How to talk to your boss about career growth

How to talk to your boss about career growth

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Ensuring career growth and career progression at work plays a huge role in increasing productivity, motivation, and job satisfaction. So if you’re looking to have a candid conversation with your boss about your career growth, you’re certainly not alone; 58% of employees agree that career development contributes to their job satisfaction. That being said, broaching the subject of your promotion to your boss can be an awkward, nerve-wracking experience.

Fortunately, most employers already know the value of good employees. They are keen to retain their employees instead of having them take their talent and skill to another company. As such, your employer will likely be eager to discuss any career growth plans you have in mind.

When you take on this perspective, a conversation about your career progression becomes less of a daunting task, and more of an opportunity to get your manager on the same page about what exactly you want from your career.

Preparation is key, however. You need to know how to approach your boss to discuss your career progression and growth. In view of this, let’s explore the things you’ll need to do to prepare for your career conversation.

Know what you’re aiming for

In Robin Sharma’s words, “Clarity precedes success.” There’s no such thing as “winging” your career conversation, that is, unless you’re not serious about your career growth and progression.

Before getting into a conversation with your boss, you need to be reasonably sure where you want to climb next. Research as much as you can about the role that you want, and the kind of life changes it is likely to bring. Start looking at websites like Glassdoor for the average or median salary people in your desired position usually bring. If you’re an engineer, you can use a tool like Levels.FYI.

You’ll also need to know what it takes to get where you want to be. Here are some good questions to ask yourself.

  • Is my performance enough to get me promoted?
  • How long will I need to work before asking for a promotion? For most companies, it’s at least a year, unless you’ve shown why a promotion before that time is an obvious choice
  • Does the scope of my role have to change, and will I have to take on extra projects?
  • Will I need to work with other teams outside of my day-to-day?

You may also need to talk to other people to get an idea of how they progressed. This can be people who have been promoted within your organisation, or those outside of your company, but in your industry.

Ultimately, the more you know about your Point B, the better you will be at creating a compelling case for moving from your point A. Not only that, but you will also show your boss that you’ve done your homework and really care about taking the next step in your career.

Once you know what you’re aiming for, it’s time to start planning.

Prepare a list of questions — if possible, a plan of conversation

Internal promotions are valued in many companies. In fact, companies that regularly promote internally tend to have a stronger employer brand. Plus, they enjoy several benefits such as reduced recruitment costs as well as higher employee retention, morale, and productivity. Moreover, employees promoted internally often enjoy a more transparent relationship with their teams.

If you have been doing a good job for a reasonable amount of time, you should be in a place to have the progression conversation. That said, internal progression processes are different from standard job search processes; there will likely be a lot more moving parts. You’ll need to go in prepared with a set of questions that will help you understand the ins and outs of your company’s internal promotion process.

Your questions will need to touch on:

  • Timelines: Ask how long it typically takes to complete the promotion process
  • Stages: Check what you’ll need to do to wrap up your current role, and what is involved in the onboarding process for the new role
  • Training and resources: Ask how the company plans to train you for the skills and abilities you will need for the new role

Gaining a clearer picture of how the progression process works in your organisation will go a long way in eliminating any misunderstandings. The last thing you want is to end up coming across as someone who’s after their boss’ job — that’s a sure way to jeopardise your career progression conversation.

Relationships and timing matter

At this point, you know where you want your career to go, and you’ve prepared the questions you need to understand your organisation’s internal promotion processes. You’ve even polished your communication, politeness, and eloquence skills, and you feel ready to schedule a meeting with your boss.

But, you’re not quite there yet. There are still a few more things to consider, and the first is your relationship with your boss.

The state of your relationship will determine how you approach the conversation. If you’re in a generally informal environment, where you speak your mind openly and maintain an attitude of closeness, it might be easier to broach the career growth conversation than if your relationship was more closed-off and rigid.

This does not always hold, though. Sometimes, employees that share a close connection with their boss might find it harder to talk about potentially uncomfortable topics. But, no matter your situation, the better you know your relationship with your boss, the better you can prepare for the meeting.

Similarly, timing is crucial. You need to ensure that your boss has enough time to have a thorough meeting, and then some time to think about their decision. Springing the career conversation news on them when they’re dealing with a particularly taxing project, or when they are distracted by other things won’t do you any good.

When you’ve considered your relationship with your boss and determined a good time to bring up the career conversation, prepare a short opening pitch for the meeting: list your notable skills and achievements, and outline what makes you the best fit for the position you’re aiming for.

Now you’re ready to schedule the meeting.

Lead the conversation

Reserve a dedicated time to have your career growth conversation (don’t try to tack the conversation into another meeting). You want both you and your boss to feel that the conversation has been given its due importance.

However, since the conversation is about you and your career goals, you will probably be expected to take the lead on it. This is where your pitch comes in. Outline what you’re looking for in your career while being respectful of your boss’ time, and allowing them enough room to ask questions and align with your perspective.

Stay alert for any signs that the meeting is going in an unnecessarily negative direction, and try to bring it back on track. Also, try as much as possible to end the call on a positive and hopeful note, and reiterate your genuine excitement about your career growth.

Follow up

Finally, send a thank you email to your boss after the call, and wait for their reply.

You may want to mutually settle on a date and time they can get back to you (this will make it easier to follow up on your conversation). Just make sure that you set enough time to allow your boss to process the conversation and arrive at a sound decision. And whatever the reply is, handle it with gratitude and grace.

If your progression request is not well received, don’t lose hope. Requests like these are declined for various reasons, and it’s important to acknowledge and respect your feelings while moving forward. Here are a few things that may help you deal with not getting the position you want:

  • Open up about your feelings to close friends and family
  • Maintain a professional attitude at work and thank your boss for considering your request
  • Ask your boss for feedback to help determine areas that require improvement
  • See if you can level up on any valuable skills to build a stronger proposal for the future

Start planning your career growth conversations

Career growth gives you something to look forward to. But the growth won’t come out of nowhere — you have to plan, take action, and have those seemingly hard conversations about what you want out of your career.

Fortunately, having the right tools makes it easier to plan your career progression, including career conversations with your boss.

With Progression, you (and other members of your team) can track your progress, measure your skills and development, and create your career pathways. This way, your boss can see your progress, and it will be so much easier to talk about the next steps in your career.

Learn more about Progression → 

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