Oct 17, 2022 | Advancing Your Career

10 signs your boss won’t invest in your career development

Q. Dear Zenagos, my boss gives a lot of lip service to career development, but there’s no training, and she’s never available. Does she really care?
She probably does care. (Most bosses actually do.) But that doesn’t mean that she is going to invest in your career development. It’s not easy to sustain a business, so most managers spend their time scrambling to complete their list of tasks. They just don’t have the time or energy to worry about your career development. Here are the top ten signs that your boss won’t invest in your career development (whether or not she cares):
10. The company never articulates its goals.
The first ominous sign about your company’s investment in employee development is that the company never tells its employees what the objectives are for the year. It’s pretty hard to meet a goal that doesn’t exist! If the company’s senior managers are too disorganized to create and articulate goals, then that doesn’t bode well for that same group’s having its act together enough to provide employee training, feedback, and promotion.
9. The company does not have a consistent set of job descriptions.

Every role should have a written job description that describes ideal qualifications, defined roles, and routine responsibilities. It’s pretty easy for a company to create one, since it needed to be written for the original job posting. If your company has never given you a job description, that is a sign that the company does not prioritize communication with and support of employees. You can obviously figure out your job without a job description, and many managers think that maintaining descriptions is a waste of time, but companies that truly value employee development create job descriptions and update them regularly. If you are to progress to the next level in the company, it would be helpful to have a job description of that next job, too!

8. You are not given goals.

Not only should the company’s leaders create annual goals, but also they should cascade those goals down to each department head, who should cascade them down to each employee. Every person in the company should know what the team is trying to achieve and how each member of the team is responsible for a part of that effort. If you don’t know your goals, how can you reach them? Sadly, most companies simply don’t get this done, even though they say they will. It takes a lot of discipline to create and communicate annual goals, and most managers are too busy to follow through.

7. Your boss gives you no public credit for your work.

Weak bosses hoard their employees or are threatened by their success, so they never say anything nice about them to more senior managers. Even strong bosses can simply forget to give credit where it is due in the midst of daily chaos. If you value your development, seek outstanding bosses, who notice when their employees’ work advances the company’s goals and give public recognition.

6. Your boss never gives you extra assignments that would show your growth.
Employees often complain when they are given extra assignments or are asked to take on the work previously done by two people. They mistakenly believe that their boss is unfairly burdening them. (Witness all the recent talk about “quiet quitting.”) However, when your boss gives you extra work, you should see it as a sign that your boss believes that you are promotable and is trying to raise your profile in the company. The bad sign would be if your boss just let you do the same work day after day, over and over again. If your boss doesn’t try to increase your workload, then your boss probably doesn’t believe that you are promotable, or that the company has the resources to promote you.
5. When you ask for a promotion, nobody tells you how to get there.

Employees often believe that bosses give promotions to people they “like” because they are “deserving.” Actually, bosses give promotions to employees they need, in exchange for a belief that they are going to take on harder work in the future. Your boss can’t just give you a promotion. Your boss needs to be able to argue that you are going to handle more work or that you are going to take on more challenging work. If you ask about a promotion, your boss should tell you the ways that you can increase your workload or your skills or your behaviors in order to improve your chances. If your boss doesn’t give you any direction, then your company is most likely not planning to invest in your development.

4. You get reviews, but they have no actionable feedback.
If you get a review that is all happiness and compliments, that feels good, but it doesn’t help you to develop your career. Bosses are afraid to give tough feedback to valuable employees because constructive criticism often causes employees to leave. If you are getting happy reviews that don’t come with raises or promotions, then you are not getting the feedback you need in order to advance your career. Pursue your boss (politely and positively) to give you one or two specific things that you can work on in order to improve. Otherwise, your gaps will persist, and they will hinder your progress more in the future.
3. You never get a review.
Reviews take a lot of time and effort, and they aren’t much fun to deliver. Most bosses avoid doing them if they can. However, if you never get a review, then you are not learning what you need to do in order to develop. If you never get a review, see if you can get your boss to give you some things to work on in order to improve.
2. Your boss never exposes your work to the next level.
If your boss believes that you will go far at the company, she will give you challenging assignments and then make sure that your work is presented to her boss. If you are never asked to prepare work for the next level (even if your boss will present it herself), then that is a sign that your boss is not willing to stick her neck out on your behalf. It’s hard to develop when your boss won’t take a chance on you.
1. Your boss almost never meets with you.
This one may sound ridiculous, but you’d be shocked how many employees almost never meet with their boss. The meeting doesn’t need to be daily, or weekly, or even monthly. It just needs to be predictable and routine enough for the kind of business and work you do. If your boss can’t make regular time to talk with you about work, then your boss is not going to prioritize your career development. Count on it.

The bottom line is that if you want to develop your career, you can’t afford to wait around for your boss and/or your company to invest in you. Don’t waste valuable time in which you could be adding value to your resume. Take charge of your own career development. As a starting point, take a look at our earlier post about how to make your own Career Development Plan.


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