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Why Career Management Is Essential Today

By Randy Block

What Is Career Management, and Why Is It Important?

Throughout the decades, this meaning of the term “career management” has evolved. Back say in the sixties and seventies, companies like IBM and Eastman Kodak were flying high and offered-long term employment. But those days are past for the vast majority of workers. We're on our own.

Career Management

Career management, then, was usually defined as promotion to the next management level. Fifteen-year career “plans” were common. Understanding this “career game, playing it well, and knowing your place” was key. We live in a different world now. Very few employers have a clear path to promotion and very few employees stay with one employer long enough to follow the path -- if one exists.

As you probably surmise, the definition of career management has changed. Of all the definitions of career management reviewed, I like Wikipedia’s the best:

Career management is the combination of structured planning and the active management choice of one's own professional career. The outcome of successful career management should include personal fulfillment, work/life balance, goal achievement and financial security.

There are some key terms: “active choice,” “personal fulfillment,” “work/life balance,” and “financial security.” These are critical to the individual managing their own career.


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Career Management by Career Planning

Let’s move to the next key term:  career planning. This is a relatively new term that is different from career management. Again, let's look at the Wikipedia definition which seems to be the best summary:

Career planning is a subset of career management. Career planning applies the concepts of strategic planning and marketing to taking charge of one's professional future. A career is an ongoing process and so it needs to be assessed on continuous basis. This process of re-assessing individual learning and development over a period of time is called Career Planning.

For example, if an individual sets a goal of becoming a sales manager, they would develop a career plan to meet that goal.

Let’s start with an axiom. The employer must focus on the best interests of the company. These interests are concepts like:

  • Profit and loss statement
  • Market share
  • Company growth

For an individual, they must focus on staying competitive in the job market and in their employer's organization. Their best interests are concepts like:

  • Income level
  • Marketability (demand for the expertise by other employers or the job market in general)
  • Professional growth (increasing the level of expertise)

The goals of the company and the individual are not necessarily in conflict. Employers are usually willing to pay more for increased expertise and contributions to the bottom line (even for nonprofits). Smart employers support employees in their efforts to grow professionally.

Your Career Planning Goals and Your Employer's Goals

Many employers will support you to manage your career if your career development and goals are line with company goals and objectives. If your career plan is a different field than your current one, your employer may support your your transition to the new field if it fits with their goals and if you are viewed as a good employee who would be a contributor working for them in the new field.

This is where your career plan becomes significant. Ideally, career planning works for both you and your employer:

  • Career planning applies the concepts of strategic planning to fully take charge of one's professional future.
  • Career planning supports career management goals (and hopefully the organization’s goals) in an ongoing process. 

Let’s go back to the person who has the career management goal of becoming a sales manager.  Their career plan might include selected training, personal development, and other professional development areas that would help them attain their goal. Assuming the employer needs a sales manager, they may support this person in their transition, including training.

The key takeaway here?  Unlike the past decades, you are entirely responsible for your own career management goals.

Why Career Management Is Essential Today

When I was interviewing candidates as an executive search consultant, I was always impressed with those who had a strong sense of who they were both personally and professionally. They were clear about realistic career goals. They comfortably responded to questions based on what they valued. They had an unmistakable confidence. Many of them exhibited strong leadership skills. Some were hired by a client, but a few were not. Nonetheless, everyone was memorable.

Jobs vs. Careers

While jobs and careers may seem to be different terms describing the same thing, that's not what we are describing in this column.

A Job: If you want a “job” to pay the bills, there are plenty of opportunities out there for you. In my view, a “job” means repetitive work, usually task oriented, without the necessity for learning and personal development. To succeed, the employee is passive, and takes what is given to them with little creativity or problem-solving required. If you are looking for a “job,” then this column cannot help you.

A Career: There are many of us who want to keep learning, developing, and contributing in our work. And we strive to enjoy doing our work as well. We want certain things or events to occur throughout our life. We have goals that we want to accomplish.

If your goal is a job, that's certainly an option many have chosen with few regrets, but perhaps you could achieve more with your career.

The Benefit of Career Management

The goal of career management and planning is to produce the desired results for our careers that impact our lives in a positive way. Career management allows us to prepare and maintain a degree of control over the expected outcomes.

Career management means that you are the one that decides what you want to do in your professional life. You control where you work, and what -- and how far -- you need to advance. You have the power with a good career management firm.

In our professional lives, career management is a necessary tool to assist us in achieving both personal and professional goals. With good career management, we can make the proper and timely decisions along the way with confidence.

The Timing of Career Management

There was a time in the not too distant past when I witnessed the middle manager waking up after about 6 or 7 years in their role. They would say: “Gosh, I do not have my VP stripes yet.” They would start scrambling to develop a career management program. Sadly, in terms of a promotion, it was too late for a career management program. It would have served them better to start a career management program the first day they were promoted to middle management.

In my executive career coach role, I hear the familiar refrain: “If I do good work in my current role, I will get promoted.” No. It no longer works that way. You have established yourself by the success of your current job, and the best way to get promoted is to manage and plan for that objective so you are positioned appropriately to create, or to leverage, opportuity.

Your Goals vs. Your Employer's Goals

People often ask what happens if your career management program does not align with the organization’s goals? There is a fear that if this happens, the employee will be fired.

If the organization and the employee have started the career management program in a timely way (meaning early), this misalignment rarely happens.

However, there is always the chance that the employee is going one way and the company is going the other. Perhaps as part of your work, you discover that you really enjoy a particular aspect of it. For example, assume you work in a marketing role in your employer's organization, and you discover that you greatly enjoy the business-to-business (a.k.a. “B2B”) aspect of marketing. Unfortunately, in this example, your employer is focused and planning to grow only the business-to-consumer (a.k.a. “B2C”) part of the business and to eliminate the B2B aspects in the future.

In this case, both parties need to first acknowledge the divergence. The employee can assure the company that they will continue to perform in their current position. The company needs acknowledge that they are unable (or unwilling) to support the employee's B2B career management program. They are not surprised over this predicament. The organization realizes that every day, the employee becomes more and more a bad fit for their current role (like over-qualified).

The advice to both is to move quickly to remedy the situation. That is, the employee needs to seek a move to the outside (another company) to continue their career management program. The company must look at who is promotable via succession planning. The wise incumbent who is moving on will have someone ready to step in.

Bottom Line

People who have solid career management programs with a supporting career planning process have the edge when it comes to moving up. They have communicated their plan to their organization, and they know what they need to do next.

More About Career Management


About the author...

Job-Hunt's Career Management Expert Randy Block been working in the career field since 1972. He started as an executive search consultant before becoming a full time certified career coach in 2000. With clients, Randy focuses on issues of career transition: changing careers, choosing a career direction and positioning, finding opportunities, as well as finding opportunities for self-employment, freelancing, and consulting. A graduate in business from Cornell University, he holds coaching certificates from the International Coaching Federation, Career Planning and Adult Development Network, and Career Coach Academy. You can visit Randy’s website at RandyBlock.com, connect with him on LinkedIn, and follow @BoomerAdvisor on Twitter.


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