Careers and Career Management

By Noe, R.A.

Edited by Paul Ducham


Companies need to help employees manage their careers to maximize their career motivation. Career motivation refers to employees’ energy to invest in their careers, their awareness of the direction they want their careers to take, and their ability to maintain energy and direction despite barriers they may encounter. Career motivation has three aspects: career resilience, career insight, and career identity. Career resilience is the extent to which employees are able to cope with problems that affect their work. Career insight involves (1) how much employees know about their interests and their skill strengths and weaknesses and (2) their awareness of how these perceptions relate to their career goals. Career identity is the degree to which employees define their personal values according to their work.

Figure 11.1 shows how career motivation can create value for both the company and employees. Career motivation likely has a significant relationship to the extent to which a company is innovative and adaptable to change. Employees who have high career resilience are able to respond to obstacles in the work environment and adapt to unexpected events (such as changes in work processes or customer demands). They are dedicated to continuous learning, they are willing to develop new ways to use their skills, they take responsibility for career management, and they are committed to the company’s success. Research suggests that low career motivation may be especially detrimental for older, more experienced employees.

Employees with high career insight set career goals and participate in development activities that help them reach those goals. They tend to take actions that keep their skills from becoming obsolete. Employees with high career identity are committed to the company; they are willing to do whatever it takes (e.g., work long hours) to complete projects and meet customer demands. They also take pride in working for the company and are active in professional and trade organizations. Research suggests that both career identity and career insight are related to career success.

Career motivation is positively influenced by the extent to which companies provide opportunities for achievement, encouragement for development, and information about career opportunities. Career management systems help identify these opportunities and provide career information. Career management systems that give employees flexibility to make career choices based on both their work and life interests and demands may be especially useful for employee motivation and retention. For example, Deloitte LLP has designed a framework, known as Mass Career Customization (MCC), that aligns current and future career development options for employees with current and future business requirements so that both parties can benefit. The MCC framework includes a set of options along four career dimensions or “dials”: pace (rate of career progression), work- load (quantity of work output), location/schedule (when and where work is performed), and choice (choice of positions or responsibility). Tradeoffs for each choice are specified and choices are allowed to be changed over time to match employees’ career needs. Employees and their managers discuss how to customize their career by selecting the option from each of the dimensions that matches their career objective, taking into account their individual circumstances and the needs of the business. For example, an employee who is hired into a fast-track program out of business school might be on an accelerated pace toward promotion, full workload, and unrestricted travel and schedule activity. The birth of a child may make it necessary to make changes to pace, workload, and location (perhaps less travel, taking on important work but not geared toward promotion). Use of MCC gives employees the ability to adjust the “dials” to achieve the best career-life fit while still contributing to the business. Using the MCC has allowed Deloitte to design a career development system that makes a long-term deal with the employee and therefore helps with retention; Deloitte realizes that some years an employee may work harder than others, but the employee will be working in ways that benefit both the company and themselves. Deloitte has found positive results from using MCC. Ninety percent of its employees believe it has positively influenced their decision to stay with the company, satisfaction with life and career fit has improved, client service standards have been maintained, and employees have not immediately asked to cut back on their workloads.

Figure 11.1


Today’s careers are known as protean careers. A protean career is based on self-direction with the goal of psychological success in one’s work. Protean employees take major responsibility for managing their careers. For example, an engineering employee may take a sabbatical from her engineering position to work at the United Way Agency for a year in a management position. The purpose of this assignment is to develop her managerial skills as well as to enable her to personally evaluate whether she likes managerial work more than engineering.


Table 11.1 compares the traditional organizational career to the protean career on several dimensions. Changes in the Psychological Contract between employees and companies have influenced the career concept. A psychological contract refers to the expectations that employers and employees have about each other. Traditionally, the psychological contract emphasized that the company would provide continued employment and advancement opportunities if the employee remained with the company and maintained a high level of job performance. Pay increases and status were linked directly to vertical movement in the company (promotions).

However, the psychological contract between employees and employers has changed. Why? One reason is the change in companies’ organizational structures. Because companies’ structures tend to be “flat” (meaning the structure has fewer layers of management), authority is decentralized, and more of employees’ responsibilities are organized on a project or customer basis rather than a functional basis. Flat structures are found especially in small and midsize organizations such as e-businesses. As a result, employees are expected to develop a wide variety of skills. Another reason the psychological contract has changed is that, due to increased domestic and global competition as well as mergers and acquisitions, companies cannot offer job security and may have to downsize. Instead of offering job security, companies can offer employees opportunities to attend training programs and participate in work experiences that can increase their employability with their current and future employers.

For example, the term blue-collar work has always meant manufacturing work, but technology has transformed the meaning dramatically. Traditional assembly-line jobs that required little skill and less education have been sent overseas. Today’s blue-collar workers are more involved in customized manufacturing. At U.S. Steel, employees make more than 700 different kinds of steel, requiring greater familiarity with additives and more understanding of customers and markets. Jobs once considered as lifetime employment are now more temporary, forcing employees to adapt by moving from one factory to another or by changing work shifts. Employees are taking classes to keep up with the latest developments in steelmaking, such as lathes and resins. Despite the lack of guaranteed lifetime employment, many blue-collar jobs are safer and better paying than they were 10 years ago.

