‘I received an unsolicited offer . . . But in terms of skill development, there’s no guarantee it would improve my career prospects’
‘I received an unsolicited offer . . . But in terms of skill development, there’s no guarantee it would improve my career prospects’ © Getty

This week’s problem

I enjoy my job and alongside it I am completing an apprenticeship course. However, I received an unsolicited offer to join the staff of one of the senior leadership teams, where the work would not meet my apprenticeship requirements. Such an offer might appear a no-brainer. But in terms of skill development, there’s no guarantee it would improve my career prospects. How do I weigh the risk when it comes to progression? Female, 20s

Jonathan’s answer

It is always flattering to receive an unsolicited job offer from a senior colleague: the implicit endorsement, being noticed by an important person you respect, and being considered good enough for a new role are all warming for the psyche.

In your cooler assessment of what is actually being offered, it is important to understand the senior leader’s motivation for picking you out. Are they just plugging a gap, or have they spotted your real potential to go far? What is their team like and their record of supporting people? What have previous people gone on to do?

Try to work out if this leader could be your mentor. Career progression can be helped by having a senior confidant to challenge and develop you. Even better than a mentor, and especially for women, is having a sponsor: someone who looks out for you, encouraging you to reach beyond what you think you could do, recommending you and helping you to build relationships.

If you think the senior leader could be a sponsor, then they could make all the difference to your career. Career prospects are not just about skills or qualifications, but also about luck, opportunities, and taking help from others.

Ask yourself how you would feel about stepping off the path of the apparent certainty of the apprenticeship qualification for a walk into the unknown. Will you be happy with this level of risk? Will it be an adventure for you?

If you are unsure whether they could or would play this role, explain to them about meeting your apprenticeship requirements. Perhaps you could see if there is any chance the work could be adjusted, or you could meet these requirements outside the office in your own time.

On balance, if you believe the senior leader’s record and motivation are positive and honourable, and you feel they would sponsor you, then take the leap. If you can find a way to pause your apprenticeship so you can return one day, even better, but once you have decided to take the new path, don’t look back.

As Dr Seuss said life is too short to wake up with regrets. If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it.

Readers’ advice

It probably is a no-brainer. Working in the senior leadership team is likely to expose you to all sorts of people, opportunities and information. If you’re ambitious, that’s better than any apprenticeship. LondonReader

My experience is of my department folding and being offered alternatives — two being sensible. I took the radical choice and it was the wise one as it has since resulted in my being in a better place, even after 30 years and retirement. SAABist

Is the apprenticeship in something highly specialised that really requires bespoke training? Do senior people in your field have this qualification? If it is/they do, then you need to make sure you get it done if that’s what you want your long-term career to be in. Cave Johnson

The next problem

I am an investment banker in Spain and I have just been laid off. How do I get a job during the pandemic’s economic fallout? I am an associate, speak fluent Spanish and have many senior contacts. The bank I worked for has a good domestic reputation, but it is not in the bulge bracket. I feel lost. Am I unrealistic in thinking I can get a job? Male, 30s

Jonathan Black is director of the Careers Service at the University of Oxford. Every fortnight he answers your questions on personal and career development, and working life. Do you have a question for him? Email dear.jonathan@ft.com

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