How & When To Discuss Job Expectations With Your Boss

Some conversations are more difficult than others to have with your boss, but they’re almost always worth having. If you’re new to the job or to the working world in general, it’s a good idea to set aside some time to discuss the expectations of your job with your boss. Knowing what’s expected of you is an important element of success at every stage of your career path, even as early as the interview phase. With help from a few career experts, we’ve put together some advice to guide you through the process.

During the interview

A good way to ease your anxiety about interviewing for a new job is to remind yourself that the interview is a two-way process. You are interviewing them—the interviewers being representative of the company in this case—just as much as they are interviewing you. That being said, it’s important to ask the right questions about what you’ll be expected to do if you land the job. Surely, the posted ad for the position would have listed a few general job duties, but this is an opportunity for you to get some specifics that might be helpful in your decision-making process.

Liseanne Gillham, marketing director of Wirkn, a mobile recruiting platform for college students and recent graduates, says, “A great conversation opener is to just express your enthusiasm for the job and your desire to be successful.” Later, you might ask things like, “How many projects will I be working on monthly?” “How will my progress be judged or evaluated?” “This position requires frequent travel—what provisions are made to help employees cope with this (financially or otherwise)?” or “What can I do in this position to be of most value to the company?”

A good interview should feel less like an interrogation and more like a conversation, so don’t be afraid to offer these or other questions of your own when the time is right. The benefits will be two-fold; not only will you gain insight into your future job responsibilities, but it will also prove to your interviewers that you want to excel.

Your first day on the job

Your first day on the job will be a whirlwind no doubt, but one of your first stops will likely be the human resources department. Though not functioning in any way as your boss, HR personnel can still help you understand the expectations of your new position. They can provide you with a written, documented list of job duties and expectations as well as company rules and policies that support these. Review these documents carefully as they will include important information like the mandated workload per week (sometimes, there are minimum and maximum hourly restrictions) as well as policies concerning dress codes, late arrivals, early departures, sick days, paid vacation time and even company email etiquette. Your meeting with HR on your first day at work can be extraordinarily helpful as you begin to navigate the system.  

After much of the administrative work is underway, you will probably meet one-on-one with your new boss at some point during the day, especially if he or she was not present at your interview. He or she will welcome you to the team and brief you on what you will be doing. If you are unclear about something in particular at this point (for example, you might be wondering what your role will be in the weekly meetings he or she mentioned), it is okay to ask for more details. Gillham says, “Remember that he or she has a vested interest in making sure that you are successful. Be direct. Ask for tips for success and what exactly he or she is looking for from you.” No one will fault you for asking questions on the first day; you will only be better prepared on the second.

Once you’ve started the job

After you’ve made it through the onboarding process, there will be several other opportunities to discuss the expectations of your job with your boss. For example, this might take place at your 30-day, 60-day or 90-day employee evaluations as you continue to adjust. But, if you find yourself struggling to perform satisfactorily or, alternatively, you find yourself overburdened with excessive tasks, don’t hesitate to schedule a progress meeting with your boss. Let them know kindly that you have some concerns you’d like to address and would love to sit down with them at their earliest convenience.

Perhaps, since you've joined the company, your duties—and simultaneously, your boss’s expectations—have shifted. This is normal, but it is never a bad idea to have it documented. When you meet with your boss, start by reviewing his or her initial expectations; note which have been altered or eliminated and add any new items to the list. Next, work together to assess how successful you have been in meeting these expectations and to devise any necessary strategies for improvement. Ensure that you are both on the same page about job expectations moving forward before ending the meeting.

Linda Swindling, author of The Manager's High-Performance Handbook, reminds us that you have to ask for what you want or need; nothing will be handed to you. If you have a concern or a request, speak up. But, she says, you should also be prepared to hear “no.” “Just like other people, sometimes bosses need to percolate on a new idea, like a raise." She explains, "You have been thinking about asking for several months but your request is brand new information to them. Occasionally you’ll encounter a boss who offers but doesn’t or can’t deliver. By asking, at least you know where you stand.”

Related: How To Land Your First Job in a Field You Have No Experience In

We’d love to tell you that discussing job expectations with your boss is a one-time thing, but that’s just not true. Circumstances change and so do people, so it’s imperative to check in frequently as both are likely to affect your working conditions from time to time.  Never get so comfortable that you are incapable of change or, worse, that you fail to recognize a poor job fit.