Creating an effective online career management site
Barbara Moses Ph.D

Barbara Moses, Ph.D,is an international speaker, work/life expert, and best-selling author of Dish: Midlife Women Tell the Truth About Work, Relationships, and the Rest of Life and state-of-the-art on-line tool Career Advisor (like having a personal career counsellor on your computer).

(This article first appeared, in slightly different form, in the Canadian HR Reporter, January 31, 2011)

Most organizations today recognize the need to support employees in how they think about and plan their careers. Research shows that organizational support for career self-management empowers individuals, promotes engagement and retention, and leads to better use of workers.

In the past, organizations would have delivered this support exclusively through workshops. As workshops have become more expensive and difficult to schedule, the growing popularity of e-learning has provided an alternative solution: Provide employees with a comprehensive online career management environment, through a portal from their own intranet.

As the designer and publisher of an on-line career management tool, I have found the following featuresimportant in making a career environment perform.

Provide powerful self-assessment tools: Assessment is the foundation of career management and should be the cornerstone of the site. There should be a range of intellectually rigorous assessments allowing the user to explore their strengths, achievements, interests, values, motivators and psychological preferences, along with the kind of work settings in which they are most likely to thrive. Reports should be rich, and provide practical tips and recommendations for development.

Keep it real and make it rich: Career management involves more than identifying personal aspirations and developmental needs. Given the complexities of everyone's busy life today, people also want guidance on such questions as: How can I better balance my life? What is most important to me now - career advancement, or time with family? How do I navigate the complexities of the work place - what are the best career management strategies? What can I do to career-proof my kids? How do I network?How should I prepare for a job interview? What should I do after a career setback? How do I deal with a difficult boss?

The content should also reflect the often heart-wrenching conflicts people have to deal with in their lives today – with no sugar-coating. Will this candour make people want to jump ship? Quite the contrary. The most common result of people going through this kind of experience is that they realize they like their job much more than they thought. They also give kudos to their employer for being honest about tough contemporary work realities.

Don't prescribe what people need to complete: Although there are some general principles about the importance of self-knowledge, don't second guess which assessments or advice people will find most valuable. Everyone's needs are different - their age, gender, personality, and personal work-life dilemmas will determine what they want to take out of the site. We provide general guidance with a diagnostic quiz and a suggested road map. Most people get started following that map but as they reflect on themselves, their learning needs change.

Protect privacy and confidentiality: The self-assessment reports should only be available to the individual - it is up to them whether they opt to share them. Individuals create their user accounts, choosing their own user name and password.

Provide independent third party expert advice: You may be tempted to customize the site with your corporate logo, colours and internal language. But your organization is not an expert in the psychology of career management, and your employees don't expect you to be. Heavy-handed branding runs the risk of employees perceiving the site as a form of back door performance appraisal. You also undermine the crucial message that “It's up to you to manage your career”, by implying that the organization will take care of everything.

Using outside third-party experts to design and host career management tools enhances the program's credibility and increases staffers' trust in the advice. Tellingly, one of the common comments our clients hear is, “It's great to go on and not be bombarded with our company's colours and logo.”

Enable home access. Most people go on during their own time outside of work. To maximize site usage, let employees access it directly through the internet, as well as through the company's intranet

Make it user-friendly: Avoid tired clichés and corporate training jargon. People don't need to be introduced to each module with tedious descriptions of what they will learn, key objectives, results, and so on. Accustomed to social media and easily navigable websites, they want immediacy. Provide users with a simple, engaging and clear description of what they will get out of each module and who might benefit - for example, people earlier in their career, or people wanting to make a shift, and so on -- so that they can determine its relevance to them. Think journalism rather than traditional-style training programs. And don't forget to make the site visually attractive to users of all ages.

Provide a mechanism for sharing results: Build in a vehicle for users to email their self-assessment reports to themselves as well as others, such as their manager or internal coach. People will not only use them in career discussions with bosses, they will often confer with colleagues and friends as well.

Mine the data: In large employee populations you can generate valuable aggregate data on deep employee attitudes, job satisfiers and desires. This information can be used to supplement or replace attitude surveys.

Think carefully in advance how you want to sort the data, whether by age, level, location, and so on. In my experience the most significant variables for differentiating desires, motivations, and what people want, are gender and age.

And don't get too molecular such as “men between the ages of 25 and 29 who are in their first job, working in name of small town in name of function.” If the group size is too small, the data will not be meaningful.

Supplement with training: Workshops, where feasible, are deeply appreciated by participants. In today's often thankless work environments, people experience the time spent in the classroom as a gift.

Consider delivering workshops to important stakeholders, such as managers and HR professionals, to better enable them to support and coach staff. You may also want to provide workshops for other employee groups you are particularly concerned about, such as high potential workers, or designated diversity groups. But think through the optics - will you be sending a message to other employees that they aren't as important?

Don't customize for level: People are people are people. My research shows that staffers, regardless of their level, have the same career interests and needs and don't need different kinds of assessments. You can, however, provide a special module for managers with information and tips on carrying out their role in coaching staffers and conducting meaningful career discussions.

Promote and communicate. Make your portal a “go-to” destination. Interesting career advice, video interviews about the program with senior HR managers, Q&A web chats with internal professionals (2.g. ask the recruiter/ the compensation expert) promote career consciousness and site awareness.

Managers play a key role in supporting the site by talking to staff about their own experiences. After all, they have their own personal career concerns and needs as well.

Other promotional initiatives can range from hosting special events such as speeches and workshops targeted at special groups such as senior women or young workers, and reminders at different times of the year tied into the performance management cycle.

Don't miss any promotional opportunities. Link to related programs in leadership, mentoring, management development, work-life balance, and diversity.