Career Goals: How to Communicate Them to Your Boss

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Nicole Wolfrath
Nicole Wolfrath
Advocating for yourself in the workplace can be challenging. You know you are valuable and want to grow, but making your career goals important to someone else can be tricky. Whether you're asking for a raise or promotion, looking for a new job or simply creating a career game plan, how can you ensure that your boss is invested in your success?

Why communicating your career goals to your boss is important to achieving them

You know what you've done toward furthering the business' mission and success, but your boss may not. Not only is articulating them critical for your own career path — it can lead to promotions and raises for one — but it will also help you develop a better rapport with your manager, which can lead to additional opportunities. You want to develop a name for yourself at the company and in your career, and being your own advocate is fundamental in achieving that goal.

1. Consider your vision.

What would your perfect day at work look like? What would you be doing and how would you feel? Is this vision different from what you are currently experiencing? Would you maximize your skills in a different way? These are the questions to ask yourself.  Write down your ideas and formulate goals — both long-term career goals and a short-term plan. The clearer you can paint this picture for yourself, the clearer it will be to your boss.  
You should have some sort of ultimate career goal. It may not be a single achievement but could be a position, state of mind, or way you want to behave. Envisioning your ultimate goal gives you something toward which you can work.
Ideally, your vision should involve your strengths. Embracing your strengths better equips you to achieve your ultimate goal, sinc eyou have the tools at your disposal.

2. Make it measurable.

The best way to consider your future and to achieve your career goals is to reflect on your past.  Keep a log of all of your activities from the past year or more, taking note of when you met with whom and what you discussed.  Show your own intentions on promoting growth and progress.
 Then, when you put this summary against your vision for yourself at work, you can help your boss identify where you’re the strongest, how you’re adding value to the company, and whether there are areas in which you need help improving. If your goals are measurable and achievable, you'll actually be able to gauge progress and demonstrate that you're taking your goals seriously.     

3. Create an agenda.

Your objectives need to be well thought out. Reaching a long-term career goal will be difficult unless you have a practical outline of what you're aiming for. Know exactly what you want to cover and firm on what you are asking for. Will you reach a career objective by assuming new tasks, getting involved with a committee, attending a conference, or getting a promotion or raise? What are you envisioning for your career path and how can you best articulate that?  
Odds are you have worked with your boss for some time, so you may have an idea of how he/she receives information and makes decisions. You have to take this into consideration as well when formulating your agenda. For example, does she like numbers and facts? Is he a visual learner who prefers diagrams or outlines? Find a way to convey your message in the style it will likely be best received.
A sample agenda for your career objective or a long term goal can look something like this:
Highlights of job performance over the past year:
  • increased sales by 5% for the area
  • met targets for the past 3 years
  • submitted best practice proposal for a regional conference
Introduction of goals: 
  • more involvement with the marketing department
  • discussion about potential professional growth opportunities
If you are not asking for anything specific and want to instead brainstorm with your boss about your growth potential and your career path, throw some ideas out there first and be open to feedback.  

4. Set the time.

Be prepared and allow your boss to be, too. Don’t spring this on your boss unexpectedly.  Email or tell him/her you have something important to discuss and you’d like to schedule some time for the two of you to meet. 
 If you want to be clear about your intent, you can say, “I have some thoughts about my professional development I’d like to share with you.  Can we set aside about 30 minutes to chat this week?” This will give your boss the opportunity to determine the best time to receive this information and to prepare as well. 

5. Be open-minded.

The best solutions come from teamwork. Consider the position he/she is in and information you may or may not know.  There are often reasons why conversations like these are challenging for supervisors to have, which can include their inability to actually make decisions about subordinate career growth.  
Yet even if your boss isn’t in a position to make certain decisions, she may be able to suggest something else that is doable from his/her perspective.  Talk it out.  Receive the information and consider how the both of you can work together to fulfill your needs to be a successful employee.  
After your meeting, take notes on what you have discussed and reiterate the next steps at the close of the meeting.  There is always an opportunity for follow-up regardless of what your boss says.  If your requests were met with a resounding “yes,” you will still need to follow through to make sure things happen. 
If you were told “let’s discuss this at the end of the month,” you go back to your desk and mark it on the calendar.  If you walk away with a “no” you take a moment, write down everything that happened.  Take a few days to evaluate your approach and consider revisiting the issue at another time.
Nicole Wolfrath is mom to two feisty girls in elementary and nursery school and has worked full time as a college career counselor for the past 15 years. She holds leadership roles on her children’s school boards and PTA, loves to create art when she can find the time, and is passionate about women’s and parenting issues which she advocates for through teaching and blogging.