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Career Mobility and Career Self-Management Skill Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 23rd, 2019


One of the critical requirements of job satisfaction is the capacity of jobs to facilitate upward career mobility. This concern compels organisations through their HR to design and implement career training and development programmes for employees.

This plan helps in the provision of knowledge and skills that are required to enhance innovation and creativity. Employees prefer working for companies, which foster the development of their individual skill bases.

Consequently, the human resource arm of an organisation develops people to ensure that they acquire supervisory and basic skills to perform organisational tasks, develop their careers, and professional technical skills.

Training and development consume organisational resources such as time and finance in exchange with employee career progression. This observation suggests that career development entails interactions and exchanges that occur between employers and the workforce.

While literature on training and development sees employers as having a responsibility for guaranteeing career development to their employees, literature on career self-management sees employees as having an added responsibility of making decisions on their current and future career goals.

Consequently, there has been an enlarging literature that calls upon employees to take full responsibility of their career management. These concerns are documented in the studies on career self-management, alternatively called individual career development (ICD).

This paper identifies eight peer-reviewed articles that address the subject of career self-management. It then reviews and offers their critical analysis.

Literature Review

Over the last two decades, the career growth environment has been undergoing significant changes. For example, changes have been experienced in traditional forms of career development.

Such traditional forms are controlled by paradigms of employment order through the creation of employee relations programmes. Such approaches are now replaced by borderless and worker-controlled career development strategies (King 2004).

In the wake of any global financial crisis, many organisations undergo restructuring while others engage in business partnerships such as mergers and acquisitions (Quigley & Tymon 2006). For example, the 2007-2008 financial crisis led to the downsizing and even crumbling of some firms.

This situation increased the levels of job insecurity. Many firms offered very few, if any, opportunities for promotions. Consequently, in such situations, employers demonstrate the fear or the unwillingness to engage in any agreement for managing and ensuring employee career opportunities in a formal manner.

Thus, employees are only left with the choice of managing their careers individually. However, this claim does not imply that employers cannot help employees with career management.

Employers value the need for employee career development. Therefore, organisations pursue policies that ensure the shifting of their accountability in career management and conference of roles to their employees through interventions such as offering training programmes on greater accountability together with a higher responsibility in the management of one’s career.

Under the discourses of individual career management, this claim suggests that employers only provide an enabling environment for employees to take full accountability and management of their careers in preparation for taking higher career roles in the future (King 2004).

Career self-management refers to ‘the degree to which one regularly gathers information and plans for career problem-solving and decision-making’ (Quigley & Tymon 2006, p.523).

Critical questions emerge on whether organisational interventions can increase individual career management skills and/or whether career management skills can be made effective through formal training.

Can they also work well with all employees? If not, what class of employees can develop the capacity to self-manage their careers through organisational leveraging?

Quoted by King (2004), Crites made one of the earliest attempts to theorise the concept of career self-management. People are motivated in the work environment by internal and/or external stimuli, which prompt them to act in certain ways.

For example, they can make requisite adjustments to ensure that they are accepted by their workmates. They gain prestige with the objective of securing more work freedom. Tensions also make employees react in certain ways to reduce any possible thwarting conditions.

Changes in working conditions that force employees to behave differently result in their vocational adjustment. In the process, they experience success and/or satisfaction with their work (King 2004).

This observation suggests that if workers fail to respond to changes in the work environment, they may get frustrated, a situation that can lead to vocational maladjustment.

This process occurs in all contexts and with ‘different thwarting conditions and foci for adjustment, over the whole course of the career from occupational entry to retirement’ (King 2004, p.115).

Although Crites’ understanding of employee adaptations in response to internal and external stimuli is not in the contemporary terms of career self-management as it is today, his arguments form important paradigms for understanding the problem of career management in the 21st century.

Crites recognises how people encounter various challenges such as barriers to career development throughout their working life.

According to King (2004), despite referring his discussion to only merchants, military, and blue-collar jobs, his analysis of various thwarting situations measures up to the concerns for self-career management as discussed by Quigley and Tymon (2006) and Chiaburu, Baker, and Pitairu (2006).

In fact, the claim that people encounter frustrations and barriers in career progression receives acceptance in the 21st century career management discourses as the search for illimitable careers continues. Frustrations, conflicts and tensions in work environment compel people to adjust accordingly to minimise anxieties.

This situation leads to self-career development as employees seek mechanisms for easing the ways of executing certain tasks that are allocated to them.

