HR Confidential: How do you talk to your boss about your career goals? | Crain's Connecticut

HR Confidential: How do you talk to your boss about your career goals?

Humans are complicated, but the resourcing of humans doesn't have to be. Looking for managerial or career advice? All sources will be kept confidential. Email your questions to Heather Krentler at or call our advice line at 313-327-2209. 

Q: How do you talk to your boss about your goals and career advancement — especially when  they’re not asking?

Most managers don’t ask, and when they do, they were asked to ask. Those rare few who ask all on  their own should be kissed (by someone other than you). Let’s be clear: Your career development is on  you. If you're lucky enough to have a manager lighting the way, good for you, but that person won't  always be there. They're on their own journey; yours just happens to coincide at present.

All that said, it sounds like you've got a vision for where you want to go. Congratulations! I like you already. Knowing what you want is the toughest part. Getting a plan in place to achieve it is relatively simple. Here’s how:

  1. Create a project roadmap with milestones between here and there (i.e., that beautiful future where you’re the master of your craft and everyone stands in awe of your skill).
  2. Write down what you need to make those milestones happen.
  3. Assign those needs to opportunities at your current company.
  4. Here's the million* dollar question you need to answer: "How will these opportunities benefit my employer?" Like any good salesperson knows, you've got to know the other party's WIIFM (What's In It For Me).

Now you're ready to talk. 

Timing is everything. If your manager is distracted, stressed, hungry (not kidding) or unable to help because of other factors, wait. Set yourself up for success. Choose a time when they’re ready to focus and are able to consider and respond. Lead with your vision (or at least as much of it as you think they’ll find palatable), focus on the near-term steps, request their approval/support and—most importantly—make it easy on them! 

But wait! What if I don’t know how to answer the questions in the third step without my manager’s insight?

Then set up the conversation anyway and take them through your plan up to that point. Tell them you’re fully prepared to take it from there, but that you need their knowledge of the business, industry, team, etc. to understand your opportunity landscape.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: When you are passionate about your plan and committed to owning it, support and momentum will naturally follow.

*Value has been inflated for emphasis.

Follow Heather on Twitter at @heatherkrentler, or connect with her on LinkedIn.

June 20, 2016 - 10:49pm