Asking for professional development in the workplace


I thought I’d share an email from a past coworker, who we’ll call Samantha, on her question about  professional development at her current workplace.

“Lately my boss asked me which areas I would like to grow and develop in. He approached me twice already, but I didn’t say anything except ‘thank you’. I know my supervisor will transition to another role and may move her office on another floor. It might be a good chance for me to apply to her current role if it really does open up, but I’m not sure how to present my interests to my boss…. Could you help to advise me on this?”

Unfortunately for Samantha, her polite “thank you” must have come across as her shrugging off her manager and that she wasn’t interested in growing within the organization or department. Even with her manager asking a second time, Samantha still didn’t change her response.

Though I’m not her current manager, I know from my own experience I most likely will not offer future opportunities for development a third time. For me to consider training or development, I would need the person to take the initiative and approach me. And if they did, I’d like to know what changed and if they truly want to contribute to the company or just want the training to get a new job with a different company.

I’m a strong believer that growth and development of employees are good for the organization as well as the individual. Training, whether it is formal training in classes, hands-on training or creating opportunities to use new skills benefit the company. I’m sure Samantha’s manager was thinking the same.

So, how should Samantha have answered her boss’ question?

Had Samantha said “I’m interested in getting more into a leadership role. I’d like to develop my skills in …..”, it would have created a much different impression. It would demonstrate Samantha’s initiative, her desire to stay within the company and also awareness of her own potential and confidence. It would have also indicated that Samantha wants to be considered for future positions in the organization.

To do that, Samantha should know what she wants to develop. Based on Samantha’s email, I’m guessing she wants to move up within the organization. She should know the qualifications required for this job and know what skills she is missing. This will allow her to have a better discussion on areas of growth. She could also ask for feedback or suggestions on her current work performance and skills and how to develop them. This does not necessarily have to be a formal performance review but could be a simple discussion addressing the manager’s question.

Ok, now that Samantha has replied with only “Thank you”, what should she do now?

She should try to set up a meeting with her manager, telling him that she had time to seriously think about the question. Since Samantha missed the opportunity, Samantha should make sure she is well prepared since she is now requesting the meeting.

Samantha told me that she is going to think about the skills she would like to develop and will set up a meeting with her manager. Hopefully he will be open in giving her a third chance to share her ideas of her growth and development.

Have you had such opportunities by your manager or supervisors? How did you handle it? I’d love to hear your experience!

Jennifer4About the Author: Jennifer York is the manager of the Job Options BC program in Vancouver, Surrey and Port Coquitlam for ISSofBC. While working as an employment counsellor, she facilitated and coached immigrants, professionals and students in their job search, both in group and individualized sessions. Please click here for information on ISSofBC’s career services.


36 thoughts on “Asking for professional development in the workplace”

  1. If I were to say my own experience,I did not wait my manager to ask me or to suggest me of my career growing, it was me who let him understand my professional interest.
    In my opinion,Samantha had had a great opportunity and she should had taken advantage of his boss willingness in promoting her.

  2. I think this situation can happen for all of us and we can’t say that we strongly wont behave like Samantha. We are from different countries and we have different cultural backgrounds. Obviously, for working in a place beyond our countries we need to be aware of workplace environment. Although it’s necessary but it’s not enough! A big change should happen in our behaviors and that’s the most difficult part. Sometimes we know the rules but uncautiously we behave like what we used to it.

  3. I would say to Samantha that try to develop your self-confidence all the time. It is not a secret that self-confidence is one of the most powerful characteristics of successful people. It is very important in any place or circumstance. feeling confident has a crucial role on our way up the career ladder. Opportunities are hidden everywhere, and people who see them are the one who get promotion in their workplace. It is essential for everyone to learn and grow by challenging themselves. It is better to be prepared for an opportunity by developing our knowledge and awareness. As soon as you see a chance to use the acquired competence and opportunity, go ahead and do that.

  4. If I were Samantha, I would really show up my interest and willingness to get promoted and take new challenges as a supervisor. It’s always required to ask the manager about the feedback and areas where it should be improved and also I will request if I need any training and improvement in any areas. We have to show the desire and attitude towards the work improvement and opportunities at the workplace.

