5 Tips to Prepare for a Career-Growth Conversation

With companies increasingly concerned with employee engagement, career development meetings have become more common. Career development itself has changed significantly over the last few decades. Gone are the days where a career path was a straight line up the corporate ladder; today’s employees favor opportunities to increase their skills and usefulness as much as (or more than) promotions.

SEE ALSO: 51 Hacks to Become a Better Manager

The modern workplace offers ample opportunity for skill-based career growth. Today’s companies tend to have a flatter structure, with more importance given to collaboration between teams than direct lines of command from the CEO on down. An employee can build a solid, rewarding career without any vertical movement–an ideal situation for those employees who have no interest in assuming managerial positions.

Career development meetings provide clarity and guidance to help employees reach career goals–when handled correctly. While managers play important roles in career development, the primary responsibility lies with the employee. A little preparation will help you get the most out of your next career meeting, whether it’s part of your annual performance review or a specially scheduled meeting with the boss.

Memory is Fallible: Take Notes

Even if your manager favors frequent, informal one-on-one meetings, you’ll only have the opportunity to discuss career development a few times a year. Will you be able to accurately remember all your accomplishments and concerns between meetings?

Keeping a career journal ensures you’ll have accurate information at your fingertips when you meet with your manager. It’s an excellent way to recap your accomplishments, record potential career development discussion questions as they come to you, and note areas where you need to develop your skills. Your journal can be a Google Doc, a note on your phone, or a physical book–all can be used to make sure you don’t miss anything important from one career development meeting to the next.

Set the Agenda

The tone of career development meetings is generally set by the employee rather than the manager. Take full advantage of this by creating an agenda before each meeting. Use your career journal to identify points for discussion, including updates on any career development plans decided on during your last meeting, your recent accomplishments and triumphs, and any areas where you see a need for improvement.

Send the agenda to your manager in advance of the meeting, and ask him if he has anything to add to the agenda. Doing so demonstrates your initiative while also considering his perspective.

Anticipate Questions

Your manager will have her own thoughts, suggestions, and opinions about your career path. Try to anticipate her concerns before the meeting. Consider the types of questions she’s likely to ask and practice answering them. Suggest career development discussion questions as part of your agenda, so you both know what topics will be discussed.

While it sounds silly, practicing your responses with a friend as your audience helps you get your thoughts in order and prepare for the meeting. Practicing in front of a mirror also helps–and gives you a chance to check your body language.

Understand the Three C’s

To get the most out of your career development meeting, consider the three C’s: context, congruence, and competencies:

Context requires you to examine your career aspirations in light of your organization’s culture. Use career discussion meetings to find out what it takes to move forward in the company, who assigns staff to projects, who makes promotion decisions, and how to best focus your efforts.

Congruence refers to how well your career goals mesh with company goals. When an employee’s career path complements company goals, everyone wins. Managers are much more likely to support your aspirations if they can see how the company benefits.

Competencies are the skills and knowledge you need to further your career path. Identifying skill gaps, seeking developmental opportunities, and requesting constructive feedback on your work all help build competencies.

DOWNLOAD THE E-BOOK: 51 Hacks to Become a Better Manager

Define Your Own Success

Career development meetings help you define and refine your personal career goals. Your definition of career success may be very different from a coworker’s. While some people still work their way up the corporate ladder and dream of management positions, others want to develop a skill set, learn more about other areas of the organization, or develop conflict resolution skills to better manage conflict within their team. Your career path is your own, and as long as you’re applying your skills in a way that benefits the company, your manager should support it.