7 Steps to Get the Most Out of Career Development Conversations

career conversations“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

This loaded question, or something similar, is common in career development conversations. Managers seek to tap into employee motivations to maximize performance and retain top talent. But many employees don’t have an immediate answer to this tough question.

There’s a better way to kick off a career development meeting. If you carefully consider your questions’ content and order, you can conduct an honest, genuine one on one meeting to make employee goals become a reality—short or long-term.


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Follow these seven steps to maximize your development conversations, boost employee engagement, and avoid unnecessary turnover.


1. Don't box the conversation into promotions.


Development doesn’t necessarily mean a role change. You may not be in the position to offer a promotion, but you can provide other opportunities for an employee to grow.

Use developmental conversations to understand how your employee sees their career progressing. Perhaps they’re seeking additional mentoring, or they believe they have the capacity to coach others. They may desire to attend formal learning opportunities such as classes and conferences.

Learn about any existing roadblocks that impede employees’ path to success. Provide solutions and communicate possible growth opportunities. Conversations about growth should touch on all facets of employee development—promotions are only a small component.


2. Avoid abstract and broad prompts.


Some employees have a very detailed plan for their future and enjoy answering questions like, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” But these questions do little to engage employees who are focused on present, day-to-day responsibilities.

Ask specific questions that tap into the outcomes your employees are proud of, or what tasks they’re energized by. The key to development is finding tasks employees are passionate about.

Identify what stimulates your employees at work and give them opportunities to perform those tasks more often. If you’re able to uncover your employees’ passions and interests, you’ll get better insight into how their capabilities should be leveraged to further push growth and development.


3. Set developmental goals.


Give your employees something to strive for. Set benchmarks for employees to work toward throughout the year. Vague goals such as “research competitor strategies'' are likely to go unfulfilled. Encourage employees to set developmental goals that align with team and organizational goals.

Ensure your goals are specific and promote long term growth. Encourage employees to learn a new skill, improve their public speaking, or make meaningful connections with team members, for example.

Consider leveraging a SMART goals template to streamline your goal setting process. This helps you ensure your team’s goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time based.


4. Know the impact of your role.


As the manager, you play a massive part in helping your employees develop professionally. The employee should have initiatives to get started, but you should be right behind them to support and guide their efforts.

Identify the aspirations of your employees and serve as an advocate to help them progress. Practice continuous listening to stay aware of existing road-blocks and opportunities that align with your employees’ career goals.

5. Discuss how short-term goals affect employees in the long term.


Help your employees see how the goals they set will affect their long-term aspirations. A series of short-term goals should bridge together to help employees progress toward lofty, impactful benchmarks down the road.

Congratulate employees on their successes and communicate how their development aids company goals. With sufficient recognition and goal alignment, employees can see how their growth efforts pay off.


6. Ask the right career development questions.


In your growth conversations, explore the alignment between employee strengths and their job role. This will help you maximize employee productivity and increase engagement. Ask career development questions like:

  • “Which of your strengths are under-utilized in your role?”
  • “Are the responsibilities of your role what you expected? Why or why not?”
  • “What other areas of the team could benefit from your strengths? How?”

Professional development questions should also be top of mind in these conversations. Focus on opportunities to develop skills or increase capabilities. Possible questions include:

  • “What new skills would you like to develop?”
  • “What can you start/stop/keep doing to help you reach your goals?”
  • “Is there anyone in our organization that you would like as a mentor?”

Although promotions are a small component of your growth conversations, career advancement is often the goal for top talent. Understand how your employees’ want their career path to look with questions like:

  • “What role/career would let you utilize your strengths everyday?”
  • “What additional responsibilities would you like?”
  • “What other areas or roles within the company would you like to learn more about?”


7. Leverage a streamlined goal-setting software.


To best help your employees stay on top of their initiatives, consider implementing a platform that boosts goal accountability, alignment, and employee growth.

The right platform will elevate individual and team goals to the entire organization. By staying updated on your employees’ goals, you can streamline and maximize your developmental conversations.

The better you understand what your employees are aiming for, the more you can help them reach those goals and maximize their productivity. Supporting employee growth increases engagement levels and creates a stronger workforce. Don’t hesitate to evaluate your growth initiatives and drive top performance.



Ready to learn more strategies to push employee growth? Download our employee development ebook.

Employee Development

Published October 28, 2021 | Written By Elise Paulsen