CAREER DEVELOPMENT / JUL. 29, 2014
version 5, draft 5

How to Find the Challenge You Seek at Work

You landed your dream job, found your groove, made some friends, and completed a few projects. But now it’s a year down the road, and you’re starting to feel…well, bored. What can you do to feel challenged without having to start the job search all over again? Sure, you can talk to your boss and ask for more challenging assignments, but how can you increase your chances of actually getting them?

Optimize your current performance

A lot of people unwittingly undermine their own chances for getting more challenging projects. Because they’re bored and the work has become routine, they start slacking off a bit. They may not even be aware they’re doing it, but they stop double-checking their work, loosen up on their attention to detail, etc. But that’s kind of like telling your principal you want to skip a grade in school when you’re barely making Cs.

Before telling your boss you want more challenges, you need to be blowing him away with your current work. Not only should your work be error-free and completed before deadline, it should also deliver more than was expected. If you were asked to do a report on your company’s competitors and their market share, you could go one step further and include some insight on who’s gaining share, who’s losing share, and why. If you were asked to resolve a customer service problem, you could type up a one-page memo that covers what the problem was, how you resolved it, and how the company can keep it from happening again.

Assess

The reason you’re bored is that your skills have increased to the point where the work is no longer challenging. That means it’s time to take inventory. What new skills have you developed since you first started the job? What existing skills have you improved? That’s what you want to focus on. You’ve grown as an employee, and you want challenges so that you can continue to grow.

Listen

Once you know what skills to focus on, the next step is to find opportunities that match those skills. The best way to learn about new projects and other opportunities is to listen. Whether it’s in the elevator, in the cafeteria, or at the water cooler, tune in to what the people around you are talking about. Then you can approach your boss and say, “I’d really like to be part of the cross-functional team Marketing is putting together.”

The final step is to have a conversation with your boss.

  • Start by assuring your boss that you love working for the company and want to contribute in even bigger ways. Don’t mention being bored, though; that could be seen as a slam against co-workers who are doing the same job.
  • Next, pull out that self-assessment you did. Describe the skills you’ve developed or improved since you started the job; then explain that you’re ready to raise the bar so you can develop even further.
  • If you have a specific goal in mind – like working on a particular project – identify the project and explain why you think you’re a good match.
  • If you don’t have anything specific in mind, ask your boss for ideas. He may know of an open spot at a higher level. Even if there’s no opportunity for promotion right then, he may know about projects and teams you could join. He may even be thrilled with the chance to pass on some of his own work!
  • Whatever you come up with, suggest a follow-up date. Sometimes even the best of intentions fall by the wayside when things get busy. Set a date to touch base and make sure the action you agreed on has happened and, if so, how it’s proceeding.
  • Thank your boss! Even if you leave his office with your arms overflowing with his own neglected projects, say thank you for the time, feedback, and opportunity.

If you’re fortunate enough to get the challenged you asked for, it’s critical to follow through. Do the work to the best of your ability and, if you need help, ask for it before you get behind. The surest way to guarantee you’ll never get another challenge is to drop the ball on this one. On the other hand, doing an outstanding job and asking for more is an almost guaranteed way to get ahead.

 

photo credit: freeimages via juhill

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