The best next career move depends on your own ambitions, the timing of your move and any constraints impacting your job search. There is no one-size-fits-all career decision, and even the same person might come to a different decision at different points in their career. Your best next move may not career-related but rather focusing on another area of your life. Or, a stretch role could make sense but not right now.
Here are four questions to help you decide if you should apply for jobs you are qualified for or go for stretch roles:
1 - How quickly do you need to land?
Landing a stretch role takes longer than landing a new job that mirrors your old one. Your resume for an identical job at a competitor will be an obvious match that an online system or junior recruiter can pick up. On the flip side, gauging readiness for a stretch role requires that the employer knows more enough about you to make that determination. This is more than a resume – this is a marketing and networking campaign to be positioned in the right way and to get noticed by the decision-makers.
If you need a new job quickly – e.g., you lost your job and have little savings – you need to focus on a quick search. You might still apply for stretch roles, but I would simultaneously apply for jobs that are an obvious match. You could also go after temporary positions in easier jobs, and once you land that, you start your job search for the stretch role on the side. This allows you to shore up your cash position, develop any skills you need for the stretch roles you want and build up your network.
2 - Do you want a stretch role or do you just think you should want one?
Kristin didn’t share what new skill she was looking to develop, and it made me wonder if she had a skill in mind or if she assumed she should have one. Sometimes I hear from job seekers who feel pressured to make every subsequent job a next level job – e.g., a learning experience, a bigger role. While you want to show progress over your career, not every role needs to be a stretch role.
Even if you moved from one job to an identical job at another company, you would be learning to succeed in a different work environment. If you had worked your entire career at one company, switching to a competitor might be enough of a variation for now. Switching to an identical job but in a different industry, in a bigger or smaller company or in a start-up or established company are other ways to add variety without necessarily changing the role. Just like you can grow your career without moving into management, you can stretch yourself without having to land a stretch role.
3 - What are your career priorities?
Your next best move might be a stretch role if you have your heart set on reaching the executive ranks, and therefore every subsequent role would ideally advance you. However, maybe your first priority is day-to-day enjoyment, and you like what you’re doing right now. I once had a client who had come from an up-and-out culture and carried that into his next job. While he loved his job, he felt like he should be doing something more or risk falling behind, despite the fact that his manager assured him his job was secure. It was only when he confirmed his priorities – yes, he wanted challenge but also to enjoy his job – that he figured out how to maximize his career accordingly. In his case, he stayed in his job and found challenge with outside activities.
Depending on your priorities, you would benefit more from a similar job or from a change. If you’re not sure, list out all the factors you want in your career and rank order them. Then look at which next job would check off more of your priorities. You can also zoom out one, five or even 10 years from today, and identify what type of role you want in the future. Then you can reverse engineer what types of jobs could get you there, and look at your current job search in light of what would best position you for that future job.
4 - What time constraints do you need to consider?
In addition to your priorities, timing also plays a role. In question 1, we looked at time for your job search and if you are even able to take more time to find a change in role. If you have moved around frequently, you should prioritize tenure in your next role to prove you have staying power – that doesn’t mean you can’t go for a stretch role, but make sure you can handle it. Conversely, if you have been in the same job for a while with no changes to the scope and scale of your responsibilities, then you need to show growth, which a stretch role could help you do (this stretch assignment could be at your same company in a lateral move).
Time constraints also include your personal obligations. If you have a partner who is taking on a stretch role, you may not want to both be busy at the same time. If you have big upcoming personal commitments – e.g., training for a marathon, moving a parent into an elder care facility, helping a child with college applications – then you may prefer not to be stretched at work.
You always need to present yourself as qualified – even for stretch roles
Regardless of whether you go for a stretch role or something more similar to what you have done before, you still need to establish that you are qualified to do the job. If the role includes something you haven’t already done (it could be a specific skill but it also could be managing a much larger team or covering a new geography), you still have to show evidence that you can grow into the role. Prospective employers aren’t interested in having you learn on their dime, especially not in a down market where there is a ready pool of candidates. The evidence doesn’t have to be a specific work assignment – it could be volunteer or a project you created for yourself on the side to use new skills – but you do need to be credible for a stretch role beforeyou apply.