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HR’s responsibility for career management

Helping employees manage their own careers

By Brian Kreissl

I've thought about the relationship between HR and career management a few times. While HR professionals and career counsellors can sometimes be seen to be playing opposite sides, the reality is it benefits an organization to have HR help manage employees’ careers on their behalf — at least to a certain extent.

By “opposite sides,” I’m referring to the goals of HR practitioners (with respect to recruitment anyway) versus those of career counsellors. The goal of HR when recruiting is to narrow down the pool of candidates and select people based on fit with the organizational culture and the job in question.

Career counselors, on the other hand, focus at least partially on landing candidates an interview and helping them perform better once they do get an interview. I’ve commented on this before, but sometimes career professionals give advice to candidates to actually help them circumvent the hiring process and bypass HR.

Nevertheless, a good career counsellor does much more than just helping people update their resumé, apply for jobs and prepare for interviews. They also provide coaching and help facilitate career discovery and planning.

In that respect, their goals aren’t that different from those of HR. It’s just that HR’s focus is generally on the needs of the organization, whereas career counsellors focus on the individual. Yet both want to ensure the right people are placed into the right roles at the right time, and that people receive appropriate training and development and support from the organization.

The responsibility for career management

Because being overly “paternalistic” was seen as being rather old-school for the longest time (although there are some signs that attitude is changing) it was thought best if employees themselves took control over managing their own careers rather than employers doing it for them.
That makes sense because employees are in the best position to manage their own careers. They know their own strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes better than anyone else. And because a person's career could conceivably take them in a direction that can’t be accommodated by their employer, an organization normally won’t be too thrilled about providing advice, counseling and development to an employee whose goal is to eventually leave the organization.

Other factors contributing to this thinking include flatter organizational structures (meaning less room for upward career mobility) and cost-cutting measures, particularly with respect to training and development and career counseling within organizations.

However, there are benefits to employers in providing employees with information and advice on helping them manage their careers. Therefore, HR professionals should know something about career management to help employees navigate their careers within the organization and even beyond.

Providing such advice and information enhances employee engagement and increases retention while also helping facilitate workforce and succession planning. And even if an employee realizes there is nowhere for her to go within the organization, helping the individual plan her career goes a long way in keeping that employee engaged while she is still with the organization and allows her to move on before becoming highly disengaged and frustrated with her lack of career progression.

Some large employers actually have in-house career counsellors to help employees with this process. And when an organization does have a formal career management function, the most logical place for it to sit is within the HR department.

What can organizations do?

While I still believe the primary responsibility for career planning should rest with employees themselves, the following are some measures even small employers can institute to help employees plan and manage their own careers:

•Have mandatory career discussions between an employee and her manager (or manager-once-removed) at least annually. Ensure employees are given candid feedback on their career choices and next steps required.

•Post job descriptions, competencies and information about career paths and internal courses on the HR Intranet.

•Have information sessions or “lunch and learns” for employees focusing on providing information on other departments and functions.

•Create dual career paths — one for people interested in moving into management and one for those content to remain in their functional or technical specialty.

•Provide appropriate training and development activities to employees, along with tuition reimbursement programs for external courses. Focus on helping employees to acquire the skills and competencies necessary for moving to the next level or to facilitate lateral career moves.

•Post vacancies internally and develop a policy of filling vacancies internally whenever possible.

•Create personalized individual development plans (IDPs) for top talent and succession candidates.

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at For more information, visit   

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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