Gaining Exposure to Senior Leaders: Night Jobs

If your goal is to move up in an organization, it's important to gain exposure to senior leadership. And when I say exposure, I don't mean through a one-on-one or a couple of social events. I mean by working on an actual project together. These are projects that typically take extra time beyond your day job. They are called - quite simply - night jobs.

Why do night jobs matter?

Imagine that you were trying to pick members of your team. You have two candidates who have pretty much the same resume. One was someone you knew, but only through one-off conversations. You'd gotten some nice recommendations from his manager and it seems like he had some transferable skills.

The other person worked on a project with you a few months ago. It was an activity outside of your regular job duties, and it took a lot of effort. You saw this person engage during meetings, take on responsibility, and do an outstanding job in planning and executing. You were very impressed. Who would you hire?

Intern experience

I had a similar experience during my internship. In addition to our individual projects, we were assigned to teams that worked on an additional group project that lasted the entire summer. My team had 5 interns, including myself. We met frequently, made decisions together, and put in a lot of sweat equity. It was a lot of extra work, since we also had our individual projects too.

However, through this experience I was able to see my teammates in action - saw how they dealt with stress, managed tight timelines, and spoke up during meetings. I knew their individual strengths and weaknesses, and could vouch for how they would contribute to a team. 

If I were to form a team and one of them wanted to join - I would not hesitate one bit. My team got really close with each other and we helped each other a lot on our final project presentations. I actually mentioned this to them and how I genuinely cared about their success. Even with just an 8-week long project, a very strong connection was formed. 

A senior executive first told me about these night jobs and how important they were. By experiencing the group project, I had my own epiphany. It's essential to do a night job with someone who is outside of your immediate reporting hierarchy. While networking is important too, working side-by-side brings that relationship to a whole other level.

How night jobs help

When it comes down to it, relationships matter because they reduce risk. By having first-hand knowledge of the strengths of a potential hire, a leader can determine the value that a person may bring and match it to a need on the team.

By knowing the developmental needs of this person, a leader can also determine whether this position would allow for future growth to meet this person's personal career needs. In the corporate world, team performance directly correlates to business outcomes, and this is tied to the leader's own career development. That's why it's important to reduce the uncertainty surrounding a new hire decision as it benefits everyone.

Interviews and recommendations help reduce this risk, but when you're working in the same organization, the opportunity to work on night jobs is the most effective. When you think about it, the whole MBA summer internship concept is a lot like a night job. We work 10-12 weeks on actual projects, allowing the organization's leaders to have a clear understanding of how we might perform if we were hired in full time.

My teammates on the intern group project were all very different from me. Everyone had a different background and had a different personality. If we had just met through lunches or happy hours, I wouldn't imagine that we'd be able to build such a deep connection. Yet it is this diversity of thought and approach that makes a good team. 

Fitting night jobs in

If I were working full time, I'd imagine that night jobs would be a significant burden. They would take up a lot of free time. But I think that's one of the side effects of leadership - sacrifice. In return for a higher pay and more authority, followers demand that leaders sacrifice, whether it's their time, or taking accountability when things go wrong. Simon Sinek has a nice talk based on his book "Leaders Eat Last" that discusses this topic. 

Ultimately it's about trade-offs and personal career goals. Based on my group project experience during the internship, I see night jobs as an essential opportunity that leads to career advancement in Corporate America.


  1. Great post Steven :) Looks like you've had a great internship experience :). Do you know how common are these 'night jobs' ? Are they a regular thing all round the year and do they happen in most companies? Do we volunteer ourselves for these kind of opportunities in the company?

    1. Sathya, thanks for the comment. I can only speak to my internship experience, but I'd imagine that these opportunities are shared both formally and informally. Formally, I've seen people serve on committees for educational events, conferences and so forth. Informally would be something like our group project where we had full time managers guide us, and folks were just asked if they'd like to help out.

      In the middle of the summer, I was also given a project to help another function outside of commercial. It was during a particularly busy time as my own individual project really ramped up, plus we had the group project ongoing. I still stepped up and took the opportunity. I'm really thankful that I did, because I learned a ton and got connected with more people in the company.

      These are definitely regularly things as most people I met are working on additional projects besides their core function. For example, I'd be very interested in working with University Recruiting to help interview MBA candidates and help organize the internship program.

      The MBA itself will help prep you for these things. Everyone is involved with multiple clubs and school leadership functions. The Duke MBA is particularly student-led so there are plenty of opportunities to get involved and get ready for "real life" after graduation. For example, I am going to be an admissions fellow and will lead marketing for our annual Fuqua Health Care Conference

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