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How outside activities accelerate your career at work

Posted by Chad O'Connor  September 3, 2013 11:00 AM

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Your work day isn't over after 5 p.m. and it shouldn't be. Smart employees will make the most of their time outside of work in order to gain the skills, network and notoriety that can support their careers inside the workplace. By getting involved in industry-related groups, volunteering at charitable organizations, working on passion projects and even taking up a sport as a hobby, you will be a well-rounded professional and have a more meaningful life. Whether you get involved with your colleagues or not, the relationships you build will open up new opportunities and allow you to learn from others’ experiences. Outside activities allow you to click with people based on mutual interests that might not exist through your day job.

In a new study in partnership with American Express, we found that 63 percent of managers are very willing or extremely willing to support an employee's professional-related activities outside of the office, but fewer than half of employees are very interested or extremely interested in pursuing them. "They can help with development experiences that you might not get the opportunity to do at work, board experience or other leadership opportunities," says Susan Gambardella, VP,Global Account Team at Coca-Cola. All professionals should strive to be more than their jobs and expand their possibilities and their networks, because you never know when you might get laid off or you may want to make a career move.

Back when you were applying to colleges, all of the applications were looking for your high school grades, a few essays, a list of your hobbies and activities, and more. You knew that was the criteria that colleges were looking for so you made sure that you were doing everything to create the best application imaginable. Why wouldn't you create that same package now that you're an employee so that you can differentiate yourself and become a more desirable professional?

One example of an employee who took full advantage of an outside activity is Andy Kaestle, an Assurance and Advisory Senior of Banking & Capital Markets at Ernst & Young LLP. At the age of 22, Andy was elected to serve a highly selective two-year term on the International Board of Directors for Beta Alpha Psi. The 300,000-member non-profit organization focuses on the professional development of financial information students and professionals, and encourages ethical, social and public responsibility.

Andy joined nearly 40 of his peers in running for the one position on the 12-member board that’s dedicated to the election of a young professional. The remaining board members are all highly experienced professionals, affording the young board member an opportunity to work alongside firm partners, prominent business school deans and other leaders who share a passion for making a difference.

Volunteering for the board was a significant commitment and it required him to dedicate up to 10 hours per week to the organization and travel 15 to 20 days more per year, in addition to fulfilling his professional and personal responsibilities. Yet Andy found that going the extra mile for Beta Alpha Psi helped him to grow professionally inside and outside of the board. As examples, he assisted in the development of the organization’s long-term strategic plan, designed an online community for its 300,000 student and alumni members, and helped advance the board’s efforts to expand overseas in Australia and New Zealand.

Andy benefitted in countless ways from volunteering for a board at such a young age. First, he gained experience with developing and supporting solutions to challenging, and sometimes intimidating, issues. Secondly, he had the incredible opportunity to network across borders with leaders in Australia and New Zealand, while encouraging them to invest in an organization based across the world. Andy believes that these experiences, his continued commitment to community service and his determination to be a high performer on the job have contributed to his advancement from intern to other positions in his first four years at EY. “By building a strong portfolio of activities inside and outside of work, it led me to a new goal and helped me to earn the support I needed to pursue it. I’m fortunate to have had these experiences early in my career, and encourage others to pursue their passions outside of work.”

Dan Schawbel is a Gen Y career and workplace expert, the Founder of Millennial Branding and the author of the new book, Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin's Press).

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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