  5. If I were Samantha, I would show my interest to develop my skills and apply for positions that might be opened in future.
    And also these are good chances that you can talk about career plan with your manager. So saying just thank you in this situation is like using not your opportunity to get promoted.


  6. This kind of situation which in it a manager suggest promotion to an employer is totally new for me. I think if I were in Samantha’s situation, I probably do the same! In the country that I came from you have to fight hard for promotion and you have to have so many good relationships with the upper managers.

  7. If I were in that situation, I would ask the manager if it were possible to give me another chance and if the answer were positive, I would ask for a meeting with him or her. To capitalize on this meeting, I would investigate the position, the necessary skills, and the list of duties. Using this in-depth information and my skills, I might prepare a sales pitch and apply it at the most appropriate time in the meeting. To hog the limelight, I would try to show the manager that I know a lot about the position and I’m developing my skills and abilities to accept more responsibilities in the organization.

  8. I never had such opportunities by my manager but when I’m working in a company I always know what I want to do next and I focus on what I have to learn or to improve to reach the next step.

  9. I do totally agree that she needs to talk to her manager and asking for a meeting in which she needs to appear very well prepared!
    I think many of us has such regrets in our career history when we were too shy to ask for what we want and the supervisors didn’t think we are shy but thought we are not interested.
    As a newcomer I have recently learned in the Canadian workplace you should be frank and show interest in getting promotions; which is not very common in the culture I come from.

  10. I think you lost the opportunity to be promoted. If, it is not to late, I would like to suggest you the following tips. First be ready to learn from your experience in your current job. Second be ready and prepared for the challenged. in addition, You must be proactive, expressing no only thanks but showing a real interest about your desire to be promoted.Finally,you must be involved in a research in order to improve your current skills and do the task at least in the same level or in a high level do it for your supervisor.

    Good Luck


  11. I had an experience regarding the promotion at my previous company. I took a parental leave for a year in the preceding year of the promotion period. In order to get promoted, there are few conditions that we have to pass. Even though I was on a parental leave, I asked to my team leader that I want to apply and take the essential courses for promotion. He approved my request and I could satisfy all conditions. Fortunately, I could get promoted after the reinstation. It was really an exceptional case.

  12. This story tell us how important EQ is in people’s career. IQ helps people to learn skills. It only helps people to be a good engineer. EQ leads people to a leader. If you are not satisfied to be just a engineer, remember to show your passion and positive aspects to your supervisor at the right time. Opportunity seldom hits your head. You must hold out a hand and grab it.

  13. My previous development experiences in the workplace where actually mandatory, so I didn’t have a choice but to complete the courses and obtain the certifications (in certain cases). Which was Ok to acquire more knowledge in certain areas, but it definitely would have been nice to be asked about the areas that I wanted to improve or develop, like it was Samantha’s case. From what I’ve read, I think the Canadian workplace gives an important place to self-development and growth and that’s something very valuable. In Samantha’s case, I would have definitely thought about the skills I felt I needed to improve and also I would have asked for feedback to choose some areas of improvement to work on, in order to be more prepared when the opportunity to applying for a supervisory role arrived.

  14. This story is very interesting. If I were Samantha, I would be more proactive. I would show my ability through daily work and communication. When one opportunity appears, I will not hesitate and express my own idea directly to the supervisor.

  15. While I am reading this article, I strongly realize Samantha is a reflection of myself. I am a good worker who is willing to learn and take more responsibilities. I have ambitions but don’t have the confidence to speak it out; as a result, I stayed in one position for a long time and switched my jobs around. For a long time, I believed taking initiatives and speaking up ideas only requires strong self-confidence, and it didn’t affect someone’s work performance. Now I know I feel the seriousness of them.
    Speaking up your needs and ideas are very important. They will let your employer know your expectations and the direction to develop your skills. Moreover, if you never speak up anything or have any opinions about things, you employer will doubt your loyalty and think you don’t really want to devote yourself into the company.

  16. Interesting situation. I had different experiences. Here in Canada, I think employers are more open to hearing the staff feedback. In my experience, I always had the opportunity to say that I wanted to grow, the companies paid for courses and gave me promotions or a better salary. To be honest, as a millenium I value more a balanced work and personal life time than bonus or salary. I believe that an open conversation since the begining is essential to have a good relationship with your supervisor. Then, you both will feel comfortable in talking about growing, better salary or time off.

