should I offer to take on admin work to help my boss?

A reader writes:

I just started a new job at my company. My previous role, in a different department, was a combination of analysis and admin duties; as I gained more experience, I did more advanced analysis work, which I was able to parlay into this new role at a higher pay scale and more advanced job title.

Now that I’ve started, I’m already included in higher level meetings and consultations than I was before. I do not miss making copies, scanning data, or setting up the equipment for meetings, all of which I often did in my previous role; at the same time, I notice my manager doing these things herself and my instinct is that you should always try to relieve your manager of annoying tasks so she can focus on her real work. I believe I am her only direct report.

I’ve offered in a general way to help — “can I do anything to help get ready for the meeting tomorrow?” and she says no, but I haven’t literally said “can I print documents for the meeting and set up the projector for you?” We don’t have an admin in our department, so I assume the culture is that everyone does their own.

I don’t think anyone in this new department knows how much admin stuff I did previously because I didn’t put it on my resume or talk about it in interviews since I was trying to advance as an analyst. So they might not be thinking of me as someone to do these tasks?

I want to be helpful, and be perceived as helpful, but I do not want to take on admin work for no reason. Should I keep offering to do this stuff or should I be happy that I appear to have left my admin days behind? I have a talk with my manager next week to set goals and expectations for the role so I’d like to be prepared.

Nope.

You’re no longer an admin, but you’re still thinking like one.

Your job is to get the best possible results in the work you were hired to do. That work is not supporting your boss in an administrative capacity; it’s supporting her in a different capacity (an analytical one, it sounds like).

As an admin, your instinct to relieve your manager of as many annoying administrative tasks as possible was the right one. But that’s not the right instinct in every job; after all, there’s a reason that you don’t see VPs doing printing and filing for the CEO.

You’ve asked if you can help, and that was considerate. But she’s said no, and you should believe her. If she wants you to take on some of those tasks, she’s fully empowered to delegate them to you. Since she hasn’t, you should assume that she prefers to do this kind of thing herself (some people like the break from the rest of their work), or it would be out of sync with the culture there to delegate admin work to someone in your role, or she wants you focusing on your priorities and not getting sidetracked with admin stuff.

Of course, if she does at some point ask you to help out with the occasional administrative task, you should do it. And obviously, if you see her standing at a copier with a mountain of papers in front of her, looking harried, and you know she has a important meeting in 20 minutes and you’re not on a more important deadline yourself, you should offer to help. But as a general rule, in day-to-day work outside of rare situations like that? There’s no reason that you should be seeking it out.

Do your own admin work, help out occasionally if someone asks you to, but otherwise assume you’re supposed to be focusing on other things. The best way that you can help your boss is to focus on excelling at the work you were hired to do.

{ 72 comments… read them below }

  1. EJ

    …and if you volunteer to do admin work that isn’t designated for your position, they may take advantage of the help and depend on you to do at all times. I’d steer clear, unless your boss makes it part of your daily workload.

    1. Sascha

      Case in point: I helped out our webmaster with my team’s website. Now that he’s retired, who gets to do ALL the website work in the department, because they decided not to fill his position? Just don’t do it! (unless told by your boss)

    2. OP

      This was one of my main concerns. I am happy to pitch in, but I do not want these tasks to become a big part of my role here. I’m going to stop volunteering for things I don’t actually want to do.

    3. INTP

      Totally agree with this. You do not want to get in a position where your boss is reluctant to recommend you for promotion because your replacement might not be as helpful, or reluctant to give you a higher level project instead of someone else because it will make her own life more difficult with your reduced bandwidth for admin tasks. Succeed at the parts of your job that help you move up, be just good enough at the parts that don’t. (And in this case it sounds like it’s not a part of your job at all, so there’s no reason to do it unless you are specifically asked.)

  2. Katie the Fed

    No.

    And I know I harp on this a lot, but I’m guessing you’re a woman. In that case I think it’s especially important not to volunteer to do these kinds of things – it’s way too easy for people to see us as the administrative assistants when that’s not our role, because those are more traditionally women’s jobs. That’s not to say I won’t roll of my sleeves and make the copies myself when I need to, but I make sure that’s few and far between.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius

      The last time I volunteered for something admin-related was in 1999.  I learned my lesson the hard way: I was the designated note taker for the rest of my internship.  Never.  Again.

