Talking with your supervisor about career goals

goal plan action

Shifts in the economy, technology, and education have turned the proverbial career ladder into more of a web.

elizabeth schrimpf
Elizabeth Schrimpf: Growing in your profession doesn’t always mean getting a promotion.

You don’t necessarily have to climb up to advance; you can move laterally or even in circular ways to achieve professional objectives. This new, less linear landscape calls for increased engagement with your boss when plotting your career growth. Clear and assertive communication is key.

According to the popular career website The Muse, “less than 50% of employees see viable advancement opportunities with their current employers. On top of that, only about a third of managers effectively discuss career development during the performance management process.”

It’s time to take matters into your own hands. Set a meeting with your supervisor—preferably separate from any kind of performance review—and follow these steps.

Do some self-reflection before the meeting. What do you want from your career? Where do you see yourself growing? What areas or responsibilities are you ready to leave behind? Remember, career goals can involve specific soft skills, such as project management.

Keep in mind your employer’s priorities. Where do your goals and your employer’s goals overlap? It will be helpful to make these connections for your supervisor in the course of the conversation.

Have a list of requests, not demands. Be firm, not aggressive. The last thing you want to do is give your boss an ultimatum: “If I don’t make manager in a year, I’ll have to leave.” He or she could call your bluff. Frame your appeal in “I” statements such as, “I would like to take on more responsibility. Are there projects I could take the lead on?” Back up your claims and demonstrate how the work you want to do will benefit your employer.

Leave with tangible steps. The biggest pitfall in these conversations is a lack of specificity. After you and your supervisor agree on goals, develop clear action items. Are you supposed to research professional development opportunities? Did your boss say he or she would talk to others about opportunities for you? One of my clients had great informal conversations with his supervisor about his prospects for a new role, but neither of them outlined any steps on how to make the leap. So nothing materialized.

Share the plan and track progress. Email your supervisor a short blueprint, with a timeline and action items. Hold your boss (and yourself) accountable by following up on tasks. You will ultimately have to decide whether the plan is being carried out to your liking. If not, consider that your values may not align with your supervisor’s or the company’s. Take stock and decide if you should stay or go.

Growing in your profession doesn’t always mean getting a promotion. There are more choices than either moving up or moving out. Employees and supervisors should both be open to multiple possibilities for creating a unique, personalized path to a rewarding career.

Career corner is a monthly feature written by UW-Madison’s Continuing Studies staff. Elizabeth Schrimpf, a career counselor, can be reached at elizabeth.schrimpf@wisc.edu. This article originally appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal.