Career Theories and Their Application to Own Career Plans


Economic, technological, and social changes have progressively resulted in fragmented and discontinuous career contexts where transitions occur more frequently. As positioned by Gander (2021), various factors have promoted career mobility among individuals for the last ten years, including macroeconomic conditions that have generated geographic differences in opportunities for mobility and the discernment of favorable economic circumstances in some regions. Furthermore, firms have outsourced and downsized to enhance their innovativeness, efficiency, and flexibility, shifting career prospects from job security to endless learning to maintain marketability in the outside labor market. Social changes have resulted in augmented upward mobility for minority and female employees (Kundi et al., 2021). Further, the widespread application of information and communication technologies has altered how individuals interpret jobs, promoting virtual jobs that support mobility and decrease the need to identify with a specific company.

Consequently, the traditional approach to a career that was founded on permanent full-time jobs involving a single employer is being replaced by the current career model, which accentuates temporary contracting engagements and inter-organizational mobility (Bernardo and Salanga, 2019). Recent empirical evidence highlights the concept of career mobility across the globe. Specifically, research demonstrated that organizational mobility has increased in most job ranges in the developed world since the 1990s (Lochab and Nath, 2020; Suvaci, 2018). Therefore, the current labor market expects employees to be self-directed and highly mobile in their careers. In this respect, the idea of a boundaryless career is becoming fundamental for conceptualizing current career paths. This paper aims to offer a critical analysis of protean and boundaryless career concepts and their significance in my personal career plan.

The Protean Career Orientation

While the notion of a protean career was developed in 1976, its popularity emerged in 1996 after it was published in a book. Applying Proteus, a Greek god metaphor, who was known for shifting his shape at any time, Hall positions a protean careerist as one who is able to repackage his/her abilities, skills, and knowledge to align with the dynamic work environment to maintain marketability (Redondo et al., 2021). Protean careerists pursue intrinsic rewards, believe in endless learning, value freedom, and are generally flexible at work (Abdalla et al., 2019; Gander, 2021). Recognizing the augmented uncertainty and reduced stability within the work environment and the numerous changes within employment relationships, such as declining job security, protean careerists have assumed the responsibility of running their own careers.

The protean career concept has two dimensions. Firstly, the protean career concept is values-driven since an individual’s internal values offer the measure and guidance of success for a person’s career (ÖvgĂŒ Çakmak-Otluoğlu, 2018). Secondly, the protean career concept entails self-directedness in individual career management, where a person is expected to be adaptive in terms of learning and performance demands (Cortellazzo et al., 2020). Four basic career categories can be deduced based on these two distinct dimensions, including reactive, rigid, dependent, and transformations.

Research into protean career perception supports most of the fundamental tenets of the idea. For example, Kundi et al. (2021) argue that protean attitudes are positively associated with career authenticity, proactive personality, the adeptness of goal orientation, and candidness to experience. However, this study did not establish a relationship between job changes and value-driven perspectives, implying that a person can have a protean career perception without having elevated physical mobility. Park et al. (2022) examined the assumption of protean careerists culminating in limited commitment to their employers. They established that autonomous career management and attitudes that are founded on value are not related to normative, continuance, or affective commitment.

Gender differences in protean career perception have also been analyzed in the research. While various investigations did not establish any gender differences within the protean orientations (Wolf, 2019), other studies found some key differences. Specifically, Cortellazzo et al. (2020) found no significant gender disparities in self-directedness but realized higher scores on the value-driven perspectives among women when compared to men. Limited investigations have explored the cultural differences in protean career perception. However, Çakmak-Otluoğlu and Acar Bolat (2021) reported that people from low masculine societies are highly value-driven, while those in cultures of low power distance exhibit self-directedness with regard to individual career management. Since people from cultures with low power distance are naturally expected to define their own career path due to limited influence from authorities, these people generally prefer to control their own careers rather than depend on their employers’ established systems of career management. Ng et al. (2018) conducted a study to explore the importance of contextual factors such as culture. The results showed that such factors were very significant when examining career orientation.

Furthermore, limited investigations have explored the negative implications of protean career perception. Redondo et al. (2021) suggest that protean career perception emphasizes the winners within the current dynamic workplaces, such as people who determine their perfect job (Ng et al., 2018) or establish new working character. Few studies have explored those who have not realized success in the current global, nontraditional, technologically driven workplaces (ÖvgĂŒ Çakmak-Otluoğlu, 2018). Rather than appreciating the increased satisfaction and success, some employees have found themselves disoriented, shaken by the dynamic workplace rules, and incapable of reestablishing their equilibrium (Covarrubias Venegas, 2019; Denyer and Rowson, 2022). In anticipation of experiencing a more conventional career, some people can be hesitant to embrace new career behaviors and attitudes or can be pessimistic about firms in general (Ahmad et al., 2021). Rather than work-family conflict being lessened by technology, its application can increase a person’s stress since the boundaries between work and nonwork activities become increasingly blurred. Individuals can feel that they are always at work, even during holidays, vacations, and weekends.

