The Complete Guide to a Successful Secondment

A successful secondment can be a great opportunity for career development.

Zight | August 28, 2019 | 9 min read time

Article Last Updated: July 09, 2023

The Complete Guide to a Successful Secondment

When looking to upskill, improve your CV, or develop knowledge within your career, many people are unaware of every option available to them. Of course you can take online classes, get on-the-job training, find a mentor, or volunteer, but one option may be superior to the rest: secondment.

What is a Secondment?

A secondment is an opportunity to take a temporary or project based position, without the need to quit your current job. Think of it as being out on “loan” for a shorter period of time. Secondments can often be beneficial for both you, as the one gaining new knowledge and experience, and your company, who will then be the recipient of your new knowledge and experience.

While secondments aren’t very well known, they are gaining in popularity as companies learn that enabling their employees to learn and develop is a crucial element to job satisfaction and employee retention.

Internal vs. External Secondment

There are basically two types of secondments that have some differences: internal vs external secondments.

An internal secondment means that you actually stay within your own company, but are on loan to a different department or in a different role. This can be a great option if you enjoy your employer, but perhaps want to learn about a different part of the business, develop your skills outside of your typical day-to-day duties, or there is a position that needs to be filled quickly.

One of the biggest benefits for your employer to facilitate internal secondments, is that there can be a relatively quicker onboarding, since you are already familiar with company practices and internal culture.

Companies may use internal secondments if they are trying to avoid redundancies, or need to spread resources around the organization when times are tougher. If your company is distributed to multiple locations, they may also utilize secondments as a way to mix senior employees with new hires in order to keep consistency of culture and help strengthen inter-location ties.

For you, an internal secondment may be a good first step in getting a taste of trying something new, without taking a major leap of faith or going through the headache of finding and applying for new jobs.

An external secondment is when you take a temporary role or project-based assignment at a different company. Many times, this company may be in the same organization as your employer, or is part of a network of sister companies, but it’s not necessary.

With an external secondment, your company can often benefit from the fresh perspective you can gain on the outside. In order to stay competitive, progressive, and innovative, companies need to be adapting to changes in technology, trends, economy, and knowledge. One way that they can do this easily is by facilitating secondments in which they can then utilize your new knowledge and experiences after you have completed the assignment.

We can think about the famous Grace Hopper quote: “the most dangerous phrase in the language is ‘we’ve always done it this way.’” Companies need to adapt and find as many opportunities as they can to make organizational changes that benefit both people and the business. Utilizing secondments can be a great solution for this.

For you, a secondment can mean expanding your professional network and getting new contacts outside of your immediate organization. They also typically mean having an opportunity to work on a project or with skills that you wouldn’t otherwise. An external secondment can make you feel re-invigorated for your current role if you are able to return and apply your new learnings, take on more responsibilities, or have a positive impact on your team or duties.

Common Questions About Secondments

Of course, if you’ve never participated in a secondment before, there are many questions about how they actually function and how to go about completing one. Here we look at a few of the most common questions:

How do I find an Opportunity for Secondment?

You may be able to find secondments listed on your company’s internal website used for employees, or on other contract or project-based employment sites. You can also contact the department you are interested in, to see if they have any need or desire to take on a seconded employee.

External secondments are more difficult to find, but if your company has several partnerships or subsidiaries, you may also be able to look on job sites, LinkedIn, or talk directly with HR or a department manager within the other organization.

Can my Employer Refuse a Secondment?

When you approach your employer about a secondment, you should come well prepared with a proposal that clearly indicates the mutual benefits of taking on such an opportunity. But, it can be that your employer refuses your request. There may be some issues that come into play, such as timing, or budget constraints, but that doesn’t mean they’ll say no forever. Continue to do your job well, and express an interest in learning and development. If your employer values your initiative and hard work, they may likely see the benefit of a secondment in the future.

How does Secondment Pay Work?

Typically, your salary is handled and paid out by your current employer, just as it normally would be. The benefit of a secondment is usually that there is not too much administrative hassle, especially when it comes to payment. However, when you set an agreement for a secondment, you need to ensure that all parties are aware of, and understand what that agreement is, so there is no confusion or issues.

‍How to have a Successful Secondment

While completing a secondment might sound ideal to you right now, it is possible for them to not go so well. You need to know some tips in order to make the most of the opportunity, and ensure you have a successful secondment.

