Career conversation examples: 5 responses and how to deal with them

A career conversation with one of your team members can be a daunting experience, especially if you’re not sure what to expect.

We’ve pulled together these common career conversation examples so you’re ready for the different responses that you may face.

Five career conversation examples

Each of these career conversation examples features a different scenario that you may have to deal with. We provide the opening exchange and further guidance on how to deal with the conversation.

1. Your team member has unrealistic expectations about possible next roles

In this example your team member is overly ambitious and expects to move into a role that is too senior for their skills and experience.

This is what you might hear:

I’m confident that I’m really to be promoted to the next role, when will it be available?

This is how you should respond:

It’s great that you’re confident, let’s go through the requirements of the role in more detail, look at your skills and experience, and check that everything is in place.

Explore their understanding of the differences between the current role and the expected role, highlight the scale of the differences and guide them to more realistic options.

Make sure that the conversation doesn’t become personal or judgmental. Use phrases like: “the role you’ve mentioned requires skills and experience of …”.

Advise them that there will likely be better qualified candidates for the role.

Also, make sure you’re prepared (and have shared) any job descriptions, competency frameworks, or other resources that can be used as independent reference sources to help you manage the conversation.

2. Your team member is skeptical about career opportunities at your company

Some of your team may be skeptical about whether there are suitable career opportunities at your company and therefore are not interested in a career conversation.

This is what you might hear:

I can’t see the point of this, there aren’t any vacancies at the moment anyway.

This is how you should respond:

This is to help you plan your career, so you’re ready to make a move when there are vacancies.

Acknowledge that career opportunities will depend on many factors (eg: business growth, staff turnover, etc) and that opportunities to move into new roles will depend on suitable openings becoming available.

Explain that if they have career goals it is much better that they pro-actively plan for their own development, so that you know their interests and can involve them as early as possible when opportunities emerge.

And if you wish, you can ask if they’d like to continue (there’s no value having a career conversation with someone who doesn’t want to have the conversation!).

3. Your team member expects training to meet all their development needs

Some of your team may be impatient to make progress and expect you to provide training to meet all their development needs.

This is what you might hear:

When will you send me for training to prepare me for my promotion?

This is how you should respond:

Training programs are only a small part of the solution, most of your development activities will be in the workplace.

Make it clear to them that formal training is only part of the solution, most of their development activities will be in the workplace, for example: involvement in leading appropriate projects, taking on additional responsibilities, or mentoring support.

As a result, it’s necessary to match their development needs to opportunities in the business. This may take time, but this career conversation will ensure that you’re aware and looking for appropriate opportunities.

4. Your team member is not clear about their career goals and expects to be told what to do

This is what you may hear:

I really don’t know what my career goals are, what would you advise?

This is how you should respond:

I can give you some broad advice, and share my views on potential growth areas in the industry and in the company. However, you’re responsible for your career, you have to make the decisions.

Make it clear that they are responsible for their own career.

If appropriate, coach them on their career goals, or alternatively ask them what further support they need. How to mentor someone who doesn’t have clear career goals.

Remember, you are responsible for providing support, but you cannot make career decisions for your team members.

5. Your team member is happy in their current role and has no further career interests

This is what you might hear:

I’m not ambitious, I don’t have any development needs, I just want to stay in my current role.

This is how you should respond:

Not everyone wants to be the CEO, we need people who are happy with their current role too. However, even within your current role you’re expected to continue to develop and improve your performance.

Acknowledge that ‘being happy in current role’ is perfectly acceptable.

Also, make it clear that even within their current role they are expected to continue to develop (and improve performance).

This can be a difficult conversation with some people, especially people who are overly comfortable in their current role and resistant to change.

Take the time to explain to them that the world of work is constantly changing: new technology, changing customer expectations, increased competition, and many other factors are driving change.

Continue with the development conversation in the context of the current role.

In Summary

These 5 career conversation examples will help you prepare for discussions with your team. Here are the key points you need to keep in mind:

  • If your team member has unrealistically high expectations go through the requirements of the new role in detail and explore their skills and experience relative to these requirements. Guide them to more realistic options.
  • If your team member is skeptical about career opportunities in your company, explain that this conversation is about helping them prepare, so they’re ready when opportunities do arrive.
  • If your team member expects training for all of their development needs, explain that most of their development opportunities will be in the workplace.
  • If your team member asks you for advice regarding their career, make it clear that they are responsible for their own career, your role is to provide support.
  • If your team member is happy in their current role you can acknowledge that this is perfectly acceptable. However, you also should make it clear that even in their current role they’re expected to continually develop and improve their performance.

Prepare for your meetings with these career conversation examples in mind and you’ll be ready for any response.

These career conversation tips will help you too!

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