      OP, if it helps, once you establish a pattern of never volunteering for anything, people will not gravitate to you.  Look at your BlackBerry or pretend to jot something down…whatever you do, don’t make eye contact with the asker.  I’ve been literally overlooked when it comes to baking cakes, note taking, coffee making or collating.  

      I think my coworkers don’t even realize I’m in the room!  I love it!

      1. LQ

        Never volunteering for anything admin. I’m not sure that is what you meant but I think it is really important to be clear here. Volunteer for the tasks that are in the direction you want your job to go. Offer to help with things that would be stretch assignments.

        You can absolutely establish a clear pattern of being the person who will help out with the weird or unusual things or the complex tasks without it being the same with admin like tasks. (That said if you want to get into admin work, like you’d like to be a higher level admin person then that’s what you should be going for.) Volunteer for the work you want to be doing next year. (or the next 5 or whatever)

    2. OP

      I am a lady and interestingly, my team is all women — but I still agree with what you’re saying. Thanks!

      1. Jen S. 2.0

        I don’t think that changes the advice. The idea is to establish your habits around the fact that everyone does their own job, and that means admins do the admin work… not that women do the admin work, especially in the absence of an admin. You likely someday will work somewhere else, and/or others will join your team, and/or the people on your team will go elsewhere. The more everyone on your team behaves as though this is the natural order of things, the more this idea will spread. The advice is both for the greater good and for the good of your current job.

    3. Windchime

      This reminds me of a recent occurrence in my department. Instead of having a organization-wide summer BBQ, it was determined that each department would be given a small budget and plan their own summertime party/dinner/picnic/whatever. Supposedly the managers were supposed to do the planning, but our managers handed it off to the team to decide. We are a small team, evenly split between men and women. I decided that I was NOT going to be involved in planning this party and basically said something like, “Oh, I’ll go along with whatever the team decides”. Most of the other women on the team were the same way, and finally it was decided that the entire department (not just our team) would have a party and someone else is planning it.

      I normally don’t dig in my heels like this but I hate, hate, hate planning parties when I could be doing my WORK. If someone wants to bring in treats, I’m all over it. But just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I’m going to plan the work party.

  3. Snarkus Aurelius

    I would also add that the more time you spend doing admin work the less time you’ll have doing the job that you were hired to do.  Don’t do that.  That is the number one mistake women* do in the workplace, and it holds them back from raises and promotions.  (Thank you, Pat Heim, for telling me that.)

    In addition, what you do during the day DOES matter because it leaves an impression on other people.  Do you want to be seen doing data analysis or filing?  Because whatever is most prominent in people’s minds will be reflected in how they view you and what they ask you to do.  You don’t want to get sucked into doing more admin work.

    Yes, it’s terrible that there isn’t anyone assigned to do those things, but the negative consequences of taking on those tasks far outweighs the benefits long-term.

    *Yes I know the OP never stated her gender, but this letter is particular to women.  Throughout my entire life, I’ve never seen a man worry about circulating a birthday card, baking or worry about photocopying things or setting up a projector — even when those tasks were in his job description!

    1. Windchime

      Arrrrgh, the birthday card. That’s another one that always seems to get stuck with women.

    2. Artemesia

      When new in a role there is a sort of theater involved; carefully craft how you want to be seen. e.g. I moved to a new department with a role that involved some important client facing tasks that many in the department didn’t want to do. I got a better office partly because of the need for space to meet with clients. For the first two months I planned lots of intensive client meetings and conducted them with my office door open — it opened on a main corridor. All the higher ups observed this work and it firmly established my effectiveness in that role. I could have slept and played computer games (discreetly of course) for the rest of my time in that role and it would have taken a lot to change that initial impression.

      So especially on making a transition from admin to anything else, make a big show of doing lots of quality ‘anything else’ so that people do not see you as the lady who files, or makes cookies, or collates TPS reports.

    3. Honeybee

      You know what, I’m thinking back, and you’re absolutely right. I worked in and attended academic departments for the last 7 years and I have never seen a man do any of those tasks, and I probably saw projectors get set up like 3-4 times a week every week.

