Is Your Manager Preparing You for the Next Career Step?

By Kyra Sutton October 4, 2019
Is Your Manager Preparing You for the Next Career Step?


Dear Early-Career Employee,

I value your contributions, hard work, determination and persistence, even in the face of challenges. Next month, I am giving you a bonus of $5,000 in recognition of your contributions.


Your Manager

Early-career employees: Have you received an e-mail or, better yet, a text with this message recently? Ever?

It's great to be rewarded for your efforts. Recognition is something almost everyone values. And hopefully, you will have a chance to work for a manager who not only recognizes the good work you do now, but also is preparing you for the next stage in your career. The best managers will invest their time in your development, give you stretch opportunities and enable you to reach your full potential.

Here are six examples of how managers prepare employees for future opportunities. Look for these traits in your current manager, and remember to exhibit them when you are promoted to a management position.

1. Your manager wants your opinion or recommendation. A manager who is preparing you for future roles knows the importance of leaders who come to the table with an informed perspective. They will give you chances to share your ideas in various settings (e.g., during one-on-one talks, team meetings or presentations). When your manager asks for a recommendation, give it and be confident!

2. Your manager helps you build relationships. A leader's role is not to do the work but to lead others in the organization to get things done. Leaders have to rely on employees who are not their direct reports, so building relationships is essential.

If your manager is preparing you for a leadership role, these are the people with whom he or she can help you develop relationships:

Senior leaders: Having conversations with senior leaders gives you a chance to understand how they think and what they care about relative to their scope of responsibility. They will, most likely, ask you questions that will make you think on your feet. The senior leader is also in an excellent position to mentor you.

A recent survey conducted by i4cp identified mentoring from senior leaders as the second most effective way of developing early-career, high-potential talent. If your manager is invested in your success, expect to be meeting with senior leaders.

One-up manager: If a manager believes in your capabilities, he or she wants you to have exposure around the company. That includes getting to know your manager's manager, or your one-up manager. Two of the best ways to interact with your boss's boss are suggesting new ideas and volunteering to join a committee he or she leads.

Key stakeholders: Your job may include working with people outside your immediate team. A manager focused on developing early-career talent will introduce you to these people and help you understand the importance of being connected to each person.

3. Your manager makes you the face of the project. Part of becoming and being an effective leader is showing people that you have expertise in a specific area. To help you do that, your manager may identify a project and ask you to take the lead. You will become the face of the initiative, and your manager will "lead from behind."

Your manager may ask you to take over project tasks, such as:

  • Writing all project-related communication.
  • Speaking to stakeholders about the initiative.
  • Developing the project plan and objectives.
  • Presenting project updates.
  • Conducting meetings.

Meanwhile, the manager will be in the background helping you deliver measurable outcomes for the project.  Further, he or she will be a resource and support if you face challenges.

4. Your manager encourages you to seek out feedback. Gallup reports that only 15 percent of Millennials proactively ask for feedback. Feedback is how you find out what you're doing right and what you're doing wrong. Your manager may encourage you to gather input from multiple stakeholders, perhaps through a 360 assessment, which is a tool to identify your strengths and development opportunities.

Getting feedback from multiple people helps you understand what you need to start, stop and continue doing.

5. Your manager teaches you how to manage and prepare a budget. The American Management Association (AMA) identified financial skills as one of the six most critical skills all leaders should have in order to be successful in their role.

A manager who is focused on development will give you budgetary responsibilities. This may include reviewing the current budget with you, giving you a small budget to manage (e.g., for a specific project), or asking you to help forecast the budget for the coming year.

6. Your manager gives you opportunities to learn continuously and hands-on. Learning on the job may come in different ways, such as being given a stretch assignment. Sometimes called a soft promotion, a stretch assignment asks employees to complete a project outside of their day-to-day responsibilities. For example, if you are the HR coordinator, your manager may ask you to organize a fundraising event for the HR department.

You need preparation, early in your career, before you take on a leadership role. Taking on a leadership role requires considerable training. Consider yourself fortunate if you have a manager who is committed to developing early-career talent, and take full advantage of any opportunities he or she offers.

Kyra Sutton, Ph.D., is a faculty member at Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations in New Brunswick, N.J., where she teaches courses in training and development, as well as in staffing and managing the 21st century workforce. She also has served in lead HR roles at Pitney Bowes and Assurant.


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