The goal of the protean career is psychological success. Psychological success is the feeling of pride and accomplishment that comes from achieving life goals that are not limited to achievements at work (e.g., raising a family, good physical health). Psychological success is more under the control of the employee than were traditional career goals, which were not only influenced by employee effort but also controlled by the availability of positions in the company. Psychological success is self-determined rather than determined solely through signals the employee receives from the company (e.g., salary increase, promotion). Psychological success appears to be especially prevalent among the new generation of persons entering the work force. For example, consider Jacqueline Strayer. After graduating from college in 1976, she has held a series of positions with different companies including General Electric, GTE, United Technologies, and William Mercer. While she worked, she earned a master’s degree in professional studies in film and television, and she is currently working on a doctorate in management. Her motivation has come from finding interesting, challenging positions rather than trying to be promoted to a top management position. She is also passionate about running, so she wants to work with an employer that has a fitness center. Research suggests that individuals who embrace the protean career appear to engage in more activities that provide career insight, which in turn is related to career success.

An important difference between the traditional career and the protean career is the need for employees to be motivated and able to learn rather than to rely on a static knowledge base. This difference has resulted from companies’ need to be more responsive to customers’ service and product demands. The Types of Knowledge that an employee must possess to be successful have changed. In the traditional career, “knowing how”—having the appropriate skills and knowledge to provide a service or produce a product—was critical. Although knowing how remains important, employees need to “know why” and “know who.” Knowing why refers to understanding the company’s business and culture so that the employee can develop and apply knowledge and skills that can contribute to the business. Knowing who refers to relationships that the employee may develop to contribute to company success. Employees may network with vendors, suppliers, community members, customers, or industry experts. Learning who and why requires more than formal courses and training programs.

Consider the growing use of consultants in the Information Services area. Internal information processing staffs have been downsized as companies have decided that they do not need internal staffs and can find talented employees on an as-needed basis. Many companies have an overabundance of experienced information systems staff who are solid performers but who do not bring to the job the ambition, experience, and ideas that consultants have developed by working with different clients.

Learning and development in the protean career are increasingly likely to involve relationships and job experiences rather than formal courses. For example, through mentoring relationships employees can gain exposure and visibility to a wide range of persons inside and outside the company. Job experiences involving project assignments and job rotation can improve employees’ understanding of the business strategy, functions, and divisions of the company as well as help them develop valuable contacts.

The emphasis on continuous learning and learning beyond knowing how as well as changes in the psychological contract are resulting in changes in direction and frequency of movement within careers (career pattern). Traditional career patterns consisted of a series of steps arranged in a linear hierarchy, with higher steps in the hierarchy related to increased authority, responsibility, and compensation. Expert career patterns involve a lifelong commitment to a field or specialization (e.g., law, medicine, management). These types of career patterns will not disappear. Rather, career patterns involving movement across specializations or disciplines (spiral career patterns) will become more prevalent. Also, careers in which the person moves from job to job every three to five years (transitory career patterns) are likely to become more common. For many employees, changing jobs can be satisfying because it offers them an opportunity for new challenges and skill development.

The most appropriate view of today’s careers is that they are “boundaryless” and often change. Boundaryless means that careers may involve identifying more with a job or profession than with the present employer. A career can also be considered boundaryless in the sense that career plans or goals are influenced by personal or family demands and values. One way that employees cope with changes in their personal lives and their employment relationships is by rearranging and shifting their roles and responsibilities. Employees can change their careers throughout their lives based on an awareness of their strengths and weaknesses, the perceived need to balance work and life, and the need to find stimulating and exciting work. Career success may be tied to achieving goals that are personally meaningful to the employee rather than promotions or goals set by parents, peers, or the company. Careers are best managed through employee–company partnerships in which employees are committed to the organization but take personal control for managing their own careers to benefit themselves and company.

Table 11.1


Different generations of employees (or employee cohorts) likely have different career needs and interests. Understanding generational differences is important if a company wants to provide the work conditions that will contribute to employee satisfaction and retention of good employees. Gen Xers, more so than previous generations, appear to place higher importance on work-life balance, opportunities for growth, and good work relationships. Baby boomers appear to want meaningful work rather than Flexibility in Work scheduling. The baby boom generation has supplied companies with a well-educated, knowledgeable, hardworking, and career-oriented work force. As the baby boomers age and eventually retire, there are concerns that they will be discriminated against based on inappropriate stereotypes that they are unable or unwilling to learn, less productive, and would prefer to stop working.  Older workers do have valuable explicit and tacit knowledge that companies would be wise to “capture” and share with less experienced employees. Table 11.2 shows some of the personal characteristics of so-called millenniums (also known as Generation Y or Nexten), Gen Xers, baby boomers, and traditionalists. Some traits, such as health consciousness, may be present in all cohorts but are more important to some cohorts than others. Millenniums and Gen Xers are more used to change and job insecurity than are baby boomers and traditionalists. According to a recent study, 60 percent of employees of all ages rated time and flexibility as very important reasons for staying with a company. But Gen Xers were more likely to leave a job than were baby boomers. Fifty-one percent of employees under age 40 reported that they were going to look for a new job within the next year, but only 25 percent of employees 40 or older said the same thing. Gen Xers are loyal to their own skills, and they change jobs to develop them. They seek achievement of their own goals and value personal relationships. Gen Xers tend to perform several tasks quickly and often have to balance competing work demands. They respond best to short-deadline, multifaceted projects. Gen Xers are looking for meaning in their work. They want to see the company commit resources for career management. They do not believe the company is responsible for their careers. The millennium generation may be the first to embrace diversity and demand social responsibility in the workplace.  Because millenniums have been exposed to sophisticated technologies most of their lives, they are not afraid to use, learn about, and develop innovative ideas for new technology. Millenniums are able to shift attention from one task to another compared to other generations. They welcome feedback as a way to help them improve. Many millenniums may not understand the importance that their managers place on the unwritten rules of the workplace, such as spending time in the office. However, they want to perform well and understand why their work is important and how it relates to the company’s goals. A recent survey of recruiters found that millenniums are seen as the weakest performers among the four generations that make up the U.S. work force. Although they are the most technology-proficient generation, they are often seen as being unmotivated and entitled to high salaries and great work environments.

