11 Characteristics of Highly Effective Career Conversations

The right conversation at the right time can move you along your career path–or open up opportunities you never considered. Learning to identify and capitalize on such conversations is essential for anyone working towards career goals: one-on-one management meetings and progress reports are not the only times your career might come up for discussion.

The following career development tips for employees will help you identify conversations which have an impact on your career. Most are easy to spot once you know what to look for.

Career Path Conversations Focus on the Employee

An effective career conversation centers on you and your career aspirations. It’s a chance to discuss your current job and your hopes for the future. Which skills do you enjoy using? Are there gaps in your skill set that need filling? What kind of work do you prefer to do, and with which coworkers? Discussing these questions helps clarify the direction your career should take.

The Boss Isn’t Always Involved

Of all the career development tips for employees, this is one of the most important. People tend to assume their manager has to be involved in a career path conversation. While this is usually the case, important career conversations can occur without your immediate supervisor. A conversation with a mentor or experienced coworker can reveal previously unknown career options. Members of different departments may have information on career opportunities outside your usual area of expertise, but which could advance your career or build on your existing skill set. If the information seems useful, bring it up with your manager during your next one-on-one meeting.

Watch for Spontaneous Career Conversations

Not all career conversations are formal meetings. Keep an ear open for potential career opportunities in the break room, in the hallway, and during the casual chatting that precedes and follows formal meetings. You never know when the conversation will turn to a training opportunity, cross-department project, or future job opening.

Career Conversations are Concise

It’s perfectly acceptable to make career advancement a regular part of your one-on-one meetings with managers, as long as the topic doesn’t dominate the entire meeting. Keep your career development conversations concise and to the point: spend about fifteen minutes per one-on-one meeting on your career path, leaving the rest of the meeting free to discuss ongoing projects and similar issues.

Training and Skill Strengthening

Chances to build your skill set, experience, or deepen your understanding of your organization should always be taken seriously. Be on the alert for any such opportunities, both when meeting with your manager and during casual conversations.

Career Conversations and Support

To be effective, a career conversation needs to provide support as well as an opportunity to advance. Mentioning a chance to work on a cross-department project in passing may alert you to the opportunity, but on its own, this provides no support. A discussion that mentions the same project and suggests introducing you to the project head offers support. Be alert for any signs your manager might support any training, project, or role that advances your career.

Building Self-Awareness

Learning to build self-awareness is one of those career development tips for employees that’s easy to understand but often difficult to put into practice. The employee who can accurately evaluate her skills, performance, strengths, weaknesses, and personal values has a clearer vision of her career path than a coworker who lacks self-awareness.

Conversations that raise self-awareness challenge you to look at your career path with a critical eye. Is your plan attainable with the skills you have? Is it in line with your values and personal life goals? If not, what needs to change?

Career Path Conversations and Perspective

Sometimes career conversations require you to change your perspective. Pursuing a set career path over a long period of time can give you career tunnel vision–you’re so focused on existing career goals you overlook other options. A good career discussion forces you to move out of your comfort zone and examine different career paths. You may discover a path to success that’s more rewarding than your current goal.

Aligning Personal and Organizational Goals

Career goals don’t develop in a vacuum: they develop and adapt to the goals of the organization. Career discussions should evaluate career aspirations in light of organizational goals. If your goals are in line with the organization’s culture and future plans, you’ve got a better chance of advancement. If not, discussing the matter with your manager can help you adapt your plans to match those of the company.


An effective career conversation offers an employee constructive feedback. Regular feedback helps you hone your skills, identify areas of strength and weakness, and helps you evaluate your career progress.

Receiving feedback isn’t always easy, especially if your manager is extremely blunt or offers feedback you disagree with. Learning how to take feedback helps you look at what your boss is saying in an objective light.

Effective Career Conversations End with Objectives

No career conversation can be said to be effective unless it ends with an action plan. The objectives arising from any one conversation need not make earth-shattering changes to your career: they’re usually small, attainable goals which accumulate over time.

By ending a career conversation with an objective, you set the stage for the next conversation, which will include a report on the status of your objective. Ongoing action plans based on one-on-one conversations drive your career aspirations forward, with each objective making you a more valuable asset to the organization and, by extension, more likely to be considered for future career opportunities.