I am an engineering manager in a good sized (>50k employees worldwide) Fortune 500 company. I have a dozen directs (all individual contributors) and am responsible for the development of new products and maintenance of line activities.  My team’s and my area of expertise is fairly unique within the company; we develop software applications while most of the rest of the company deals with manufacturing and hardware. The intersection of my (and my team’s) areas of expertise with those of other product focused groups is quite small.

I am concerned that there is nowhere for me to grow career-wise within the company. Within my field (software), there really isn’t anywhere to go (upwards or laterally) since no other group at the company does software. I don’t think I have the background or experience to lead product teams from other engineering disciplines (I know absolutely nothing about mechanical engineering for example). There is my manager’s position, but I don’t see her leaving/moving anytime soon and even if she did, there would be no guarantees that I would be the one to take her place as she has several other engineering groups under her, each with an engineering manager who would probably want the position. A promotion without a move to a new position is also not a possibility as our salary bands are too narrow.

My annual reviews are good, my scores on our annual employee engagement survey (done my Kenexa) are excellent, but I feel that my efforts aren’t going to help further my career at my company.

Is this an appropriate topic to discuss with my manager during my annual review? Is it dangerous? I’m not eager to leave the company, even if I am “stuck” in my current position, but this topic conversation could lead her to believe otherwise. Any suggestions on how to make it a productive conversation?

Thank you,


mmann's picture


I'd suggest you determine where you'd like to advance to next in the organization and ignore speculating on the likelihood of it happening.  Once you know where you'd like to go, try to identify the skills you'd have to develop to command the role.  This is where your boss comes in.  She can help you determine what skills you need to move to the next level.  Once you have accomplishments that show you have those skills, the next question will be whether or not you'll stay with your current employer.


jhack's picture

MMann is right:  don't worry about whether it will happen.  You must first chart a course.  

It's a perfectly legitimate topic (if your boss won't talk about your career growth with you, well, that's a really good data point for you right there!). 

The question, "what do you want to do?" is MUCH more difficult to answer than it would seem at first glance.  I'm a (seemingly lonely) enthusiastic proponent of the "In Transition" exercises ( to guide one's career introspection.  

Regardless, you should answer the question in a way that isn't limited to your current employer's opportunities.  You can then evaluate whether you should pursue your career within or beyond.  If you love software, and yearn to be a software executive, that's an important thing to know.  Will you wake up one day six years from now, frustrated because you chose a hardware company?  Or do you really want a career in sales?  

"If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there."  - Lewis Carroll

John Hack