How To Get Ahead In Your Career When Your Boss Doesn’t Have Time For You

You need a mentor and a guide, but your boss is too busy. Here’s what you can do.

How To Get Ahead In Your Career When Your Boss Doesn’t Have Time For You
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You need feedback and mentoring from your boss to grow and move ahead in your career. But chances are your boss is trying to do less with more and is squeezed for time. Or you might be stuck with either a rock-star supervisor whose time and attention are in demand or someone who just isn’t great at addressing those needs in the first place.


Navigating these tricky situations calls for a combination of flexibility, resourcefulness, and managing your manager, says Amy Cooper Hakim, founder of management consultancy Cooper Strategic Group, and author of Working with Difficult People: Handling the Ten Types of Problem People Without Losing Your Mind. Here is a five-point plan that can help.

Find The Guides

If your boss is too busy for you, it’s time to be on the lookout for every other person who can give you the information you need, says career expert Vicky Oliver, author of Bad Bosses, Crazy Coworkers & Other Office Idiots. Find the office know-it-all, and the person who might have held your job before you and gotten a promotion. You may find other mentors or people who simply know the company ropes and can give you insight and feedback, she says.

“It’s important to be able to cultivate mentors and turn people into mentors who don’t necessarily expect it,” she says. And if you’re new to the role or company, use that to your advantage. You typically have a few months of grace period where people are happy to help out the new person.

Adapt Your Style

You probably got a sense of your boss’s style when you interviewed, Oliver says. Think back: Was your interview succinct and to the point or did you get a window where your supervisor was truly focused on the conversation without interruption. How does she like to communicate—text, email, or Skype? Is his style rapid-fire or thoughtful?

If your boss is pulled in a thousand different directions, constantly asking for advice or reassurance is going to be alienating. And if you have one half hour a week where you get the face-time you need, you’d better be prepared. Think about the time you have and how your boss prefers to interact, then work on asking for what you need accordingly, she says.

Create A Hit List

Keep a running list of questions, concerns, or needs, then ask for exactly what you need to get those needs met, Hakim says.


When your boss knows the specifics of what you’re asking for and how long it will take, they’re more likely to both make the time and be prepared with the information and resources you need, she says.

Be Bold

Oliver says that you need to remember that you were hired for a reason and you’re there to add value. So, pipe up in meetings with good suggestions. Think about what you believe your boss would do—and do it. Sometimes, you just need to take action and let your gut and good sense guide you. And, for better or worse, you’re going to get feedback, she says.

“When you add value, people are going to tell you how they feel. Even if it isn’t your boss, it could be somebody else who’s important there that will tell you how they feel about your ideas. Then the trick is to try to take the feedback, even negative feedback, grow and learn,” she says.

Build Your Development System

When you’ve got an absentee boss, you sometimes need to take matters into your own hands and create your own support system, Hakim says. Look for development opportunities and people who can help you both in your organization, in professional groups, and through your network. If your organization offers a mentoring program, join it.

“You shouldn’t close your window so much that you’re only looking at that person who directly supervises you,” she says. There are people who can help you all around you. It’s just a matter of finding them.


About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books