How to Master a Job You Don’t Know How to Do

Posted June 1, 2012 by Marcy Twete in Career Moves

One of my favorite quotes comes from Chad Bauman, the Director of Communications with Washington D.C.’s Arena Stage. Chad said, “Never take a job that doesn’t scare the crap out of you.” Chad believes that taking a job you already know how to do well or are completely comfortable in will just create boredom and ultimately lead to another job search. I agree.

Last week, we brought you “Forget What You Learned in Kindergarten from Anne Pramaggiore.” At the same event I attended with the ComEd CEO, Anne talked the audience through the ways she rose to the top in her career, often taking jobs she wasn’t experienced in and was fearful to tackle. But she gave the audience that day the perfect formula for mastering a new job when the job is something you don’t yet know how to do. Here’s what Anne recommends:

  • Read. A lot. No matter the job you’re in, no matter the industry, there are publications that can help you learn about your new job and your new industry. Read everything you can, and quickly. Go to the bookstore, subscribe to industry publications, listen to webinars from consultants who work in your field, and devour every piece of information you can.
  • Talk to people in your company. If you’re taking over an area you’re not familiar with, learn from those who are working with you who are familiar. Ask for their help. Ask for their input. But be careful, don’t play dumb. Saying, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I need your help.” will only make your employees lose confidence in you. Instead, position your questions in the way of saying, “Here’s what I think we should do. Am I on the right track? What feedback could you provide?”
  • Connect the dots. Take notes in all of your interactions, re-read those notes and connect them to the other publications and resources you’re researching and begin to connect the dots. Highlight trends, highlight holes and inconsistencies. Beginning to connect these dots will give you the opportunity to begin to see your job from an expert’s point of view, not from a newcomer’s point of view.
  • Go outside your company within your industry to ask questions. Those within your company will be valuable resources, but often what you need to ask the right questions and the toughest questions are advisers who are in your industry or with similar job titles, but who don’t have a stake in your company. Attend industry events, call someone at another company and ask for advice, seek out informational interviews. These perspectives can give you a view objective to you and your employees.
  • Look for the fault lines – what needs to be fixed right now? You should always be looking for “wins” in your job, but especially in the first 90-120 days. As you read, talk to people, and begin to connect the dots, look specifically for the biggest fault lines. Where could disaster strike? Where does your company need improvement most? Then, fix them. Go after them quickly and with confidence.

After a few fixed fault lines and a lot of research, you may find this scary job you don’t know how to do becomes one you can excel in.

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."