Partner with Your Manager—An Overlooked Resource in Your Career Development


In talks regarding career development, you hear about the importance of mentors, you learn that sponsors can be influential in your workplace, and you are informed that coaches can help you figure out a path to follow. There is one consistently overlooked resource in career development that I suggest you consider: partnering with managers. This blog addresses people in the first five years of their career and how they can work closely with their manager to unlock their career potential.

Outside of yourself, your manager has the most direct impact on your current career. Consider the direct impact of their work with regards to you: they decide your assignments; they provide insight and opportunities to you; they share their network and knowledge of professional activities with you. Finally, while their work function focuses on your company’s business objectives, your engagement at work falls under their management umbrella. Partnering with your manager can contribute to your career development whether fresh from school or well into your career. Based upon my own experiences, I have some strategies to share.

How to Get Better Assignments

At work, my motto has been “It never hurts to ask.” If you want a more challenging work assignment or you’re just bored at work, partner with your manager to change this situation. Your manager may notice your lack of engagement but not know the source. Remember, they are not a mind-reader; let them know that source. Inform your manager what you like and don’t like about your job assignments. Such information facilitates partnering with your manager to increase your engagement at work.

Receiving a better assignment inadvertently happened to me as a young engineer at IBM. First, I let my manager know that I was bored. Separately, I let my second-line manager know that I found a particular topic exciting. As a result of expressing needs and interests, my management granted me a unique opportunity to evaluate a new test technology called Weighted Random Patterns. If I had kept my mouth shut, then I wouldn’t be helping myself or my manager with respect to my productivity at work.

How to Ask for and Receive Help

Another application of the motto “It never hurts to ask” comes when you need help. It’s not uncommon to become overwhelmed in your job. Stressful conditions make it hard to develop new skills, in particular, if you’re learning several new things. Have a conversation with your manager and provide them a state of the situation and raise the white flag for help. They may have already observed you struggling. Help can come in several ways, such as adjusting assignments among other team members or setting priorities that postpone some of the project work. If someone with more experience takes over a particular aspect of the project, you are in luck. Not only does this lessen your burden, but it provides you a role model.

Your manager wants you to be successful at work. If your plate is overloaded, it hurts their goals for the team and your career development. Partnering with them turns an unproductive situation into a situation in which you can perform, develop, and ultimately thrive.

How to Discuss Progress Towards Promotion

Interested in knowing what’s needed for that promotion? Then make it a regular part of your conversations with your manager. Don’t wait for the annual performance review! Have that conversation tomorrow. You can borrow this script which I often use:

Employee: “Mike, how am I doing on my job? In particular, where am I on the promotion path to the next grade level?”

Manager: “You’re doing well in these areas: A, B, C. To get to the next grade level we need to show you developing these skills and competences: X, Y, Z.”

Employee: “Well I think I’m developing for X but currently don’t have any opportunities for Y and Z. Can you keep an eye out for such opportunities?”

Manager: “Of course I can.”

By having this kind of conversation on a regular basis your manager and you both know the skills you need to develop next and/or to demonstrate competence in. Jointly, you can watch for opportunities that could contribute to your career development and promotion goal.

How to Explore Options

You have been in your current job for a year or two, yet you think there may be a different direction you want to take. How exactly do you approach that topic with your manager? A conversation about a career development plan can provide the fodder for such a discussion. Create a plan using your company template and bring it to your manager. Note, if your company does not have a template, create your own. The fundamental questions include:

  • Where am I now?

  • Where do I want to go?

  • How will I get there?

In discussing these questions with your manager, position it as exploring your options. Such an emphasis builds on the partnership you have been developing with your manager. Reflecting on your present job with your manager allows you to share your likes and dislikes regarding your current tasks/projects. You can discuss the type of work you would be interested in doing in the future and how your manager can help you with this work. Maybe they know someone that you can meet for an informational interview or even pair up with as a mentor. While you may have a specific career path you want to follow, your manager can share their observations with you and may identify a career option you have not considered.

How to Ask for Additional Training

Interested in going back to school or taking some training at an upcoming technical conference? Attending a technical conference is often a way to develop your knowledge base and grow your professional contacts. Working towards an advanced degree or a certificate in a subject contributes to your career development. Then talk to your manager about your training needs. Typically, there exists a training budget; ask about it by stating the skills you want to develop and how these skills with contribute to the company’s business goals. Your manager will either have the funds or will know where to apply for those funds.

Parting Reminder

As you grow in your career, you need both technical and leadership skill development. Your manager can provide you feedback on both and work with you on opportunities to develop these skills. Partner with your manager with regards to your career development with regular conversations. You may be surprised how far they will be able to take you.

Anne Meixner is a technical communicator noted for taking complex ideas and explaining them in consumable and understandable pieces. As a semiconductor test expert, she helps new product development teams balance the need for quality versus the cost of getting the product out the door. She forms community wherever she is. She joins and contributes to existing communities with ease. As an advocate of her profession Anne engages in storytelling about the craft of engineering. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn

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