Individual Career Management

Individual Career ManagementIndividual career management is the process by which a person can make reasoned, appropriate decisions about his or her work life as well as the relationship between the work and nonwork domains. This process of career management takes place over the course of a person’s lifetime and is based on the idea that individuals constantly seek jobs and work environments that match their personalities, talents, and lifestyle preferences. People are more fulfilled and more productive when their work and life experiences are compatible with their own desires and aspirations. Research supports the notion that people are more satisfied with their career choices and jobs when their work experiences are consistent with personal qualities such as needs, values, and preferences. Similarly, performance in a career is enhanced when the job requires the application of skills and abilities that the individual possesses.

The emerging concept of the boundaryless career, whereby employees are faced with an ever-changing work landscape, mandates that individuals take individualistic, proactive approaches to managing their careers. Indeed, changes in technologies, corporate reorganizations and contractions, and internal leadership can all affect an individual’s career within a particular organization. Employees who are not sensitive to the implications of such changes in the environment in the management of their careers might be ignorant of their career options or might make inappropriate career decisions.

Past research on individual career management sees it as a series of distinct steps or phases through which a person passes as he or she arrives at and implements appropriate career decisions. In general, these ongoing steps include the gathering of information to develop or increase awareness of oneself and the work environment, establishing career goals and strategies, and obtaining feedback to help appraise progress against established goals.

Career Exploration: Developing Individual and Environmental Awareness

The first step in the individual career-management process requires the person to engage in career exploration. Career exploration is the collection and analysis of information regarding career-related issues. Most people need to gather information so they can become more aware of their own values, interests, and talents as well as the opportunities and obstacles in their environments. It is assumed that the more extensive their career exploration, the more likely people are to become aware of different aspects of themselves and the world of work. If conducted properly, career exploration should enable the person to become more fully aware of himself or herself and the work environment.

Two types of career exploration can be differentiated on the basis of the type of information that is sought. One type, self-exploration, provides a greater awareness of one’s personal qualities, including interests, the degree of job challenge one desires, strengths and weaknesses, talents, and limitations. Self-exploration can also provide a better understanding of the balance of work, family, and leisure activities that best suit a preferred lifestyle. The other type, environmental exploration, involves learning more about the work environment, including seeking information on alternative occupations, organizations, and industries. Environmental exploration can also provide useful information on a family’s needs and aspirations, a spouse’s career values, and the relationship between one’s work life and family life.

Research suggests that career exploration has a beneficial effect on career management. The most immediate consequence of career exploration is an enhanced awareness of self and environment. Indeed, the more career exploration individuals engage in, the more aware they are about their work values and the more knowledge they report about their chosen careers. Awareness can be defined as a relatively complete and accurate perception of one’s own qualities and the characteristics of one’s relevant environment. An awareness of self and environment enables a person to set appropriate career goals and to develop appropriate career strategies.

Establishing Career Goals and Strategies

A greater awareness of oneself and the work environment can help individuals choose a career goal or goals toward which to strive. Goals are likely to be more appropriate and more realistic when they are based on an accurate picture of self and environment. A career goal is a desired career-related outcome that a person intends to attain. The advantage of establishing a career goal is that a person can direct his or her efforts in a relatively focused manner.

The establishment of a realistic goal or set of goals can facilitate the development and implementation of a career strategy. A career strategy is a sequence of activities designed to help an individual attain a career goal. Past research identifies several general categories of career strategies that can be used to enhance an individual’s chances of career goal fulfillment. These broad strategies include attaining competence in the current job, putting in extended work hours, developing new skills, developing new opportunities at work, attaining a mentor, building one’s image and reputation, and engaging in organizational politics. The usefulness of a particular career strategy is dependent on a number of factors, including the nature of the job, the type of the industry, and the culture and norms of the particular organization. Indeed, a career strategy that may be successful in one case may not work in another.

Career Appraisal

Whether or not one is making progress toward a goal, the implementation of a career strategy can provide useful feedback to the person. This feedback, in conjunction with feedback from other work and non-work sources, can enable a person to appraise his or her career. Career appraisal is the process by which people acquire and use career-related feedback to determine whether their goals and strategies are appropriate. The information derived from career appraisal becomes a vehicle for career exploration that continues the process of individual career management.

The career-appraisal process may lead to a reexamination of career goals. More precisely, the feedback one obtains from work or nonwork sources can reinforce or lead to the modification of a goal. Career appraisal can also affect strategic behavior, since feedback might indicate that one type of career strategy is effective and should be maintained while another strategy is ineffective in achieving a career goal and should therefore not be pursued in the future. Regardless of its particular source, the information derived from career appraisal completes the individual career-management cycle by becoming another source of exploratory information that can enhance one’s awareness of self and environment.

Organizational Support for Individual Career Management

Contemporary organizations provide a number of programs and human resource practices intended to help their employees manage their careers. Organizations provide this assistance based on the belief that employees will have more positive work attitudes and will perform at higher levels when their jobs and work environments match individual characteristics and desires. In addition, by helping employees manage their careers, organizations are attempting to ensure a committed workforce that will stay loyal to the company and be ready and able to move, either laterally or hierarchically, into new and more challenging assignments.

Organizations can offer their employees a number of specific programs to assist in the career-management process, including the provision of a job-posting program; formal and informal mentoring; job rotation and lateral transfers; formal education, training, and development initiatives; career-assessment centers and workshops; performance appraisal and feedback systems; and employee and executive coaching. Each activity and program is intended, in whole or in part, to support employee development and improve individual career management and decision making.


Individual career management is a process by which individuals develop, implement, and monitor career goals and strategies. It is an ongoing process in which an individual gathers relevant information about himself or herself and the world of work; develops an accurate picture of his or her talents, interests, values, and lifestyle preferences as well as alternative occupations, jobs, and organizations; develops realistic career goals based on this information; develops and implements strategies designed to achieve these goals; and obtains feedback regarding the effectiveness of the strategy. Organizations can help their employees in the career-management process by providing various activities and programs that support employee development and individual awareness.

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  1. Arthur, M. B., Inkson, K. and Pringle, J. K. 1999. The New Careers. London, UK: Sage.
  2. Arthur, M. B. and Rousseau, D. M. 1996. The Boundaryless Career. New York: Oxford University Press.
  3. Baruch, Y. 2004. Managing Careers: Theory and Practice. Harlow: FT-Prentice Hall/Pearson Education.
  4. Baruch, Y. and Peiperl, M. A. 2000. “Career Management Practices: An Empirical Survey and Implications.” Human Resource Management 39:347-366.
  5. Eby, L. T., Butts, M. and Lockwood, A. 2003. “Predictors of Success in the Era of the Boundaryless Career.” Journal of Organizational Behavior 24:689-708.
  6. Greenhaus, J. H., Callanan, G. A. and Godshalk, V. M. Career Management.   3d ed.   Mason, OH: Thomson-Southwestern.