Use a career ladder for growth conversations

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A “growth conversation” is a talk with your manager about how to get promoted. It might not be explained that way, but don’t be fooled.

I’ve written this for non-managers. But if you’re a manager, use this technique and your team will love you for it!

I’ve found that a lot of these talks wind up muddy and subjective. It’s easy to come out of them without actionable steps or with generic advice.

You can get more out of these talks if you ground them with a career ladder, sometimes called a title matrix. This is a table or document showing expectations in different categories for each engineering level or title.

Here’s a D&D themed example, shared by Rent the Runway:

career ladder

If your company has a career ladder, use it. If not, find one you like on the Internet and tell your manager you want to use it to guide a conversation.

Go through the career ladder with your manager.

Look at the level above your current one. (If you’re using an external ladder, start off agreeing on which level on the ladder best corresponds to your current role.)

For every item, ask these questions:

  • Where do you see me on this item?
  • What am I missing, specifically?
  • What steps can I take to develop or demonstrate it?
  • What support will I need to do that?

Some answers will be more detailed than others and that’s okay. You probably can’t work on everything simultaneously, so as long as you have a few areas with good detail, you’ve got something useful from the conversation.

This approach to growth conversations has two big benefits for you:

  • It makes your desire to reach the next level impossible to ignore. It changes the conversation from “how am I doing today” to “where am I going in the future”?

  • It gives actionable steps that both you and your manager are agreeing to do. If either of you aren’t following through, you can talk about it.

I wrote ‘Best career advice: ask for feedback’ about the importance of not waiting for managers to bring feedback to you. After you agree on a growth plan, review it periodically with your manager to check your progress.

Good luck!

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