The HR Juggler

The Only Person Who Really Looks After Your Career Is Yourself

Posted on: September 20, 2011



Day 3 of my blogging experiment and this is a topic that has got me thinking. I find to hard to disagree with the overall statement that this blog is based on: to my mind, an individual should always be accountable for their own career development and make the decisions that are right for them.  Who looks after your career if not yourself?

But it’s also true that none of us operate in isolation. And if we examine this more closely, we may find that there are other stakeholders involved for each of us. These may be family or friends, colleagues or mentors…individuals whose opinions we trust and listen to. Charlie Judy (@HRFishbowl) wrote a great article on ensuring that you develop your own personal board of directors – a hand-selected group of trusted advisors with diverse perspectives dedicated to furthering your career. So, just because we take personal accountability for our own careers, it does not mean that others will not help you look after and nurture it. 

What of an organisation’s responsibility towards its staff? How much of a role does it and should it play in helping individuals to further and develop  their careers? Succession planning, skills development and employee retention are all good reasons why companies should take an active stakeholder role in the careers of their staff, however I suspect that whether the individual feels invested in, valued and listened to in this way varies enormously by organisation and also potentially by sector.

The only person that really looks after your career is yourself? On face-value perhaps, but there is much food for thought here in how we manage our own careers and also how our organisations provide a supportive environment for learning and development. 

I would love to hear what you think.


This post is the third of my blogging experiment, where all of the post topics have been generated by others and there has been voting taking place on which topic I should blog on each day. If you haven’t voted for a topic yet, please do – I will be tackling the topic with the most votes every day for the remainder of this week. In the event of tie-break votes, I will make the final choice between the two most popular myself  ;)  


11 Responses to "The Only Person Who Really Looks After Your Career Is Yourself"

Very good points, I always strive to develop but find that even when I ask for it, i get false promises from line managers so i tend to go looking for learnings from other areas of the business this has never hindered but it’s learning for learning sake and not always the direction discussed or the one I want to go in. There is only so much self development someone can do to further themselves without some support/guidance from mangers within a business

I have always believed this to be the case and think you’re only making the case for this to continue in the same vain. There may be others who have an interest, and others who can help or hinder that process, but it’s only you who can drive that change to happen.

When Gandhi had made the common Indian man stand up and be heard against the British Raj, he did this on his own convictions and motivations. There were plenty of other stakeholders who wanted to influence what he did, but he had the strength of mind and determination to do what he decided was the best course of action.

That’s probably what is missing when individuals don’t take control of their careers. They expect these other stakeholders to be more influential than they either need to be or should be.

Another interesting blog Alison!
I followed an interesting conversation on the CIPD website discussing similar issues. From my perspective, I firmly believe that this is in my own hands, or at least I have to lead this. Someone said to me recently that you have to be ‘The CEO of your own career’ which seemed very appropriate – invest in yourself if you want others to invest in you.
However, thats not to say that companies do not or will not act in the employees best interests. There very obvious benefits around reducing attrition, talent management, the fact that developing is often cheaper than recruiting externally that mean companies should, and will, take an interest. However ultimately the employee themselves should take control.
Whats the phrase? If you want somethind done properly, do it yourself!

I’m going to add another yes vote, and I guess as someone who walked out on a successful steady career in order to start a new business I have to take that line. I do think I could have made my move work a little easier though, if I’d thought to engage more before jumping ship. I know I learn lots from others and I’m occasionally criticised for crowd sourcing ideas but I believe as individuals we don’t know much. Together we can be and often are, something special. Sorry starting to drift a touch.

Nutshell: I’m responsible for my own career and I’m delighted that other folks want to help.

Ok, I think I’m going to be a bit of a naysayer…

To me the statement “The Only Person Who Really Looks After Your Career Is Yourself” is a fallacy. In fact I think anyone who tries to follow this belief will struggle and even fail long term.

My own experience and observations are that life provides you with a range of supporters, mentors and hidden allies. All of which in many different ways can & do help you look after your career – some passive, some active.

If the question is “are you accountable/responsible for your own career development?” then I think the answer is slightly different. Yes, you have to take accountability (even if you don’t want to) but the reality is you can only develop if someone provides the opportunities you need to develop.

Similarly, if the question is framed in the context of driving your career then I think you as an individual are very much in the driving seat. It will take your energy and focus to move forwards. Everyone else can only help provide the environment you need.

If there is ever a time where you find you are the only one who is accountable, responsible or interested in your own career then you need to stop. Take a long look around and if you still can’t find the hidden supporters, then find some quickly.

Success is so rarely a solo event in any field of endeavour.

Great blog Alison. I reckon that the individual owns their career, the organisation supports and facilitates but critically, the manager enables. I work with a lot of organisations who don’t support their managers to be effective career conversationalists and the whole thing falls over.

Thank you all of you for these thoughtful and insightful comments and links. I struggled quite a lot with writing this post and it is great to hear all of the differing viewpoints and reponses to it. Food for thought indeed!

[…] The Only Person Who Really Looks After Your Career Is Yourself […]

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Here’s what I believe about the career management responsibilities in large complex organizations. The primary employee development responsibility of senior management is to secure the future of the enterprise through the identification and development of future leadership and technical contributors. An employee in this context needs to first understand if her values square with the development values of the organization. (For example: Is geographic mobility an essential requirement?) The employee then needs of develop a reputation for competence, initiative and effective communications. In an effective organization mentorship and guidance will be offered to employees with this reputation. So…Effective career management is a balanced partnership based on a clear understanding of values and performance.

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