Questions Your Clients Need to Ask About Career Growth
By Leigh Branham
Limited career opportunity is a major driver of career dissatisfaction and is high on the list of seven major reasons people quit jobs, according to an analysis of 21,000 post-exit interviews (Branham, 2012). Because managers often lack competency in developing their direct reports, many workers leave their current employer, believing that is the only available path to career advancement.
Four basic career-related reasons for leaving an employer were evident in the verbatim comments included in the post-exit surveys cited above:
- Unclear career path
- Lack of opportunity to learn or get training
- Limited or too-slow career advancement
- Organization not hiring from within
When the employee decides to leave, their job search goal is often to get a new a job as quickly as possible to get away from an unpleasant or dead-end situation. Many job candidates get so excited about the prospect of getting a job offer that they fail to do enough homework to find out if one or more of these basic career-related reasons may block their success at their next employer, as emphasized in the book, Don’t Take That Job ‘til You Read This Book: 9 Lenses to Look Through Before You Leap (Branham & Hirschfeld, 2023).
As their coach and counselor, you can help them look before they leap by suggesting they ask relevant questions before, as well as during, the job search process (through online research, networking with current or former employees, and resources such as Glassdoor.com, LinkedIn, and others). The following includes lists of questions that align with the four basic career-related reasons listed above. It is important not to overwhelm interviewers with too many questions, so be sure to advise your clients to select the ones that are most important to them.
Possible Career Paths
One of the top predictors of career success and satisfaction is the ability for an employee to see their future for themselves.
- What are the opportunities for career growth for this position?
- Is there a typical career path or ladder? If so, is it available for me?
- What was your path into your current position?
- How have others progressed from this position within the organization?
- Is there a requirement that employees stay in their jobs for a set period before moving on to a different job?
Limited or Too-Slow Career Advancement
In interviews, your clients should be careful not to ask too many questions about prospects for promotions lest they come across as not sufficiently interested in the current role. So again, doing research prior to the interview is advised. Regardless of how each person defines career advancement, there are questions that are reasonable to ask:
- What specific skills are needed to progress to the next level?
- Are there multiple ways for an employee to grow, which would include promotions but could be lateral moves or growth in the current role?
- Are managers trained to have ongoing career conversations with employees?
- Can the employer provide an example of someone who moved laterally into a position of more responsibility (like an engineer moving into a training team)?
- What are the long-range opportunities? Is the function or department growing?
- How is the company performing and is their financial status secure?
- How does the organization keep employees informed about its strategy and prospects for growth?
Lack of Opportunity to Learn or Get Training
Job seekers want the potential employer to tell them what skills are needed and what support opportunities are offered, otherwise they do not want to work for that company. According to one study, 29% of workers "don't feel optimistic about the opportunities they have for training, upskilling or learning new skills" (Bergeron, 2022, para. 17). Still, U.S. companies averaged 62+ hours of training per employee in 2022 (Freifeld, 2022).
Regardless of what kind of resources and support for training the employer offers, employees are responsible for taking the initiative to pursue their own learning and development, as well as asking the right questions.
Job candidates should ask themselves:
- Will the next job call on them to use the areas of expertise they are enthusiastic about?
- Is the employer’s philosophy of employee development thoughtful and intentional or haphazard and sink-or-swim?
- Does the employer see employees as assets to be taken care of and invested in or just overhead expenses to be relentlessly supervised?
Job candidates should ask interviewers:
- Are “stretch assignments” common as a way of helping employees learn and grow?
- Does the organization provide tuition reimbursement or pay for external training that enhances effectiveness in the job or help prepare for future positions?
- Do they have an effective onboarding and initial training process?
- How much training do they typically provide in a typical year?
- Are managers expected to work with employees to develop a yearly individual development plan (IDP)?
- How much training is self-paced online? in-person? experiential assignments? peer-to-peer?
- Do they offer collaborative intranet capability such as real-time bulletin boards and employee resource groups that allow employees to share knowledge?
- Do they reimburse for work-related college courses completed onsite or through eLearning?
- Do they pay for employees to attend industry conferences?
- Do they have a mentoring program or process?
Organization Not Hiring from Within
Some employers may have a reputation for seeking first to hire from the outside rather than considering internal candidates as their first option. Coach your clients to find out if the employer promotes from within and ask these additional questions:
- Are all jobs posted internally for all to see before being advertised externally?
- Are internal candidates interviewed before outside candidates?
- Are employee evaluations conducted to identify high potential employees?
- Does the organization allow, and even encourage, lateral moves?
- Does the hiring manager allow employees to move on to other positions?
Keys to Career Growth
Career growth is important to all your clients, but other concerns may be just as important or more so. Any one of the following may be a job seeker’s top priority–getting feedback/coaching, feeling valued/recognized, joining a healthy non-toxic team culture that allows for a personal life, and senior leaders who are trustworthy, caring, and competent. Your clients will benefit from your help in clarifying their main criteria for their next employer.
Bergeron, P. (2022). Employees want additional opportunities for career, skills development. SHRM. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/organizational-and-employee-development/pages/employees-fear-employers-dont-offer-enough-career-skills-development.aspx
Branham, L. (2012). The 7 hidden reasons employees leave (2nd ed.). AMACOM Books.
Branham, L., & Hirschfeld, M. (2023). Don’t take that job ‘til you read this book: 9 lenses to look through before you leap. Independently Published.
Freifeld, L. (2022). 2022 training industry report. Training Magazine. https://trainingmag.com/2022-training-industry-report/
Leigh Branham, M.A., M.Ed, is Founder/Managing Principal of Keeping the People, Inc. and speaks frequently on the topics of employee engagement and retention. He is co-author of the newly released Don’t Take That Job ‘til You Read This Book: 9 Lenses to Look Through Before You Leap which lists questions for each of the seven reasons job seekers most often quit their jobs (available on Amazon/Kindle) and The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act Before It’s Too Late (McGraw-Hill, 2nd edition). He can be reached at LB@keepingthepeople.com or through his website, www.keepingthepeople.com