The give and take of a good career conversation!

CCS Top Tips on having career conversations in the workplace

A good career conversation increases the chance to retain and motivate good people. An honest and open career conversation builds their sense of value to the organisation and helps individuals and managers plan for future work opportunities and scenarios.

So why is it that these career conversations are often just not happening?

In our work as career coaches and training professionals, we find that managers are often reticent to have career conversations with those in their teams.

Usually this is not typically through lack of interest, ambivalence or even just busy schedules. In reality it is because managers don’t feel they have the skills or the confidence to have these conversations. They feel obligated to ‘solve the problem’ and in most cases they believe that the employee is expecting this solution to be in the form of a promotion.

Consequentially these conversations are often limited to the annual appraisal discussion and never mentioned again! Before you know it, the culture is self-perpetuating and employees start avoiding talking to their managers about their own career needs. The risk here is that they become disillusioned and start seeking opportunities elsewhere.

Further still, employees risk learning management behaviours that reinforce avoidance of these important conversations and so the cycle continues. You get the picture!

We believe that it’s important that both managers and employees are equipped to have career conversations – it’s a two way street and an open dialogue between both employer and employee is essential to gain the most from a conversation around careers.

Our Top Tips

Here are our 6 top tips designed to help managers re-frame their approach to having career conversations…

  1. First of all, remember that it’s more important to have the conversation in the first place than the potential risk of avoiding it! Employees who don’t feel part of a culture which places importance on discussions around their career development may well ‘vote with their feet’!
  2. Manage the expectation around the conversation and its purpose! In most organisations there are fewer opportunities for linear progression and developing a growth culture around skills-based learning and non-hierarchical opportunities are increasingly important.

questions for career conversation

3. Focus on asking good questions. Don’t feel pressured to jump in with a solution before you have listened and helped the individual to explore fully what they want. Good open questions such as “What do you enjoy about that?” and “When are you at your best?” help people to reflect more deeply. The individual should be the main actor in their career working in partnership with the employer.

4. Help them map out growth opportunities. Asking what projects they might find appealing could be the stretch opportunity that they need. Help them to think more broadly with alternative visions of how they can play to their strengths and values.

career signposts

5. Empower them to take action – what is it they would like to find out more about? If they are clear on their goals, what are the actions that
they can take to build relevant skill-sets and experience?

6. Ensure they know your door is open and that regular career conversations are important and welcomed.

CCS provides training in career conversations for managers and employees. For further information please email Rob Nathan on or Kate Mansfield at

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