  4. Mina

    As an admin myself, I cannot stress ENOUGH how much you want to not be doing this work, since your job is something else. They won’t respect you for it, and you will find yourself increasingly assigned the stuff no one else wants to do.

    1. AnonaMoose

      “They won’t respect you for it” – Seriously, such an important concept. I myself volunteer. Because I am a damn people pleaser (I HATE IT). Thank you for the reminder that volunteering only makes me a sucker.

      1. Worker Bee (Germany)

        Maybe you can rearrange your mindset on being a people pleaser by doing (your!) fantastic job.? Just a thought.

  5. B

    Do not do it and stop offering, step away. I know you want to be of help but you are in a new position and need to show others you are not an admin. One of the hardest things for some colleagues is for them to realize you are no longer an admin but by offering and doing these things you will be looked upon as that still. You worked hard for your new position, keep doing that so you are looked at that way in these high-level meetings.

  6. KT

    Read Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. Then read it again.

    I know you want to help, and that’s awesome. But it is so, so easy for a woman to be pidgeon-holed as an admin by being the helpful person.

    Do the job you were hired for and do it well!

    1. Allison

      Yup, I once had a coworker who kept asking me to do this and that little admin task for her, and eventually realized what she was doing. She admitted to me that each time she needed something, I was the first to come to mind simply because I was always the last person who did something for her. It’s so easy to become someone’s go-to “helper,” so avoid it at all costs!

  7. the_scientist

    OP, are you in a research/scientific role? The reason I’m asking is because I have been in a similar position and have found anecdotally that this setup is common in research/academic organizations. Research groups are often extremely understaffed and under-resourced, and it’s very common for analysts or associates to end up doing a not-insignificant chunk of admin work because there’s no one else to do it. Now that you’ve come up in the world, DON’T DO THIS! If your manager hasn’t explicitly asked you, you should stay the hell away from admin work. If you start doing it, your coworkers will begin to see you as the de facto admin assistant. In my last job I was a project coordinator/analyst and one of our external scientific collaborators was absolutely convinced that I was the admin assistant, since that was 90% of how I interacted with him. We had at least 3 conversations where I reiterated my role, and he just didn’t get it, and I realized that I’d really dug myself a hole that was too big to escape by taking on so much admin work ( the job was misrepresented to me and I didn’t know it was going to be 50% admin work, so it wasn’t like I just volunteered for all this extra work).

    Plus, taking on additional work will take time away from the work you’re supposed to be doing, and I’ve found that certain types of work- meeting scheduling, meeting agendas, meeting minutes- are like a gas. They’ll expand to fill as much time as you give them, and then all of sudden they are taking up all of your time. Focus on excelling in your new role and taking on stretch projects there!

    1. OP

      Yes, this is a research position. We are eventually going to have floods of data coming in on the project, and I would *love* to not be the person scanning and filing it all. Even though I’ve advanced from my last role, I’m still a research assistant, so they might still expect me to do this. Like I said, I’m having a talk with my boss this week about the role. Should I be like, “I’d be happy to manage an admin person for all that data?”

      1. OP

        I should add, we seem to have a lot of money on this project so getting an admin isn’t that far-fetched.

        1. the_scientist

          Definitely don’t volunteer if it’s not something you’re interested in. Do you have an idea, based on experience, of how many hours that sort of work would take? If so, it might be a good idea to go to your boss and say, “I estimate this will take X hours, what plans are there to manage this work?” If your boss tells you that the plan is for you to do it, and you know that X hours is more hours than you have available, you can then push back. Alternatively, you could have some suggestions for not you type people who could do this- could you get a work study student or an undergraduate research volunteer or someone to do this work? If you really don’t want to do it, you should have a good case for why it’s not a good use of your time, and having some data to back that up will be helpful, as will having a proposal for making sure it gets done.

          Also, at least where I am, admins tend to be more permanent positions, so even if the grant has a lot of money, your boss may be reluctant to hire an admin on a contract (at least that’s how it’s been in the academic environments I’ve worked in; just something to keep in mind).

