Look for stretch opportunities to advance your career

Look for stretch opportunities to advance your career

Career development doesn’t end the day you land a job and it shouldn’t start again only when you decide to look for your next role. Nor does it involve only formal courses – although these can be beneficial from time to time. True career development continues throughout your working life and one simple way to ensure your skills advance is through stretch opportunities in your existing role.

Stretch opportunities are tasks or projects that are slightly beyond your current skill or knowledge level and therefore allow you to ‘stretch’ by improving your capabilities. By stepping outside your comfort zone and committing to your professional development you not only grow your skills but you become a more valued employee. When the time comes, you also have additional skills that help you stand out in the job market.

If you want to develop in this way, firstly work out what skills and capabilities you need to improve. Look at your current job responsibilities as well as the responsibilities of the next role you aspire to. What do you need to work on to reach your goal?

Then look for relevant projects or tasks that will stretch your skills in the right direction. Talk to your boss about how you can become involved.

Make sure you look for opportunities that stretch you one step beyond your current skill level – you don’t want to volunteer for a task or project that requires an impossibly huge step forward or that will overwhelm you. It’s a fine balance between gently stretching your skills and pushing yourself too far.

Therefore it’s a good idea to start with smaller short-term tasks or projects. For example, if you want to develop your research and presentation skills, and know that your boss is looking to add a new system or technology to the workplace, ask if you can research and present to staff the benefits of this change.

You can also look at a task your boss is struggling with – can you take on some responsibility for it while growing your skills at the same time? For example, if there’s a regular report that your boss finds time consuming could you work out a better process for collecting the data and write the draft for her/him?

Most companies realise that developing their staff is not just a valued employee benefit but one that aids staff retention and builds a high-performance culture. So don’t be afraid to have an open conversation with your boss about how you can ‘stretch’ your skills.

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