Career Planning: Resources for Managers & Supervisors

As a supervisor or manager at Cal, you play a key role in the success of the university by helping to develop the workforce of the future. Each individual's career is a personal, lifelong quest for satisfaction and accomplishment, for learning and growth, for the security of an income, and for self-expression.

Your employees look to you for guidance and support in their career development efforts. In helping them develop this important aspect of their lives, you are contributing to their effectiveness, wellbeing, and job satisfaction. You are also contributing to their improved performance on the job because proper attention to an employee's career development is often associated with enhanced productivity and better teamwork.

Studies conducted by the Corporate Executive Board show there is a 25% improvement in employee performance when their managers and supervisors effectively focus on employee development. As you become more effective at employee development, your employees are 40% more likely to stay with the organization compared to employees of less effective managers, are 30% more committed to the organization, and are 38% more satisfied in their jobs.

In addition, coaching your employees for career and professional development leads to a strong reputation for you as someone who supports development and cares about the people who work for you. You will become a supervisor or manager-of-choice and will attract the best people to work for you. When your employees expand their contribution to your division, department, group, or work team, they are expanding your ability to get your job done and meet your own goals. Their development is your development.

Career Development Conversations

Oftentimes, supervisors and managers initiate conversations with employees only because there is a problem. Far less often, supervisors and managers initiate conversations with employees when there isn't a problem. Holding career conversations with employees can help alleviate some of the need to address employee problems and is much more enjoyable.

Career conversations are much less tension-filled and easier because they start from strengths, not deficits. The following are examples of questions you can use in a career conversation with your employee. These questions are organized according to what phase of the career development model is most relevant for your employee.


  • Tell me about the projects you have done that you’re proud of.
  • What activities do you engage in on your job that get you the most excited or that are the most interesting to you?
  • Tell me about when you've felt like you had a "great day at work." What happened that day?
  • What are the conditions under which you do your best work?
  • What do you think your talents and skills are? Let me tell you what I think differentiates you from others and what value I believe you bring to the university.
  • What are your short-term and long-term career goals?
  • What values are important to you? Do your values get to show up at work?

Career Awareness

  • Do you know what our unit's goals are for the year? If not, let me share those with you so that you can align your individual goals with those of our unit.
  • What projects, committees, or other responsibilities do you think you'd like to be part of in order to develop your career?
  • Who are the people I know that could be helpful to you? Let me introduce you to them.

Goal Setting

  • What kind of career development plan do you have? I can show you mine and also forward the template for a plan  (PDF) that I'd like you to work on and complete before our next meeting.

Skill Development

  • What developmental experiences might help you progress toward career goals?
  • What education or training might help you in your employee progress?
  • How can I help you get ready to do well in this project/activity we’ve selected for you?
  • Career Management
  • Let's set up a follow-up meeting schedule so that we are checking in on your career development progress regularly.

Career Mentoring Tips

Share what you can about your career path and what you've learned along the way. Be open to questions the employee may have about your experiences. Recommend your employees participate in Cal's Introduction to Career Development Planning Workshop. Meet regularly to help them develop, refine, and periodically re-evaluate their career action plan. Continually use coaching skills: ask questions, listen, and summarize what you hear to help the employee reach appropriate conclusions for next actions.

Keep the focus of these conversations on the employee. This is his/her career and his/her life. Collaborate on finding solutions, sharing resources, and suggesting development experiences, but let the employee take the lead on creating and following through with their plan. See your role as one of affirming your belief that developing his/her career is important to her, to you, and to the organization by holding regular check-in conversations on this topic. When you check-in regularly with your supervisee, it's not for giving "approval" of the plan you and she/he have put together. Rather, the plan can be used to generate conversation and coaching opportunities.

Download a Career Planning Conversation Guide  (PDF) that provides questions you can ask your employees to ensure you have a firm understanding of their career aspirations.

Download this handout, Career Conversation Topics for Managers  (PDF) for a model to guide your own career conversations with your manager.