An important difference between Gen Xers and baby boomers is that many baby boomers worked during a time when companies tended to reward years of service with promotions, job security, and benefits. Gen Xers work in a still-turbulent business environment characterized by swings between business growth and downsizing. Baby boomers may be more willing to relocate for a promotion or new assignment than younger employees. Gen Xers are more likely to stay in an area where they have formed social and work relationships. Many boomers view the younger generations as being lazy or unmotivated and fail to consider that Gen Xers and millenniums grew up during a time when layoffs were common. Witnessing the layoffs of parents and friends may have caused these generations to place less importance on company commitment. Baby boomers also often criticize the younger generations for inappropriate dress, for spending too much time on cell phones, and for a lack of manners. Wendel Woodford is a Gen Xer who works as a copywriter at an ad agency.  This is the fourth company that he has worked for, and he realizes that he will make future job changes. He has never believed that he would stay at one ad agency and receive the job security that previous generations of workers enjoyed. Woodford considers himself a free agent, working hard for his current employer but recognizing that he will be moving on in the future. In contrast, despite the turbulent nature of business today, many baby boomers and traditionalists still expect companies to provide clearly defined career paths and reward good performance with promotions. Charles Coffey, a traditionalist, has worked for the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) for 42 years.  In 1962, Coffey hoped that in return for his commitment and good performance, RBC would provide promotions and an exciting career. The company has required a strong commitment from Coffey. He and his family had to relocate across Canada several times, and he even had to ask for company permission to marry. As a result of his commitment and performance, Coffey has become executive vice president at RBC. Given the changes in the business environment and psychological contract, today’s companies need to communicate to all employees, especially baby boomers and traditionalists, about the need to self-manage their careers and to reconsider linking their personal career success to promotions and salary increases.

It is important to realize that although differences in population size, diversity, education rates, and economic conditions likely affect generations in different ways, research suggests that younger and older generations share many similar values related to family, respect, and trust. Differences in values and attitudes across generations may be the result of different work and life-stage contexts (such as position in the organization) rather than age. Most employees, regardless of age, want security and the ability to balance their work and personal lives through job flexibility or paid time off. However, for older employees, feeling secure about the future many mean working for a company that provides retirement benefits while for younger workers who have college debt and high living costs it may mean earning a good wage.

Companies today are reviewing their career management systems to ensure that they meet the needs of all generations of employees. For example, United Stationers Supply Company, a wholesale distributor of office products in Deerfield, Illinois, has reconsidered its career development opportunities based on generational differences. The company’s career bands are structured so that employees can move laterally to new jobs more easily and obtain new skills, knowledge, and experience without having to wait for a promotion or leave the company. The company is also trying to offer more flexible work schedule options, knowing that Gen Xers are interested in work-life balance.

Table 11.2


Table 11.3 shows the four career stages: exploration, establishment, maintenance, and disengagement. Each career stage is characterized by developmental tasks, activities, and relationships. Employee retention, motivation, and performance are affected by how well the company addresses the development tasks at each career stage.

Research suggests that employees’ current career stage influences their needs, attitudes, and job behaviors. For example, one study found that salespersons in the exploration career stage tended to change jobs and accept promotions more frequently than did salespersons in other career stages. Another study found that the degree to which employees identify with their job is affected more by the job’s characteristics (e.g., variety of tasks, responsibility for task completion) in early career stages than in later career stages.

Exploration Stage

In the exploration stage, individuals attempt to identify the type of work that interests them. They consider their interests, values, and work preferences, and they seek information about jobs, careers, and occupations from co-workers, friends, and family members. Once they identify the type of work or occupation that interests them, individuals can begin pursuing the needed education or training. Typically, exploration occurs in the mid-teens to early-to-late 20s (while the individual is still a student in high school, college, or technical school). Exploration continues when the individual starts a new job. In most cases, employees who are new to a job are not prepared to take on work tasks and roles without help and direction from others. In many jobs, the new employee is considered an apprentice. An apprentice is an employee who works under the supervision and direction of a more experienced colleague or manager. From the company’s perspective, orientation and socialization activities are necessary to help new employees get as comfortable as possible with their new jobs and co-workers so they can begin to contribute to the company’s goals.

