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IT career mapping done right

September 4, 2012 06:00 AM ET

The platform "gives individuals a different perspective, one they wouldn't have had otherwise. It opens up lines of communication, and it [gives people] more control over their career development," says Bernier, who spearheaded the career mapping effort in the IT department.

Like Kimberly-Clark, Mueller Water Products had previously plotted courses for professional growth for employees but has recently adopted a more disciplined and detailed approach to outlining possible opportunities -- and expectations -- for employees, says senior vice president, CTO and CIO Robert Keefe, a past chairman of the Society for Information Management.

"If there's a geographic move required, if there's a move out of IT that's expected, career mapping sets [those] expectations with the individual. We lay out what the possibilities are," Keefe says, noting that this helps keep employees, especially the high performers, engaged and challenged, making them even more valuable to the company.

The Atlanta-based water infrastructure company launched its version of career mapping several years ago with UAchieve, a program supported by senior leadership and executed by the HR department. Like many organizations, Keefe says, Mueller Water Products separates this process from annual reviews and merit-pay increases to help keep the focus on long-term visions and not on year-to-year objectives.

The program -- which all IT workers are expected to participate in -- collects information about individual employees and their current positions and skills. Keefe explains that some of the information may have been on employees' resumes but it didn't get incorporated into a system where it would be accessible and transparent. For example, some staffers could speak foreign languages but not many people knew that they had those skills before UAchieve was deployed.

As part of the process, Keefe says, employees are asked to consider certain scenarios, such as whether they're willing to move to another city or take a position in another business division to gain skills required for future positions.

Based on the collected information, Keefe says the company works with individuals at all levels, including management, to determine what opportunities are available for them down the road and what they can do to be ready for them.

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6 key components of a career map

At its core, career mapping is about setting long-term professional goals and objectives that go beyond the targets established during annual reviews, says Ginny Clarke, an expert in talent and career management, diversity recruiting and executive coaching.

Though many workers develop career maps in conjunction with their employers, Clarke recommends that professionals maintain separate, personal maps that allow for growth possibilities outside of their current companies. These maps should be updated at least once a year, she adds.

Here are six key components of a thorough career map, according to Clarke:

  • Historical plotting. This is a list of the job functions you've held, with competencies (not just responsibilities) identified for each one.
  • An aspirational look. "This is where you get to play and incorporate what you want," Clarke says, adding that she tells people to start with industries they're interested in, then zero in on functions and then roles.
  • A skills gap analysis. This is a comparison of the competencies you currently have and the ones you'll need to acquire in order to do the things on your aspirations list.
  • A plan to add competencies. This is where you identify the projects, classes or experiences that can help you close the gap between the skills you have and the ones you'll need.
  • A target list. Research companies you'd like to work for, or at least want to know more about. If you intend to stay with your current employer, it's still helpful to think about your company's competitors, so you better understand what your own employer will need to compete in the future.
  • Networking goals. Identify the individuals you want to meet or get to know better and commit to reaching out to them every quarter with a specific goal in mind, Clarke says. Are you seeking a mentor? Hoping for more information about a company in general? Interested in a particular job within a particular division? "I'm suggesting a framework for very strategic networking," says Clarke. "Consider what you want from these people."

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