Looking for effective ways of accomplishing a task entails a quest for higher performance and accuracy. As King (2004) suggests, career self-management is driven by the quest for increased performance.

While analysing Crites’ work, as a potential theoretical framework for career self-management, King (2004) identifies a gap in literature on career self-management claiming that past scholars have not sufficiently addressed the question of why people adopt specific behaviours for career self-management.

He takes this opportunity to propose a career self-management conceptual model for studying the nature, causes, and the consequences of career self-management.

The framework explains the nature of career self-management as a dynamic process that entails the execution of positioning, influence, and boundary administration behaviours (King 2004).

Periphery administration involves the assessment of various requirements within and outside the administrative centres. Positioning behaviours ‘ensure that an individual has the contacts, skills, and experience to achieve the desired career outcomes’ (King 2004, p.119).

Influential behaviours relate to efforts of influencing decisions that employers make to align with the desires of the individual outcomes. Career self-management involves compromises between employers’ expectations and the expectations of employees’ desired career direction.

Why do employees engage in career self-management behaviours? King (2004) responds that they desire to take a full command of their occupations, gain self-efficacy, and/or acquire occupational anchors. The outcome of these quests is life satisfaction.

Although King’s (2004) work does not conduct any experimental or quantitative research to ascertain and support his model, literature on human resource management contends that employees who can control their career progression ladder in an organisation are better satisfied with their jobs and more prepared to face changes and challenges in terms of future job requirements.

Raabe, Frese, and Beehr (2007) agree with King’s (2004) assertion that employees have a noble responsibility of ensuring they take full control of their careers.

They assert that the current trend in career management indicates how ‘most of the responsibilities of managing careers are shifting from employers to adaptive and proactive employees’ (Raabe, Frese & Beehr 2007, p.297).

The nature of jobs changes with time. As discussed by Hall (2004), the emergence of protean careers, cause this shift of responsibility for career management. This claim suggests that employees need to take proactive decision-making roles in determining the path of their careers both currently and in the future.

Therefore, employers need not to determine where certain individuals should be in terms of career hierarchical positions. Rather, personal hard work and commitment to career progression should determine the effects of worker occupational growth.

Career self-management requires one to take personal initiatives. Thus, it is important to have a model or strategy that employees can use to guide personal initiatives for individual career management. Raabe, Frese, and Beehr (2007) present such a model, but with consideration of the contribution of organisations in helping employees to self- manage their careers.

Different from King’s (2004) theoretical framework for explaining career self-management, Raabe, Frese, and Beehr (2007) incorporate a mechanism for testing their model by conducting a quasi-experiment.

However, similar to King (2004), they also base their model on a past theoretical framework, namely the action theory. The theory explains the manner in which employees ensure control of their career through engaging in chores that increase their career self-management.

One of the theoretical constructs of the achievement hypothesis is the accomplishment adjustment presumption. It holds, ‘people’s transactions with the environment enable an individual to guide his/her goal-directed activities over time and across changing circumstances’ (Raabe, Frese & Beehr 2007, p.298).

Employees’ control over their careers implies that they execute their activities congruently with the desired goals. In fact, action regulation model identifies increased job attendance and decreased problematic workplace-related behaviours as important in career mobility.

Nevertheless, there is inadequate evidence to support the capacity of the model to ensure that employees pursue long-term career goals such as career building. However, Raabe, Frese, and Beehr (2007) indicate that the model explains employees’ manner of controlling their careers.

They also claim that employees can be influenced to engage in self-management behaviours for their careers (Raabe, Frese & Beehr 2007). This claim suggests that organisations can leverage the process of career self-management by adopting appropriate employee career growth motivational programmes.

Raabe, Frese, and Beehr (2007) arrived at their conclusion after engaging 205 white collar job workers in career development for a period of 10 months. They accomplished this mission by raising the workers’ individual knowledge concerning their commitment to career goals and/or planning on career quality (Raabe, Frese & Beehr 2007).

Their findings indicated a direct correlation between these variables and positive behaviours that fostered career self-management. Therefore, organisationally-established individual employee career management programmes are feasible strategies for encouraging career self-management.

Although Raabe, Frese, and Beehr (2007) offer an important mechanism for inducing and encouraging individual career management in an organisation, their research suffers some drawbacks.

The study deployed quasi-experiments as opposed to the actual testing. This strategy introduces the challenge of making various causal inferences with certainty. Their data was based on self-reports, which may be distorted. Distortion impairs the reliability of research findings.

Inferring from the action regulation model that people exhibit career self-management behaviours, which can be encouraged by an organisation, a scholarly interest emerges on whether the personality of individual employees can influence their behaviours.

