Active Career Awareness

Tuesday, 16. August 2016
Roy Ackema, Tracoin Quality, Netherlands


In the ever-changing working environments we find ourselves in, how do we keep ourselves actively aware in our Career? Nowadays most large organisations are structurally downsized to reach optimal cost efficiency. This does not mean that this is always a balanced approach. In order to reach an optimal effectively, the daily activities need to be performed with the available people. Often we hear: “I have too much work and not enough time to get it all done in time.” This results in working late or in weekends. We make these additional efforts because of our work ethics but also to show our commitment to the goals of the organisation. This is assuming that all of this hard work will ultimately open opportunities, which allow us to realise our career aspirations.

However, this gives little time left to reflect whether our activities are really contributing to our envisaged career path, because of this seemingly never ending stream of assignments, meetings and things to do. We are often left to wonder: “Do I have a clear picture in my mind what career path to strive for and whether that is feasible in my organisation?”

Most companies have a Career Develop Plan process implemented. This means that career goals are formulated and training interventions are agreed on. This is often evaluated once a year as part of the performance review process. In practice though, most career changes are resulting from reacting to unexpected opportunities, even when these do not align with our “official career path”.

To create a more structured approach to accomplish your career goals it is important to take time to reflect regularly on the current job and career expectations reflecting on some of the following questions:

  1. How good am I in mastering my regular activities?  It would be good to take some time to reflect daily, especially when having accomplished a task to see how well you preformed. Maybe you did a very good job or maybe something happened which prevented you from accomplishing the goal. What personal related factors influenced these outcomes? Were there any specific external factors were impacting? You could ask your colleagues and peers for feedback to learn from their observations. It could be beneficial to use a kind of log to record the outcomes of your reflections. This can be very effective to support your reflections on the long run. Within the European research project “MIRROR” ( some free available tools were developed to support this type of reflection process, like the MoodMap application and the talk-reflect application.
  2. What career path do I envisage that fits with my ambition? Did you know what you want to achieve in your career? That seems to be an open question, but when was the last time you took stock of what you wanted to achieve in your career? Often these opportunities are created by incident, like not feeling satisfied with the work you are doing or some impacting change in your personal environment.
  3. What opportunities are available in my organisations and are there any barriers to overcome? In large organisations there are many options, but to how do you decide what are feasible opportunities? Unrealistic or unreasonable expectations can be resulting in unnecessary negative stress and can even become an obstacle for progressing in your career. It’s often assumed that your peers and the HR professionals of your organisation will have insights what is achievable, but how easy is it to discuss your career aspirations with them?
  4. What talents and competencies do I have that support my career ambitions? A self-assessment would be a good starting point. However, to do this you need to know what competencies are required for the specific jobs in your envisaged career path. If these competencies are already identified and shared with you then it would be possible to do such a self-assessment. Unfortunately, they are often only available in the HR domain of your organisation and they can be difficult to interpret. Support from your peers and the HR professionals are needed to perform such an assessment. Hopefully this will be something to consider when organising a formal or 360-degree assessment for you so you can get a detailed insight in your talents and competencies.
  5. What are my competency gaps? So when you informed about your assessed competencies it should be possible to determine the gaps that needed to be worked on to accomplish your career goals. For knowledge related gaps some formal training could be identified, assuming that you company has an option available for you. You need easy access to this training so you can squeeze this in your already full agenda of daily activities! For the acquisition of transversal competencies other methods should be used. Maybe it’s worth considering a specific coaching process or a set of specific training interventions?
  6. How can I make use of my social network to support my career goals? Just having a list of people you know is a good starting point. There a several services available to get connected to your contacts. However, just being connected will not be very helpful to advance your career goals or work on your competency gaps. Sometimes we hope that some miraculous opportunity will come from your network to you by just waiting for it. In most cases that does not happen. So being active in contacting them regularly to get support seems is advisable. This raises its own questions: what should you ask them? Ask for advice how to work on specific competency gaps or even to coach you? There is never an easy answer to that, but by being honest and open about what you’re looking to achieve is always a great place to start.
  7. How can I use my current job activities to support my career goals? There are probably enough opportunities (when you recognise them), to work on your competency gaps, to ask for advice from your colleagues, or finding relevant training interventions. Making a habit of regularly reflecting on your performance will certainly support you in identifying these opportunities.

As mentioned above current approaches to career development within medium and large companies are typically applied top-down in the form of talent management technologies. This approach generally does not support self-directed and self-managed learning about one’s career.

That is why we have initiated a research project that is supported by EU Horizon 2020 funding under the name DEVELOP. The objective is to create an interactive learning environment to aid employees in understanding their competencies and exploring potential career paths. After identifying the competencies and social capital of an employee the DEVELOP environment will support recommendations of personalised learning interventions that will progress them towards the positions they aspire to. Offline and online AI planning techniques will be to orchestrate and re-use existing training content and services.

Although DEVELOP advocates an employee-centric approach, career development will need close cooperation with HR and L&D managers. As a tool to aid Talent Management, DEVELOP will also include an interface customised to the needs of HR and L&D to identify the interventions necessary for an individual employee to reach their objectives, and to identify key employees that are not identified through traditional performance appraisals.

The project was started in February 2016. During the first six months we worked closely with the use-case partners to identify the main requirements for the DEVELOP environment, started to defined the transversal competency framework, and identified the requirements for the social network analyses activities.

During the next six months the designs of the system will be realised and we will start building the first prototypes. If you are inspired by our project vision and work, please feel free to contact us. Maybe you would be interested to become an Associate Partner of the DEVELOP project and join us in our journey, exploring innovative solutions fitting the personnel planning and development needs of your organisation? You can register here:

Of course you can also contact us in case you would like to have more detailed information about the DEVELOP project and the potential benefits of our project results for your organisation or your personal area of interest.