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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

How to Answer When Your Boss Asks, "How Do You Want to Grow?"

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You look at the floor and gulp, searching your brain for the right answer to the question your boss has just thrown at you.

How do you want to grow?

Think of something, quickly. Just say you want to be a better [insert job title here]. That’ll do. Or what if it’s a trick question? Oh geez, what does he even want me to say?

Bosses (or potential bosses) sometimes throw curveball questions at you, questions designed not to throw you off your game, but to have you think about what game you’re playing and what game you’d love to play.

First things first, the question isn’t something to fear, and it’s not an enemy to fight with or struggle against. It’s just a question. You wouldn’t feel the same kind of pressure if you’d been asked what your favorite cheese is or what size shoe you wear, so take some pressure off yourself. There’s no right answer, just your answer.

Having given yourself the opportunity to answer naturally and without second-guessing, here are some pointers for how you can frame your response.

Size Matters

“I really want to keep my pens more organized. You know, throw out the dead ones, keep the Sharpies away from the ballpoints. I’ll figure something out with the pencils.”

You don’t want to answer with something you could nail in five minutes flat, or you’re showing a distinct misunderstanding of your role and your ability to offer tangible value. Similarly, answering with “I’ve always wanted to solve cold fusion” may not be the best way to go either.

A great answer will reside in that space between what’s comfortable and what’s not; something that’s on the edge of your experience that would help you be great at what you do.

Be Relevant

“Oh my God, I’d love to be able to make a perfect Arnold Bennett omelet” would be a great way to let your boss know that your head isn’t in the job. By all means, try and perfect the omelet (and please invite me over if you do), but keep your answer focused on your job, your skills, your talents, your hopes, and your ambitions as they relate to your current career path. You might want to get better at negotiation, learn how to run a great workshop, or be able to lead a team or a project because you think you’d really come into your own at that level.

Relevancy also stretches to the nature of your experience while in the job, things like not letting the small things stress you out or being able to balance the pressures of work with having fun with your team. As long as your answer is in the ball park, it’s good.

Think Short- and Long-Term

A great answer to “How do you want to grow” will likely have a couple of beats to it. The first beat will be something short-term, something you’d love to improve on or get better at because it will help your effectiveness right now. Speaking up more in meetings, planning your time better when faced with a deadline, or really nailing a technique or process that feels a little clumsy all fall into this category, and show that you have a good understanding of how things are right now.

The second beat is then about what you’d love to grow into. This probably isn’t about specific skills or existing areas of improvement, but talks to what you’d love to be doing, the value you’d love to add, and the difference you see yourself making in the future. You might not be exactly sure, but it’s OK if the details here are a little fuzzy.

Talk about how you’d love to be someone who can train others or help others be better at what they do, how you want to help shape strategy because you love exploring the big picture and figuring out the best moves, or how you want to help the company be more creative in the way it approaches challenges. Not only does this show that you have a strong sense of how you can add value, but it demonstrates that you’re an individual with heaps of capability and aspiration.

And that’s perhaps what this question is aimed at, over and above anything else, and the reason your boss asked you in the first place. He or she knows you’re capable of wonderful things—and now wants to know that you’re pointed in the right direction.

So, how would you answer the question?