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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

How to Be a Rock Star at an Uninspiring Job

As a recent college graduate, I spent a little over a year “learning the ropes” in an entry-level position at a thriving international nonprofit. I believed in the mission and learned so much about the industry by watching others—but as the Grants and Contracts Coordinator, I sometimes felt left out of the action.

It was a struggle to feel like the analytical and writing skills I proudly displayed on my perfectly formatted resume rarely crept into my day-to-day routine of responding politely to passive-aggressive emails, entering contact information into databases, and getting intimate with the filing cabinet. There were moments when it took my most valiant effort not to throw the stack of papers I was sorting up in the air and head to Pinterest for some therapeutic procrastination.

In other words, it wasn’t my dream job. But, sticking it out paid off when I was offered a position I could never have landed without the experiences and connections I gained in that first job. So, I’m here to tell you: If you’re stuck in an uninspiring gig, don’t let it go to waste! Use the ideas below to get the most out of your position now—and launch yourself into your dream job.

1. Treat Yourself Like a Professional

When you don’t love your job, it can be easy to get a little lax with professionalism. What does it matter if you show up a few minutes late or if you don’t dress quite as nicely as those above you? It’s not like you’re presenting at an all-staff meeting or having lunch with the CEO, right?

Not exactly. No matter how low on the totem poll you are or how jaded you’ve become by your to-do list, it’s still important to show up early, wear something sharp, and avoid Facebook like the plague. I’ll admit, in my former position I was guilty of getting distracted at work, showing up a few minutes late, or throwing on a wrinkled button-down from time to time, especially on days I was feeling uninspired. But I discovered that when I acted like a professional, I suddenly felt like my work was a lot more valuable. “Looking the part” boosted my confidence, helped me begin to see myself as a highly capable contributor to the team—and ultimately led the rest of my team to see me in the same light.

2. Find Opportunity in the Little Things

Once in a while at a boring job, a task that is pretty exciting relative to your usual day-to-day responsibilities comes along. My own personal examples included selecting a new software program for our department, brainstorming a list of titles for an article that somebody else wrote, and drafting a letter for the company President to send out as his own.

OK, you might say yawn—but for me, these tasks were an opportunity to let my talents in organization and writing shine. The point is: When you get a task that’s even moderately related to what you really want to be doing, let your geek flag fly and wear a giddy smile on your face as you throw yourself into it. By doing a stellar job on these little tasks, your boss will slowly start to trust you with more substantial responsibilities. Sure, today you might just be researching a list of board member meeting venues, but if you do it well, you could wind up with more event planning duties on your plate.

3. Volunteer Your Talents

Feeling like you have an outlet for your talents, even if it’s not part of your actual job description, is essential to your job satisfaction. The reality is, when you join a new team, colleagues can be so engrained in their routines that they don’t think to ask for your help or expertise—they may not even be aware of certain abilities or interests you have.

At my first job, I was able to step away from the grant management database to write a creative feature article for our magazine and handle communications and event planning for an annual partner conference—valuable experience gained all because I asked if I could help. After discussing my passion for writing with my supervisor—who supported me branching out as long as I prioritized my current tasks—I was put in touch with our communications department to ask if I could join a meeting for the upcoming publication. It turned out that my help was welcomed by the understaffed department. And though I ended up spending some personal time working on writing projects in order to keep up with my daily responsibilities, it was well worth it because I was finally doing something I loved—and building my professional portfolio.

If you see a team you’d love to be on or a project you could lend a hand to, don’t be afraid to let co-workers know how you could contribute. Remind them. Remind them again. Finding opportunities to help in ways you’re excited about will make this job feel more relevant to your future, and it may even get you noticed by someone who doesn’t see your work day-to-day.

4. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

While you want to be a rock star at your current uninspiring gig, don’t lose sight of why you’re doing it in the first place: to gain experience, skills, and networks that will put you in reach of that next, more fulfilling job. Read about people who are in positions you admire—I pay special attention to the bio of a professional whose job I want, for example. Ask your colleagues to refer you to contacts with experience in your field of interest and try to meet them for informational interviews. Figure out what types of professional development will position you for your dream job, and make time outside of your 9-to-5 to do it. At check-ins, remind your boss what you’re interested in and how you’re hoping to grow.

No, the leap to your ideal job will not happen immediately. But taking even small steps to move toward it can help you feel empowered about your future.

While nobody wants to work an uninspiring job, there is a silver lining. No matter what you're doing, you’re growing every day—refining your understanding of what you would and would not want in your next job, expanding your network, and deepening your industry knowledge. Even the very tasks you dread are probably building a foundation of important skill sets for your career, like organization, prioritization, and effective communication. And you'll more than likely be thankful for them later, once you have that fast-paced, high-responsibility job you’ve always dreamed of.

Photo of man photocopying courtesy of Shutterstock.