The Daunting Challenge of Buying Career Management Software

By Josh Bersin, Principal and Founder, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP Mar 13, 2018

Josh Bersin

​Software meant to help employees manage their careers is perhaps the most complex HR technology to buy. This segment of technology is now the fastest-growing HR software, and, unfortunately, it's also one of the most confusing.

Deciding which software to buy is a two-sided problem. On one side, organizations consistently have lots of jobs, projects and new initiatives. Which software helps business leaders and HR professionals find the "right people" to take on these new roles, given their skills, experiences and interests? On the other side, individual employees have career goals, work interests and promotional expectations. Which career management software helps them find the "best opportunity" in the company so they feel they are growing and don't have to look for more-challenging jobs elsewhere?

The software that is available now does one or the other, but not both, and solving this conundrum is more challenging than most software vendors think. Developers believe they can build an open career portal, give people tools to shop for jobs and perhaps provide skills assessments to determine who is "most ready" for the next position. While all this is doable (it's not easy, but it has been done), it misses the other important issues: Is this person the right cultural fit for this job? Does the individual's personality fit with the new team? Will this new job take her in the right long-term direction? These are all difficult questions to answer with a simple skills assessment.

Market Breakdown

First, there are tremendous "career portal" tools from enterprise resource planning vendors. Almost all the human capital management and talent management suites have these portals, where employees can shop for open positions, apply for jobs and compete with external candidates for new roles. Just opening up this internal marketplace for jobs in a transparent way is a huge win, and most companies tell me this simple change can transform their employees' career mobility within their companies.

Second, there are companies that develop "career management" tools (e.g., Fuel 50, Ascendify, RallyTeam and others) focused on giving employees methods to self-assess their skills and interests, map these skills and interests against job profiles, and be matched with open opportunities. Originally these tools were centered on assessment and job profiles; today they are shifting to become "project and program staffing" tools, because companies have so many new teams, projects and initiatives to staff. I expect this new segment of HR software to grow rapidly in the next few years.

Third, there are tools in analytics and clustering to figure out what skills are really needed for a given job, so people can see if they are well-suited for a career they may not have ever considered. Actuaries, for example, may become good financial or HR analysts. Nurses can become customer service agents and call center leaders. Engineers can become research analysts (like me).

Vendors like LinkedIn, HiQ Labs, EdCast, Degreed, TeamFit, BurningGlass and others are working on this, and I've talked with lots of HR teams that have done this clustering themselves. This is going to be a huge area for artificial intelligence (AI), because the problem is one of "learning" what jobs are the best fit and using data on successful job transitions to show people what career moves are most likely to succeed.

The fourth category is perhaps the hardest to define but most important to workforce development: tools to measure our skills and capabilities, which can then be mapped to jobs. Most skills assessments projects tend to fail because there are so many skills to measure that we never really have enough time to assess them well. But instead of a detailed analysis of every possible skill you need at work, my experience shows that we should build up jobs and careers through "capabilities" or "skills families." Capabilities like "digital design" or "project management" are very useful paradigms, and we can assess people against these "families" with more detail as needed.

An enormous set of tools is now helping in the determination of these skills, including offerings from LinkedIn, Zugata and Compass, for example, as well as from assessment vendors and the career portal providers I mentioned above. I suggest companies look at vendors and then build their own higher-level framework, so they don't get lost in the weeds.

Someday we will have an AI-based system that knows employees' wants and needs, understands the skills and experiences that employers are looking for, and recommends a job and/or worker based on data, history and statistics. Unfortunately, that day is not yet here, so we have to provide lots of management coaching and transparency for now, with the hope of making this two-sided problem easier.

Josh Bersin is principal and founder, Bersin™, Deloitte Consulting LLP. As used in this document, "Deloitte" means Deloitte Consulting LLP, a subsidiary of Deloitte LLP. Please see for a detailed description of our legal structure. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting.

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