Establishment Stage

In the establishment stage, individuals find their place in the company, make an independent contribution, achieve more responsibility and financial success, and establish a desirable lifestyle. Employees at this stage are interested in being viewed as contributors to the company’s success. Employees who have reached the establishment stage are considered to be colleagues. Colleagues are employees who can work independently and produce results. They are less dependent on more experienced employees than those in the exploration stage. They learn how the company views their contributions from informal interactions with peers and managers and from formal feedback received through the performance appraisal system. For employees in this stage, the company needs to develop policies that help balance work and nonwork roles. Also, employees in this stage need to become more actively involved in career-planning activities.

Maintenance Stage

In the maintenance stage, the individual is concerned with keeping skills up to date and being perceived by others as someone who is still contributing to the company. Individuals in the maintenance stage have many years of job experience, much job knowledge, and an in-depth understanding of how the company expects business to be conducted. Employees in the maintenance stage can be valuable trainers or mentors for new employees. A mentor is an experienced employee who teaches or helps less experienced employees.

Maintenance-stage employees may be asked to review or develop company policies or goals. Their opinions about work processes, problems, and important issues that the work unit is facing may be solicited. From the company’s perspective, a major issue is how to keep employees in the maintenance stage from plateauing. Also, the company needs to ensure that employees’ skills do not become obsolete.

To keep its employees from plateauing, General Electric emphasizes career development during its annual performance reviews. During the reviews, employees discuss their goals with their managers. Those discussions are reviewed by operations and human resources personnel, who try to match employees’ career goals (e.g., seeking job changes) with job openings. For example, older and more experienced managers who have knowledge about General Electric and about the people in the business may change jobs to help integrate newly acquired businesses into General Electric. Other managers who have new mobility when their children leave home may be encouraged to take advantage of overseas assignments.

Disengagement Stage

In the disengagement stage, individuals prepare for a change in the balance between work and nonwork activities. They may take on the role of sponsor. A sponsor provides direction to other employees, represents the company to customers, initiates actions, and makes decisions.

Disengagement typically refers to older employees electing to retire and concentrate entirely on nonwork activities such as sports, hobbies, traveling, or volunteer work. However, a survey conducted by Watson Wyatt, an international human resources consulting company, found that three out of four older employees preferred to reduce their work hours gradually rather than face the traditional all-work or no-work type of retirement. For many employees, the disengagement phase means a gradual reduction in work hours. Phased retirement programs help both the employee and the company. The company gets to take advantage of the experienced employees’ knowledge and specialized skills, which might be difficult to replace, while reducing the costs related to hiring and training a new employee. For employees, phased retirement means that they have the opportunity to choose retirement in a way that meets their financial and emotional needs. To capitalize on older employees’ talents, companies need to be flexible—for example, they might offer part-time and consulting work.

Also, keep in mind that regardless of age, employees may elect to leave a company to change occupations or jobs. Some may be forced to leave the company because of downsizing or mergers. Others may leave because of their interests, values, or abilities.

Employees who leave the company often recycle back to the exploration stage. They need information about potential new career areas, and they have to reconsider their career interests and skill strengths. From the company’s perspective, the major career management activities in the disengagement stage are retirement planning and outplacement.

As Table 11.3 shows, an employee’s age and length of time on the job are believed to be good signals of his or her career stage. However, relying strictly on these two characteristics could lead to erroneous conclusions about the employee’s career needs. For example, many changes that older employees make in their careers involve recycling back to an earlier career stage. Recycling involves changing one’s major work activity after having been established in a specific field. Recycling is accompanied by a reexploration of values, skills, interests, and potential employment opportunities. For example, the global entertainment company Cirque du Soleil has a career transition program that helps artistic staff plan for their post-performing years. The program relies on Cirque’s expertise of what skills are needed to work backstage in the entertainment business. Cirque can help artists obtain the training they need for careers as fitness coaches, naturopaths, or makeup artists. A mid-50s corporate manager at General Electric started a new career and a lifelong dream of becoming a fashion designer as a result of taking early retirement. One woman gave up her five-year career teaching fifth graders to work with the importer of Zyr Vodka. While on vacation, this woman agreed to help a friend market a new Russian vodka during a business trip to Las Vegas. The work was very different from what she had been doing, but she found the work interesting and exciting. After the trip, her friend asked her to join the company as vice president. The job did not offer the woman the same security as the teaching job, and she would be taking a pay cut. Despite those negative aspects of the job, she accepted the position and has been working hard to build the brand by meeting with restaurant owners, liquor distributors, and club owners. She finds that working for a small distributor gives her a sense of ownership in the success (or failure) of the business. Also, she enjoys being accountable for all her decisions.

