Career Management Skills

See also: Building a Personal Brand

Fifty years ago, most people expected to leave school or university, join an employer and stay there for most of their working life.

Now, however, working life is much more flexible and few expect to have a ‘job for life’. At the same time, recognition has grown that individuals have to do far more to manage their own working life, and their career journey.

Generally, people no longer need skills to rise through a single employer. Instead, they need skills to create a meaningful, fulfilling career for themselves, and plan their own personal and career development. These are often known as career management skills.

Career Planning and Management

Defining Career Management Skills

Career management skills are all the skills needed to control and manage your career journey. They include:

  • Planning your career, and setting goals and objectives;
  • Developing a strategy for your career and your working life more generally;
  • Developing an action plan to deliver on it, including developing any necessary skills;
  • Evaluating your progress against your goals; and
  • Reassessing and adjusting your goals and action plan to reflect new priorities and changes in your life.

SkillsYouNeed contains numerous pages that may be helpful in career management, across personal skills, interpersonal skills, and learning skills. You may find our Personal Development pages particularly helpful.

This process of career planning and management is likely to be familiar to anyone who has ever done any kind of formal learning, especially involving a personal development element. It is a fairly standard process.

However, this standard process does not always work in practice.

Few of us rise up steadily through a career. Indeed, few of us stay in the same career or even line of work throughout our working lives—and given that our working lives may now span four or five decades, that should not be a surprise. Priorities change, and our skills and expectations develop. New opportunities open up, and we want to be able to take advantage of them.

However, this does not mean that career management skills are no longer important.

Quite the opposite, in fact. You can drift through life and hope to take advantage of the opportunities that are offered to you. However, without some kind of focused look at your skills and particularly the gaps in them, the opportunities are likely to become fewer and fewer. What's more, you may reach a point where you start thinking “I wish I’d been able to do x…”.

In life, you make your own luck to a certain extent.

No one cares about your career as much as you do.

Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis, The Squiggly Career

Thinking about where you want to be—planning, setting goals, and working out how to deliver on them—enables you to take advantage of more opportunities.

There is more about this process in our pages on Personal Development. In particular, you may want to visit the pages on Personal Development Planning, and Personal Development Top Tips, especially if you are struggling to know where to start.

Career ladder versus squiggly career

In their book The Squiggly Career, Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis argue that the concept of a ‘career ladder’ is long gone. Nobody is ‘climbing a ladder’, with every step of their career mapped out ahead of them.

Instead, a map of a career actually looks more like a squiggle than a ladder.

We move around a lot more than our parents, changing companies, roles and industries. Moves are not necessarily upwards, but may be sideways or around, because we follow our interests.

Tupper and Ellis argue that to take full advantage of the world of squiggly careers, you need to work on five areas: super-strengths, values, confidence, networking and future possibilities.

What Influences Your Career Path?

There are many things that may influence your career path or journey. These include:

  • What interests you, because we are often told to follow our dreams, turn a passion into a job, or do what interests us most.

  • The kind of lifestyle you want, because this influences what work is possible and desirable. There is growing understanding of the importance of a good work–life balance, but this is still harder to achieve in many areas of work than others. It is also more possible to work flexibly in some locations and jobs than in others.

  • Where you want to live. This may affect what jobs are available to you. Even with the rise of working from home, not all jobs can be done remotely.

  • What you want to earn. Obviously, not all types of work are paid the same—and you may find that you cannot afford to do the work that you wish. You may, for example, find that you cannot afford the training, or that the income from the work is simply not enough to sustain your preferred lifestyle.

Having it all? The importance of compromise

It should by now be clear that your career path may well turn out to be a question of compromise. What you really love may not give you the lifestyle you want, or allow you to live in your preferred location.

The real question is what matters most to you. Hold onto that and compromise elsewhere—and don’t be afraid to change if your priorities change, or if you find that a particular factor is more or less important than you thought.

