What is a Career

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The meaning of career

Career has traditionally meant moving up in working life, for a job with greater responsibility, higher pay and more status. However, the career concept today is broader and is about much more than moving upwards towards leadership and influence.

You can see career as a work life that can go many ways. Career thus refers to the path our working life has taken and will take in the future. It can both be the hierarchical upward road, as well as the more cluttered road, filled with a lot of diverse experiences.

The professional career of a person includes the set of professional experiences that he has had throughout his life. Therefore, it's not exclusively the list of positions that he has occupied throughout his professional career (better defined as a professional career), but as Hall (1976) indicates, it's composed of objective elements and subjective elements experienced and perceived throughout the entire professional life of a person.

The objective elements are easily observable and verifiable by the environment, and include the positions held, the training received,... The subjective elements comprise the perceptions of each situation that define milestones and decisions that relaunch or retain one's career. Thus, changes in a person's aspirations as a result of a certain event or experience are key components of their professional career.

Direction vs career planning

Therefore, a person's professional career can and usually transcends their permanence in an organization.

When an organization tries to take advantage of the aspirations of progress in the professional career of its employees, designing a strategy, policy or program that contains the appropriate means (information systems, training programs, promotion criteria,...), so that Within the organization, employees with initiative to develop their professional careers can do so and, at the same time that the organization itself takes advantage of it, we would talk about strategies, policies or programs (depending on the size of the set of measures) of Career Management professionals.

When we place ourselves in the employee's perspective and try to project how we want their professional career to advance and what actions must be carried out to achieve this, we are planning the individual professional career. The organization can help these people, guiding them about their possibilities inside and outside of it. With this you can obtain information and give information, and thus try to act accordingly with what is derived from that information. In these cases, such guidance in career planning may be done within the framework of a career management strategy, policy or program, as one more aspect within it, or that the company doesn't have the set of measures that would entail carrying out a Directorate of professional careers (training programs,...)

Concept and nature of career management

Nelson and Quick (2003) establish that Career Management inherently carries a spirit of reciprocity between organization and employee. For which the organization must develop strategies to achieve the results sought by both parties, with the appropriate means to achieve them.

Among the measures that the organization can carry out in this regard, they would highlight (Harris, 2000):

  • Commit employees to the objectives of the organization.
  • Develop plans, both for employees with high potential for the development of their careers in the organization, and
  • for those who already have few options for advancement. Provide means for employees to be able to dedicate themselves on time to obtain the merits and means with which
  • to opt for their next professional career step.
  • Do everything within the current legal framework and the purpose of fair treatment for all people in equal conditions. Armstrong (2001) presents several general purposes of the Direction of professional careers:
    • Ensure that the succession needs in the key positions of the organization are fully covered satisfactorily.
    • Provide employees with adequate training and education to take on the greater responsibilities that career advancement will entail.
    • Give potential employees a clear and precise guide that allows them to develop their potential and achieve success in their professional careers.

The concept of employability

A term closely linked to professional career is employability. Fernandez-Mateo (2002) raises it in a new socio-economic scenario, in which it's no longer so common for a person to carry out their entire professional career in a single organization, and, therefore, more and more young people with potential value, even More than the first salary, how the position and the organization will help them advance in their professional careers in the future.

As a consequence, we can find employees with high potential and professional aspirations who, unlike what is still the most common among the rest of the workforce, demand from companies not a guarantee of job security but employability that opens doors in the future.

Types of professional career

Fernandez-Mateo (2002) collects the type of careers that distinguishes between:

  • Organizational careers . when people develop their entire professional career within the same organization.
  • Professional or occupational careers . when the evolution within the career itself occurs with organizational changes that entail or changes to more prestigious positions or more prestigious organizations.
  • Secondary careers . when a clearly identifiable line of progress within a certain activity is not so defined, passing through low-skilled positions.

Prior to this typology, Kanter (1989) established different types of professional career according to the organizational model and spoke of:

  • "Bureaucratic" professional career: consisting of a succession of formal movements from position to position that usually entails an advance in the ranking of positions in the organization. As Kanter argues, in industrialized countries this concept of a professional career has been common, useful in periods of economic expansion, but limited when organizations see their possibilities for growth reduced.
  • "Professional" professional career: consisting of progressing in the professional career, without the need for a change from one position to another, through growth in reputation, independence when undertaking work projects, importance of the jobs assumed,... This reputation and prestige is usually given by clients, colleagues,... a lawyer, an architect... who takes on more and more important cases, projects... over time is advancing in his career professional according to this model.
  • "Business" professional career: consisting of progressing in the professional career, not due to a change in title or position, but due to a growth in power, remuneration and responsibility, through the parallel growth of the organization itself. It has more prestige because we occupy the same position as before but the organization is more successful.



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