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How to improve the quality of career conversations

25 March 2020, by Lesley Vanleke
  • #Career Discovery Trajectory
  • #Career Fitness Profiler
  • #talent development

Employees expect a custom approach when it comes to their careers. In the current employability context, emphasis has shifted from stability and loyalty to employability and performance. If retention and high levels of engagement are the aim, organizations must provide regular career conversations. How can we make sure that these extensive efforts pay off?

Career conversations lack quality

Career conversations are being conducted in many organizations. However, it is not always the case that these conversations between managers and employees are high quality. There are a number of reasons why things can go wrong:

  • A number of employees simply cannot answer questions about what it is they truly want from their careers. For some people, this is because they have no clue about what intrinsically motivates them. Others may abide by traditional ideas about what career success is, namely climbing the hierarchical ladder and obtaining status. Research indicates this is not a very sustainable way to approach career success (Ryan & Deci, 1985).
  • Not all managers are coaches who are capable of helping people reach a clear view on their mission and vision for their careers. Career coaching is a real skill, it usually takes a professional career coach to get to the bottom of what subjective career success truly means for a specific individual.
  • Employees do not share all their career aspirations with their manager. Even if employees do know what they are looking for, it is not always a given that they will tell their manager. Imagine an employee who envisions becoming an independent. Will this employee  openly share this with his or her manager?
  • Employees often have the wrong kind of expectations when it comes to career conversations. They may think along the lines of: “The manager or the organization is now aware of what I want, they will now make it happen.” This is often the reason for managers to shy away from conducting career conversations. They are fearful of finding the monkey on their shoulder, instead of on the shoulder of the employee.

What is the alternative?

I think that the question managers need to ask in career conversations should no longer be: “In what kind of job do you see yourself in a couple of years? or What is it you want to do? Or even what competences would you like to develop over a short-term period?” The reason is that these questions support the traditional talent culture in which the organization takes care of careers. Instead the culture should put the emphasis on career skills. (read more)

The better question is “How self-directed are you in your career? And What can I do as a manager to support you in developing your career skills?”

Here are some reasons why:

  • Careers can no longer be managed or planned, only facilitated.
  • Developing career skills is certainly possible. We know exactly what self-management in the career is, how we can measure it and how it can be developed (Briscoe & Hall, 2006;  Sels & Verbruggen 2008).
  • Employees react well to the explanation of what it takes to get what they want out of their careers. The model or career skills and the visualisation we have developed at TalentLogiQs truly helps people on board.
  • Career skills are a predictor of many good things for both the individual and the organization. Individuals gain more subjective career success, they have a buffer against burn-out, are more agile, adapt to insecure situations better, are being pushed forward for leadership positions and so on. The list of positive effects is very long (Gubler, 2014).

How to go about it?

What if you were to release managers from the traditional approach for career conversations? What if you asked managers to coach for the development of career skills?

  • Train managers so they understand the simple and easy model of careers skills and can coach for the development of career skills.
  • Explain to employees how your company looks at a career, what the career deal is they can expect, and that you expect them to develop their career skills (De Vos, 2016).
  • Use evidence-based tools to measure career skills and distribute the personal results to individual employees.
  • Encourage employees to discuss their results with their managers.

As a result, managers might actually make a real difference when conducting career conversations.

Contact us

if you want to learn more about the Career Fitness Profiler and the Career Discovery Trajectory for the development of self-management and impact your talent culture.


Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (1985) Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

Briscoe, J. P., & Hall, D. T. (2006). The interplay of boundaryless and protean careers: Combinations and implications. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 69(1), 4-18.

Verbruggen, M & Sels, L. (2008) Social-Cognitive Factors Affecting Clients’ Career and Life Satisfaction After Counseling. Journal of career assessment.

Martin Gubler, John Arnold & Crispin Coombs. Reassessing the protean career concept: Empirical findings, conceptual components, and measurement. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 35, S23–S40 (2014).

De Vos, A. (2016). Loopbanen in beweging. Leuven: Acco.


About the author

Lesley Vanleke

Lesley Vanleke holds over 20 years of experience in HR. In 2014 she co-founded TalentLogiQS, where she searches to understand all different aspects of customers’ challenges and needs. She strives to be a sounding board and bring about connections that deliver added value for all parties concerned.