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How to talk about career goals with your boss (plus tips)

Most employees hope to advance in their careers, but discussing career goals with your boss can prove challenging. If the company where you work has a clear path for advancement, it can be easier to determine how you might achieve your career goals. However, some companies may not have as many advancement opportunities, making it hard to know where your goals fit into the overall business structure. Let's explore what career goals are and how to talk about career goals with your boss so you can start a conversation professionally and get the advancement opportunities you deserve.

What are career goals?

Your career goals are the things you want to achieve during your career. When setting career goals, consider where you want to be in one, five, or 10 years. It's beneficial to set goals throughout your career to challenge yourself so you can thrive. Some examples of goals you might set include:

  • Earn a certification
  • Increase pay
  • Join a professional organization
  • Advance to a management role

When setting goals for your career, it's helpful to use the SMART method. This stands for:

  • Specific: Be as specific as possible when creating your goals. For example, you can say "I want to earn a certificate in programming within six months," instead of something vague like, "I want to learn to program."
  • Measurable: As in the example above, you want to set a time frame to achieve your goal. Make sure that the allotted time is realistic.
  • Attainable: While you want to challenge yourself, your goal needs to be attainable. Giving yourself goals that are beyond your reach can mean setting yourself up for failure and disappointment, so make sure you have a solid plan for how you can achieve each goal.
  • Relevant: Each of your goals needs to be relevant to what you want to achieve. If you're hoping to advance to a higher-level role, set smaller goals that will lead to this, such as earning a certificate that will allow you to better perform the duties associated with the job you desire.
  • Timely: Make sure that each of your goals has a defined time frame, not just for when you want to achieve the goal but also for when you want to start working toward the goal.

How to talk about career goals with your boss

There are several steps you can take to start a conversation about your career goals with your boss, including:

Know your personal career goals

No matter your job or role, knowing your personal career goals is the first step to starting a dialogue with your boss. Use the SMART method and your interests to decide where you want to take your career. Once you know what you want, it's much easier to relate the information to your boss in a way that helps them better understand your goals.

Understand the company structure

Before you set up a meeting with your superior, research the company's structure. If you work for a large company, they may have a clear path for advancement or earning a higher salary. Small businesses may not have a clearly defined path for moving up or earning more. Either way, knowing what you want can help you determine whether the company can support you in your efforts. For valued employees, a company may be willing to do what's necessary to ensure your success and keep you with the organization long term.

"When setting career goals, consider where you want to be in one, five, or 10 years."

Schedule a meeting with your boss

Once you have clearly defined goals and understand the hierarchy of your workplace, you can set up a meeting with your boss. Make sure it's convenient for both of you and won't interfere with your regular duties. It might be a good idea to meet outside of the workplace, if possible, to limit distractions, interruptions, and co-workers from overhearing your conversation. During the meeting, explain what you'd like to achieve, how you see yourself fitting into the company long term, and why they should consider you a valuable asset.

Explain your desire for growth

It's also important to discuss your desire for growth. To achieve your goals, it's likely that you'll need to take certain steps to get there. This is a good time to explain what you plan to do. Talk to your boss about classes you plan to take, training you'd be interested in, and certificates or degrees you might be working toward. This demonstrates not just your desire for advancement but also your willingness to work hard.

Listen to advice and guidance

After you've laid out your goals and how you plan to achieve them, it's important to listen to what your boss has to say. For companies that have an established career path, there may already be specific things you can do to make yourself a viable candidate for advancement or better pay. If a company doesn't have steps in place that can allow you to achieve your career goals, your boss may work with you to create a path that leads to your success. Their guidance can provide you with valuable information you may not have known.

Tips for discussing career goals with your boss

During a meeting with your boss, you can follow these tips to ensure your career goal discussion goes smoothly:

Be professional

While it may seem like common sense to remain professional during a meeting with your boss, there are certain things you should keep in mind:

  • Dress in the proper attire. Wear something similar to what you'd wear to work and ensure your clothes are free of holes, stains, and wrinkles.
  • Sit up straight and maintain eye contact. This demonstrates confidence to your boss so that they know you're serious about achieving your goals.
  • Speak clearly and in an even tone. You might be a little nervous during your meeting, which is normal, but try not to raise or lower your voice too much and look at your boss when speaking so that they can hear you easily.

Ask questions

Don't leave the meeting without asking questions. This shows your boss that you want to learn as much as possible about what you can do to achieve your career goals, but it also gives you an opportunity to gain insight into how to accomplish those goals.

You can ask for more details about the duties of the desired position, how long you have to work to be eligible for advancement, or about any upcoming training programs you might participate in. The questions you ask will depend on your particular goals, the company, and what you've talked about during your meeting.

Know your strengths

When relating your career goals to your boss, make sure to mention your strengths. This can help them see where you fit into the company and how you are a valuable team member. Mention any accomplishments, awards, and successes that you've had so far in your employment.

Know your weaknesses

Knowing your weaknesses can also demonstrate that you understand you have room for growth. No one's perfect, and letting your boss know that you have weaknesses and will work on them is something they'll see as positive.

Learning how to talk about your career goals with your boss can help you get where you want to be in your role. If your company doesn't offer opportunities for growth, you might want to upload your resume to CareerBuilder so you can find a career that's better suited to you and your goals.

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