          I had to leave my old job to get away from admin work, so take it from someone who’s been there when I say that once you fall into this trap it can be impossible to escape, and it really affects external perception- you’re no longer the smart, talented analyst, you’re the very organized support staff/coordinator/admin. Not that being the organized support staff is inherently bad, but if it’s not where you want to be, it’s not how you want people to see you.

        2. Pineapple Incident

          Ahem- if you need an admin on this project, I’m available. Your department sounds sane.

      2. Stayc

        I would frame it like “What plan do we have in place to process the data?” If you don’t want to do it, then don’t pro-actively volunteer. If the answer is that it will be your job, then fine, at least you know.

        1. Buffay the Vampire Layer

          I like this approach a whole lot; you’re definitely not volunteering yourself for those tasks but you’re not coming across like you’re too good for it either.

      3. themmases

        Yeah, in that case definitely do not volunteer for admin stuff. Lines already get blurred a lot between support and substantive contributions in these roles, and an important way to advocate for yourself is to not volunteer to go back in the support box. There is no end to these tasks, and they will take time away from analysis and credibility away from you.

        Research support roles are what you and your PI make them. Focusing on admin vs technical is the difference between being in the acknowledgements and the author list at the end of the project, and the difference between being qualified for coordinator and admin assistant roles vs. technical ones.

    2. themmases

      Yes! I was coming to say something similar, also as a former research coordinator. It is very hard to get rid of these tasks once you accept them, and it will change how people see you in ways that are hard to change back without leaving. The longer you do these types of tasks, the harder it gets to hide them in the future. My partner has this problem now at an otherwise good company where he worked up from tech support to database administrator.

      As someone who used to have to combine technical and admin roles, the OP has the holy grail. Many people get sucked back into the tasks they were trying to escape when their new employers find out they have those skills– especially if they didn’t leave the company. Never let yourself become known for being great at stuff you don’t want to do. That goes double for people trying to escape admin work, and women.

  8. Chinook

    OP, it sounds like you are doing what I am doing. I tell newbies that I look a lot like an Admin but I do data analysis and program support. True, I cover for our floor’s AA when she is out of the office because I know how and it is cheaper to use me to do some of these tasks then to ask the engineers, but the new engineers only mistake me for their Admin. Asst. the first time, and then I politely point them to our AA who has the knowledge, time and skills to meet their requests.

    This is literally the first office job where I haven’t been someone’s assistant and, while it took time to adjust to it, it is a great feeling knowing that I don’t have to worry about stocking supplies and copying other people’s work. Now, when someone asks me to help with a meeting or take minutes, I know that it is because our AA is busy and, if I have to say no, then an engineer would do it (at twice the cost per hour).

  9. Kyrielle

    In addition to what others have said, consider that part of your boss’s job description is facilitating the work of her team. In an environment with no admin, it is entirely possible she would rather make copies and prepare the projector while having you do your work – she may have that factored into her schedule and workload, and it’s entirely possible (depending on her skillset and her interests) that she either can’t or doesn’t want to backstop your work if it falls behind because you’re helping with this stuff, but she’s fine with doing it. (It’s also possible that she wishes the team had an admin and is trying to push the pain point up for the company by doing the work at her rate, assuming she’s paid more than the rest of you – which isn’t necessarily always the case, depending on the team, of course. But it’s more likely that it’s not political – and even if it is, let her handle that.)

    In short, take her answer at face value and keep doing what she’s asked you to do, and be grateful you don’t have to do the admin work regularly. :)

  10. AndersonDarling

    OP, think of it this way- if your previous boss kept asking you to take notes at her meetings, make copies, and send memos, you would be writing to AAM about how to get this to stop so you can be completely in your new role.
    The real problem is that your old manager hasn’t figured out if she needs to replace you or if she will make other arrangements for the admin tasks. The burden of these tasks need to weigh on the manager so she can decide what the next step is.
    Congratulations on the promotion!

  11. Natasha

    What about if you’re an intern? In my internship this past summer I was not doing grunt work, which was great, but they had the same culture of no admins, everyone does their own work. In this case, is it okay to offer to do admin stuff – finding a conference room, setting up the printer – when the alternative is that my supervisor will do it?

