Dreading Those Career Conversations?

January brings both the irresistible urge for self-improvement, and the need to prepare for career conversations between boss and employee. Whichever side you are on in those meetings, it is tough to know how to prepare, and how to focus. Having a simple framework and some key questions can help both parties have productive meetings, and set achievable goals. If you don’t have required career development meetings, this same framework can help you do your 2021 career tune up.

Use the SPUR Framework

In training managers to get to the heart of the career conversation, we have them focus on identifying which of four areas most urgently need exploration. For individuals thinking about what’s next or what they need to develop, these areas are the same:

  • Self-assessment: Gaining clarity on skills, aspirations, and motivators
  • Perceptions: Uncovering and taking more control of personal brand and reputation
  • Uncovering connections: identifying allies
  • Reality testing: Mapping out goals, time frames, and trying out the ideas in the market

The difference is that as an employee, you may only choose to share part of your planning with your managers, since some of your goals may not be relevant to your company/role, or could put you at risk (e.g., planning for a move that does not exist at your company).

Ask Key Questions

As a manager, you can listen to employees’ presenting issues, and quickly test with selected questions, listening for where they are stuck, so you know where to focus first. This allows you to offer appropriate insights, point employees to resources, and create targeted action plans that have the highest leverage in moving them forward.

As an employee, you can prepare using these same questions, and decide who can best help you find the answers, including your boss:

Questions to Ask Yourself


Clarifying Skills, Aspirations,


.How well does your current role match your talents and interests?

.What aspects of your work would you put at the top of the list of things you do well and enjoy? What’s missing/isn’t satisfying?

.What do you want to learn more about? What skills would you like to develop? How would developing these skills benefit the company and its business objectives?

.What would career success look like for you now? What do you want to achieve in the next two to three year timeframe?


Understanding how you are perceived; reputation & brand

.What are you known for? What do people rely on you for?

.What feedback have you had from others/your manager?

.What do you want to be known for?

.What skills do your manager and colleagues value most?

.What can be difficult about working with you?

.Are there key relationships you need to develop/repair?

Uncovering connections

Building your network, internal connections

.What areas of the business do you want to learn more about?

.With whom do you want to meet to uncover insights?

.What individuals/groups can help support your goals?

.Where are you hitting roadblocks in networking?

.Have you had/do you have mentor(s), people who have assisted you in your career to date?

.How connected are you to others in your field? (Professional organizations? Colleagues? Networking groups?)

Reality testing

Mapping out goals, time frames, and how to try out ideas

.What have you tried already? What happened?

.What have you been trying to achieve?

.What are possible development opportunities?

.What are immediate next steps you can take?

Create a Plan You Can Execute

We often know what to do, but don’t take action, neither in our role as managers, nor for ourselves. A clear plan can help us get there, especially with identified check in points. It’s worth a reminder to:

  • Identify actions you are (both) willing to commit to in order to achieve the goals
  • Strategize potential roadblocks and ways around them
  • Specify support needed and from whom
  • Determine specific, measurable goals, checkpoints, and timeframes

With both sides prepared, the career conversations can be productive, and SPUR you to action!

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