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Nine questions to ask your boss

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  • Employees have a tendency to keep most questions to themselves
  • Sometimes, speaking up can help your career greatly
  • Find ways to build experience, gain new skills
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Anthony Balderrama
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CareerBuilder

Editor's note: CNN.com has a business partnership with CareerBuilder.com, which serves as the exclusive provider of job listings and services to CNN.com.

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You probably have a list of questions you'd ask your boss if given the chance.

"You really paid someone for that haircut?"

"Must your lunch always include garlic?"

"How did someone as nice as you end up marrying someone so unpleasant?"

If you have any desire to keep your job, you'll keep those questions to yourself. Unfortunately employees have a tendency to keep all questions to themselves, even when speaking up can help their careers.

"Workers choose silence over dialogue because they worry about damaging credibility, fear retaliation from key decision makers or doubt their voice will make a difference. And when employees choose silence, progress suffers," says Kerry Patterson, co-author of "Crucial Conversations."

Whether you keep quiet because you're afraid of embarrassing yourself or you don't think your questions mean much, you should start speaking up.

"A colleague once said to me, 'I can tell more about a person by the questions they ask than by what they tell me,'" says Edith Onderick-Harvey, president of Change Dynamics Consulting, an executive consulting firm. "The same is true for managers. Questions about the broader organization's goals and priorities, your role in achieving those and asking for feedback tell your boss you are focused on a career with the organization, not just a job."

Here are nine questions to ask your boss that can help your career. (Just don't ask them all at once -- your boss is probably a busy person.)

"How do you measure success?"

Employees often forget that their performances are graded in some form or another. In order to understand how your work is quantified, you should be speaking the same language as your boss. Find out if your manager is only concerned with numbers and results or if with how you achieve them also matters, Onderick-Harvey advises. Then, you base your future work on his or her priorities.

"What areas do I need to develop to advance my career?"

This question shows your boss you are in control of your future and are not waiting for someone else to make things happen, Onderick-Harvey says. If you can articulate what your career goals are, your boss can tell you what experience you need to gain before you can move up the ladder.

"What strengths do I have that will help my career?"

Don't be so focused on looking for your weaknesses that you forget to ask about your strong points. You might think you know what your strengths and weaknesses are, but your boss could have a different opinion. This question isn't an excuse to beg for a compliment; it's an opportunity to show the boss you want to steer your own career, Onderick-Harvey says.

"How often are performance evaluations conducted and who is in charge of them?"

Basic questions such as this one are crucial to your performance, says Dr. Ivonne Chirino-Klevans, professor at Walden University. Understanding the mechanics of your job should be a top priority at all times. Make sure you know if you have quarterly or annual goals to aim for and how they impact your daily tasks.

"What are the options for growth within the organization?"

Although you might expect this question only belongs in a job interview, it's worth asking even after you've been employed for a few years, Chirino says. Company structures change all the time and you should know what opportunities are open to you if you want to advance. Once you know what your options are, you can decide what your next move is, whether it's aiming for a new position or looking for a job with a better future.

"Do I understand this correctly?"

When you have a project that has many components or a new set of guidelines, be certain you have a grasp on what your task is. Tackling an assignment without knowing you're on the right path leaves the opportunity for a rude awakening on the due date. Check in with your boss to ensure you understand everything the way he or she intends it. If you don't ask the right questions, you could derail your own career even though you're fully capable of doing the work, Chirino warns.

Caution: Use restraint when asking this question. No boss wants to repeat himself or herself ad nauseam.

"What can I do to help you?"

This simple question is important but often forgotten, according to executive coach Suzanne Bates. Even if you can't help, your boss will take note of your offer. "It's lonely at the top, so if your boss sees you as someone who wants them to succeed, you stand out."

"What is the most important priority we need to focus on?"

This question often goes unasked because employees fear appearing incompetent. Really, it shows concern about your responsibilities and your team's goals. When you have several ongoing projects and your boss adds more to your workload, knowing how to prioritize grows difficult. Managers want to hear from employees who are concerned with improving business, says Gayle Lantz, an organizational development consultant and executive coach.

"Can I take on this task?"

Too many employees take a laissez-faire attitude toward their careers and relinquish control to their bosses, says career expert Dr. Rachelle J. Canter. Bosses have their own lives to worry about, however, and don't have time to map your future. Rather than let your career meander, look for opportunities to prove you have initiative and leadership skills. Find ways to build experience and gain skills that you currently lack. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Copyright CareerBuilder.com 2009. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority

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