How do you talk to your boss about career development?
Wherever you may be on the trajectory of your career path, there is a strong likelihood that you have a hope of advancement or expansion of your work responsibilities. You may even simply possess a desire for a change in your professional landscape, a lateral move that can provide you with new challenges and experiences.
As revealed by countless studies about employee satisfaction and goals, few people are content to stay in jobs that offer a little-to-no opportunity for professional movement. Wanting advancement, growth, and change- simply wanting more- from your work life is normal, healthy, and even productive.
Yet turning those wants into results requires self-awareness, a career development strategy, and a plan of action. In many cases, it also requires the buy-in and support of your boss. Even when it doesn’t, it can still be helpful to have him or her on your side.
Know Where You Need to Grow
People typically have a sense of where they would like to go with their careers, both within a company and in the overall scheme of their lifelong professional goals. If you have ideas of advancement or change, chances are that you know where you need to grow yourself to get where you would like to go.
You may even have a precise idea of the sorts of training and development activities that would most benefit you in the effort to reach your career objectives. If you don’t, your Human Resources department or an independent counselor could help you to define your professional needs.
So Many Questions!
Once you have defined objectives for developing your skills and competencies, you face the seemingly tricky matter of approaching your boss about your career goals.
How do you work towards improving your qualifications and seeking new opportunities in an open and transparent manner, without giving an impression of dissatisfaction? Or worse, causing concern that you’re trying to outgrow your position and potentially jump ship?
Many organizations have a budget for professional development, offer paid time off for training activities, and provide opportunities for internal advancement and movement. How do you get buy-in, support, and advocacy from your boss to help you to locate and utilize these types of company resources?
Focus on Overlapping Interests
The most important factor in getting your boss onboard with your development goals is to focus on measures that would be mutually beneficial to both you and your company.
You can think of it as two circles, one representing your goals and the other representing your employer’s needs. Look for places of overlap, where improvements in your skill set match the objectives of your position and company. Look for things that will advance your career development aims while also giving something back to your employer.
That area of overlap is your “sweet spot.” Those mutually beneficial interests are the place from where you will want to make your pitch.
Think Outside of the Box
You may have to think outside of the box in defining overlapping interests, especially if you would eventually like to work in a different field or on a completely different track.
For instance, if you are employed as an administrative assistant, but aim to secure work as a computer programmer, you might think that there are few areas of overlap. Yet there are skills that are useful in both jobs, such as strength in organizing data and understanding basic principles of computing logic.
A course on the sophisticated functions of spreadsheets, such as formulas and macros, would give you a foundation of detail-oriented technical knowledge while also helping to improve record keeping in your current office gig. Or if you are employed by a company that does not have its own IT department, computer training could help to reduce the need for costly outside consultants to troubleshoot issues with your office’s equipment.
Don’t be afraid to be creative and to consider larger organizational goals when looking for overlaps. That level of attention, interest, and initiative is usually appreciated and often rewarded with new opportunities.
Be Prepared and Specific
Once you have defined areas of mutual interest, spend time researching development opportunities that would provide you with targeted skills or experiences. Approaching your manager with examples of specific activities will get you a lot further than simply coming at him or her with vague ideas.
Bring announcements or brochures for classes, conferences, or other activities to your meeting with your boss, if you can. It will not only demonstrate that you are serious and motivated to act, it will also give him or her something tangible to consider- and perhaps even approve on-the-spot.
Be prepared to define how participating in those activities will directly impact your performance and the meeting of company aims, using decisive and positive language. Don’t use ambiguous words like “might” and “could” when talking about the return on investment for those activities. State how the activity will be beneficial, offering concrete examples in relation to daily operations.
You should also be prepared to present specific information about your skills and performance, highlighting your achievements and notable accomplishments. You are not just making a pitch for your ideas, but for yourself as a commodity to the company.
If your organization has a Human Resources department, that should be your first stop in preparing for your meeting. They will be able to help you find relevant development activities and provide you with information about company policies and benefits that relate to your aims.
If they maintain comprehensive employee files, you may even be able to get copies of evaluations and other materials that will be helpful in demonstrating your value as someone the company should invest in. Don’t forget to keep that file growing by sharing copies of transcripts and certificates of completion with your friends in HR.
Make it Formal
Even if you have a friendly relationship with your manager or supervisor, your career development discussion should occur as a scheduled and focused sit-down meeting. Don’t start the conversation in a hallway or as part of a meeting about something else, and do not initiate it in a social context outside of the office.
While it may feel awkward to take a formal approach, especially if you have a casual rapport with your boss, he or she might not understand how important the matter is to you unless you do. The conversation could be mistaken for mere chatting, or even just “venting” or “blue-skying,” unless you make it clear that you are serious and looking for a springboard for action.
Your career goals are important to you; show that to your boss by approaching the subject in a professional, organized, and positive manner. The care that you take in offering specific information about the return on investment of your development efforts will demonstrate that those activities do not only represent an opportunity for you as an individual, but for your company as a whole.