Recycling is not just limited to older employees who are nearing retirement. Many companies that face a serious shortage of qualified employees are developing retraining programs in hopes of filling labor shortages with employees from other fields. Companies are using these training programs to help recycle employees into new jobs and careers. For example, in the computer-help-desk field, companies face a shortage of qualified staff for internal help desks and customer service. Also, many persons with computer skills who seek these positions lack the interpersonal skills needed to give counsel and advice to users of software, databases, and company intranets. The computer consulting industry is training former stockbrokers, flight attendants, and bank tellers to work at help desks. These training programs are referred to as “boot camps” because the training emphasizes total immersion in the job, one-on-one supervision, and cramming into a short training program what knowledge and skills the employee needs to have. It is also not uncommon for employees who are considering recycling to conduct informational interviews with managers and other employees who hold jobs in functional areas they believe may be congruent with their interests and abilities. Employees conduct informational interviews with managers or other employees to gather information about the skills, job demands, and benefits of their jobs. A 30-year-old manager at Intel Corporation was unhappy with her job as a consumer marketing manager. To find new job opportunities, she conducted informational interviews with managers and had discussions with colleagues at work. She also researched different departments, such as corporate communications, and searched Intel’s intranet for job information. Because she was interested in education, she also looked outside Intel for opportunities at universities, educational software firms, and toy companies. She found a job as a program marketing manager with Intel’s worldwide education group.

Stan Alger provides a good example of the concept of recycling in the career stage model. For 30 years, Alger worked as a factory sales representative for a bicycle company in the San Francisco area. However, Alger often thought about working for Home Depot, the home improvement retailer. Alger enjoyed looking at the gadgets in the Home Depot store in his area and finding materials for his home projects. After his employer changed ownership, Alger quit his job. At age 59, he now works part-time at Home Depot. He enjoys helping people learn to use tools. “When you tell them how, and you see that light click on in their eyes, it’s kind of fun,” he says.

Employees bring a range of career development issues to the workplace. Besides developing policies and programs that will help employees deal with their specific career development issues (in order to maximize their level of career motivation), companies need to provide a career management system to identify employees’ career development needs. A career management system helps employees, managers, and the company identify career development needs. Research shows that career management systems that provide employees with career advice and help them meet important people in the company can lead to employees who are more committed to the company and can have a positive influence on employees’ job performance.

Table 11.3


Self-assessment refers to the use of information by employees to determine their career interests, values, aptitudes, and behavioral tendencies. It often involves psychological tests such as the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory and the Self-Directed Search. The former helps employees identify their occupational and job interests; the latter identifies employees’ preferences for working in different types of environments (e.g., sales, counseling, landscaping). Tests may also help employees identify the relative value they place on work and leisure activities. Self-assessment can also involve exercises such as the one in Table 11.4. This type of exercise helps employees consider where they are now in their careers, identify future plans, and assess how their career fits with their current situation and available resources. Career counselors are often used to assist employees in the self- assessment process and interpret the results of psychological tests.

Verizon Wireless provides employees an online tool that allows them to assess their current skills and abilities in order to benchmark themselves against job openings throughout the company. This self-assessment tool allows employees to identify capabilities they are lacking and provides them with specific information about what they can do to develop skills through training, job experiences, or enrolling in an academic program. As part of Caterpillar’s performance management process, employees and their managers discuss career development. To facilitate this discussion, employees complete a data sheet that serves as an internal résumé. The data sheet includes information about the employee’s skills, education, academic degrees, languages spoken, and previous positions. Managers are expected to indicate the employee’s readiness for a new job, whether the job will be a promotion or lateral move, and what education or training will be needed for the employee to be ready for the move. Managers discuss with employees where they might go next and what they should do to prepare themselves for the next position. Managers also identify where they think the employee has the best opportunities in different functional areas and provide an overall rating of potential and promotability. At IBM, employees are offered a skills evaluation tool that recommends jobs and career areas where they best fit.

Psychological tests can be helpful in choosing between equally appealing career options. For example, a man who had served as a branch manager at Wells Fargo Bank for 14 years enjoyed both working with computers and researching program development issues. He was experiencing difficulty in choosing whether to pursue further work experiences with computers or enter a new career in developing software applications. Psychological tests that he completed as part of the company’s career assessment program confirmed that he had strong interests in research and development. As a result, he began his own software design company.

TABLE 11.4 Example of a Self-Assessment Exercise

Activity (Purpose)

Step 1: Where am I? (Examine current position of life and career.)

Think about your life from past and present to the future. Draw a time line to represent important events.

Step 2: Who am I? (Examine different roles.)

Using 3 5 cards, write down one answer per card to the question “Who am I?”

Step 3: Where would I like to be and what would I like to happen?

             (This helps in future goal setting.)

Consider your life from present to future. Write an autobiography answering three questions: What do you want to have accomplished? What milestones do you want to achieve? What do you want to be remembered for?

Step 4: An ideal year in the future (Identify resources needed.)

Consider a one-year period in the future. If you had unlimited resources, what would you do? What would the ideal environment look like? Does the ideal environment match step 3?

Step 5: An ideal job (Create current goal.)

In the present, think about an ideal job for you with your available resources. Consider your role, resources, and type of training or education needed.

Step 6: Career by objective inventory (Summarize current situation.)

• What gets you excited each day?

• What do you do well? What are you known for?

• What do you need to achieve your goals?

• What could interfere with reaching your goals?

• What should you do now to move toward reaching your goals?

• What is your long-term career objective?


