Society for Human Resource Management

Career Conversations: A Customized Approach to Developing Employees' Careers

Organizational & Employee Development

Employers looking to create customized plans for developing and growing their staff members’ careers within their organization are having career conversations with new and longtime workers.

“Every level of organizations should be having these conversations and put them in place as soon as someone joins the team,” said John Winner, CEO of Kizen, a business intelligence software provider in Austin, Texas, and a future of work expert. “We ask these questions in our interview process.”

These talks should not be limited to new employees or employees new to the workforce. Tenured employees can sometimes be overlooked for career development, Winner noted; however, “it’s important to point out new opportunities,” such as serving as mentors or leading cross-functional projects that build on relationships those employees have developed at the company.

“The difference between [talks with] new and seasoned employees is new employees need a little more guiding and examples of different tasks they can take on, different options,” Winner explained. These conversations help them visualize what different roles entail, including the work schedule and the extent of any travel the role involves.

Let’s Talk

The University of Arizona’s (UA’s) HR division created a career conversations initiative in 2017 based on feedback from its 300 employees about the university’s performance management approach.

“What we hear most from employees is that they want a strengths-based way to plan for career and personal growth so they can be the best at what they do,” said Julie M. Forester, SHRM-SCP, leadership coach and senior consultant in UA’s Office of Learning and Organizational Development.

“Career conversations were a way to meet that need that had buy-in from university leadership and support from supervisors,” Forester said.

A resource page the university’s HR division has modified over the years includes guides to assist employees and supervisors through the conversations. Supervisors are expected to schedule talks between April and June to accommodate academic and fiscal timelines, establish clear expectations, and make it easier to track completion rates, according to the university.

The resource page features an 18-minute video that reviews the five-step process, which begins with the employee completing a self-reflection form.

Employees should reflect on—and document—their significant accomplishments, key strengths and goals for the future; determine how these goals align with the university’s values and mission; and outline how they plan to meet these goals. Employees give this self-reflection form to their supervisors prior to the meeting.

The supervisor then reviews the form and provides notes in preparation for the conversation, which can be conducted in person or via video.

“Connecting with someone face-to-face allows for the conversation to be organic and engaging,” the university says in the video. A phone call or e-mail is not considered appropriate.

A guide for conducting conversations with remote employees is available from UA’s HR team.

During the conversation, the supervisor offers constructive feedback and helps the employee identify learning and development opportunities in order to meet the goals set forth in the self-reflection form.

The supervisor documents the talk and later shares the document with the employee to review. These conversations are separate from performance evaluations, Forester said, and the university encourages quarterly check-ins to discuss how the employee’s goals are progressing.

Questions for Self-Reflection

At Kizen, the manager sends the employee a note prior to the career conversation. The note includes questions to reflect upon and assures the employee there is no need to have a prepared answer to each question, Winner said. Questions should focus on the employee’s current role, such as:

  • What projects have you enjoyed working on recently and why?
  • What are your favorite and least favorite parts about your current role?
  • What strengths do you enjoy leveraging or feel aren’t being used?
  • What does growth mean to you?

Kizen employees also are asked to think about the future:

  • What next role or project do you want to take on and why?
  • Where do you see yourself in three, five or 10 years?
  • What new responsibilities or projects in your current role could help you grow toward these goals?
  • Are there learning opportunities you’ve identified that could help you grow?
  • Have you identified mentors/networking opportunities?
  • How can your supervisor help you?


Winner recommended that the supervisor ask the employee what projects, committees or responsibilities would help with career development, as well as whether the employee would like the supervisor to make introductions to certain people who the employee believes could be of help.

Periodic check-ins are important, Winner advised, so supervisors and employees don’t lose track of the employee’s career goals and the efforts being made to achieve them.

By Kathy Gurchiek
Originally Published in SHRM

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