Most managers use one-on-one meetings as a way of keeping a pulse on what is going on with their teams. It took me a while to figure out that these meetings were not just important for managers. They were also a key tool for me in developing my career. I learned that whether you maximize these meetings or not can result in significant differences in performance, career progression, and overall job satisfaction.
Some managers like a formal structure with a clear agenda of discussion points, but most often these meetings are fairly informal. Early on in my career, I wondered what I should talk about. I filled the time by providing business updates or escalating problems with a project. These were perfectly legitimate topics and often seemed like pressing issues at the time. But one manager made it a point to incorporate career management discussions at these meetings. I was lucky to have her as a manager and still consider her a great mentor. Not all managers are like her and you may find you need to prompt these conversations yourself.
Having career management discussions doesn’t mean repeatedly asking your boss about when they are going to promote you and/or give you a raise.
So what does that entail? It involves preparing and focusing on these three things at every meeting.
1. Your contribution and value. Let them know about key achievements and wins, ideally with tangible results. As interested as they may be in your work, managers are busy. Help them by making sure they are aware of the ways in which you are contributing to the organization. Prepare statistics or other evidence relevant to your accomplishment, or feedback from a client. Also, ask them about what the most important priority is for them and how you can help. Keep them informed of what types of skills you have. They may have an assignment for you where those skills can be very useful.
2. Your insights. Keep your manager in the loop on concerns you have. Maybe it is about a project, the team, or how department meetings are run. Be mindful of how you communicate this. You don’t want to come across as simply complaining. Articulate what specific things you think need to be improved and why. It is even better if you can propose potential solutions. Not only does your manager become aware of what needs to be fixed (and won’t be blind-sided later on), she will begin to trust you as someone who will voice your concerns and hopefully see you as a partner who can help her resolve issues or problems that arise.
3. Your career goals. Don’t wait until review season or the announcement of promotions to talk about your career goals. Whether it is a desire to take on a new project, seeking a role overseas, or how to stay on track for the next promotion, you should be weaving these conversations into your one-on-one’s regularly. Establish your career goals and timeframes in a more formal plan, which many companies do now. Then in your meetings, you can ask your manager if you are on track, or what specific actions you can take to get you closer to those goals.
The end goal of having these conversations is building trust and transparency that is mutually beneficial. Managers learn about what is going on and benefit from your insights. You’re able to remind them of what you bring to the team and how you can help them, a powerful incentive for managers to support you and your career goals.