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Never Assume Your Manager Knows Your Career Aspirations

March 9, 2017, 5:00 PM UTC

The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “How can you find career support outside of your friends and family?” is written by Debbie Messemer, managing partner of KPMG San Francisco.

Career support can take many forms. It might be a single valuable piece of advice that leads straight to a promotion. Or it may be longer discussions over many months that help advance your career.

The first place to look for career support is with your professional network. These are your current and former coworkers, supervisors, clients—really anyone with whom you have developed a strong working relationship during your career. If you haven’t invested the time to build a good network, it’s never too late to reach out, make connections, and seek advice from people you respect.

Like most business professionals, I encountered inflection points in my career and benefited from some wise counsel. For example, early in my career I got up the courage to ask my manager what skills I needed to be considered for a promotion to manager. I was horrified at his advice: He wanted me to learn to speak to groups and cold-call prospective customers—two things that scared me to death.

To prepare me for these new responsibilities, he suggested a presentation skills course. It was a career game-changer. I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t learned those skills. As I found, your manager is in position to change the course of your career.

Your manager also may become one of your sponsors—one who not only provides career advice but actively helps you reach your career goals. When I determined that I had the skills, experience, and confidence to become a partner, I had lunch with my manager, who was a partner in our office, to ask for his advice and support for such a promotion.

His response? “Debbie, I never knew that was something you aspired to do. Let’s make it happen.” Two years later I became a partner in our firm.

I will never forget that lunch and the lesson it taught me: Don’t assume your manager knows your career aspirations. If you feel you are ready for the next level, you should communicate that and clearly explain why you are qualified for the new responsibilities.

I also have found that customers or clients with whom you have established relationships can provide valuable advice. One client early in my career offered me these four guiding principles: Dream the dream; surround yourself with good people; take bad news well; and don’t believe your own press releases.

Another source for advice can be individuals you cross paths with, but aren’t directly involved in your career. They too have seen you in action and can offer a different perspective from just outside your network. Perhaps they have been paying more attention than you thought.

Finally, it’s also important to use technology to support your career. The Internet offers access to a wealth of career support information. Research career-related topics and identify the sites and individuals that offer advice of interest to you.

A variety of people both inside and outside your network can help you succeed in your career. All you have to do is go out and find them.