Developing generic (transferable) skills

There are a number of skills which are likely to be useful in any career, such as good communication skills and other interpersonal skills. These skills are not job-specific, and tend to be about how we relate to other people, or our personal qualities.

These skills are also often known as Transferable Skills or Employability Skills.

If you are not certain where to start with your career development, this type of skill is probably a good option, as it will stand you in good stead whatever you choose to do. These skills are also the easiest to acquire from outside work situations (for example, through volunteering) or even just through social interactions.

Why Not Try Our Interpersonal Skills Self-Assessment?

If you want help identifying areas for development, why not try our Interpersonal Skills Self-Assessment? This will show you strengths and weaknesses, and enable you to target your self-improvement.

However, there is another approach, which is more structured.

The authors of The Squiggly Career suggest that there are five areas to consider as part of career management skills. These are:

Using this approach is more flexible than traditional ‘career planning’. However, it still looks at where you might want to be in life, and why—and then helps you to consider how you might best get there.

Career, job or gig?

What is the difference between a career, a job, and a gig?

  • A career is the broad type of work that you do: how you define yourself when someone says ‘So what do you do?’. You might, for example, say that you are an architect, software developer, business owner, entrepreneur or freelance writer.

  • A job is the work that you do for a particular employer. Generally speaking, when we talk about ‘jobs’, we mean full- or part-time employment, which by definition is usually at just one organisation.

  • A gig is a project for a particular organisation or individual, often on a contract basis. Gigs may be short- or long-term, but those working on gigs are usually independent contractors or self-employed, rather than employed by the organisation.

There is more about these concepts in our page on Entrepreneurship and Self-Employment Skills. You may also be interested in our page on Portfolio Working, which describes the idea of mixing employment and self-employment (jobs and gigs), or different types of self-employment.

Skills for Particular Careers

A number of careers and work areas require very specific skills. For example:

  • Professionals like doctors, lawyers and accountants have to take professional exams, and may study for many years to develop their professional knowledge.

  • Practical work like plumbing or electrical installation may require specialist skills that can only be acquired through practice, training or an apprenticeship.

Other careers may be easier to access if you have some kind of professional training. For example, project management can be done without a qualification, but it can also be easier to get a job in that area if you have a qualification. Without a qualification, it is necessary to have more experience to be able to demonstrate that you can do the job.

Particular jobs may also need particular skills. For example, it is considerably easier to get a marketing job if you have knowledge and experience of social media marketing.

For more about the skills required to succeed in particular careers, and careers in particular sectors, you may like to read some of our pages on Careers in Specific Sectors. From healthcare to law, retail and hospitality, different sectors offer a wide range of careers, and also have different requirements for skills and qualifications.

Skills for Getting a Job

However good your generic or job-specific skills, you also need to be able to apply for and obtain a job.

The skills required to do this include:

The way that you present yourself, in writing or in person, is vital in getting a job. It can also affect interpersonal interactions in your working life, as well as outside work. It is therefore well worth taking the time to consider what impression you want to convey, and how well your clothes and attitude do this.

For more about this, see our pages on Personal Presentation and Personal Appearance.

The Skills You Need Guide to Getting a Job

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Getting a Job

Develop the skills you need to get that job.

This eBook is essential reading for potential job-seekers. Not only does it cover identifying your skills but also the mechanics of applying for a job, writing a CV or resume and attending interviews.

To Plan, or Not To Plan?

It is not essential to have a rigid plan for every last move in your career.

Sometimes the most successful career moves are those that arose spontaneously, from a chance meeting or conversation, perhaps. It is important to have sufficient flexibility to be able to take advantage of those opportunities when they arise.

However, to enable you to take advantage of those opportunities, you need to have done sufficient planning to have the necessary skills in place.

It is, therefore, helpful to think ahead from time to time about the opportunities that you would like, and what skills you would need to get there.

Of course, as you develop in your chosen career, you will also learn more about yourself, and what you like to do. Your vision of your preferred opportunities may change, and therefore so may your development needs.

Career management needs, above all, to be relatively flexible.