    1. B

      Let your supervisor do it. It could be part of the company culture that everyone does their own work, which it sounds like. And if they needed help they would absolutely ask you for help. Until you hear/know otherwise do your own work and your own admin stuff.

    2. KT

      If they need you to do those things, they will tell you. It’s important that you demonstrate value with the work you’re hired to do, or you risk being the intern who makes copies and nothing else.

    3. RMRIC0

      Unless there’s some kind of monumentally compelling reason, you shouldn’t volunteer to do admin as an Intern. Even if you’re one of the lucky ones getting paid, you’re getting paid well-below market rates in exchange for getting experience and insight into the job or field, not for making copies or fetching coffee.

  12. Shell

    Don’t.

    I am no longer an admin, though I used to be one in a previous job (different company) and right now I’m the backup-backup-admin/receptionist when the regular backup is out for whatever reason. So I do understand where you’re coming from.

    However. In addition to the great points others said above, continuing to offer your assistance on the admin stuff when your boss has explicitly turned you down can make it look like you’re afraid to do the new stuff your new role has you doing, making you look disinterested in your new role in favour of the “safer” admin stuff. You were hired to do the tasks of your new role and you sold them on your interest and enthusiasm. Don’t undermine that, even in the name of being helpful. Once in a (very very very) long while is okay. Frequently? Nope.

  13. Amber Rose

    I think when you do admin work for a while, it’s really hard to get out of that “helper” mindset. But it has to be done.

    I would say trust your manager more. You offered to help, and she said no. If you then offer to help with more specific things, you’re kind of sending the message that you think she doesn’t know what help means, or you think she can’t handle these tasks without assistance. Also, possibly the message that your own work isn’t keeping you busy enough.

    It’s admirable to offer help once, when you notice them doing something tedious or difficult. When you become persistent, then it makes people wonder.

    1. GS

      This. It’s so hard to divorce the admin mindset if you’ve done it for some substantial amount of time, but that’s not your job any more (and frankly, you don’t want it to be!)

  14. OP

    It’s true, this really feels like an identity shift I’m going through. Fake it til you make it, I guess.

    1. OP

      Oops, that was supposed to be in reply to someone else above. But thanks Allison and everyone for your advice here. I’m going to focus on getting out of the admin mindset.

  15. F.

    I was the Admin for 7 years at my current small company and became HR Manager a year ago. I have also been responsible for nearly the entire Admin position for 6-1/2 months of the past year because we cannot find a good Admin willing to work in the lobby by themselves. So I am working ten-hour days and weekends to cover both jobs. And the real kicker is that by becoming HR Manager, I became “Exempt”. No overtime pay at all. I also find myself doing all the other things that nobody else considers their job simply because they won’t get done otherwise. So my advice is to absolutely NOT volunteer to perform Admin duties unless you want them FOREVER!

  16. Artemesia

    This reminds me of advice women used to be given when searching for management jobs back in the day: “Don’t let them know you can type.” Women are easily shuffled in to housekeeping roles like typing, filing, getting coffee, arranging meetings, arranging social events like going away parties etc etc, none of which are valued and none of which will advance one professionally. While Jane is making those copies for the meeting, Larold will be doing the important high profile work that gets his less competent than Jane ass promoted.

    Absolutely resist being the office Mom or the office drudge — unless you are hired to be an admin in which case, be a spectacular support person.

  17. Case of the Mondays

    I was a former admin now lawyer. To avoid falling into the “used as admin” trap, I basically don’t do anything without teaching the task. Someone is stuck late at the office and can’t figure out how to print an envelope? He stands at my desk and watches me do it while I explain it. He then follows me to the postage machine while I show him how it works. This has been very effective. The next time it happens he calls and says “I know you showed me but I can’t figure it out, can you show me again?” The third time the call is “I think I know how to do this, but will you watch to make sure I do it right?” The fourth time he’s calling all proud that he did it himself. This may be a know your office thing but if you see someone stuck, instead of not saying you know how to fix it, offer to show them how to fix it instead.

    1. LQ

      My personal variant of this is, I won’t do it but I’ll show you (then they offer me their mouse -no you drive). I’ll walk you through it, yes, please take notes if you need to. I’ve found this generally cuts it down to 2 returns rather than 4-6.

