The Definitive Guide to Owning Your Career Growth — No Matter the Industry

An industry-agnostic framework for promotion velocity.

The Definitive Guide to Owning Your Career Growth — No Matter the IndustryThe Definitive Guide to Owning Your Career Growth — No Matter the Industry

Don’t be passive.

If there's one piece of career advice I can give — gleaned from 15 years in HR, stints as Chief People Officer at Enigma and Capsule, and my current role as a Partner at Primary — it's to take control of your own career growth. 

This advice applies to all industries, not just VC. (My definitive guide to breaking into and succeeding in venture can be found here). No matter the career, it’s on you to get clarity on what's expected in your role and what the next level looks like.

Without clarity, you’re working in a system without knowing what that system rewards, recognizes, or expects as excellent. Don’t expect to be handed all of this information and don’t depend on your manager to be the predictor of your promotion velocity. 

By the way, this is all good news! The responsibility for growing your career begins and ends with you. Managers — the good ones, the bad ones, and the ones in between — are not responsible for growing your career. So here’s how to do that.

Interviewing and onboarding 

Create transparency early — before you even get the job. When interviewing, ask questions like:

  • “What does success look like in the first 12-18 months?”
  • “What will make management say, ‘you crushed it and are ready for a promotion’?”
  • “How does this work tie into your team and its broader goals?” Understand the context of your work, and how it fits into this company, its market, its customers, its values, and its leaders.
  • “What behaviors do top performers at this company exhibit?” Understand the system you’re entering and what it rewards.

This sets you up with a foundation of quantifiable milestones. If your prospective company has a career ladder, fantastic — that's a great starting point to understand expectations. Here’s what we use at Primary. If it doesn’t, that’s ok. Good communication can help you build your own.

The first 90 days

The best managerial onboarding practices cover the five C's: clarification, connection, culture, check-back conversations, and compliance. If your manager doesn’t cover all these bases, ask questions to fill in the gaps.Continue to clarify what excellence looks like in your role, how your work ties into the bigger picture, and what productive behaviors are rewarded at your company. Realign on these things with your manager again and again — you should feel empowered to do this once a week. The goal is to match what you heard in your interview with your experience of the first 90 days.

Forming connections is vital in this phase

This is a tough one for introverts, but I implore you to think about connections beyond your manager in the first 30-90 days. Who do you need to have relationships with to get work done?

Even if you work independently or require lots of “heads down” time, think about who you need to know to make your work come to life. If you’re an engineer who needs to code, you should still know the senior tech leads, the product manager, and people in customer success. They can talk to you about the user and how your code actually comes to life.

Research shows that having friends at work makes you more likely to be engaged and retained. But even purely from a performance perspective, cultivating those cross-functional relationships early on means that when you need to reach out to someone for a question or project, you're starting from a place of rapport, not from scratch. This is especially important on distributed teams.

Once you’re firmly in the role

Once you’re settled in, it’s important to understand your company’s “talent rhythm.” This is the cadence at which there’s company-wide — then team-wide — alignment. This may be every quarter or every year; different companies have different rhythms. Before every one of these periods, get clarity on your own work and how it fits into this alignment. 


One-on-ones with your manager are the most powerful meetings you'll have. You'll continually realign on your work, get coaching on obstacles, receive recognition for wins, and get the feedback you need to keep growing. 

It’s vital to come prepared for this meeting. Bring a doc that lists your goals, progress, wins, areas where you need help, and decisions you plan to make. Here’s how to structure it:

  • Goals: What went particularly well this week?
  • Updates: What did you complete last week? What would make this upcoming week successful?
  • Input: What roadblocks or concerns exist? What items need your manager’s input?

It’s important to ground the conversation in the big picture, even if there are fires to put out. If you’ve just come from another meeting, there may be an urge to talk about said meeting — particularly if something urgent came up. Don’t make this a habit; stay connected to the larger cadences of the company and how your work ties into it.

If your manager doesn't prioritize one-on-ones, take the initiative and send a weekly email covering those key points. You're giving them the chance to engage and give feedback, even if they don't make the time to meet. 

If you do all of this regularly, nothing in your performance review should be a surprise — it should recap everything you've already discussed.

Professional development 

Once a month, dedicate a one-on-one with your manager to discussing professional development. Come prepared by filling out this template in advance. Articulate what you want to improve on and how it benefits the company.

Then, think about growth through the lens of the three E's of adult education:

  • Education: What can you read or learn?
  • Exposure: Who can you interview or shadow in your company?
  • Experience: How can you practice your new skills?

Your goals for professional development need to line up with the needs of your team and company. I see ambitious people go off the rails because they have aspirations that don't fit within their current system. Yes, have ambitions! But be realistic. The ideal situation is when your growth goals dovetail perfectly with what your team needs in a Venn diagram of overlapping passions and business needs.

And remember: development happens in digestible steps. Aim to improve incrementally, month after month. You won't see massive changes daily, but you'll see real growth over a quarter.

Performance reviews

At Primary, we’re transparent about the competencies we want employees to develop, and have a structure by which they can do a self review and get feedback against those competencies. This creates transparency into how they’re tracking on a career ladder.

Even if you don’t have a similar published career ladder, do a self-review against the competencies you’ve defined with your manager — and share it with them before they do their review of you. This is your chance to showcase your accomplishments. 

Sometimes managers don't have full insight into how you're performing, especially in a matrix or team structure. By doing a self-review, you're shining a light on your achievements and making sure they don't get overlooked. It's also a good way to check alignment. Big gaps between your self-assessment and your manager's assessment mean there's a disconnect in communication. The self-review is a great conversation starter to get on the same page. It’s also another way to take the initiative. 

Careers don’t just happen to you 

Too often, especially in startups, we expect our job, manager, and company to provide everything for us — community, education, growth, compensation, and friends. But there's so much you can own and take charge of to create the system you want. 

  • Even if your manager is swamped, absent, or inexperienced, take the reins on your career growth.
  • Take advantage of opportunities to interact with senior leaders and be curious.
  • Tap into mentorships, communities, and networks. At Primary, our Mastermind Network connects you with people in your function who can be mentors or provide support.
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