If you want to grow in your career or current job, taking on a stretch assignment is a terrific catalyst for rapidly developing expertise and leadership skills.  

What’s a stretch assignment? Stretch assignments are intensely challenging and ambitious projects that can increase your visibility at work. 

In a study published by the Harvard Business Review, 71% of senior leaders identified stretch assignments as the most significant career enabler. But, often, these assignments are not offered up equally to women and men in an organization, so you must speak up. According to McKinsey & Co., only 15% of companies track the gender of these high-visibility assignments. 

So, how, when, and why might you ask for a stretch assignment?

Excel in Your Current Role

Since women face more challenges in obtaining these assignments, you’ll want to be proactive in pursuing them. It seems obvious, but your first step is to perform well in your current position. Then, meet your goals regularly, correctly, and on time so that your manager will have confidence that you can overcome obstacles in challenging projects. 

Use Self-Promotion Tactics

A study from Harvard suggests that men are far more at ease with self-promotion than women. Self-promotion is an essential skill; however, it often elicits adverse reactions for women. Check out this Forbes article for nine strategies for “stealth self-promotion.” 

Identify Gaps in Your Expertise or Leadership Skills

These assignments are an opportunity to develop, so you want to understand what skills you need to get to the next level in the organization. Look at profiles and job descriptions of senior leaders to identify potential pathways and where you need to develop. You’ll want to choose assignments that lead to success for you and the company.

Ask Thoughtful Questions of Senior Leadership

When you speak with senior leadership, ask questions about what is on their back burner, where they would like to innovate, or where they are experiencing challenges in work. What you learn can present an excellent opportunity to solve a problem for them and gain a stretch assignment for yourself.  

Notice Opportunities for Improvement & Ask for the Assignment

You can notice areas that can use improvement from a different perspective than your boss. Bring this opportunity up to your boss in a way that supports their work and success in the office. You’ll want to confirm that there is support from senior managers and that you have the resources to succeed in this scenario.

Ask Your Supervisor Directly

Many organizations use stretch assignments to identify high-potential employees. Your boss may already have stretch assignments on their docket and making yourself available improves your chances of landing a coveted one; it also highlights your initiative. 

Stretch assignments can be fantastic for your career, and being proactive is essential. Once you have a stretch assignment, identify the support, resources, and guidance to set yourself up for success. Good luck!