Detours aren't always bad - secondments at work can lead to professional growth!

Have you ever traded places with a colleague for a short period of time? In today's modern workplace, taking on a job and sticking with it until you retire isn't something that happens anymore. Instead, you have to be more flexible and willing to learn, in order to advance to higher positions. Enter secondments. 

But what is a secondment? A secondment gives you the chance to temporarily step into a different role or department without actually changing your job title. Picture this: if ABC Company hires you as a Marketing Assistant, but then asks you to take on a product development project, you're still the Marketing Assistant. The secondment doesn't automatically make you a Product Development Specialist. 

The opportunity allows you to explore new positions and develop skills you wouldn't likely gain in your role as a Marketing Assistant. That's the power of secondment. By definition, it's simply a temporary reassignment to something else. In reality, it's so much more! 

The advantage of secondment is that you can bridge the gap between what you know and what you can do in a way that has a major impact on your career trajectory. 

Deeper insight into a secondment definition

If you look at secondments as more than a simple reassignment to another role, you'll see that they're really a skill-enhancing journey rather than a mere shift in responsibilities. Yes, you do gain additional responsibilities during a secondment, but those new duties open the doors to further career advancement. A secondment, therefore, is a unique arrangement that helps you to become more ingrained into the daily operations of a business, making you an even more integral part of the company. 

In addition to taking on a role within your company, a secondment position can take you out of the business. For example, you could end up working with external partners. Either way, the idea is the same – you maintain the title you were hired with, while taking on extra responsibilities that grow your skill set. 

On top of growing your skill set, participating in a secondment also allows you to share knowledge with people who wouldn't ordinarily have access to your expertise. This is the birthplace of innovation. You may think that you're simply filling in for someone else, but what you're really doing is driving change and improving overall operational efficiency. 

Is it worth doing a secondment?

You're probably expecting either a “Yes” or “No” answer here. Unfortunately, life is never that simple and, as with anything else, there are advantages and disadvantages to doing a secondment. Let's explore some of them:

Advance your career

You already know that a secondment can be a catalyst for growing your career, because of the opportunities it provides for acquiring new skills. It can also broaden your network, because while you work on a new team or in a new department, you'll meet people you may not otherwise run into. Probably the most notable thing that a secondment does for your career is boost your professional reputation. The company you work for knows that they can count on you to take on additional responsibilities. Secondments can also enhance your career in the following ways:

  • Expanding your perspective by offering a unique way to break out of boring routines

  • Exposing you to diverse cultures

  • Enhancing collaboration through cross-functional learning 

  • Building team cohesion and improved team dynamics

Personal growth

You wouldn't think it, but doing something like a secondment can also have a major impact on your personal growth - especially if you're someone who has a hard time stepping out of your comfort zone to try new things. Secondments also require flexibility and adaptability. If these are soft skills that you'd like to work on, then a secondment could be just the thing you need. You'll also see a spike in these soft skills:

  • Resilience

  • Problem-solving

  • Leadership

  • Strategic thinking

Work-life balance

Messing up your work-life balance could be one of the negatives related to secondment. As you move into a new role, you might take on more hours or have to change your work location. Both of these can impact your work-life balance. It's critical to take these things into consideration when trying to decide whether you're going to say “Yes” to a secondment. 

If you decide to ignore this potential negative, participating in a secondment will certainly give you a competitive advantage in your field because (if we use the example we first introduced) Marketing Assistants don't often have a lot of Product Development experience. This will help you to stand out from your peers and you'll become a more well-rounded professional. 

Things to consider before accepting a secondment

Everything from whether you're personally ready to how the payroll will be set up should come into play when you're trying to decide whether to accept a secondment. By being proactive and considering all the relevant factors, you'll have a smoother transition and a more successful secondment experience. 

Your readiness

You should conduct a thorough self-assessment to ensure that your skills and work goals align with what will be required for the secondment. Ask yourself: 

  • Will the experiences you gain contribute positively to your career journey? 

  • Do you have the skills necessary to work in different environments?

  • Are you flexible and open to change?

  • Will taking on a secondment cause problems with family commitments or financial stability?

  • Are you genuinely excited about taking on these new responsibilities?

