You don’t hate your job necessarily, but you’re, well…bored. Your day-to-day responsibilities have become second nature, and you no longer feel like you’re being challenged.
Then an idea smacks you in the face. Someone on the sales team is working on a new assignment you’d love to get your hands on. Or, you’ve been dying to start a company blog and no one’s taken the initiative. Or, you’re fascinated by social media and want to spend more time helping out the marketing team.
Surely your boss would let you take on an outside project if it was for the good of the company? Here’s what you need to know to get them to say yes.
Make a Convincing Case
“First of all, do your homework. How would this help you in your job and help your team, [and] help your manager get work done?” says Muse career coach Valerie McMurray, who has 20+ years of experience in corporate leadership and human resources. Make the connection for your boss not just to how this project aligns with team or company goals, but how it’ll make you a more valuable employee. What skills will you develop? What relationships will you build? What discoveries could you make?
Then, she says, write all this out in a plan: “This is what it would look like, this is the time it would take me, this is how it won’t impact my job.” (Need an easy presentation template to organize your thoughts? Try this one.)
Finally, she adds, “Can you get anybody else to advocate for you?” Maybe the team member you’re looking to work with or another supervisor within your team can back up your claims and help you get permission from your boss. Grab coffee or sit down with them to understand how you can be a valuable asset or how you can participate in their work, and ask if they’d be willing to vouch for you.
Approach Your Boss
“You always want to emphasize and lead with how it’s going to benefit the boss—how it’ll make things better for him [or her], how it’ll make him or her look better,” says McMurray.
This makes sense, right? If you can show it’ll be good for them (and not just good for yourself), you’re more likely to get their stamp of approval.
So how do you approach this conversation? Well, you can send an email to start.
Hi [Boss’ Name],
I’d like to discuss taking on a [department name] project.
As of now, I’m currently working on [projects you’re working on]. These are on track to be completed by [when they’ll be finished] with the hope of [expected result], and are a top priority for me.
However, I have a bit of room in my schedule to work on other assignments, and I’d love to explore the possibility of taking on [new project]. I believe this would be beneficial for both of us because [reasons why it would benefit you, your manager, and your team].
Would it be possible to sit down to chat more about this? Happy to send you my initial thoughts/plan, as well as get your feedback on this idea.
Assuming you get a yes, finalize your presentation and prepare to walk your boss through your thought process (and if you get a no, jump straight to the next step):
- “I’ve noticed that [gap in process or goal] and think that this project will help…”
- “As you can see, this would directly contribute to our goals by…”
- “My hope is that through this project I’ll [develop X skills/improve Y process]”
- “I’d love to expand my skill set and become a stronger player, and believe this is the best option to do so because…”
More importantly, prepare for and address any concerns they may have. What are the counterarguments to getting this project up? How will you defend yourself when they say they’re worried about it taking up too much of your time? Or, conflicting with your other responsibilities? Or, requiring them to manage you more?
Understand That You Might Get a No (for Now)
The reality of all this is that there’s no guarantee your manager will say yes—even if you did all your homework, even if you made a solid case, even if other people back you up. Your boss has the final say on what you work on, and it’s possible this project would conflict with their expectations for the future.
Maybe they expect a massive project to be handed over to your team in the next couple months and so they need you to be ready and available. Or, they’re aware that company goals might be shifting and this project will no longer be feasible or in-line with the changes.
Regardless, “be prepared to react in the right way,” says McMurray. How you respond to a no says wonders about who you are as an employee, and staying positive and professional may convince your boss to reconsider your request down the road. Here are some phrases to try:
- “I understand why you disagree with this and appreciate you explaining further.”
- “I wasn’t aware of those changes and am glad you brought them to my attention.”
- “Thank you for considering my idea, and I’m happy continuing to do what we’re doing now.”
It’s also possible your boss will blatantly say that they’d be willing to revisit it later on. If that’s the case, says McMurray, hold them to it. You can say something along the lines of “Great, I understand. Is it OK if in six months I reach out to you to discuss this again?” and ask to set a meeting on the calendar.
Make the Most of Your Current Situation
If all doors are shut, says McMurray, “are there things you could come up with within your own team…that gives you a stretch assignment of some kind to help in your development?”
Basically, are there other options for challenging yourself and learning within the bounds of your current job?
Maybe you can’t start a blog, but you can assist your team in writing copy for your company newsletter. Or, instead of being able to help out your colleague on the sales team you grab coffee to learn more about the work they’re doing. Or, maybe you take your passions outside your office—signing up for an online class or taking on a side gig.
Just because you can’t work on something under your boss’ eye doesn’t mean your growth has to stagnate.
One more note: It’s key to have these career development conversations with your boss early on—usually when you’re just starting out at a new job. This way, when you approach them with a proposal like this, they already expected it and understand how it aligns with your career goals.
“And managers aren’t always good at this, so it’s [up to] the employee to start that relationship and process out from the very beginning,” adds McMurray.
So, moving forward, make it clear to your boss where you’re looking to go and how they might help you in getting there. You’ll immediately set yourself up to have more opportunities for exploration in your role.
Photo of person talking to boss courtesy of Tom Werner/Getty Images.
As Editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. Her work has been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., Motto, CNBC's Make It, USA Today College, Lifehacker, Mashable, and more. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author