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Career management, HR says 99% of employees are not pro-active with their careers

career management

Is your career moving as much as you are working? Hard work isn’t enough

Career Management

Are you practicing career management? Most of us think we are managing our careers, but let me ask you the following questions:

  • Have you talked to your manager about your 3-year plan? (Yes, I said it, the dreaded three-year plan)
  • Have you talked to your manager about your next opportunity, position, or title? Specifically what you are going to do to land the next big thing?
  • Have you talked to your manager about your next big project and specifically, what skills you will use or show off on this project that can help you attain your goals?

Hard work not paying off

Last week we talked about techniques to test if you are setting expectations with your manager on your week-to-week projects. Of course, we talked about HOW to set expectations as well. This week, the discussion is on career management. Are you a hard worker? Check. Do you show up on time? Check. Are you completing your projects on time? Check. Is your manager happy with your performance? Check. Is your career going up and to the right?

If you checked the above boxes, that doesn’t confirm that we are managing our careers. It means you are earning your paycheck twice a month, but career management? Meh!

Most employees THINK that their manager knows and understands what they want out of their individual careers. But if you ask employees the three questions listed above, the answer will usually be “no actually, I haven’t talked about goals”

If you haven’t talked to your manager about your long-term aspirations and specifically HOW you are going to attain these aspirations, don’t expect them to happen. Your manager is not a mind reader.

Exit interview evidence

When I conduct an exit interview with an employee that has turned in their 2-week notice, in about 50% of the cases, the employees didn’t manage their careers. The employees leave because they think the company failed them. They did the hard work, but no one knew what the employee really wanted to do long-term. In reality, the employee failed themselves.

I understand when employees are leaving our company for a larger opportunity, for a shorter commute (Seattle makes the top list for worst commute in the nation), and in some cases more money. I get it! I understand it! In most cases, I can respect it. I don’t like it, but oftentimes, it was our experience that put the employee in a situation where they could “graduate” to the next opportunity. I am proud of them and our company.

I didn’t get this and I didn’t get that

But when I ask an employee why they are leaving and they flat-out tell me, I haven’t gotten a new opportunity, I haven’t gotten a promotion, I haven’t received a pay raise or I saw Incompetent Johnny get one of our largest clients, I always ask the following:

Does your manager know you wanted a specific title, specific project, or a specific large account? Have you shared these expectations with your manager?

The usual answers which lack career management

  • Uhhh, I haven’t shared the specific title/project/large customer account aspiration with them.
  • They SHOULD know that is what I want. Doesn’t everyone want the next title, project or large customer?

HRAsshole response that I am thinking TO MYSELF

Well, Johnny, I wish you had spoken up about your wishes because you are a strong performer and I am sure we could have put you on a plan to accomplish your goals. I gotta’ say, I don’t like to try to salvage an exiting employee with more money, more opportunity or more projects because the employee rarely lasts more than 6 months. Once an employee has started to think about leaving, it can be tough to retain that employee long-term. It’s a “Once we sleep around on our significant other and get caught hard to restore the faith” tough to retain way. It can work, but it is a high-maintenance relationship built on the premise of “trust and verify”.  

For your personal career moving forward, I would encourage you to speak up about what you are looking for in your career, whether it is specific project/more opportunity or the large account.

Mindreaders do exist

But they should know what I want.


Which one would you want?

Exiting employee:

Any of the prior mentioned opportunities of course!

The voice in my head says

OMG. You are going to leave because you didn’t get what you DID NOT ask for? You are going to give it all up and start all over because we assumed our manager is a mind reader and knows exactly what you want? If you didn’t speak up here, what makes you think the NEW manager at your new employer is going to be a mind reader?

HRNasty rational voice

I can appreciate your point of view. From a guy that is looking across the entire organization, I can say that if we assume everyone wants all of these opportunities, we will be considered arrogant and insensitive to our employees. For some employees, more opportunity means more work. Some employees, don’t care about the title at all, they just want the prestige of the biggest clients. For other employees, they don’t care about how large or small their clients are, they just want the bigger title. 

At the end of the day, as individual contributors, it is our career and we need to play the manager role in our careers. We need to show initiative and drive towards our goals. More importantly, we need to speak up about what we want and share the plan to get there with our manager. When our manager knows what we want to do, THEN they can help us. Then they WILL help us.

Managers want initiative 

Too many employees assume that their manager is going to reach out and ask them what they want long-term. Many employees believe it is the manager’s responsibility to make sure their career takes off.  Unfortunately, fewer managers in the workforce mean more people on the team to manage. If we want our careers to go somewhere, we need to speak up, put a plan in place and get our managers to buy into this plan. When they know what we want and know that we have put a plan in place to get there, they will probably step in and help. They just need to see some initiative.

Requisite dating example

If you are going to the senior prom, you don’t go to your mom the day before the prom and ask her for 400.00 to take your significant-other to prom. Giving your mom one day’s notice will probably result in a “WTF do you need 400.00 for? When I went to prom, it was 100.00”

To which you respond, Mom, I need:

  • 100.00 for the limo
  • 150.00 for the dinner
  • 50.00 for the flowers
  • 100.00 for the after party

You are going to get a big fat no. You might get a single hundy, but you are not getting four bills.

Set expectations a few months early and put a plan in place

Mom, It is March 8. I am a senior this year and I want to take Shorty to the prom in June. I am going to need 400.00 to do this right and you know how much Shorty means to me. I want to propose that I mow the lawn, watch little Bobby Brother on the weekends and get a part-time job, but that is only going to get me to 200.00. Can you help me out?

Our mom might say: 200.00? When I went to prom it was 100.00. Tell you what I am going to do. You mow the lawn once a week and wash my car once a month and I will make sure you can make it to prom.

Sound familiar? We put a plan in place and showed some initiative. We didn’t show up last-minute or just assume that our mother could read our minds and come up with the 4 bills.

If you are putting in the hard work and showing up on time, make sure your manager understands your long-term aspirations and goals. With their help and advice, we can probably cut the time to achievement down significantly. Otherwise, we are just reinventing the wheel and struggling with no direction. 

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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