Nerd Journey 045: Career Conversations With Your Manager

Welcome to episode 45 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two VMware Solution Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we discuss how to prepare for a career conversation with your manager.

Original Recording Date: 06-29-2019

Topic – Preparing for a Career Conversation with Your Manager

1:03 – The Genesis of This Idea

  • We touched on the idea of a career 1-1 with your manager in Episode 12.
  • Nick recently needed to prepare for this type of conversation and thought he and John should share the methodology.

2:48 – If You’re not Having Career Conversations…

  • Not everyone has a regular career check-in with their manager. Some people may not even have regular 1-1 meetings.
  • Why not?
    • Is this a cultural aspect of the organization you’re in within the company or the company itself?
    • Is it the size of the company or related to your manager having too many direct reports?
    • Is your manager ineffective, or is it possible that he / she has an ineffective manager?
    • Make a guess as to why this may not be happening for you.
  • Can you start?
    • Are there any barriers? Do you have a good relationship with your manager?
      • Ask to have career added to the agenda of normal 1-1s as a starting point. If that goes well, you can branch out to asking for dedicated career discussions.
    • What if there are barriers?
      • Aside from making the ask feeling awkward, you may be butting up against a cultural norm that does not support career conversations.
      • If you are not comfortable enough with your manager to ask the question, it may indicate an issue between you and your manager (something to explore and figure out).
      • If you cannot ask, knowing why is at least helpful.
  • If it’s not ok to have these conversations, can you accept it?
    • You may not need to have these specifically with your manager. Perhaps outside peers and mentors would be a better option.
    • Is this something you actually need, is it a priority, and is this the right organization / department for you (might not be that the company is not right)?
      • John asked about the aspects of career conversations before taking his current job. Be sure to ask what career conversations / career progression looks like within the company during the interview process if this is important to you.
      • If changes occur within the company / organization and career conversations no longer happen, maybe it is time to make a change (job or company).
    • Are you interested in stimulating positive organizational change?
      • This takes time, effort, and political capital to do.
    • Get advice from others for help (inside or outside the company). Not everything that happens is a reason to change jobs.

12:02 – Preparing to Have the Conversation

  • Think about where you want to be in the next 2 – 5 years.
    • Nick didn’t think much about this after landing his current job, while John had thought about it during the interview process.
    • It requires dedicated brainstorming time outside of the normal daily / weekly set of tasks. Get out of the tactical mindset for a bit and think strategically.
    • What do you like about what you currently do?
    • What do you wish was different?
      • People you work with
      • Tasks / responsibilities
      • Travel requirements
    • Is your skillset and personality still a match for the role you are in?
      • Are you performing well? You should have some idea based on manager feedback.
      • Do you have a kudos folder? Maybe you should create one.
    • What do you see yourself doing next?
      • If you are not sure, check out Episode 20 on area of destiny as a starting point.
  • Think about how to approach the discussion with your manager.
    • John’s advice on progression discussions are to focus on providing more value and not about moving on to a job at another company.
      • We’re talking about value to the company, the team, and the role.
      • This naturally leads to progression (higher title, team lead, etc.).
  • What about adjacencies to your current role?
    • See Episode 7 or Episode 26 to cover the concept of adjacencies.
    • Is there a logical adjacency to your current role that would be a good fit for you?
      • This may depend on company size.
        • Small companies may not be able to provide a technical adjacency, but moving into other non-technical areas could be an option.
        • Larger companies often have an internal job site to check.
      • There is also the Tom Delicati approach to creating a role for yourself.
    • What do other people (your manager, your team) see you doing next?
      • Peer feedback can be helpful, but informal feedback may be best.
      • Consider people on other teams within the company that interact with you as well as others outside the company.
    • Should John and Nick go into full time podcasting like Ethan Banks did?

24:21 – The Actual Discussion

  • What if there are no moves for you to make internally as a next step?
    • Think about alternatives – senior title, team lead / mentor, escalation point for certain tasks, etc.
    • Ask for specific projects of interest to keep you engaged. Look at these through the lens of what you want to be doing next.
      • Maybe additional training and development is on the table to keep you engaged.
    • The longer we are in an organization, the more we know about what progression can look like.
    • If you have outgrown the organization (i.e. no options here are available), maybe it’s time to part ways with your current company (with a plan, of course).
    • Sometimes side projects are helpful to build skills – blogging, podcasting, consulting, training, conference attendance.
      • These are especially helpful when targeting a new organization.
      • Think back to the Jon Hildebrand episodes and how his manager had a unique perspective on John’s career.
  • How can your manager help you get to a new role?
    • Your manager can be a broker to upper management and other business units.
    • He / she should have feedback on your strengths and weaknesses and how those might need to change to get to a new role.
    • Your manager will likely know if other internal opportunities are available.
    • The manager could help you recognize some skills gaps / blind spots.
    • He / she could help validate your philosophical position on growth, development, and progression.
    • A manager has more insight into political realities of the organization (i.e. might not be raises this year).
    • The manager can tell you if you are being realistic in your aspirations.
    • Be careful discussing roles that involve leaving the team.
      • This can come off as "I don’t want to work for you." Don’t be that person.
      • How can the manager help you

34:22 – After the Meeting

  • What do you do when it’s over?
    • Leave with agreed upon goals.
      • Hopefully there is a career cadence to follow up on action items both you and your manager will complete before the next meeting.
    • Maybe the manager will be on the lookout for opportunities that would suit you well.
    • Just as you went into the meeting with an agenda, come out with one too.
  • How do you follow through
    • Execute on action items.
    • Practice chunking and developing milestones.
    • Check in regularly (don’t have to wait for next cadence meeting to inform the manager that something is complete).
    • Keep the cadence to ensure the discussions continue.
    • Talk to your peers. Are they having career conversations? What are those like?
      • Consider folks on the same team, different teams, and even some outside the company.

Contact us if you need help on the journey.

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