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5 Tips to Prepare for a Career-Growth Conversation

A decade ago, career advancement was all about moving up. The story usually went something like this: Employees who performed well went on to climb the corporate ladder for a more prominent title and higher pay.

But things have changed.

Companies are flatter and focus more on collaboration and cross-functioning teams. Employees want to learn for the sake of learning, not because they are told to or for some fancy certificate. And let’s face it: Not everyone is cut out for or really wants a position in management. But that doesn’t mean these individuals don’t add tremendous value to their workplace. This shift has made career management something each employee should take control of and dictate.

Here are five tips to help you prepare for those critical meetings with your boss to talk about your career and ensure you get the type of feedback you need to manage your career growth.

1. Take notes regularly.

Although the idea of keeping a performance journal might seem quaint, the reality is that you’re not going to remember everything. You just won’t. Details will be lost. You might even mix up facts, events and people. What comes out is muddled and doesn’t quite capture the hard work and results you’ve achieved.

Taking notes in a personal journal is a great habit that will be invaluable in any one-on-one meeting with your boss. Your journal entries could range from sharing examples of successes, ideas for new training, describing any issues, challenges or difficult conversations you’ve had.

You and your boss can then discuss how you handled each situation and possibly explore some development opportunities to enhance existing skills or close the gap on others. Entries like these will help drive the conversation between you and your manager, and keep your personal development top of mind.

2. Set the agenda for your meeting.

You are busy and so is your boss. Why not be proactive and send them an agenda of discussion topics?

An agenda could include important items you think should be discussed, top activities you’re focused on and progress to date, a list of good news items that reflect your accomplishments, or an update on development plans that have been discussed and agreed upon.

Of course your suggested agenda doesn’t have to be all good news items. You might be experiencing issues or challenges that are limiting your performance, and those need to be discussed. Again, the key idea is to be proactive and take charge as best you can.

3. Practice.

Nothing helps you prepare for a career conversation like a dress rehearsal before the meeting. In some ways, this comes down to meeting preparation. For example, you might think about:

  • Your aspirations, goals and successes in advance
  • Any questions about future growth opportunities you have
  • What skills you want or need to develop
  • Your strengths and areas that you feel need improvement
  • Projects or activities you want to be involved with to grow professionally and create value for your organization

Thinking about these items (or more) will ensure you’re prepared for your meeting. Then practice. Rehearsing will help you give voice to the conversation you want to have while helping your ideas flow more naturally.

You’ve heard the old expression “practice makes perfect.” Put practice to work for you.

4. Remember the 3 C’s of career development.

Julie Winkle Giulioni, co-founder and principal of DesignArounds, suggests organizations support career development for employees with the three C’s: context, congruence and competencies. These same three C’s are directly relevant to having productive conversations with your boss.

  • Context is being aware of the organizational culture and “big picture” so that you can own your career development. That means checking out any information your organization makes available to understand what’s required to get ahead, who makes a decision and being clear on how to focus your efforts for maximum results.
  • Congruence means understanding the relationship between your personal career goals and the goals of your organization. When your career goals clearly support those of the organization, your manager or boss sees congruence. When that happens, you are presenting a win-win scenario.
  • Competencies are what you need to leverage context and congruent goals. Specifically, you need to possess high-impact career development competencies. These can include the ability to evaluate skill gaps and developmental opportunities; seeking out, processing, and leveraging feedback from others; and identifying your own strengths, talents, preferences, interests and values.

5. Agree on what growth really means for your career.

As I mentioned at the outset, growth doesn’t always mean a promotion. In fact, a promotion might not be what you need to achieve your career goals at all. Career growth could mean improving your credentials so your peers or customers have greater confidence in your abilities, or developing better relationships with your boss, co-workers and other departments.

Turning down a promotion doesn’t mean saying no to opportunity. It means defining what success means for your career and taking responsibility for achieving it.

Gone are the days of the traditional upward career path. Employees want to develop skills and learn about (or move into) areas of their company that interest them. They want to be able to apply their skills and create a future path that meets their own goals as well as their company’s.

Think of your own needs. It’s your career. Think about what you want to accomplish, have regular conversations with your boss about your goals, and put a plan in place to help yourself achieve them.

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