      1. Elizabeth West

        I like this. I never act like they are dumb for asking either, (not that you do; I’m sure there are people who would). I just say, “It’s okay; now you know!” :)

    2. Jean

      Late to this party, but oh, I know both the self-serving desire to shed a dull task and the genuinely altruistic yearning to empower someone to perform an admin task so they wouldn’t feel helpless if they were alone in the office the next time, say, the copier jammed.

      In one job the other person (also my boss) replied “I don’t need to know how to do this because we hired YOU to do this.” In a second, the other person nonverbally communicated “I am choosing to impose this task on you (to order lunch for a group of other colleagues.” In the third, years later, I was simply railroaded by a schmuck.

      Moral: Sometimes people are simply trying to finish the immediate task as quickly & simply as possible. At other times, people aren’t above being sexist, selfish, or ambitious for themselves even if it hurts other people. And at NO time does it help to be naive, overly idealistic, oblivious to workplace social cues…or ambivalent about whether one really ever wanted to be an admin, anyway.

  18. Cajun2core

    I think Alison answered this question perfectly. You offered, your boss said, “no” so believer her. However, as Alison said, if your boss is in a jam, you can and should offer to help again.

    I will admit that I am male but I am also an administrative assistant to basically the whole department (in a University setting).

    However, I am a little concerned about the people who so adamantly suggested to say “No” so firmly and quickly. You do not want to be known as someone who has the “This is not my job attitude/This is beneath me attitude.” There are a few people here with that attitude and they are hated by the faculty and staff and they have been denied faculty administrative positions (read: department head, undergraduate coordinator, etc.) because of their non-teamwork attitude.

    1. Shell

      I think the key difference is that women are often expected to pick up the crappy jobs in life (at work, at home, etc.) as a matter of course, often at the expense of their own career development/interests/whatever. So men who do something crappy they’re “pitching in” or “helping”, for women it’s “part of their job” and “how come you didn’t do X?”.

      I absolutely agree with pitching in. Crappy jobs are not beneath anyone; we are not inherently better than any other. My boss, the owner of the company, regularly pitches in to several different roles, including admin and warehouse if needed. But if the crappy thing–in this case, admin–is not the job in question, boundaries need to be drawn quickly and firmly so that any contribution is done on an as-needed, very rare, emergency basis, and not simply absorbed into the OP’s duties. She needs to be seen as “pitching in” in an emergency, not simply “doing her job.”

      1. Cajun2core

        I agree with what you are saying. It does need to be on a “I’m helping out / pitching in” understanding.

        Also, women are *not* the only ones who fall into this trap. At my current job, I have fallen into this trap. Many of the faculty come to me (remember I am male) because I am willing to help them and I do it with a smile (usually) and if I don’t know something, I will try and find out.

        Most of my other co-workers are like this too but previous co-workers were not always like this or were too busy to help someone if it wasn’t their job.

        1. Honeybee

          But…you are an administrative assistant, by your own admission. The faculty are supposed to come to you for things. We’re talking about situations in which people – most often women, because of historical gender roles – are railroaded into doing administrative/nurturing/caretaking/custodial tasks when that’s not their actual role.

    2. Honeybee

      Denied? Perhaps your department is quite different from the ones I’ve been in, but in the departments I have been in faculty members actively avoid these administrative positions like chair and undergrad coordinator. They’re not rewarded for the service; tenure and promotion is connected to their research and publications and the administrative stuff just interferes with the other stuff. In fact, a lot of professors I’ve come across do deliberately adopt the “this isn’t my job/this is beneath me” stance and reject all suggestions because they want to be viewed as inaccessible and unhelpful – and be left alone to do their research.

  19. Jill

    This issue conjurs up images of all the horrible “this is what the working world is like” advice I got in high school. One of the themes being that the way to get ahead is to be a “team player” which implies that you should happily do ANY task that comes your way or risk not looking like a team player.

    It is entirely possible to be a team player – within the realm of your actual position. As others have suggested, volunteer for tasks that are in the career path you want to be on, not the one you’re happy to have gotten off of.