  17. I have always believed that identification with the core values of a company is the key “skill” one has to show in order to grow with it.
    It’s no difficult for an experienced manager to discover when a particular worker has no only the talent but the attitude to take new challenges into the corporation.
    Workers should try to demonstrate initiative to improve his skills even before they are offered opportunities to do that.
    Links with a company or corporation will be always more solid if this organization has invested in your education or professional improvement. You become a value for an organization that has believed in your potential. If for any reason you stop working for that company, you will have acquired not only experience but also knowledge, and giving up to that, it’s nowadays, quite reckless.

  18. Samantha hasn’t loose her chance, maybe she wasn’t clear with her manager saying just thank you but at least she didn’t say I’m not interested in professional development.
    The suggestion about making an appointment with her manager to talk again about it is great now she has a new chance to show her genuine interest for grow up in the company and to prepare well what to say to get the option.

  19. Interesting article. Definitely helpful for the future work experience. It has not yet happen to me to have an opportunity to upgrade my skills at work, but I believe there is going to be more and more opportunities like that. I think that because government of BC started to offer programs and financial support for employers and employees to learn new skills or to have lower taxes when employing apprentice etc. More information can be found here: http://engage.gov.bc.ca/bcjobsplan/

  20. It’s possible for everyone that make a mistake in a situation. Especially when we don’t have enough experience about a new subject. But what really counts is correcting the mistake as soon as possible. Although Samantha had a delay in correcting her mistake in terms of letting her manager know about her request, she did it at last.
    Another positive aspect about Samantha is her consulting to someone else. Because it seems that she didn’t know what to do in that situation.

  21. In my opinion, Samantha has lost her chance of promotion in her company. This might cause by her culture since in some cultures that people do not really show their feeling or thinking directly by speaking out. In the workplace, people who like their job, can foresee the potential development of the company and enthusiastic of growing with the company should better demonstrate their interesting of being promoted. Most importantly, when the chance comes, they have to grasp the opportunity confronting to them if they think they have met all criterion of the future position.
    I am a person who likes taking responsibility in all places. I wound not miss any chance that confronts to my promotion in workplace. I might want to say I am excited about taking the new job.

  22. In my opinion, Samantha has lost her chance getting promoted in her company. This might cause by her culture since in some cultures that people don’t really show their feeling or thinking directly by speaking out. In the workplace, for people who like their job, foresee the potential development of the company and enthusiastic of growing with the company should better demonstrate their interesting of being promoted. Most importantly, when the chance comes, they have to grasp the opportunity confronting to them if they think they have met all criterion of the future position.
    I am the person who like to take responsibility in all places. I wound not miss any chance that confronts to me getting promoted. I might want to say I would be excited about taking the new job.

  23. Reading the comments above and the opinion of the author, I do think that people are taking Samantha’s case a bit too seriouly. She didn’t say no to that so-called “opportunity”, she said “thank you” which could totally mean “thank you, I’ll think about it”. What’s more problematic according to me is that, she didn’t think about it between the first and the second time she was asked. However, it’s most likely that her boss knew how Samantha would react (he’s her boss after all, supervising her all the time…) and that’s probably why he asked her twice. So, I doubt very much he will shut her down if she comes to see him to talk about it. However, she’d better be prepared. And if things don’t turn out the way she wants them to be, it’s not the end of the world, because next time someone asks her that kind of question, she will be ready.

  24. I suppose she was not really interested in the new challenge, or maybe she was afraid to fail. Receiving twice an offer she is lucky. I will tell her: Having in mind that was her boss who offer her the post, it is a great opportunity to her. So her boss knows her job’s qualities. My advice to her: Make a list of your skills and be prepared to show how you will use it in the new post. Make a list of past events in which you had been involved regarding in a specific task. Have confidence on you. The post will be yours. Go ahead!

  25. If I were in that situation, I would ask the manager if it was possible that gave me another chance and if the answer was positive, I asked for a meeting with him. To capitalize on this meeting, I would investigate about the position, the necessary skills, and the list of duties. Using achieved information and my skills I might prepare a sales pitch and use it at the correct time in the meeting. To hog the limelight, I tried to show him that I know a lot about the position, I’m developing my skills and abilities, and willing to accept more responsibilities in the organization.

