29

I really enjoy my current job. The team is friendly, my manager is friendly, and the work is challenging, interesting, and fulfilling. Because of this, I have no interest in leaving this company or necessarily quitting my current position.

The thing is, I don't feel like my manager is interested in my career development. Whenever we talk about this, I never get the feeling my manager feels this is important and it always seems like I have to force my manager to even discuss the topic.

I was thinking about talking to my manager and asking if I could talk with other managers within my company about this topic (since it seems to always get shrugged off) but I am unsure whether this is a good approach.

  • How can I develop my career when my direct manager does not seem to have any interest in helping me? I would like to feel like I am working with my manager to develop my career not against him

Bounty text (not garbled)

We get lots of questions on career development which range from "how can I develop my career" to "this job is a dead-end" to "my boss doesn't seem to care about my career" to "I want to become XXXX how do I get there?"

A manager who is not having conversations with their reports on this subject (or is opposed) presents unique challenges for anyone interested in answering those questions. Note that "furthering your career" may mean different things to different people.

My intent with this question is to have a good reference for these sorts of questions. This answer is a great answer and I would love to see more answers from different perspectives on how to approach career development, realizing that generally speaking, it is up to YOU to facilitate your own career development, and many managers will be content to not actively aid you in this path.

Some possible remaining perspectives (not comprehensive):

  • Freelance project/contract work
  • Educational opportunities (formal/informal)
  • Determine your goals and work with your boss to align your work to these whenever possible (regardless of whether you call it "career development" with the boss)
  • Strategies to facilitate progress completely independent of your boss
  • TBD
  • 4
    @Rachel - Your boss should help you get to where you want to go with assignments that build the skill sets and experiences you will need for your next step. They help approve and select training that helps improve you as an employee and your value to the company. If you are wanting to move into .net and your boss is signing you up for PHP classes then you are not working together. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 18 '13 at 18:06
  • 7
    @Chad Hrrrmm maybe great bosses do that, but in my experience most bosses are simply there to make sure you are doing what you were hired to do, not to try to improve your career. That's usually up to you to do. – Rachel Apr 18 '13 at 18:11
  • 6
    The good bosses that are actively looking out for your career are few and far between. Somewhat irnically, when you find one, you tend to not have them for very long because they ultimately are trying to help you get promoted out of there. ;) In the end, if your boss isn't interested in that, then likely they feel you're better staying where you are at for their own benefit. At that point, you need to DIY. Start networking. Try to get to conferences. Do your own off-hours studying/research/projects. – DA. Apr 18 '13 at 20:39
  • 2
    The question is a bit unclear: what does career development mean to you? Is it getting into a managerial position or acquiring skills needed for your job on the line? If you are thinking about management, remember it's a pyramid and the manager does not necessarily put you at the top of promotion queue. – Deer Hunter Apr 19 '13 at 6:30
  • 4
    @Rachel: "most bosses are simply there to make sure you are doing what you were hired to do" - if you resign from your job because there is no chance of career development, then you are not doing what you were hired to do. (Of course, it's different if you are a contractor/consultant who has been taken on to do a specific job, but that doesn't seem to be the case here.) – user145 Apr 19 '13 at 8:46
27
+100

I'd recommend backing up a step here. There's a lot of possible reasons why your manager doesn't seem supportive of your career development plans. You could very well be misreading each other.

Problems could include:

  • You're really, really new - in most of my (very long term) companies, the first year of a new employee is often seen as a settling-in period. Talking about your next career ambition at that time can seem overly hasty,

  • You're not listening to his feedback - if he's said there's something big you need to work on in your job, then work on that before you talk career advancement. You may need to check whether he sees anything as "big".

  • You're asking for resources the company isn't willing to provide, and missing what it will provide. For example, an old company of mine was totally glad to cover my Master's degree, but you had to fight like crazy to get a chance to go to a conference - for them, the degree was way more valuable, even if it was more expensive.

  • What he hears is you asking for direction rather than setting a course and asking for feedback.

In all cases, I'd say the best way to approach career development is that it's your career and the one who is going to care the most is you. When the topic of your career is vague and ambiguous, you might not get much help, because the boss won't expend the extra energy to deduce what you want. But if you have a clear vision of what you want, you may find you get more support and guidance in how to get what you want.