Reality check refers to the information employees receive about how the company evaluates their skills and knowledge and where they fit into the company’s plans (e.g., potential promotion opportunities, lateral moves). Usually, this information is provided by the employee’s manager as part of the performance appraisal process. It is not uncommon in well-developed career planning systems for the manager to hold separate performance appraisals and career development discussions. For example, in Coca-Cola USA’s career planning system, employees and managers have a separate meeting after the annual performance review to discuss the employee’s career interests, strengths, and possible development activities.


In goal setting, employees develop short- and long-term career objectives. These goals usually relate to desired positions (e.g., to become sales manager within three years), level of skill application (e.g., to use one’s budgeting skills to improve the unit’s cash flow problems), work setting (e.g., to move to corporate marketing within two years), or skill acquisition (e.g., to learn how to use the company’s human resource information system). These goals are usually discussed with the manager and written into a development plan. Figure 11.3 shows a development plan for a project manager. Development plans usually include descriptions of strengths and weaknesses, career goals, and development activities (assignments, training) for reaching the career goals.

Just Born, the candy company that makes Mike and Ike, Hot Tamales, and Peeps, offers a program called the Career Development Process (CDP) that is used by high- performing employees to decide on their career path with the company and to ready themselves for their next position. The CDP helps employees identify both short- and long-term career goals, and employees commit to two goals to help them progress in their career. Just Born provides a competency dictionary on the company’s intranet that can be used for identifying development needs. The CDP gives both employees and their managers the opportunity to discuss future career plans, and the exercise becomes a reality check for employees by raising company expectations and increasing performance standards. Employees initiate the CDP program by defining future job interests, indicating a long-term career goal, and identifying work experiences that would serve as preparation for the future job. Employees then discuss the CDP with their manager. The manager can support the CDP or can suggest changes. If employees’ future job interests are outside their current department, those interests are communicated to the manager of the desired department.

Figure 11.3


In action planning, employees determine how they will achieve their short- and long- term career goals. Action plans may involve enrolling in training courses and seminars, conducting informational interviews, or applying for job openings within the company. Fresh assignments allow employees to take advantage of their existing skills, experiences, and contacts while helping them develop new ones. At Wachovia, employees in the information technology department occasionally find themselves between projects. Wachovia’s hGrid program allows IT employees the opportunity to work on new tasks and projects that interest them but that lie outside their current position. Employees log into the hGrid Web site and create a profile where they can post the types of projects or experiences they are interested in. After they create their profile, they can explore projects that are posted online and use an online discussion area to exchange ideas in order to form bids to work on the project. Before employees can bid on a project, they must have their manager’s approval. Wachovia benefits from the program by having new IT projects completed. Employees benefit by having the opportunity to try other types of projects to see if they want to pursue other types of jobs and skills, without risking their current position.

Some companies are lending out employees to nonprofits and small businesses to provide accounting, marketing, and other professional services. In these assignments, often called employee volunteerism programs, employees have the opportunity to use and expand their skills and at the same time reach career goals and address a social problem. These programs may be especially important for millenniums (workers born after 1980) who want to work for companies that are socially responsible. For example, an employee at Ernst & Young left her Washington, D.C., office to spend 12 weeks in Buenos Aires providing free accounting services to a small publishing company. Her travel and housing expenses were covered during the assignment and she was on the company payroll for the entire time she was away from her job. In her volunteer assignment, she gained the satisfaction of helping others while at the same time facing the challenge of having more autonomy in her work than she had experienced in her company assignments. As a result,when she returned to her Washington office, the partners began letting her work more independently because they knew that she now had experience in taking a project from start to finish.

The career development system established by United Parcel Service (UPS) illustrates the career planning process and the strategic role it can play in ensuring that staffing needs are met. UPS has 285,000 employees in 185 nations and territories who are responsible for making sure that packages are picked up and delivered in a timely fashion. UPS wanted to put together a management development system that would ensure that managers’ skills were up-to-date and that would link the system to selection and training activities. As a result, UPS designed a career management process. The manager starts the process by identifying the skills, knowledge, and experience required by the work team to meet current and anticipated business needs. Gaps between needs and relevant qualifications of the team are pinpointed. The manager then identifies the development needs of each team member. Next, the team members complete a series of exercises that help them with self- assessment, goal setting, and Development Planning ● (self-assessment). The manager and each employee work together to create an individual development plan. In the discussion, the manager shares performance appraisal information and analysis of team needs with the employee (reality check). The plan includes the employee’s career goals and development actions during the next year (goal setting and action planning). To ensure that the career management process helps with future staffing decisions, divisionwide career development meetings are held. At these meetings managers report on the development needs and plans as well as capabilities of their work teams. Training and development managers attend to ensure that a realistic training plan is created. The process is repeated at higher levels of management. The ultimate result is a master plan with training activities and development plans that are coordinated among the functional areas.

The UPS system includes all the steps in the career planning process. The most important feature of the system is the sharing of information about individual employees, districts, and functional development and training needs and capabilities. This use of information at all three levels allows UPS to be better prepared to meet changing staffing needs and customer demands.

