Tuesday, April 6, 2010


A career is the sequence of work-related positions a person occupies throughout life. People pursue careers to satisfy deeply individual needs. At one time, identifying with one employer seemed to fulfill many of those needs. Now, the distinction between the individual’s career as the organization sees it and the career as the individual sees it is very important.

Organization-Centered vs. Individual-Centered Career Planning
Career planning can be somewhat confusing, because two different perspectives exist. Career planning can be organization centered, individual centered, or both.

Organization-centered career planning focuses on jobs and on constructing career paths that provide for the logical progression of people between jobs in an organization. These paths are ones that individuals can follow to advance in certain organizational units. For example, a person might enter the sales department as a sales counselor, then be promoted to account director, to sales manager, and finally to vice-president of sales.

Individual-centered career planning focuses on individuals’ careers rather than organizational needs. It is done by employees themselves, and individual goals and skills are the focus of the analysis. Such analyses might consider situations both inside and outside the organization that could expand a person’s career. Organizational retrenchment and downsizing have changed career plans for many people. They have found themselves in “career transition”—in other words, in need of finding other jobs. Small businesses, some started by early retirees from big companies, have provided many of the new career opportunities.

How People Choose Careers
Four general individual characteristics affect how people make career choices.
-Interests: People tend to pursue careers that they believe match their interests.
-Self-image: A career is an extension of a person’s self-image, as well as a molder of it.
-Personality: This factor includes an employee’s personal orientation (for example, whether the employee is realistic, enterprising, and artistic) and personal needs (including affiliation, power, and achievement needs).
-Social backgrounds: Socioeconomic status and the educational and occupation level of a person’s parents are a few factors included in this category.
Less is known about how and why people choose specific organizations than about why they choose specific careers. One obvious factor is the availability of a job when the person is looking for work. The amount of information available about alternatives is an important factor as well. Beyond these issues, people seem to pick an organization on the basis of a “fit” between the climate of the organization as they perceive it and their own personal characteristics. Many factors may influence job choice, including the gender of the job informant who passed along job information.
Further, people change jobs more now than ever before. A typical American holds 8.6 jobs between ages 18 and 32, with most of the job changes occurring earlier rather than later. People clearly make choices about the stops along the way in their careers, basing these stops on many different factors.

General Career Progression
The typical career today probably will include many different positions, transitions, and organizations—more so than in the past, when employees were less mobile and organizations more stable as long-term employers. In this context, it is useful to think about general patterns in people’s careers and in their lives. Many theorists in adult development describe the first half of life as the young adult’s quest for competence and a way to make a mark in the world. According to this view, happiness during this time is sought primarily through achievement and the acquisition of capabilities. The second half of life is different. Once the adult starts to measure time from the expected end of his or her life rather than from the beginning. The need for competence and acquisition changes to the need for integrity, values, and well-being. Internal values take precedence over external scorecards for many. In addition, mature adults already have certain skills, so their focus may shift to other interests. Career-ending concerns reflect additional shifts also.
Contained within this view is the idea that careers and lives are not predictably linear but cyclical. Periods of high stability are followed by transition, by less stability, and by inevitable discoveries, disappointments, and triumphs. Therefore, lives and careers must be viewed as cycles of structure and transition. This view may be a useful perspective for those suffering the negative results of downsizing and early career plateaus in large organizations. Such a perspective argues for the importance of flexibility in an individual’s career and may encourage a willingness to acquire diverse skills.

Whether retirement comes at age 50 or 70, it can require a major adjustment for many people. Some common emotional adjustments faced by retirees include:
-Self-management: The person must adjust to being totally self-directed after retirement. There is no longer any supervisor or work agenda dictating what to do and when to do it.
-Need to belong: When a person retires, he or she is no longer a member of the work group that took up so much time and formed an important social structure for so many years. What takes its place?
-Pride in achievement: Achievement reinforces self-esteem and is often centered around work. In retirement, past achievements quickly wear thin as a source of self-esteem.
-Territoriality: Personal “turf,” in the form of office, company, and title, is lost in retirement. Other ways to satisfy territorial needs must be found.
-Goals: Organizations provide many of a person’s goals. Some people may be unprepared to set their own goals when they retire.
Of course, from the standpoint of the organization, retirement is an orderly way to move people out at the ends of their careers. However mindful of the problems that retirement poses for some individuals, some organizations are experimenting with phased retirement through gradually reduced workweeks and increased vacation time. These and other preretirement and postretirement programs, aimed at helping employees deal with problems, aid in the transition to a useful retirement.
The phenomenon of “forced” early retirement that began in the 1980s has required thousands of managers and professionals to determine what is important to them while they are still young and healthy and to plan accordingly. Because of economic factors, many organizations have used early retirement to reduce their workforces. Some of these young retirees “go fishing,” but many begin second careers.

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