Given that you've tried a few times and gotten nowhere... I'd stop beating around the bush and ask point blank. My process would be:

  1. Assess your situation - if you are new, on bad terms, or asking for more than others in your company in terms of resources, be aware that you are on shaky ground and prepare to tread lightly.
  2. Have a goal - your manager will likely never help you identify your career ambition. He may be able to help point out gaps, identify work that would suit your goals, or provide training-related suggestions, but what you want to do next is going to be up to you.
  3. Book private time with your manager. Don't do this ad hoc in the hallway.
  4. Ask him some direct questions relating to your career goals. If you find he's sidestepping, call him on it, and ask why.

If you really can't get there, then think about alternatives. If your boss brings up the idea that he's just no good at this, it's fine to say "how about I get another manager to mentor me", but I wouldn't recommend that as a starting place.

You could also think about informal mentorships inside and outside of the office - often a mentor who isn't your manager is extremely helpful, and it usually doesn't have to be formal.

  • 2
    Another possibility: The manager is afraid that your career development may take you away from his team, and he wants you to stay on the team (maybe you're really good at what you do and he doesn't want to replace you?). – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Apr 19 '13 at 15:58
  • 3
    I've honestly found that one to be the most-suspected, but least likely case. I've had many, many fellow managers cry on my shoulder about awesome staff moving out of their teams, but the number who have prevented that are very few. – bethlakshmi Apr 24 '13 at 12:50
13

My growth is my responsibility.

I heard that from my pastor and I can prove that it's true. You can ask your boss about career advancement but do not depend on him too much.

I want to share something based on my experience. My current manager asked me about what I wanted to be. I told him what I wanted to be. He told me that I must prove to them that I can really help my company to be successful. They can help but they have to know my performance to see that I'm worthy of their help.

Career advancement is not their responsibility although your company may help you. But you must prove to them, through excellent work, that you are valuable to them.

If you already showed your worth and asked them again what they can do for you but still not interested on helping you, let me share you the following tips:

  • Be specific about what you want. You must have a goal. You must be sure what you want to be five years from now and have a plan based on that.
  • Save some of your income to prepare you for taking up a higher degree if you think it is needed.
  • Enroll on relevant trainings or attend seminars and conferences. For example, if you are a Java developer, you may attend the JavaOne conference.
  • If you want to lead, read books about leadership. An example of this are books of John C. Maxwell.

If your boss doesn't support you, then there may be people around you which can support you. Just do your part.

4

I would probably look for a mentor (formal or informal) within your company and see if they could work with you to pinpoint skills you'd like to develop further and goals of where you'd like to go.

Mentors can be very helpful when you feel you need another party to give you advice that your direct manager may not have time or the ability to help you with.

I don't think I've ever worked for a manager who was unhappy when I mentioned I had a mentor. It can actually be a sign of having a focused interest in your growth and career and being self-sufficient in seeking that growth.

3

Typically there are four career development paths.

First you want to become a more senior person within your own current specialty or a related specialty. So a junior dev might want to learn how to be senior dev or perhaps transition from being a C# developer to a data analyst or systems architect.

Next you might want to move into the management track. So you might currently be an accounting clerk but you really want to end up as the CFO (Chief Financial Officer) of a company.

Third you might want to change career tracks in your current industry or company. This would be something like a Meeting Planner wanting to change over to being a Human Resources specialist.

Fourth you might want to do something entirely different in a different industry such as training to be Nurse when you are currently an administrative assistant for a plumbing company.

Of course your boss is not likely to anything to help you in the last case. When you want to change both technical skill and industries, then you are simply announcing you are short-term and you will not get whatever help is available to others as it is a waste of company money and time.

Now the strategies for getting your boss to help you in the first three cases are: First make sure your boss perceives you as doing your job well. If he thinks you have problems doing your current job, he is not going to help you get a better one. So don't talk to him first about your career aspirations but your current performance. Then fix anything he asks you to fix (whether you agree with it or not) before discussing future options.

