How to Talk about Career Progression at Work

Written by Calvin Bowers

Career Progression can be a difficult thing to raise at work and in some respects is very much akin to asking for a pay rise. You may have been working in your current position for several years and have built up an excellent set of relevant skills for that workplace but there has maybe never seemed like a good time to raise the issue. According to Brite Recruitment, you should aim to stay in a job for a minimum of two years before seeking career advancement. 

Before seeking to take the matter forward, it is good to make sure you have all of your ducks in a line, and you can do this using the checklist below.

Career Progression: A Checklist

Know Your Options Within the Company

Take the time to look at the structure of the company and identify possible career paths for you within this structure. This can help you to outline to your bosses where you see yourself being promoted to within the company and the timescale you envision. If you can say “When Brenda retires next year…”, this will show that you have your finger on the pulse of the internal company dynamics.   

Doing this also demonstrates that you are thinking about your prospects in terms of them being inside the company and that you are not looking to move anywhere else. This shows loyalty to your current employer and can help you to be considered for a promotion. 

List the Qualifications for Career Progression

Examine job descriptions similar to those of the role that you are hoping to move into and establish how you are a fit for those criteria. If you don’t fit the criteria yet, figure out what you would need to do in order to rectify that. Do you need to take an online course in order to figure out how to use a particular software program? Do you need to be able to demonstrate leadership in a way that you haven’t done up until now, and what can you do to achieve that?

Establish What You Bring to the Role

What is it that you bring to the role that nobody else can? Are you incredibly organised and able to prioritise tasks and breeze through to-do lists in the blink of an eye? Do you have a particular set of transferable skills that are in great demand for this particular role?

Figure out what your unique selling point is and prepare yourself with evidence that backs up what you are saying. Now is not the time to succumb to impostor syndrome.  It is one thing to assert something but a lot of people flounder when asked to provide evidence that corroborates what they are saying. 

Note Down What You Would Like to Know About Career Progression

The best way to ensure the most successful meeting possible is to go in prepared, so list the questions you would like to ask about potential advancement and company structures in advance. This will help you to ensure that you don’t forget any of the points that you want to raise and taking your notes into the meeting with you will have the added bonus of making you appear serious and prepared.

To Ask for a Meeting or Wait for an Appraisal?

Depending on how close you are to your annual appraisal, you should either wait and raise career progression at that point or if there is likely to be a long wait of six months or so, it would be better to ask for a separate meeting. 

There is nothing worse than waiting too long to ask for a meeting then being told “Oh, we just filled that role, if only you had asked us sooner.” so sometimes throwing caution to the wind and asking earlier can pay off, where waiting can have the opposite effect.

Be Confident But Not Arrogant

When you attend the meeting with your bosses to raise the possibility of career progression remember your own abilities and worth but remember not to let this verge over into arrogance as this is never a good look. Decide how far you want to push for progression and promotion and how much of a deal-breaker not getting it will mean to you. 

Over the course of a long working life, the earlier you are able to achieve your first promotion, the more money you will be able to make for the rest of your life, so this can be a valid consideration. You also have to be sure that you merit being promoted, over some of the other people who may have been there longer than you. 

What is it that you have and they lack? If you have fresh ideas, emphasise these to the bosses in the meeting as a way of ensuring that they take you seriously.  

Listen to the Manager’s Response

Listen carefully to the manager’s response. How do they sound? Are they pleased? Surprised? Annoyed? Amused? So much of their response including body language and tone is open to your own interpretation, so make notes at the moment about what you think they are meaning by their response. 

Pay attention to the words they use and the feedback they provide. It may be that they just don’t see there being opportunities for advancement in the near future, they may ask you to check back in with them again the next year at your appraisal.

Being asked to check back in with them next year can either be a way of kicking the issue into the long grass or gently telling you that you aren’t yet ready for advancement. It is up to you how you take the feedback and where you go from there.

It is important not to get annoyed, no matter what they say in response. Go away and think through what has been said and decide if you can live with the outcome of the meeting and remain in your current position. If you decide that you can’t, try to have something else lined up before you hand in your notice with this company. 

It may be worth polishing your CV writing skills and refreshing your memory on cover letter writing. You can check out our jobs board for suitable vacancies as well. 

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