Table 11.5 shows several important design factors that should be considered in developing a career management system. Tying development of the system to business needs and strategy, obtaining the support of top management, and having managers and employees participate in building the system are especially important factors in overcoming resistance to the system.

TABLE 11.5 Design Factors of Effective Career Management Systems

1. System is positioned as a response to a business need or supports a business strategy.

2. Employees and managers participate in development of the system.

3. Employees are encouraged to take active roles in career management.

4. Evaluation is ongoing and used to improve the system.

5. Business units can customize the system for their own purposes (with some constraints).

6. Employees need access to career information sources (including advisors and positions available).

7. Senior management supports the career system.

8. Career management is linked to other human resource practices such as performance management, training, and recruiting systems.

9. System creates a large, diverse talent pool.

10. Information about career plans and talent evaluation is accessible to all managers.


Many companies are developing career management Web sites that provide employees with Self-Assessment Tools, salary information for jobs within the company, career management advice, and training resources. Similarly, many companies in the employee recruitment business (such as provide similar resources for job seekers and employers. Table 11.6 presents the elements of career management Web sites. As the left side of Table 11.6 shows, users or employees need access to self-assessment tools, training resources, job data, salary information, and career management advice. The right side of Table 11.6 shows the features the company needs to include in the Web site design (e.g., jobs database, tools, and services). Users may include employees, managers, recruiters, or human resource managers. Both the users and the company gain valuable information from these systems—information that is useful for ensuring that employees’ abilities, skills, and interests match their jobs. If there is a mismatch, these sites provide links to assessment tools so employees can determine what type of work best suits them as well as training and development resources for them to develop their skills. The company benefits from such systems in several ways. First, it can quickly post job openings and reach a large number of potential job seekers. Second, such Web sites provide detailed accessible information about jobs and careers within the company, which facilitates employee development. Employees are aware of what knowledge and skills are needed for jobs and careers in the company. Third, online systems encourage employees to be responsible for and take an active role in career management. This benefit is congruent with the new psychological contract and protean career.

John Deere, the consumer and residential equipment provider, has an online career development program that encourages employees to manage their careers. The online system includes a job-fit analysis that allows employees to compare their current competencies with the job competencies of positions they would like to have in the future. This program gives employees control and responsibility for identifying skill deficiencies and encourages them to discuss with their managers a development plan that helps them reach their career goals. Employees can also prepare an online internal résumé for the company’s job posting system. With these résumés, managers throughout the company have access to employees’ credentials. In the first three months that the online system was available, employees made more than 10,000 hits on the job catalog. More than 6,000 internal résumés are posted in the system.

Dow Chemical has created an online tool, called My Profile, that allows all employees to share their job interests and goals and other career-related perspectives, such as willingness to relocate. This profile information can be viewed by employees’ managers and used to develop job opportunities for employees. It also helps facilitate career development dialogue between employees and their managers. The profiles give both current and future managers a living, up-to-date narrative of their employees’ goals and aspirations.

Table 11.6


The new psychological contract and the protean career suggest that employees can increase their value to their current employer (increase their employment opportunities and take change of their careers) by taking responsibility for career planning. Companies with effective career management systems expect employees to take responsibility for their own career management. At IBM, Blue Opportunities reinforces to employees that growing their careers is an important step in obtaining challenging and interesting work. Employees are encouraged to take responsibility, working with their manager, for identifying training and development activities that interest them.Blue Opportunities highlights the company’s training and development opportunities—such as short- and long- term job rotation, on-site job shadowing, and cross-functional projects—on an employee- only Internet site that is accessible by IBM employees in the U.S. and other global locations. The goals of Blue Opportunities are to develop employees’ skills and knowledge and offer them potential job or career changes. Blue Opportunities provides a way for employees to develop skills across business units and explore career options that they may not have previously considered. For example, a Brazilian employee worked on a project with a manager in Ireland. As a result, he learned more about the opportunities available in another business unit. An employee in India completed a short-term assignment with customers in Italy and used the new skills acquired to train less experienced engineers. Managers also benefit from Blue Opportunities. The program helps managers assist their employees in developing competencies and careers and provides a way to share expertise across departments and multiple lines of business.

Regardless of how sophisticated the company’s career planning system is, employees should engage in several career management actions:

• Take the initiative to ask for feedback from managers and peers regarding skill strengths and weaknesses.

• Identify stage of career development and development needs.

• Seek challenges by gaining exposure to a range of learning opportunities (e.g., sales assignments, product design assignments, administrative assignments).

• Interact with employees from different work groups inside and outside the company (e.g., professional associations, task forces).

• Create visibility through good performance.


Regardless of the type of formal career management system in place at the company, managers play a key role in the process. In most cases, employees look to their managers for career advice. Why? Because managers typically evaluate employees’ readiness for job mobility (e.g., promotions). Also, managers are often the primary source of information about position openings, training courses, and other developmental opportunities. Unfortunately, many managers avoid becoming involved in career planning activities with employees because they do not feel qualified to answer employees’ career-related questions, they have limited time for helping employees deal with career issues, and they lack the interpersonal skills needed to fully understand career issues.