Now you are ready to start preparing to discuss options. Before you do so, you need to develop a plan. You need to know the eventual goal and the intermediate positions you might need to get on the way there. The road from Junior dev to senior dev is fairly easy to figure out, but the road from accounting clerk to CFO is going to take multiple intermediate positions and probably some additional formal education.

Your immediate goal is to get an idea of the steps involved (the internet is a wonderful thing, use it to research the requirements at various levels including searching for the job you want on job sites to see what the qualifications are). Now focus on the next step you need to take. If possible, talk to people in that position and find out what qualifications they have and what their daily tasks are. Choose people who won't feel threatened by your questions. From your research, develop a list of things you need to get to be qualified for the next level and a plan for how you would like to get them. Don't ignore soft skills. These are often the difference between one level and the other.

The steps may now vary depending on whether you are following case 1 2 or 3. For cases 1 and 2 the initial steps are similar, you won't get to the management track until you reach the senior positions generally. So we start by discussing those first.

Now that you have a plan, you are ready to discuss steps with your current boss. If your boss is supportive of career development, you may be able to go to him and directly ask to be given the types of tasks you need to get to the next level. If he is not supportive of career development, simply volunteer for the tasks you would like to do to get qualified for the next level without discussing it as a career development move. Pay attention to upcoming projects and try to get assigned to the ones that further your plan.

Remember that a lot of the difference in the levels has to do with being able to work with less supervision, so concentrate on that as well.

One of the best ways to get the experience to move into management once you are a senior professional is to volunteer to start attending meetings for some of the projects you are working on instead of the manager to save him time. You can also ask for some of his responsibilities if he is going to be out of the office on vacation or long term leave of any kind in order to help out. Instead of telling him what you need him to do, save him time by creating the draft emails or giving him the information he needs to send something up the line rather than just saying you need him to do something. Now I will give you hint, it often easier to get what are really management tasks assigned to you when you have a poor manager. They don't want to do anything that takes extra effort, so you can often make them happy by doing things way beyond your level for them.

Now for case three, your immediate boss is not going to be much help even if he wants to be because he can't just assign you tasks outside his personal area of responsibility. What he can do is introduce you to the managers who do have those tasks, possibly get you assigned to some company-wide initiatives that are cross functional, or (and only if he is super supportive) lend you to the other department to do some tasks.

Some jobs lend themselves to this better than others. A lot of people like accounting clerks have gotten into programming jobs by doing special projects for their department that the programmers didn't have time to do. A developer who wants to be a business analysts can ask to help with the requirements for the next large project. A developer who want to get into Hr may ask to be assigned to the next project for the HR department both to start getting a functional understanding of what the department does and to make connections within the department.. These the types of things you can volunteer for and your boss can help you get assigned to.

Be aware that volunteering for tasks only works if you can keep up with the current workload in your actual job (which is possible if you are volunteering for tasks that will make something take less time in the long run like writing a system to automate an annoying manual process) or if it is possible for the boss to temporarily reassign you to that function. If he is going to have to give up someone to that project anyway (like a cross-functional project or a programming project for the department you would like to work in), your chances are better at getting assigned than if it is something totally unrelated to the workload.

If there is formal training you need, then research the possibilities and present a request for something specific. Your chances are better of getting it approved if it also meets the boss's needs. If there is an upcoming project that uses a new technology that you need to learn to get to where you want to be, then go to him with a training suggestion and volunteer for the project.

Look at your HR handbook to find out if there are things the company will reimburse you for such as getting a master's degree in your field or a related field. If this would further your own goals, find out how to apply and submit your application to your boss or whoever has to approve it rather than expecting someone to do it for you. Remember that sometimes these programs require a commitment to stay with the company so be aware of that before you take advantage of them. But by all means look at what the office will pay for and take advantage.

Another way to approach your boss to get help in personal development is to make a suggestion that might help everyone such as buying a technical library, getting an MSDN subscription or having series of lunch and learns or attending a training class and then coming back and presenting what you learned to the others.

Part of the plan to get to where you to where you want to go is to find the opportunities first and then ask your boss if you can get assigned to them rather than expecting him to come up with the plan or letting you know about the possibilities. Even good bosses will prefer this approach and bad bosses will almost certainly respond better to this approach.

