Your 1-on-1 conversations with your manager are some of the most important and productive opportunities for you to improve your career satisfaction and achieve career growth. It’s easy to struggle for a topic of conversation, especially when you are a recent hire and have yet to establish yourself among the team. In this article, I will share with you some tips for preparing for your meeting, the questions I ask during my meetings, and how to promote the most personal growth.
As your week is progressing, take notes of what you may want to ask or discuss with your manager. You may want to confirm some best practices as they arise. Do you understand what to do and why? Does the team need to adopt practices that you feel bring value? You may feel unsure about a decision you made and seek clarity. Was it right, and why or why not? What would your manager suggest you do differently in the future?
Of particular value, note any difficulties you have had with other team members. Use this personal time to air pent up anxieties and angers before they leak through during team meetings and communication. Your manager can filter and anonymize this feedback into a constructive conversation with the third party during their 1-on-1 sessions.
Be able to rank your discussion topics by priority. Some topics may need to wait until following 1-on-1 meetings. Make sure when going into your meeting that what you need (or want most to be) addressed now gets addressed.
Prepare to drive 🚘
When discussing topics of interest to you, be ready to take charge of the direction of the conversation. If your manager gets off topic or misinterprets your question, redirect the conversation back to your intent. This meeting is for you. You decide what is discussed, and — behavior correction aside — you can determine that a topic is not worth your time. You do not need to wait for an eventual point that your manager is making if it is not the point you are wanting to reach. Don’t let a derailed conversation put your goals at risk.
If this conversation-driving behavior feels unnatural in your relationship with your manager, you may become more comfortable by prefacing the conversation with your intent to drive.
Start your meeting by asking your manager if there is anything they want to discuss. It should not be common that the manager wants to drive a specific topic during your 1-on-1. If they do, it may be the advice you need most right now. Make sure they have the time to communicate that topic to you, and that you make time to absorb it. Given that this feedback should be rare and important, start the meeting by deep diving and addressing it before moving on to the topics you have prioritized for yourself.
Take notes on action items and personal growth feedback. Put what you have learned in your meeting in your own words and repeat it back to your manager. You can either do this for each answer your manager provides, or in summary at the end of the meeting. This will both ensure that your comprehension of the answer is correct and that it solidifies in your mind as you leave the session.
Be visible 👁🗨
I never appreciated the value of being seen until I had the tool to ensure it. Many struggle with the reality that your best work often goes unnoticed, that your quality contributions and inventions may be buried under busy work and repetitive tasks. So you increased test reliability by 20% and decreased build complexity by 50%? That task wasn’t assigned in your sprint, so who even knows you did it besides you and the handful of people who reviewed your code? It can’t contribute to your promotion or value if no one is aware of it.
My manager provided this prompt to me, and I try to use it as often as applicable:
I really wish my manager knew ______.
Is there something you wish was known that you don’t feel like is? Bring it up. Make it known. Make sure your manager is aware. You will feel seen, heard, and valued; and your manager will be educated to take your contributions into consideration when considering raises, promotions, and your independent contributions in the future.
Make sure your work priorities are in order. Clarify to what your time should be dedicated. This can go beyond your sprint planning, into bigger picture visions, or what you may want to start developing during your free time. I recommend asking at least once per month where your priorities lie.
Current role 👩🎓
Earlier in your career, you may want to identify blind spots. “How has my performance been as a [job title]?” Make sure you are performing adequately at your current position before attempting to grow for the next one. I recommend asking this question once per 1-on-1 session.
Once you have comfortably performed well at your current position, you can begin focusing on your next step.
Future role 👩🚀
Once I feel as though I am comfortably and reliably performing my current role, I like to “role play” my desired next level. Within Amazon, in order to be promoted, it’s typical to first function as the role you want, demonstrate success at it, habitually ingrain the behavior, and earn trust in your skill set.
Drop the “What do I need to do?” and enter “What am I doing?”
“As a [higher-level employee], how has my performance been since we last spoke?”
For example, “As a senior front end engineer, what should I be doing this next sprint?” Notice, I am not asking what I should be doing for a promotion. I am that promoted level. I have set an expectation and conception of myself that applies mentally to both sides: I am not just trying to be better, thinking about improving; I am functioning as my career goal.
Quarterly questions 🌜
In addition to the above, the following questions are valuable to ask at least once per quarter.
- What are my strengths, and how can I better utilize them?
- What are my areas for growth?
- What is your vision for the team?
- In regards to the long-term vision for the team, what do you expect of me?
- What do you hope we achieve in the next 1–3 years?
- What are your priorities for the team and the project?
- What is the big picture this quarter?
- Where do you see the biggest challenges for our team?
- What are my next-level goals to demonstrate capability, development, and/or Leadership Principles of an [high-level employee]?
If you have any questions or great 1-on-1 meeting suggestions, please leave them in the comments below.