To help employees deal with career issues, managers need to be effective in four roles: coach, appraiser, advisor, and referral agent. The responsibilities of each of these roles is shown in Table 11.7. Managers are responsible for helping employees manage their career through meeting personal needs as well as company needs. Coaching, appraising, advising, and serving as a referral agent are important roles for managers to play for employees in all stages of their careers. Employees early in their career may need information related to how well their performance is meeting customer expectations. Employees in both establishment and maintenance stages may use the manager as a sounding board for ideas and perspectives on job changes and career paths. Managers need to understand employees’ interests by discussing with employees their job likes and dislikes. One way to initiate this discussion is to ask employees to write up the characteristics of a satisfying career. This exercise helps employees better understand what they want from work in both the short term and long term. Only after understanding employees’ interests can managers match employees to job experiences related to their interests.

To understand the manager’s role in career management, consider the case of José, who works in the oil and chemical industry. José is an industrial hygienist at a chemical plant, where safety is critical. He is unhappy about what he thinks is a lack of career development at the company. As a result, he is considering leaving the company. José has been at a refinery in Texas the past year, but he wants to move back to Utah for family reasons. He was denied a lateral move to a plant in Utah. He made the request at a time when the company was downsizing and seeking voluntary retirements. The company understands that José wants to return to Utah, but it does not feel he is ready for another move. José considers his career stunted, and he thinks that the company does not care about him. Although he is unhappy, his performance is acceptable.

How can José’s manager help him deal with this career issue to avoid losing a solid performer? José and his manager need to sit down and discuss his career. Table 11.8 presents the results that a manager should try to achieve in a career discussion. José’s manager needs to clarify José’s career concerns (coaching role). The manager also needs to make sure that José understands that although his job performance is acceptable, the company believes he needs to gain more experience at the Texas facility (appraiser role). Third, José’s manager needs to discuss with José what can be done now to help him feel better about his job and the company and also help him understand how the company’s need for a hygienist with his qualifications at the Texas refinery fits into the larger picture of his career development (advisor role). José and his manager should discuss and agree on a timetable for his next possible move (which could be to a position in Utah). The manager may give José advice concerning the correct timing for requesting a transfer, given the company’s financial situation. Finally, José’s manager should let him know about career counseling or other career management resources available within the company (role of referral agent).

Table 11.7

Table 11.8


Human resource managers should provide information or advice about potential career paths and training and development opportunities. Also, human resource managers may provide specialized services such as testing to determine employees’ values, interests, and skills; preparing employees for job searches; and offering counseling on career-related problems. Hewlett-Packard’s “People Promise” program was begun to show employees that they can build a career at the company. The HR department now categorizes jobs into 400 job families, which makes it easier for employees to research online how to plan career moves within the company. Job openings are first posted internally, and the internal database is used to match employees with job openings before looking outside the company. The program also allows employees to complete their own career development plans so they can grow within their current job or prepare for other jobs in the company.


Companies are responsible for providing employees with the resources needed to be successful in managing their careers. These resources include specific programs as well as processes for career management:

• Career workshops (seminars on topics such as how the career management system works, self-assessment, goal setting, and helping managers understand and perform their roles in career management).

• Information on career and job opportunities (places such as a career center or newsletters, electronic databases, or Web sites where employees can find information about job openings and training programs).

• Career planning workbooks (printed guides that direct employees through a series of exercises, discussions, and guidelines related to career planning).

• Career counseling (advice from a professionally trained counselor who specializes in working with employees seeking assistance with career issues).

• Career paths (planning job sequences and identifying skills needed for advancement within and across job families, such as moving from technical jobs to management jobs).

The company also needs to monitor the career management system to (1) ensure that managers and employees are using the system as intended and (2) evaluate whether the system is helping the company meet its objectives (e.g., shortening the time it takes to fill positions).

For example, American Express conducted a survey of its 8,000 customer service representatives to better understand their career issues. The survey results showed that they wanted more training, the ability to develop their careers, pay based on performance, and flexible work schedules. In responding to those needs, American Express developed a new career development effort involving a fourtier career path. An Internet site provides a way for call center representatives to review job opportunities and learn about promotional opportunities. Inexperienced new employees work at level one and deal with generic customer calls. Experienced employees working at level four interact with the most important clients and handle complex calls. As a result of American Express’s efforts to meet employees’ needs, the company estimates it has saved approximately $9 million in turnover costs. Employee engagement survey results have also improved.

Ohio Savings Bank developed a formal career counseling program to identify and develop employee talent and to give employees the tools and training they need to direct their own careers. Career development counselors play an important role in the program. Employees can meet with a career development counselor to discuss career paths and training requirements for positions within Ohio Savings Bank. Information sessions are available for employees who are thinking about changing divisions within the company. During these sessions, managers from different divisions provide information about current or future job openings. The career development counselor also meets with managers to discuss employees’ career plans. Managers and counselors might discuss high-potential employees or action plans for employees to reach their career goals. Ohio Savings Bank also has a Career Development Services Web page that employees can access. This Web page has more hits than any other internal Web page! At Ernst & Young, each employee is assigned a career counselor who conducts the employee’s annual performance evaluation, helps set improvement goals, and provides career counseling. Each employee-counselor pair develops a learning plan that identifies the employee’s strengths and development needs. The counselor also provides feedback throughout the year.