If you have been working hard, delivering on your commitments but don’t have the answer to – "what next?", this guide is for you.

Having a regular professional development meeting (or career discussion meeting) with your manager helps you answer, “What’s next?”. This is the forum where you and your manager work together to create a plan for your professional development, identify milestones and opportunities within your work and track your progression.

By being proactive about your career discussion and setting regular meetings, you own the velocity of your career development. A few individuals’ leverage annual performance reviews for career discussion which is not a good approach. Here’s why -

  1. Your manager is most likely conducting annual reviews with everyone in the team and is also going through a review themself. There is already a lot going on for you manager to focus on your professional development
  2. Annual reviews are designed to be retrospective in nature and are typically utilized to identify your strengths and opportunities for improvement. The callouts in these reviews should be one of the inputs to your professional development plan, instead of being the career plan
  3. A year is a long timeframe and a lot can change during the time. Annual career discussions are very unlikely to result in career advancement compared to monthly/bi-monthly career sessions
  4. If you have been working with your manager on your career plan throughout the year, your manager will ensure that you get the right opportunities to progress. If you think your manager is not vested in your career discussions, then you probably should talk to your manager about your future in the company

How to prepare for career discussion?

Well, you took the advice and setup that career session, now what?

Over the years I have realized that the best way to prepare for career session is through self-reflection on how you foresee your career trajectory and knowing what you would like to achieve from the discussion.

Let’s go over a series of questions that can help you bring more clarity of thought and help you prep for the discussion –

What is my long-term career goal?

Career goals usually evolve with time and experience, hence, don’t get hung up on this question. The idea is to think where you would like to be next 2 - 3 years from now and use that to build short-term goals.

You see yourself as a product manager in two years? Share this with your manager so that you can get opportunities to build your product management skillsets through small projects.    

What is my short-term career goal?

Short-term goals are bite-sized goals that you would like to achieve in the next 10-12 months. Some of these goals might directly tie back to your long-term strategy. Whereas, some short-term goals might focus on getting a promotion, building skillsets etc.

What keeps me motivated today?

It is important to analyze what keeps you going in your current role and share that with your manager. This gives your manager a way to get through to you when things start to get demotivating or boring. Every individual has different factors of motivation – working towards the next promo, getting to flex a specific skillset, the team vision, the people, or money.  Knowing what keeps you going makes you self-aware and helps you evaluate different opportunities in your career.        

What I want to achieve from this meeting?

It is critical to know what you would like to achieve from the professional development meeting with your manager and communicate that to your manager - Are you looking to walk out of the meeting with concrete next steps towards your short-term/long-term goals? Or are you looking to talk to your manager and finalize your short-term career goals?

If you walk into your career discussion meeting thinking that your manager will commit to promoting you in the next cycle and that doesn’t happen, it will lead to disappointment and you distressing the session altogether.

How to conduct professional discussion meeting?

In our earlier guide, we outline five ways to conduct any meeting more effectively. Below we have outlined a few tips to ensure that you are setup for success for your next career development meeting.

Before the meeting

Career discussions can be very intense, and you want your manager to come prepared to be an active participant. These discussions would go nowhere in case your manager is not ready to contribute.  A good way to ensure active participation is to share meeting agenda.  You should send the agenda at least a day before the meeting. This will give your manager time to think through it and be ready for the discussion. It is also a good idea to invite your manager to add to the agenda if needed.

During the meeting

Always start the meeting with a positive note by thanking your manager for making the time for this discussion. You should reiterate the agenda and clearly outline the expected outcome of the meeting. Once aligned on the outcome, you and your manager now have a combined goal of sticking to the agenda and completing the discussion with the expected takeaways.  

After the meeting

Once the meeting is over, send meeting notes. You own your career development and hence it is your responsibility to document the discussion and hold both you and your manager accountable for delivery on the meeting outcomes. You can refer to our guide for an overview of how to write meeting notes effectively.  

Once you have your professional development plan and milestones ready, you should setup monthly or bi-monthly check-ins with your manager. This frequency gives you just enough time make progress in between your check-ins and surface any concerns or questions as you work on your plan.