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Maximizing Developmental Assignments

Developmental assignments are an excellent opportunity for mentees to expand their career horizons and explore their full potential.  When they are well thought out and centered on the career goals, they can provide the opportunity to broaden typical work experiences and enhance career progression. To get the most from a developmental assignment, mentees should apply the following rules:

Set Goals. It is important to know why you have chosen a specific assignment and have a clear idea of what you hope to accomplish or achieve through it.  Some common expectations for developmental assignments are to enhance leadership capacity, create or cultivate new professional networks or relationships, gain exposure to different professional situations, and acquiring new technical skills.

Organize Activities. It is important that you are able to focus on your developmental assignment in order to gain the most from it. Ensure that an effective plan is in place that can meet your normal responsibilities so you are not torn between learning from your new experience and running the daily routine.

Self-Evaluate.Constantly evaluate your progress within the assignment.  Ask yourself, "Am I learning what I had intended?  What are the obstacles to my development, both within myself and within the assignment?  How can I address these obstacles and how much help can I ask for?”

Request Feedback. After any major undertaking within the assignment, ask of your mentor or supervisor, "What did I do well?  What would you have done differently?”  Ask for specific answers and also pose the same questions to a colleague.  Be sure to listen to, understand, and apply this advice.

Take Initiative. If you are aware of a good learning opportunity or find an assignment where you can contribute, don’t wait to be asked.  Volunteer and stretch your capabilities and knowledge.

Debrief. At the conclusion of the developmental assignment, request a final debrief with your mentor or supervisor to determine if the goals of the assignment have been met and if any additional lessons could have been learned from the experience.


People tend to learn most effectively through actually accomplishing a given task or assignment.  It is through the process that the learning takes place.  Whenever possible, mentors will encourage mentees to look for lessons in everyday experiences to learn and practice new skills. The mentor can also assist the mentee in their developmental goals by encouraging them to reflect on any lessons learned.

The following are some thought starters to develop and debrief new skills: 

§  Conduct a portion of the next staff meeting.

o   How did you prepare for the meeting?

o   How was it received?

o   What would you do differently? 

§  Take a chapter from the department’s strategic plan and offer insights.

o   What are your observations?

o   What would you change or enhance?

§  Benchmark a model organization.

o   What was the one thing about this organization that surprised you?

o   Could that element be incorporated into your organization/department?

§  Lead a cross-functional team.

o   What was your biggest accomplishment?

o   What was your biggest challenge and the lessons learned?

§  Plan an off-site meeting or conference.

o   How did you organize the event?

o   What gave you the most challenge?

§  Author a work-related publication.

o   Why did you choose this topic?

o   What were you able to convey to the reader?

§  Research a new law or regulation.

o   What elements were new to you?

§  Give a presentation allowing an observer to provide feedback.

o   What was the feedback you received?

o   What would you do differently next time?

§  Work in another functional or geographic area.

o   Were you able to learn a new skill or expand your network?

§  Conduct informational interviews with key leaders.

o   What questions did you choose and why?

o   Were you surprised at any of the answers?