Document the terms and conditions of the secondment

While the arrangement for your secondment (especially when internal), can be relaxed, you need to ensure that you, your organization, and superiors are all on the same page. The agreement of your secondment should be documented in a terms and conditions contract that is satisfactory to both parties.

This ensures that you aren’t at risk of losing your current position, that you will be paid the same (or appropriate accommodations are made), and that the expected outcome of the secondment is clear.

Set hard and soft goals for yourself

Since you are looking to really get experience out of a secondment opportunity, it may be a good idea to set some goals in the beginning about what you’d like to achieve. If you’re working on a project, or something with a defined outcome, set some hard goals about your contributions and results.

Or, if you’re looking to get new skills out of this opportunity, make note of what those are. What do you hope to gain, and what knowledge do you want to develop? If you think about these aspects before you even start or approach your superiors about a secondment, these could be the ideas you can take to your supervisor as an argument for why a secondment would be good for you and your current department.

Ask questions and get feedback

There is not much point to completing a secondment (other than a change of scenery) if you aren’t getting anything out of it. If you’re just another body on your new team, and aren’t really sure where you fit in or what you should be doing, don’t waste any time.

Particularly if you have requested the secondment, you need to show that you are there to work, learn, and contribute. To ensure that you aren’t simply being complacent or are coasting along, make sure to ask questions of your colleagues and department heads, and get as much feedback as possible.

The trick is to know when it is appropriate to take up time for learning and development. Questions that seek to clarify your role, duties, action items, and deliverables are necessary all the time. Questions to help you personally grow or learn in ways not applicable to the to-dos that are immediately in front of you should be reserved for spare time when your team or supervisors aren’t busy with their own workload.

Feedback will be crucial for the experience you take back to your current role. If there are areas where you could have done better, or specific concepts you didn’t quite get the hang of, you may need to spend some of your own free time developing these skills further before applying them to your regular duties.‍

Document or journal your experiences

Sometimes when we have too much going on, or are switching back and forth between tasks, we can have goldfish memories – that is, we learn something new, and immediately forget it. Although it may take some time (and personal effort outside of work) it can be really useful to document new processes and learning, or journal about your experiences.

There’s not a lot of point to completing your secondment, only to forget some of the tools or strategies you learned while in your new role. Once back in your normal habitat, you won’t necessarily have guidance or quick access to other knowledgeable co-workers who can help you. But if you ensure that you’re taking notes as you go, or “downloading” your new knowledge to somewhere you can easily access it later, you’ll hardly miss a beat when your secondment is over.

Collaborate as much as possible

They say that if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. Take advantage of the new environment you’ll be in. Chances are, if you take on a secondment, you’ll be refreshed by the new perspectives and experiences and diversity of the project team you’ll be a part of.

In this opportunity, look to those around you to help you develop. Offer assistance on side projects, or ask to sit in on meetings to learn more about internal processes. Wherever you have the chance, seek out ways that you can collaborate with others – absorbing as much as you can while giving your own input or help. The important thing isn’t just to take from others, you should give something in return as well, so that you aren’t just a drain on time, energy or resources.

‍Onboard productively

Especially for short-term projects, it can be feared that secondments may be too time consuming or costly to ramp up a new hire who may require time to become familiarized with processes and the team, particularly when collaboration is necessary. But there are ways to ensure that you can onboard quickly, and waste no time digging into your new duties.

Productivity tools like Zight (formerly CloudApp) can benefit companies with secondments, because you can easily facilitate learning initiatives and collaboration. Before a secondment begins, and for any new hires, your company can capture screen recordings and document processes that can easily be reviewed. This can significantly ease the transition between departments if training materials are pre-recorded and ready to use.

The trick to having a successful secondment really comes down to how much you want to gain, and how eagerly you go after it. Set the groundwork by setting an agreement, and onboarding as efficiently as possible. Take advantage of the people and opportunities you have around you, and ensure you head back to your old role armed with your new knowledge and skills.

To make your secondment all the better, use Zight (formerly CloudApp) for better onboarding and team collaboration.

With Zight (formerly CloudApp) you can:

1. Skip that meeting – Rather than wasting your time and the time of your co-workers or clients, showcase your thoughts by recording a quick video of your screen and sending it.

2. Improve collaboration – Quickly send over a few options with clear instructions to avoid unnecessary back-and-forth.

3. Share feedback immediately – Zight (formerly CloudApp) makes it easy to capture and share thoughts.

Ready to chat with us about how to save time, money and help your team communicate better?