How to go on a secondment

How to go on secondment

By Nathalie Towner

A secondment is a great opportunity to temporarily transfer to
another department or even to another organisation. It’s
generally viewed as great for career development. The secondee will
be exposed to new experiences they would never get in their
substantive post. Although taking a secondment is often an
excellent long-term career move, it does need to be well thought

1 How does a secondment work?

A secondment will have a fixed beginning and end with the
employee going back to their original job once it’s over.
There is no time limit: it can last from as little as two weeks to
well over a year and you will usually be expected to fulfill a set
task or project. “You can either go internally or to an
outside organisation such as the government or a charity,”
explains Angela Baron, Chartered Institute of Personnel and
Development adviser. “It is normally done to motivate people
and to develop careers.”

2 Supportive boss needed

Dave Sargeant, area director for adults and community care
services for south west Surrey, has successfully completed two
secondments and says it is crucial to have the support of your
employer. “I had a very supportive line manager who saw it as
a good personal opportunity and also great for the
organisation,” he said. “The organisation would gain as
I was going into the health service and would then be able to help
with partnership working.”

3 When is a good time?

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s
Baron recommends considering secondment after you have been in your
current job for a minimum of two years. Sargeant had been in his
post as director of mental health services for five years and was
ready for a new challenge. “I had always worked in social
services, starting out as a mental health social worker, and I saw
a secondment to a partnership organisation (the NHS) as an
opportunity to refresh my career.”

4 High expectations

In both instances Sargeant took on challenging secondments: his
first post was as director of strategic partnership to East Surrey
Health Authority and the second as chief executive of East Surrey
Primary Care Group with the project brief of merging the
organisation and creating a primary care trust. “It’s
not like a normal job: you’re expected to come in
running,” he said. “You don’t have two to three
months to ease yourself in.”

5 Transferring skills

The secondee will have a real opportunity to grow and develop new
skills. “I learnt a lot about project management in the NHS
and and as a result of the secondment I went up several notches in
this area and it is now very valuable in my current role,”
says Sargeant. It also works the other way round and secondees can
apply skills from their social services background to the new
environment. “In social care we value the process of engaging
people and explaining how and why something is done and I was able
to use this experience to get people involved during my

5 Going back

“The return has to be carefully managed,” advises
Baron. “You can come back revitalised,  keen to get on with
more training but if you were bored before you left you will be
bored on your return.” Sargeant knew that on his return he
would be looking for a promotion or new opportunity and he was
fortunate that as a result of restructuring he could apply for his
current post. “My success in getting this job was as a result
of my secondment: it really added to my career prospects,” he

6 Do it for the right reasons

“Have a career plan and consider how a secondment will
help you further it,” says Sargeant. “Don’t just
do it for a change: you will have to work hard and the new employer
will expect you to deliver but for me it was a very postive
experience and I’d really recommend it.”

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