not be viewed favorably moving forward.

Pollak also shares a great perspective on being the one to deliver the morning lattes.  What a great time for networking!  Without being intrusive, of course, ask a quick question or strike up a conversation.  Or, just offer a friendly smile!  These little moments matter and build positive face time with peers and those whose jobs you would like to have someday.

My best advice for recent graduates is to combine the thinking in Pollack’s post with Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hour rule” (as described in his book Outliers) and then to sprinkle in a bit a humility for the first few years on a job.  This would be a tremendous recipe for success and for accelerating your career.

What advice do you have to offer young men and women who are being asked to do the “grunt work” at their new jobs?  Do you have any examples to share of instances in which dedication to assigned duties, no matter how small and unimportant they seemed at the time, opened doors in someone’s profession?


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