Creating the right environment for a comfortable career conversation

Career Compass Workbook open on the table helping employees prepare for career conversations with their manager

In the latest Virtual Career Lab, we delivered for UNDP, our focus was on “Having an Effective Career Conversation with Your Manager”. So, I thought that might be a useful focus for the next in our series of blog posts.

In today’s busy world, it’s hard to find time for career conversations.  And it’s hard to know where to start – it can be a bit daunting talking to your manager about what you want from your career. So, in this blog post I want to provide some practical strategies that employees can use to prepare for those conversations. Our first priority is creating the right environment for a comfortable career conversation.

Adopt the Right Mind-Set

There are three things to consider for adopting the right mind-set to a career conversation:

1. Take Ownership

Each person is responsible for his or her own career development. No one else is. Your manager can help, but ownership rests with you. Your manager can be your thinking partner and your accountability partner, but it must be your plan and your work. Waiting for your manager to enlighten you with his or her version of your ideal next step is not a good strategy. Neither your organisation nor your manager is in charge of your next step. You are.

2. Be confident

Be mindful that your organisation wants to keep you. Consider the time, money and energy spent by your employer getting you into your current position. There was the recruitment process, the contract, the induction, the training, the management and all the equipment. Over the years, you have accumulated expertise and skills in your area. You hold the history of the projects you have managed, problems you have resolved, campaigns you have run and designs you have implemented. You are very valuable. Your organisation wants to keep you. But they need input from you to help them do that.

3. Remember the ABC of career development

Career development may not always be easy, but it can be simple. As simple as ABC in fact where ABC stands for Ambition, Business and Connection.

Ambition relies on you being clear on what you are looking for from your career. You need to know what you contribute to the organisation and the skills and knowledge you need to progress. Identifying skill gaps, seeking development and requesting feedback all help.

Business requires you to examine your career aspirations considering your organisation’s context. Use career conversations to find out what it takes to move forward in the organisation. You also want to know who the key decision makers and influencers are, and how to best focus your efforts.

Connection refers to how well your career goals mesh with the organisation’s goals. When your aspirations complement company goals, everyone wins. Managers are much more likely to support your aspirations if they can see how the organisation benefits.

Schedule the Meeting

You should not just talk to your manager about your career when you are unhappy at work. You should try to have regular meetings, say every 3-6 months. It is important to not come across like you are complaining about your job when you discuss your career. No manager likes that approach and that would immediately put them on the defensive.

Some of the best career conversations happen informally. They take place in hallway conversations, “water cooler” moments, and update meetings. But if you want a more focussed discussion, it is best held when professional development is the only topic on the agenda. Your first step is to contact your manager and request a career development meeting. Giving this conversation a different time and space helps to show that you are serious about having this conversation. Having a scheduled meeting also gives your manager a heads-up, so that they can think about how they can help you. Your manager may want to do their research and look at what skills you need and what they can do to help you get them.

You need to think about the date and the timing for it. When are you at your best — early or late morning? Early or late afternoon? When is your department not busy so you can get time when your manager is not frazzled and distracted?

You also need to give you and your manager time to prepare for that meeting. Look for an opening on your manager’s calendar for a week to ten days away and ask if you could meet with him or her to discuss your career progress. Say that you would appreciate his or her perspective and guidance.

Set the Agenda

The tone of career development meetings is generally set by the employee rather than the manager. Take full advantage of this by creating an agenda before each meeting. Send the agenda to your manager in advance of the meeting and ask them if they have anything to add. Doing so provides a framework for the meeting and demonstrates that you’re proactive. 

Possible topics include:

  • An assessment of your current skills
  • Advice on how to develop your skill set
  • Feedback on your current performance
  • A review of your career goals
  • A better understanding of career opportunities within the organisation

What other ideas do you have that will help create the right environment for a comfortable career conversation with your manager?  Please share them in the comments below.  And if you try any of the ones listed here, please let us know how you get on.

Our Career Compass Workbook gives you the tools and templates needed to reflect on the past and think about the future, to prepare effectively for career conversations with managers, mentors or coaches

We all know it’s good to talk, but starting those all important career conversations can be tricky for even the most experienced shoulders. It’s Good to Talk! Is a free to download practical guide to career conversations in the Workplace.

2 thoughts on “Creating the right environment for a comfortable career conversation”

  1. Just wanted to send you a massive thank you Antoinette. You have appeared just when I’ve needed inspiration. I’m at the end of my career and my focus is on helping others at the start of theirs. So your mentoring hand book amazing insights. My signed personal copy of your book sent to my home no less really easy informative read, and now how to have a career conversation which I will down load once I’m in the office. Thank you

    1. Thank you so much Jeneta. I am delighted you are finding the resources helpful. Please get in touch if you have any questions.

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