It is likely your manager was weekly or biweekly one on one (1:1) meetings with you. These are the best tool you can use to improve your performance and launch your career. I am sure some of you reading this are thinking “But I dread those things every single week!” I have been there too. Your manager can have the biggest effect on your happiness in your job and despite your feelings about him/her your manager actually has the most potential to help you out.
Why is your manager is important to your career? Well during reviews they have the largest impact on your review and performance rating. In their one on ones with their manager they have the opportunity to highlight your achievements or failures (some junior managers make the mistake of highlighting failures at the wrong time–which is why I recommend people work for more seasoned managers given the choice). In addition, if you want to switch teams or leave the company your manager is the best person to use as a reference (and within the same company will be a reference whether you like it or not). These are some obvious places your manager effects your future, but there are also a bunch of subtler ones, such as which projects you work on and the visibility of those projects. Mentoring and training and other intangible benefits that can help you grow much faster as an employee.
So you get your manager has a big impact on your career. Now the question is how do you utilize them to maximize your growth and opportunity. The easiest thing you can do is solicit feedback. A lot of managers don’t like giving negative criticism. It is a hard thing to do. By asking for it and opening the door for them you are more liking to get useful information back. However, if you ask for it, be prepared to listen. Don’t make excuses or explain anything simply listen and write it down (you should always bring a notebook to your 1:1s so you can remember things you discuss and as well write down any action items your manager might give you). Make your manager feel comfortable giving you feedback–chances are they are more nervous than you are! Once you understand your manager’s perception of your performance and what needs to change or happen differently write it down.
Another question employees should always ask is about their future with the company. If you want to be a manager, make sure your manager understands your aspirations. If you simply want a promotion or better compensation clearly communicate that. There is nothing wrong with being honest and it will help your manager know which battles he/she should be fighting for you. And more importantly your manager will help you understand what you need to achieve to get there. If your promotion cycle or reviews are 6 months away, ask for a set of 1-2 month milestones. Then at the end be proactive and follow up on those milestones. In most companies it is hard to plan more than a couple of months out since priorities change, so adopt your growth plan to your company. And don’t wait for your manager to tell you how you did–ask them. Go back and dissect the projects with your manager. Ask questions like “what would you have done differently?” “tell me at least one thing I could have done better.” Force your manager to give you more feedback. If your manager is just saying you did a good job, then ask what that means. Take the time to understand what your manager considers to come into play for a good job. Was it the hours you worked? The timeliness of your project? Regular status updates? Different aspects manage to different managers and different companies and understanding that will help you be more effective and help your career.
I mentioned earlier that you should bring a notebook to 1:1s. There are lots of advantages to doing this, one is that you can write important things down and make sure you have record of things you discuss (nobody likes telling someone the same thing twice). The other thing is that you can use it as a cheat sheet. Write down questions you want to ask your manager. If you spend a few minutes preparing for your 1:1 you will get more out of it and probably impress your manager with your preparedness. Treat your 1:1s like any other important meeting. And remember your manager is in a leadership position because he/she knew how to interview well (in which case you can learn how to be a better interviewee) or because he/she was promoted (which means you can learn from their previous career path). Everyone has something you can learn from and it is your job to extract that information….