  20. Another HRPro

    OP, you have asked if you can help and you were given an answer. In today’s world, many/most companies have done away with administrative jobs and EVERYONE is expected to do their own admin work. If someone needs your help because it is urgent, feel free to pitch in in a pinch (i.e., I have to get 300 copies of the TPN report sorted and mailed ASAP) or if someone doesn’t know how to do something or could benefit from a tip you know (i.e., did you know the copier can collate and staple those TPN reports) feel free to share your knowledge. But you are not being paid to be your bosses admin. There is a difference between being a team player and serving everyone. It is very hard to transition from an admin role to a professional role mostly because of this shift in mentality. Be strong, be helpful, but do not act like everyone’s admin.

  21. KayDay

    Ok, genuine question (directed to both Alison and the commenters who concur): Are you giving this advice only because the boss explicitly said no?

    If not, how should one take initiative in a new job (i.e. where you are still learning the main part of your job) if admin tasks (i.e. the stuff you already do well) are off-the-table to some degree? If not through taking initiative in admin work, how should you pitch in, get ahead of the game, make your boss’s life easier, and all those other good things? I’m also wondering how this advice relates one of your old posts about someone getting ahead in their job because the took initiative to make coffee (I’ll reply with the link.) (I’m asking this because I will soon be in a similar-ish position to the OP: new job/company, junior-non-admin role.)

    1. KayDay

      Here’s the post I was referring to. http://www.askamanager.org/2011/04/i-have-my-whole-career-thanks-to-my-willingness-to-make-the-coffee.html Although, I see now that her role was an executive assistant, so coffee making would be more reasonable, but I still am curious about where the line is between being helpful versus being overly willing to do non-assigned admin work.

      (p.s. Also, I do completely understand that the work you are assigned/hired to do comes before any initiatives. I probably should have added “assuming my regularly assigned tasks are done…” before my question.)

      1. LBK

        To me, the most stark difference here is agreeing to take on not-so-glamorous tasks that are being assigned to you vs. volunteering to take them on yourself. It’s more about purging the phrase “that’s not my job” from your vocabulary than looking for any opportunity to take over a task, whether it’s relevant to your work or not.

        (That isn’t to say that you can never hold your ground when you’re being assigned something that’s truly unreasonable for someone in your position to do, but saying yes to helping a short staffed department for a day or handling a really tedious project without grumbling about it can go a long way. It also gives you more capital to push back on something you don’t want to do down the line without looking like a jerk.)

        1. Ad Astra

          That’s a great way to put it. You should be willing to do whatever your boss asks you to do (within reason), and you should do it without griping. That doesn’t mean you have to volunteer for tasks that aren’t assigned to you and don’t line up with your career goals.

          As someone mentioned in another comment, it’s about “pitching in,” not about “just doing your job,” because in the OP’s case, doing someone else’s admin work isn’t her job anymore.

    2. LQ

      I’ve always looked at things that would make everyone’s job easier that I enjoy doing and would be beneficial. (Things that if they asked me to do all the time I’d be good with that.) For me it’s a lot of finding automation opportunities, creating documentation, streamlining processes. It might be creating meeting agendas which can also drive the agenda of the meetings, offering to take the lead on projects, volunteering to do research and present the best options to your boss. All of those things (depending on where you want to take your career) can help drive you in the right direction without being volunteering to make copies if that isn’t what you want to do with your career. Given the choice I’ll always volunteer to find a way to work with a process, I’ll never volunteer to schmooze with vendors or make copies because those aren’t the direction I want my career to go in.

    3. KarenT

      The difference for me is that unlike Kat, the OP in this post is not just starting out her career. She’s been hired as an analyst.

    4. RMRIC0

      I would imagine that it depends on the particular field, but there should be opportunities to volunteer for projects and assignments or demonstrate you skills in other ways. Like you don’t volunteer to make copies for the presentation, you volunteer to run the numbers of teapot production systems for the presentation.

  22. Will's mom

    I agree with the not volunteering stuff since that is not what you want to do. Having said that, years ago, I changed my career path for the better when I volunteered for some work that I didn’t particularly want to do, but it was my first job and I wanted a variety of experience. Turned out I was really good at it and I enjoyed it. 40 years later (yikes) and I am still doing and enjoying what I do.

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