The Career Center in One of the Last Places You’d Look

Dec 17, 2012
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

If someone said “career center,” chances are good you’d think of something at a university. Maybe, you’d imagine a government-sponsored jobs office.

Not this one. One of the more highly regarded of the big U.S. tech companies has an in-house career center, one not publicized due to the internal belief that it gives the firm a competitive advantage. In fact, despite its wide reach with about 5,000 employees having used it, this center is barely even marketed within the walls of the company, with 60-70% of employees who use the career center hearing about it via word of mouth from other employees.

Internally, Qualcomm calls the career center “The CX” — short for “Career Explorations.” It’d begun with informal conversations between Megan Graham and Ed Hidalgo about five years ago. Graham was in the Qualcomm learning & development department. Hidalgo is the senior staffing director. As they brainstormed, Hidalgo and Graham felt like the company wasn’t doing enough to really engage people in their careers, make them aware and excited about where they could go within the company, to, as the cliche goes, help them help theirselves. They realized there were internal stumbling blocks, like employees not knowing how to handle situations with employees or managers, that might be holding them back, rather than hard skills. Graham says she and Hidalgo “dreamt about what could be.”

Not all executives were as excited as Hidalgo and Graham were at the outset. For one thing, “staffing tends to be the rogue unit within HR,” Hidalgo says, in that it wasn’t thought of as a center of innovation. On top of that, some in management thought the center would become a magnet for weak, not high, performers. And, some people just didn’t know if this would work for engineers, the backbone of Qualcomm’s workforce.

As it turned out, more than half of the clientele are engineers. Hidalgo and Graham ran a six-month pilot in 2008, and now 5,000 people, most high performers, have been through the program in a workforce that’s relatively small for a company sometimes mentioned in sentences with words with Cisco and Intel.

Employees start with a 90-minute workshop about the fundamentals of career management, put on by a member of the five-person center staff. Employees learn about and think about their skills, values, and strengths. They’re instructed on things like identifying their greatest talents; what motivates them; and what they need from their work environment to produce more. Then it gets into things like knowing what excellence performance looks like as well as how to build a network at Qualcomm and improve relations with one’s manager and teammates. The session is put on monthly.

After that, they can take different paths. Coaches are available, on staff, to meet with employees one and one about their careers. The coaches use tools like the StrengthsFinder (particularly as it relates to teams), Myers-Briggs/MBTI, and others. Such assessments are common in the corporate world; it’s just that Qualcomm’s career-center program is more extensive than you’ll find at many other firms.

Anyhow, another option in addition to the coaching route is to take the center’s second-level workshop, or third-level workshop. The second-level workshop goes on about every couple months and, more than the initial workshop, is about “how do you get to where you want to go?” The third level is a deeper dive for people who’ve often become happier in their jobs, and more productive, and want to do something more with that. “It’s like you have a finely tuned machine at this point and you want to go into hyperdrive,” Hidalgo says.

The goal of all this, Hidalgo says, is “to help employees ‘develop in role’ by identifying, aligning, and capitalizing on their strengths.” They may be able to get more out of their jobs by dealing differently with a manager, a team, or office politics. “We can help people,” he says, “if they’re ready to reflect inward, looking at what they need to do.”

“To me,” he says, “everyone speaks of engagement, but how do companies go about it … rewards and recognition, extrinsic motivators? We’re pushing the intrinsic motivator buttons so people can unleash their own engagement. Not all people, but many, need the tools and know-how to accomplish this. It’s one thing to tell an employee that you own your career … but do they have the tools and knowledge to understand what that means and how to go about it? So many years in school … and yet so little time spent on how to manage and own your career. That is what we are helping our employees do.”

Graham and Hidalgo are quick to point out that all this sounds touchy-feely but that lots of data are used: Qualcomm measures not just things like career center users’ retention and engagement, but whether their on-the-job performance and productivity is increasing while they use the center. And, Hidalgo says, for career center participants, they are.

Hidalgo says a major ingredient in the program’s success is that what goes on inside the workshops and coaching stays there. “It’s the one place in the company,” he says, “where they know it’s 100% confidential. That brand has really made a difference.”

Graham, who’s heading out on maternity leave, came out of Gallup. She’s the type of specialist who Hidalgo says is good for a role like this for companies who want to implement similar programs. It’s “probably the coolest thing I’ve done in my career,” he says, with “a crazy impact on peoples’ lives.”

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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