Potential challenges

As you know, sometimes you have to embrace challenges to move forward, and secondments are a great way to dive into new challenges. But are the challenges worth the effort to overcome them? Before you accept a secondment, you should identify the challenges that you'll be faced with and decide if you can – or even want to – prepare for and navigate them. Here are some common challenges you could face when accepting a secondment:

  • Adapting to a new team

  • Adjusting to a new location

  • Learning new office policies and workflows

  • Balancing competing priorities within your normal role and your secondment simultaneously

  • Figuring out ambiguity or uncertainty

Managing change

If you decide that those challenges are acceptable, then the best thing you can do is manage the change, especially considering that change is just another opportunity for professional and personal growth. Be sure to maintain open lines of communication with your bosses and new team members, so that you can share concerns and seek guidance. 

Since accepting a secondment expands your network, you can also use those connections to seek out support. That help can be as simple as guiding you through creating goals and schedules to helping you to get through work-life changes. Your bosses, colleagues, and network can also be a great place to find mentors who can provide specialized training. 

Secondment agreements

There should always be a secondment agreement for you to look at. It'll be provided by your organization and outline specific terms and conditions that will govern your secondment. Those details will include things like the duration, what your responsibilities will be, and how you'll be paid. 

As you go over the agreement, take the time to ask questions to ensure that you're absolutely clear on what will be expected.  Not only do you need to know if it's a short-term or long-term arrangement, you need to know exactly what will be expected of you to ensure that your skills line up with what management needs. 

Payroll, benefits, and other compensation

Is getting paid very important? Well, yes, yes it is! Thankfully, when you're looking to accept a secondment, one of the things you'll want to consider is whether you'll be adequately paid for what's expected of you. Just because you're getting more money isn't a reason to jump for joy. You have to determine if the additional money covers any additional costs you may incur, such as travel expenses, if you're going to be placed at a new location. 

There may be bonuses and additional benefits or perks provided when you accept a secondment. Take extra time to review these, especially if they're not something that you get in your normal role. You need to understand exactly what you have to do to qualify for these extras. 

Secondments in practice

Let's explore some real-world examples of secondments, so that you can get a clearer grasp of their versatility and potential for career growth. Sometimes, your secondment will be within the same organization, and other times, you'll be moved to a new organization. Here's what that looks like:

Within the same organization

  1. Cross-departmental secondments happen in large corporations where you may be seconded to a new department for a few months to gain insights into the workings of a new team, to improve collaboration between the two teams. 

  2. International secondments occur within multinational corporations where you may find yourself being seconded to a facility in another country. These secondments foster cultural exchange and help strengthen global operations. For example, an IT Manager from headquarters can be seconded to a branch office in another country to migrate legacy systems to cloud environments, ensuring that company-wide tech communication is seamless. 

  3. Project secondments are short-term assignments that give you the opportunity to work on a single project, because you're the best at whatever needs to be completed. Often, these types of projects will include people from different departments or specialties who come together to get a particular task done. 

Outside the company

  1. Legal secondment brings in second Attorneys to work with clients when a new or specialized legal service is required. The law firm doesn't want to lose the client, so they'll collaborate with someone new.

  2. Non-profit secondments bring in people from partner organizations to address social or environmental challenges in a collaborative way. For example, a sustainability expert could be seconded to work with a non-profit to develop sustainable practices. 

What is the process of seconding employees?

It's quite a simple process, where your manager decides that you'll be the right person with the right skills to work on something new. They don't want you to move permanently to another department, but they are willing to share you for a short time because what you learn during the secondment can benefit them when you return. 

Once your manager picks you, you'll go through the agreement phase, where you go over the terms and receive orientation and training for your new role. Both you and your employer have to agree to the terms of the secondment and there will be a document to sign. After your training, you'll be off to your new assignment where you'll work through the secondment period. 

When you finish the assigned secondment, your performance will be evaluated and you'll return to your normal position. Be sure to make some time when the secondment ends to document new strengths, skills, and achievements that will boost your career. 

Embrace the detour

If ever something at work could empower you to move forward in your career, it's a secondment. Whether your secondment is taking you to a new department or a new country, remember that it should be treated as a transformative experience that fosters personal and professional growth, not a disruption to your career. So, embrace the detour!

Once your secondment equips you with new skills, you need to add them to your resume. TopResume's free resume review can help ensure that you have a powerful resume that accurately represents all of your career achievements. 

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