How to Start a Career Conversation with Your Manager

At some point in your career, you'll need to have a frank conversation with your manager about where your career is headed. This is generally a nerve-wracking discussion—not unlike asking a significant other if your relationship has a future—but with the right preparation, you can have a productive dialogue. Keep these tips on file for the next time you need to start a career conversation with your boss.

career conversation

1. Remember, the ball's in your court

When it comes to your career, no one is responsible for your forward progression but you. If you're lucky, your employer will recognize the importance of investing in employee development and skills training, but you still have to put yourself in the right place at the right time and do the hard work. Given the length of your manager's to-do list, it's unlikely your next promotion or raise is at the top of her mind (unless it's somehow related to making the manager's own job easier).

Don't sit back and wait for things to happen to you—when the time is right and you've paid your dues, make your move. (In other words, if you've been in your entry-level position for less than a year, it's probably presumptuous to have a career conversation like this.)

2. Schedule the conversation for the right time and the right place

It's best to email your manager and ask for an appointment. Say that you'd like to discuss your career progression and ways to continue growing within your company. Allow your manager to pick the right time and place for the conversation. You don't want to be rushed, and you want to be free from distractions. This isn't the type of discussion you want to have in a hallway or when a deadline is looming.

3. Be prepared for the meeting

If there were ever a meeting to prepare for, this is it. Take stock of your professional accomplishments and development. Jot down notes and key points you'd like to make. And be prepared to have an ask. Your manager will want to know if there's a point to your meeting. Do you want a promotion? Do you want a new opportunity or new set of responsibilities? Do you want a raise?

It's a good idea to rehearse the conversation ahead of time with someone outside the office whose opinion you can trust. You want to be clear and professional and present evidence that the time is right.

4. Be positive and remain a team player

No matter how the conversation goes, don't allow yourself to get off-track. Don't let yourself fall into the trap of complaining about your workload or your colleagues. You want your manager to be impressed with how professionally you conduct yourself, even if he can't grant your request.

5. Have an open mind

When you have an honest conversation with your manager about your career trajectory, you are opening yourself up to feedback—good and bad. Your boss might have a different perspective on your skills or not see your situation the same way you do. It doesn't mean your position is wrong; you just need to be prepared to listen to feedback, and consider it with care. If your manager identifies an area in which you can improve, try to have an open mind.

6. Follow up

No matter the outcome, follow up by thanking your boss for her time, and, if appropriate, recap any next steps. Even if your request can't be granted at the moment, you will have planted a seed.

And, if the conversation doesn't go well and you realize you don't have much of a future at your current organization, at least you know. Stay positive and focused on your work—and start looking for your next great opportunity.

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