Is HR responsible for career management? (Toughest HR Question)

Employee engagement among benefits in helping individuals navigate their careers
By Brian Kreissl
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/14/2013

Question: Should HR help employees plan and manage their careers?

Answer: It definitely can benefit an organization to have HR help manage employees’ careers on their behalf — at least to a certain extent. However, depending on the organization, there are usually limits to the type of assistance that can and should be provided. And the prevailing thinking is much of the responsibility for career management should rest with individuals themselves.

While HR professionals and career counsellors may be seen as playing on opposite sides — and career management often takes a different perspective from that of HR — if any type of career counselling is provided at an organization, the most logical place for it to reside is within HR.

Even if such counselling is provided through a third party — such as an employee assistance program (EAP) or external outplacement and career counsellors — the responsibility for managing the relationships with such vendors usually rests with HR.

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 their fit with organizational culture and the job in question.

Career counsellors, on the other hand, focus at least partially on helping candidates land and prepare for interviews. Sometimes career professionals even give advice to candidates to help them circumvent the recruitment process and bypass HR. That’s because — rightly or wrongly — HR professionals are often seen as gatekeepers or roadblocks in the hiring process.

Nevertheless, a good career counsellor does much more than just help people update their resumés, apply for jobs and prepare for interviews. They also provide coaching and facilitate personal discovery and career planning sessions. Career counsellors recognize it doesn’t do their clients any good pushing them in a career direction that isn’t a good fit — for them or employers.

In that respect, career counsellors’ goals aren’t that different from those of HR. It’s just 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 in the right roles at the right time, and people receive appropriate training, development and support from the organization so they can be successful on the job.

Individual responsibility for career management

As an organization, being overly paternalistic was seen as being rather old-school for the longest time. However, there are signs that attitude is changing, perhaps in response to stereotypes about younger employees looking for increased direction and feedback — especially in light of media reports about the supposed effects of “helicopter parenting” on generation Y.

However, regardless of their generational cohort, it is still thought best that employees themselves take control in 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 might not be too thrilled about providing advice, counselling and development to an employee whose goal is to eventually leave the organization. (Although, as we shall see, that attitude may be mistaken.)

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, development and career counselling at organizations. But individuals are often able to obtain such information through night classes or independent research and reading.

However, there are benefits to employers in providing individuals with information and advice on helping them navigate their careers. It enhances employee engagement and increases retention while also helping facilitate workforce and succession planning.

Employees get the message their employer cares about their careers and their own personal development.

Yet, even if a worker realizes there is nowhere for her to go at an organization, helping her plan her career goes a long way to keeping that employee engaged while she is still there and allows her to move on before becoming highly disengaged and frustrated with her lack of career progression. Most employers realize the days of people remaining at one organization for their entire career are long gone.

HR professionals should, therefore, understand career management to help employees navigate their careers within the organization and even beyond. Some large employers actually have in-house career counsellors to help employees with this process. Even if that isn’t feasible, it is possible to provide at least some level of advice and support to help employees.

What can organizations do?

The following are some measures even small employers can institute to help employees plan and manage their own careers:

• Provide guidance from HR on creating and updating resumés and preparing for interviews.

• Set up a small library or resource centre for employees that includes information on career management, the acquisition of specific skills and competencies desired by organizations, personal development and career management.

• Institute 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 progression and the next steps required to get there.

• Post job descriptions and information about desired competencies, job families, organizational charts, career paths and internal courses on the HR intranet.

• Have information sessions or lunch-and-learns for employees focused on providing information about other departments, functions and career paths at the organization.

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

• 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. This article was partially adapted from a blog post entitled “HR’s responsibility for career management,” posted on He can be reached at or visit for more information.

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