It is not an anomaly that, amongst the majority of professions across various industries, career development is an abstract concept. Even within organizations that provide ‘career tracks’ consisting of specific milestones that one must fulfill to reach the next level, grade or band there is still ambiguity. The basic question here is: What do I need to do to get to the next level? The response becomes even more convoluted when we consider those in career transition. One tried and true technique is the acquisition of a significant stretch assignment. A stretch assignment or opportunity provides different levels of exposure, all beneficial to your career development. Employee Resource Group involvement and cross functional support assignments are two impactful ways to accelerate your professional growth.
1) Choosing the Right Stretch Assignment If You Are Considering a Career Transition
The key is to ensure that there is compatibility between the stretch assignment and your desired outcome. For those seeking a career transition across industries, the first step is to review your career portfolio. Consider the ways that your skill set, major accomplishments, education and training translate to the requirements of your targeted role. Next, think through any gaps, or missing components, in your portfolio that may inhibit you from landing that next job. Lastly, craft your own description of a stretch assignment to include the aspects of your current portfolio that you are most confident about as well as the gaps in expertise. After you have completed this exercise, you should have a clear picture of the most advantageous stretch assignment for you.
2) Add Depth to Your Career Development Options, Even If You Stay Within the Same Industry or Field
If you feel stuck or unsure of how to move up the ladder within your industry, stretch assignments are also advantageous. The reality is that, even with training and education, there are some skill sets that require practice and refinement. If you are an individual contributor seeking a management role, you can acquire advanced leadership roles through stretch assignments. It is important to note that the term management is intended to include overseeing people as well as projects. Dissect your portfolio and take the time to be introspective. Consider your passions, expertise and areas of opportunity. From here, take a closer look at those areas of opportunity and think through tactics to best address them – should you return to school, take a training class or do you need hands on experience? If you conclude that hands on experience is required, then consider a stretch assignment.
3) Career Development Through Employee Resource Groups
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are an evolving component of most Human Resources offerings and provide employees within certain demographic groups the opportunity to build programming (events, training and knowledge building tools) to serve the respective group of individuals within the organization. ERGs are semi-autonomous, meaning that a leadership hierarchy within the group is established. Human Resources manages the budget and approves programming and initiatives. Leadership positions within ERGs include roles focused on areas such as Community Relations/Service, Learning & Development, Marketing & Communication, Events & Membership, with all leadership positions reporting to the ERG Chair.
As an ERG leader, you would build a committee of members to support your area of accountability. This would of course require you to further develop your management skills such as delegation, team member development and performance evaluation. The selection process for a leadership role within an ERG typically consists of interviews with Human Resources and the ERG Chairs as well as managerial approval. Prior knowledge or expertise in the respective area are usually not required, therefore ERG leadership roles are fantastic ways to build upon or develop your current skill set while gaining management experience. An added benefit is the amount of exposure that you will receive as an ERG leader.
4) Career Development Through Cross Functional Support Assignments
Cross functional support assignments are another strategic way to gain expertise or enhance your portfolio. Within most organizations, transparency across departments is encouraged to facilitate employee retention. In other words, more HR departments are looking for ways to keep talent on board and engaged, even if that means shifting them around the organization. Typically, a cross functional support assignment begins with a formal request to shadow an employee in the department or role of interest. If granted, you should leverage this opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and passion for the area. Ask thoughtful questions that provide insights into your level of understanding. Don’t be afraid to speak up about the area(s) that you do not have experience in and be candid about what you would like to gain from the experience.
Keep the shadowing experience relevant by remaining in contact with the individuals that you worked with as well as Human Resources, if applicable. If the cross functional support assignment doesn’t evolve after the shadowing meeting, follow up with the appropriate point of contact. Again, be candid about your career progression goals and emphasize your desire to remain within the organization. Have open and honest conversations with your current manager to let him/her know about your plans. Be prepared to demonstrate the ways that you will manage your workload while taking on the additional assignment.
Depending upon your organization, stretch assignments can take many forms and come with varying levels of time commitment and responsibility. Be innovative and strategic in identifying opportunities to advance and if there are none available, create them. The key is to think of your resume or professional portfolio as a toolbox: All components should be sharp and well maintained.
by Jasmine Brennan