A job isn’t just a job for many people — we want to be fulfilled, and often we want to be working toward a greater good or some measure of personal growth.
If you’re not growing and progressing in your career the way you want to, it may seem counterintuitive to talk to your boss about how you’re feeling — you don’t want them to think you’re unhappy or ungrateful to be where you are.
But if your manager cares about her employees, sitting down with her and explaining where you want to be in five years could actually help her help you get on the right path. Plus, your employer will likely want to see that you are ambitious and working toward a goal.
Doing this will require some introspection and planning, but it doesn’t have to be a scary or awkward exchange. Here are some tips.
Figure Out What You Want
Before you go to your boss, you need to know your plan yourself, and prepare what you want to say.
To figure it out, Amy Gallo outlines the following steps in the Harvard Business Review. While these are suggestions for answering the “where do you see yourself in five years” interview question, I think they’re useful here, too:
Be introspective: To figure out what the right career path is for you, you need to be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, what you value, and how you want to spend your time. Ask yourself, What are my values? What are my goals What am I willing to do to get there? Consider performing a life audit to get a clear view of what you want to accomplish.
- Admit it if you don’t know: It’s OK if you don’t know exactly what you want yet. But if you don’t, you’ll want to work on that before you schedule a meeting with your employer.
- Focus on learning and development: You’re never done learning. What skills would you like to gain, or what areas could you become an expert in to better yourself, your employer or your field?
- Reframe the question: Five years is a long time, especially in industries that are constantly changing, such as technology and media. Chances are, new and exciting jobs that you can’t even imagine will exist five years from now. So reframe the question from what you want to accomplish in five years to two or three years. What will it take to reach that step?
This blog, from Boyer Management Group, an employee management company, offers plenty more good advice on prepping, including listing out the steps you’ve already taken toward your goals, and reviewing whether what you want is “realistic given your skills [and] aptitude”. Additionally,
- Build a list of questions to ask your manager — what do you want to learn about as a result of meeting with him or her?
- Investigate the tools that your employer provides to help you develop in your career, such as offering training or a tuition assistance benefit.
- Identify the things you’d like to do in your current job that would stretch you.
- Provide an agenda (a list of points you want to discuss with your manager). An agenda will allow both you and your manager to think about the topic in advance.
Once you’ve prepared, you can go confidently to your boss or manager and talk to them about how you want to progress and how they can help you.
Tell Your Boss
Career development is a key way to keep employees engaged and happy in their work. A quality manager wants their employees to progress, ideally in the way the employee herself wants to succeed. The only way they’ll know what that means for you is if you tell them.
“[E]xpress your overall career objectives with your manager at least once a year,” writes Sabina Nawaz, a career coach, in the Harvard Business Review. “Communicate your plan clearly with your manager so she knows your strategy.”
This is especially important if you’re ambitious and want a promotion or to try a different track than the one you’re on.
“Communicate the breadth of experience you’re looking to build so decision makers can consider you for a wider range of jobs,” says Nawaz. “This might include letting them know whether you’re flexible regarding geographic locations or other logistics.”
This doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you ask for something during this chat, but it can set you up to ask for what you want in the future, and when you do, it won’t come as a surprise to your boss because she’ll already know what it is you’re after.
It doesn’t have to be anything major, either. Here’s what The Muse suggests:
Start small by mentioning where you see yourself eventually: “I’d love to move up to a management position someday.” If it’s received well, move on to specifically how you can reach those goals—even if it would eventually require a move to a different department or company.
This is also an opportunity to get your boss’s opinion. Here are four questions Forbes suggests asking during your meeting:
- Are my goals reasonable?
- Would you recommend a different path?
- What do I need to do to become qualified for future roles?
- Are there any special developmental opportunities in the year ahead?
You don’t need to take everything they say to heart, but it’s beneficial to get a second opinion from someone, particularly if you have a good working relationship and trust their judgement.
The best time to tell your boss how you want to progress may be during your annual review, or it could even be during a lunch or coffee session you initiate. Don’t forget a notebook so you can write down the major points, and give them a heads up that the meeting will be focused on your progression so they also know to prepare.
Hopefully talking to your boss about your career goals will signal to them that you would appreciate their support and guidance going forward. They may be able to point you toward programs inside or outside the company that could help better you or improve skills in a certain area, or suggest other ways to improve.
Better still, it can help build trust between you and your boss. You’ll feel as though you’re getting the support you need to develop your career, and your boss will reap the benefits of an engaged employee bettering their skills. Everybody wins.