By Dr. Catherine Armstrong
What is secondment?
Many people do not realise that it is possible to explore different career possibilities by temporarily changing roles within the same company. This is often known as ‘going on secondment' and is especially prevalent in the commercial sector where companies are adept at making the best use of the various skills and interests of their staff. However, some public sector bodies, including universities, do operate secondment systems, although this does not really apply to academic staff, who have been employed because they are an expert in a particular field.
The change could last any length of time and could lead to new employment opportunities for the person concerned. The terms of each secondment scheme vary, in some cases it is only open to those in full time permanent employment, although other schemes offer this to contracted and part time staff members too.
Why go on secondment?
There are various advantages to taking up a secondment posting. Perhaps the salary and working conditions on offer are better than those in your current role, but more likely the change is one of improving your career chances by developing your CV. It is not necessary to change jobs completely in order to maximise these sorts of opportunity, so secondment offers members of staff who are happy in their current company or workplace the chance to try something new.
This is exactly how Chris Halvorsen saw the process. She is a data analyst at Ernst and Young in London and she said ‘staying within the company was a desirable step, as I have found the culture and atmosphere very good. The move to the Global branch of the company will provide a unique opportunity to learn about the different working practices and organisational structure. In the longer term, the secondment will hopefully demonstrate my flexibility and adaptability as an employee, and open up other opportunities. It is a fantastic way to meet people in other areas. The secondment is for a period of 3 months, and provides a huge challenge, both personally and professionally.'
How to find out about secondment schemes?
The obvious answer is to speak to those colleagues in your workplace who have experience of secondment or who know the processes behind such a move. If there is no one with obvious experience, then speak to your immediate line manager. He or she will need to be informed early on anyway as their agreement will be vital to securing a secondment place. If their team cannot operate without you, it is likely your request for secondment will be refused or perhaps your transfer will only be a short one. They will also be able to advise you on which are the most suitable departments for secondment moves for someone with your skills.
You will probably meet up with members of both your old and new teams to agree on a timetable and the particulars of your new role. This should take place openly and with your full agreement, so if you feel as though you are being kept in the dark, then let your current manager know. There may be practical problems such as space needed and ongoing workload to manage that affect your transfer into the new team, so be prepared to wait. The Human Resources department will need to be informed too, although you will receive assistance from your boss in dealing with the practicalities of a move.
It may be that during your time away from your original job, you still keep in touch with your old colleagues, making sure you stay up to speed on their work to ensure that you are able to slip back smoothly into your old job at the end of the secondment period.
Some larger organisations, such as hospitals or commercial companies advertise secondment positions on internal notice boards or intranet systems, so it is worth checking these sources too.
Tips for a successful secondment role.
You will struggle in your new job if you do not have the skills to carry it off, so make sure you plan your move carefully. Keep yourself fully informed of what will be expected of you by your new colleagues, otherwise you could have a miserable time and wish you had never bothered moving. Equally, do not use secondment as a way to avoid a job you dislike. Even though secondment could open up new opportunities for you, for some period of time you will probably have to move back to your old team and this could be awkward if you are not comfortable returning to them.
Even though you will be staying within the same company or workplace, moving to another team means that the working practices and environment could be very different. Chris found this when she moved to work for Ernst and Young Global. Even though the new job was in the same building, she was expected to work very differently: ‘the working day ends when the day's tasks have been completed, and not necessarily at 5pm. The work is very much deadline driven, and commitment to the project taken as a given.'
Be prepared for a tough few weeks. As with any new job it can be lonely to begin with and also a steep learning curve. However, you will soon start networking with your new set of colleagues and may even gain a completely new group of friends. When on secondment, unlike when starting in a new company, you are often expected to work at full speed from day one, so you will probably have to adjust to your new environment very quickly and smoothly. But if you are adaptable and aspire to developing new skills and areas of expertise, you will thrive in a secondment role and hopefully be offered exciting career development opportunities along the way.