In addition, individuals may lack the essential transferable skills and knowledge to be hired by different firms. Also, they may be incapable of promptly grasping the fundamentals of the new workplace environments in order to perform effectively (Wiernik and Kostal, 2019). It may be challenging for people to assign sufficient energy and time to cope with the difficulties imposed by augmented mobility or increased learning (Ahmad et al., 2021). For instance, since workers are solely responsible for managing their own careers, they are always interested in participating in learning initiatives but lack clarity on how this learning can be realized (Bernardo and Salanga, 2019). More so, individuals within an organization were largely passive regarding the management of their career progression, while those outside firms generally lack time for participating in learning activities. More investigation is needed to effectively establish the negative effects of protean career perception.

The Boundaryless Career Model

In reaction to the boundaryless organization idea of the Academy of Management conference of 1993, the concept of a boundaryless career was devised to present a new viewpoint on modern-day careers. This concept became popular when it was published by Arthur and Rousseau in a book that defined this concept as one that is founded on independence rather than dependency on the conventional firm career arrangements (Redondo et al., 2021; Park et al., 2022). Moreover, boundaryless careers are positioned as a conventional Silicon Valley career where employees move across the limits of isolated employers as well as those carpenters or academics that generate marketability and validation from outside the current employer (Guo et al., 2021; Alok and Rajthilak, 2021). Further, it entails those of real estate proxies sustained by external information or networks and also those that disrupt conventional firm assumptions regarding career advancement and hierarchy (Çakmak-Otluoğlu and Acar Bolat, 2021). More so, it is founded on incidences where individual employees reject prevailing career opportunities for family or personal reasons and also those that are founded on the clarification of career actors who recognize a boundaryless future regardless of fundamental constraints.

While initial investigations based on the boundaryless career idea were mainly focused on physical movement, the majority of these investigations were unable to establish a clear distinction between the various types of physical mobility and did not give the cause, origin, direction, and duration of movement into and out of employment. Differentiating between different forms of physical mobility is vital since their distinctions offer explanations for inconsistent research findings (Presti et al., 2019; Ortlieb and Weiss, 2018). For example, research on expatriate careers provides a current understanding of the disparities in the results associated with the source of the transition (Baluku et al., 2018). When self-instigated expatriates decide to go back home, the transition is mostly towards a task that is less challenging and has less pay (Yousif et al., 2019). On the contrary, organizational expatriates tend to shift into roles that have higher responsibilities than their previous positions. When an organizational expatriate goes back home, the transient normally results in a role that is comparable to their previous levels of salary and responsibility.

Most studies on physical mobility largely explore upward movement. A limited number of researchers explore the less prevalent forms of mobility, including downward mobility as well as why some form of mobility is more common than others, specific factors that limit mobility, and why people can choose to avoid participating in physical movement (Lochab and Nath, 2020; Denyer and Rowson, 2022; FryczyƄska, 2021). Very few investigations have explored the fluctuations in psychological boundaries, which are positioned as the ability to shift as perceived via the career actor’s mind (Covarrubias Venegas, 2019; Zafar et al., 2019). Research has largely emphasized physical movement rather than psychological mobility due to two key reasons. Firstly, it is easy to establish a measure for physical movement when compared to psychological changes (Wiernik and Kostal, 2019; Abdalla et al., 2019). Secondly, a measure of psychological mobility is still under development and is inadequately available for investigators.

However, various researchers have attempted to address the need for increased investigation into the boundaryless career model by examining the relationship between psychological changes and physical movements. Specifically, FryczyƄska (2021) established that women tend to experience more interruptions in their careers when compared to men as a result of demands from the family. Most career interruptions faced by men are largely due to loss of employment. On a similar note, Lo Presti and Elia (2020) examined inter-organizational contingency occupation and established that great mobility in theater systems that are project-based is mainly strengthened by standardized qualifications and the easiness of analyzing the qualifications of an actor as well as his/her social networks. This is due to the high levels of loyalty to the occupation rather than a specific firm and the segmentation of employees between collaborative employees with contracts that are long-term and freelancers that are involved in seasonal tasks.