  26. She definitely missed her chance to grow up and I think made a bad impression on her manager. I’m not sure if he can change the situation, but she can try to set up time for a meeting with her supervisor and she needs to be prepared to tell what she wants to do and why she can be a good fit for new role as well as explain why she didn’t say anything before except “Thank you”

  27. I think that a person should be clear on his personal and professional goals. If she is happy in her current position then let her dig in and keep doing the things that made her successful. If her goal is to work at the next level, then it is good to consider such an opportunity very carefully and to react to it in adequate way.

  28. To be honest, I was never asked a question like that. Maybe because I worked mostly for small companies, where unfortunately wasn’t much opportunity to grow.
    But I would definitely show more interest being asked by my employer, and either tell him/her, that I will think about it and get back to him/her with my detailed answer in writing; or ask for a convenient time to discuss my development in person. I think one should always seize the opportunity when there is a hint of a potential promotion.

  29. I had to submit my individual performance objectives and also learning and development objectives to my manager. So, I discussed and asked for advice from my supervisor for feedback. Also career development path information was available from my company so I checked the requirements for me to go to next stage and put that information in the learning and development objective section.

  30. I have always been a hardworking person. Every boss and supervisor I worked for in the past absolutely agreed with this. However, when it comes to promote me, they see that I am very good at my current job and they could not find anyone else who can do better, they stop develop me so that I can stay at that job!

    I requested several times and some of my bosses delayed their responses by saying: “I’ll see what I can do!”. Then 3-4 months passed. It is not uncommon. I am one of those who decided that it’s time to move on to other organization, especially when some less able colleagues (who perform less well and did less) moving forward with their career in the same company because they have more time in their hands for other learning. (or sometimes because their bosses are relatives or family friends).

  31. In workplaces promoting from a lower position to a higher position is pleasant always. Actually at my previous workplace, promotions would be happened in 2 following ways. If a manager wants to reward a worker instead of increasing his/her salary; or the worker ask for the promotion because of his/her skills by asking from the manager.
    Samantha should ask for more time to think about her boss question and not just answering him with “thank you” phrase. If I were her boss, would think that she didn’t understand the meaning of the sentence which I told her. Although higher positions have more responsibilities and need more skills but she could get them gradually by taking some courses.

  32. On the situation Samantha was facing, I would response to the manager like”I’d like to take more responsibilities on……”or I am interested in getting involved into……”.
    In general, I suggest to provide a very clearly feedback to a manager and their requests. The main point is a manager not make these kinds of requests quite often or every day, that means you could quickly realize that there are some opportunities or space available for you, then why not let your manager getting to know what’s your thinking or interests? On Samantha’s case, her answer like “thank you” is too general and easy to make her manager feel confused or even drive to another conclusion that Samantha doesn’t want to sticky with company closely.

    Another suggestion I tend to share here is offer your help unselfishly or be a warm- heart person when other body needs, especially the department or area you are interested in. Then you will get more chances for professional development.

  33. Promotion is one of the great things in a workplace. In my case, whenever I’ve heard that kind of suggestion, usually two things come to my mind which is negative and positive. Because higher position always requires a suitable responsibility, I have to think that whether I am really qualified or not seriously. If I really want to any position or any role, I strongly express my opinion to manager by asking manager a face-to-face meeting.

  34. I did not have this kind of experience, but I think I might take the initiative to show my interests to grow within the company if I were very competent with my current role, and liked to shoulder more responsibilities. However, there is another voice inside me doubting myself being aggressive and craving for things that I might not be able to handle if I approached the manager for improvement.

  35. For me, I did even worse than samantha did when I worked for my first employer. After I quitted for personal reason, I had a chat with my co-worker who became my good friend. He said it was not an issue that I did not scramble for something but I refused to accept what my boss wanted to give me. Then I read some books about management and realized what I should do in the workplace. Since I met my second boss, I have been promoted several times. In my experience, first, you need to work hard and finish your duty. Second, you need to develop yourself to meet the higher position’s requirements. When you face some work problems, you need to think about them at the higher line. Last but not the least, you should seize the chance to talk with your boss about your career plan or recent target and you should win your boss’s trust by your performance.

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