So if you want to get those opportunities, you need to talk to people and pay attention to what is coming up and think about whether it will further your own plan to get assigned to it.

Make sure you look at what the boss will get from your suggestions and pitch them to him based on his needs to get the work done not on your desire to get promoted. These sales skills are ones you will need at anything past the most junior level anyway in most professions.

You will also want to discuss development during your performance appraisal and come prepared with suggestions for what you would like to get to move to the next level. Your boss will often have to put together a development plan for you and having you do the legwork and having concrete suggestions will make it easier for him and bosses like people who make things easier for them. Bosses tend to give more help to people who have made an effort to help themselves than people who sit there passively waiting for the boss to come up with a plan for how to get them promoted.

2

I don't think that your boss doesn't care. Does he engage in any deep conversation with you at all? He may feel this topic will encourage you to leave (I really want to rage on people who feel this way!).

I've worked for some people who were very sincere about learning what I wanted to do long-term and were quick to acknowledge those career goals weren't going to take place at the current company. They told me they would fire me if they had to, so I'd go on to do something better.

Other managers pushed company paid training and certification, but more for the benefit of the company and not necessarily about my career growth.

I've had a few managers that just didn't want to engage in any personal conversation. I got the impression they felt they could be a more effective manager by keeping their distance or they didn't want me to think they were prying into my personal life. If you talk about other subjects, ask why he has an aversion to talking about your career. If you never talk about anything, there's your answer.

You may have to go outside your company for adviced. Maybe a local dev group or something?

  • 1
    I agree. One of the first things I do as a manger is ask my people what their short term and long term goals are. My company isn't right for everyone, but if they want to eventually seek a management position, whether with my company or not, I will do my best to help them along the way. – Randy E Apr 18 '13 at 18:39
1

How can I develop my career when my direct manager does not seem to have any interest in helping me?

Many of us don't depend on our direct managers when formulating and executing career plans.

You can learn new skills on your own. For instance, you can read books, magazines, websites, forums, and attend conferences, etc. All of these can provide learning and networking that can help your career.

While it might be nice for your direct manager to be interested in furthering your career, ultimately it's up to you.

  • 2
    comments removed: I removed the meta commentary and non-constructive comments. Joe, we do try to apply a consistent set of guidelines as to what an answer should contain, but as you can imagine, it's subjective. This isn't Math where 2+2 always equals 4. I encourage you to use the comments left by the community to address any issues people see. While it's okay to say "don't do that, try this instead", as per our faq and How to Answer, your post should clearly explain why. Why shouldn't we depend on managers for career development? Hope this helps! – jmort253 Apr 21 '13 at 8:38
  • 3
    I gave your answer a +1 because I fully agree with "While it might be nice for your direct manager to be interested in furthering your career, ultimately it's up to you". That said, I was talking in chat with the OP and realized that I was misunderstanding the question a little bit, and in cases where the managers in the company are expected to help out with employee career development, this answer is not as useful as ones such as Beth's answer – Rachel Apr 22 '13 at 13:56
-1

It's just the simple truth that asking a manager for advice on how to grow your career isn't the best approach. Outside of your manager not really knowing you well enough to provide useful advice, they also have a very large conflict of interest. They are on the side of the organization, not your career. That's just the truth of it. They will develop those things in you that they feel provides value for the company. It's nice when the two align, your goals and what a company sees as valuable. However, in my view, you should be looking for more neutral parties to help decide what happens next in your career.

-2

You are ultimately responsible for your career. You have to know where you want to be in the future. If your manager or company won't give you the time or money for training then do it yourself. In the past year I coughed up $5K and my PTO for my own training that wasn't covered by a tuition reimbursement program. Future employers will consider your ability to take the initiative as a plus.

  • 2
    There is nothing in the question that indicates whether or not the company will give the OP money or time for training. Further I it has not been shown that training equates to career advancement. I can learn more and just be stuck deeper in my career rut. And finally the OP states clearly he intends to stay with this employer and is not looking for future employers. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 22 '13 at 16:52
  • 1
    Future employers will also take advantage of this and refuse to pay too. As after all, youve admitted you will just pay the costs yourself. You have to be careful how you sell yourself too. – Rhys Apr 24 '13 at 8:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.