The boundaryless career model significantly influences how established career topics are conceptualized by researchers, including plateauing, retirement, expatriate assignments, career renewal, work conflict, nonwork conflict, and learning and development, in light of augmented porousness between boundaries. A highlight of how boundaryless career consideration influenced a reassessment of long-term researched areas can be realized in the progressions within mentoring research. Initially, mentoring was presented as a strong one-on-one association between an employee who is highly experienced and a newly recruited employee within organizational settings (Alok and Rajthilak, 2021; Guo et al., 2021). Appreciating the growing workforce mobility, especially across organizations, as well as increasing performance pressures, researchers proposed that a single mentor relationship could not sufficiently meet the growing needs of numerous protégés (Zafar et al., 2019; Seymour et al., 2018). In the current boundaryless career background, people are pursuing other support and guidance approaches from cultivating connections on top of mentoring that encompass networking within as well as outside their companies.

Applying the Theories to My Career Plan

From the above analysis, it is apparent that I live in a society where my career will no longer be founded on an organizational perspective but rather on a boundaryless and protean career perspective. Furthermore, I will be expected to be able to swiftly change my form of employment periodically through shifting within and across firms, and these actions will mostly be driven by my own needs and interests (Ortlieb and Weiss, 2018; Seymour et al., 2018). Since age appears to influence the easiness of expressing boundaryless and protean behavior, I am expected to ensure I find my desired career before age catches up with me. Specifically, to ensure my career path is well suited to meet my current and future needs, I will be expected to periodically undertake a career assessment that is founded on determining my specific career management behaviors and my levels of satisfaction with my career.

I have a general desire to singlehandedly manage my career development which agrees with the protean career orientation. This implies partaking in several self-management behaviors for my career. Consequently, following the protean orientation, I can develop unique behaviors associated with career option explorations and development of plans, networking, and involvement in training as well as self-development (Redondo et al., 2021). On a similar note, as a psychologically mobile person, I can be able to pursue variety in my employment experiences and hence be open to working with new people, tasks, and ideas. Therefore, I will be expected to participate in behaviors such as self-development and networking to realize these needs. Research has established a meaningful positive connection between psychological mobility and protean orientation with self-management of career (Alonderienė and Ć imkevičiĆ«tė, 2018; Suvaci, 2018). Therefore, I believe that these orientations are aligned with career self-administration behaviors

Boundaryless and protean career positioning appears to promote high levels of career satisfaction, which is among the key objectives I intend to achieve in my career path. I will be mainly focused on fulfillment and satisfaction rather than focus on hierarchical advancements and material rewards. This will involve the enhancement of my levels of satisfaction with my career through direct initiatives such as enabling me to perceive confrontational career events positively (Rodrigues et al., 2019; Lo Presti and Elia, 2020). With the current declining job security and growing economic apprehension, a positive attitude towards new job experiences is vital in assisting me in the process of minimizing job-related stress and advancing career satisfaction. This idea is backed by the theory of self-determination, which posits that by exercising control over volatile work environments and defining success on the basis of my own standards, I can enhance the level of satisfaction with my career (Baluku et al., 2018). Numerous investigations have also established meaningful boundaryless and protean career orientation with high levels of satisfaction (Alonderienė and Ć imkevičiĆ«tė, 2018). Therefore, my focus is to utilize boundaryless and protean orientations in promoting satisfaction with my career.

According to the planned behavior theory, attitudes and intentions of an individual towards a behavior are the most effective judge of behavioral performance. Further, research has established a positive relationship between mobility behaviors and physical mobility predilections (Lo Presti et al., 2018; Denyer and Rowson, 2022). Therefore, firm mobility preferences will likely be the best predictors of my mobility behavior as operationalized via switching firms(Wolf, 2019). Since the theoretical connections of mobility behavior to protean career perspectives as well as psychological mobility are not well established. Therefore, the only way I can be able to effectively manage my development and realize sufficient variety is through changing workplaces.

While protean career perspective is largely correlated to the prioritization of subjective career success, it can also influence objective career accomplishment, including salary and hierarchical level, since protean careerists pursue opportunities for establishing new work-related skills and competencies and flexibly adapt to antagonistic career events (Presti et al., 2019). Such proactive behaviors will be instrumental in enhancing my contact with social resources and signal prospects to my supervisors as well as other career caretakers (Rodrigues et al., 2019). Furthermore, since I can shift between various employers as an approach to expanding my advancement opportunities and wages, thus, firm mobility preferences can also be associated with my objective career accomplishments.


We live in times where recognized ideas about careers and work are continually undergoing change. The traditional approach to career was founded on a system of clear, tiered organizational structures and an expanding economy. The blurring of industry, occupational, and organizational boundaries; the ever-increasing technological advancements; and rapid rates of globalization have all promoted the evolution of a new work context necessitating innovative and fresh approaches to career analysis. The boundaryless and protean career models have inspired significant research on contemporary career development. This paper has established that focusing on these forms of career presents unique perspectives for comprehending the career-specific attitudes and behaviors of an individual. Further, most of their extrapolative power is shared with expansive personality traits. I believe that my understanding of my personality traits can inform my thinking about the boundaryless and protean model and its application in my career path.

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