Chiaburu, Baker, and Pitairu (2006) studied the effects of proactive personality on people’s career self-management behaviours. They focused on behaviours such as job mobility and its preparedness together with ‘development feedback-seeking behaviours while providing evidence for one mediator (career resilience) and one moderator (public self-consciousness) on this relationship’ (Chiaburu, Baker & Pitairu 2006, p.619).

They deployed a regression analysis approach in analysing data that was collected from a sample size of 127 employees from only one organisation.

Their findings indicated that the studied personality had a positive correlation with career self-management behaviours. In the relationship between the variables, career resilience provided a mediating effect on individual career management.

Chiaburu, Baker, and Pitairu (2006) assert that self-consciousness in the public domain interacts with proactive personality to influence individual career management behaviours. These findings are valid in organisations.

They are also applicable to various practitioners who look for various interventions for encouraging individual career management interventions.

In particular, practitioners and companies can design programmes for encouraging individual career management. The programmes should focus on interventions that encourage proactive personality development.

However, Chiaburu, Baker, and Pitairu (2006) do not provide efficacy analysis of the research implications. For instance, they do not provide mediating effects that prevent people from developing personalities that impede individual career development.

Upon employing their model in organisations that focus career management responsibility on employees, rather than employers, it is evident that certain personality attributes can be developed. This observation raises the question of whether personality is acquired from the environment or it is inborn.

Behavioural, trait, socio-cognitive, psychoanalytic, and humanistic theories explain different personalities that individuals possess. For example, behavioural theories suggest that people’s personality emanates from the interaction of individuals with the environment.

Consistent with Chiaburu, Baker, and Pitairu’s (2006) viewpoints, this claim implies that some personality attributes can be learnt so that career self-management interventions can help to induce personality attributes that encourage individual career management.

In advancing their expositions, behaviourists study various measurable and observable behaviours of people to explain the nature of individual personality.

Behavioural theorists such as John Watson reject various theories that suggest that personality of individuals is a function of feelings and thoughts that form part of the conscious and unconscious mind. The trait theorists assert that the personality of individuals comprises various broad traits.

In the context of the discussion of this theory, traits refer to characteristics, which are stable within an individual. They guide the course of actions of different people. Such traits can help in fostering or discouraging individual career management behaviours.

Similar to Chiaburu, Baker, and Pitairu (2006), Hirschi and Freud (2014) find individual motivation to engage in proactive behaviours that encourage individual career development important in career self-management.

In their study, they deploy ‘a micro-level perspective on how within-individual differences in motivational and socio-cognitive factors affect the weekly fluctuations of engagement in proactive career behaviours’ (Hirschi & Freud 2014, p.5).

The study deploys a sample size of 67 students from a Germany university. For a period of 13 weeks, the researchers scrutinise students’ beliefs on self-efficacy concerning their careers, barriers to career mobility, career support experiences, emotions towards career progression, and career engagement approaches.

A regression analysis of the data was done using a linear hierarchical approach. The results of the analysis indicated that social career support predicted students’ career engagement. Positive emotion towards their occupations also produced a similar effect on career engagement in social support.

Along individual variations, their results showed that negative emotions and self-efficacy coupled with career barriers had no effects on career engagement (Hirschi & Freud 2014).

This observation implies that organisations need to look for career social support interventions and mechanisms for ensuring positive emotions towards the careers as a way of encouraging and supporting employees in taking responsibility of managing their careers.

Although the results of Hirschi and Freud (2014) are important for organisations that are looking for strategies for shifting the career management responsibility to employees, their reliability is questionable. A research that has an error margin of 0.05 typically uses a sample size of 385.

Hirschi and Freud’s (2014) research deployed a sample size of 67 students. Therefore, the error margin in this research is far high so that reliability of the results to represent the population becomes questionable. Indeed, small sample sizes make generalisability of the results difficult.

Consequently, for organisations that seek to use Hirschi and Freud’s (2014) results in their employee career self-management programmes, it is important to seek support for such programmes by considering evidence from other researches that have been conducted using the same approach while deploying larger samples from different contexts.

From the aforementioned studies, personal initiatives to take charge of one’s career management are important. In the same line of thought, Ans and Jesse (2013) study the effects of career directedness on individual career management with a focus on retirement intentions.

Their research arises from a scholarly gap in terms of linking self-directedness in career management to retirement intentions and decisions of older employees (Ans & Jesse 2013).

Therefore, the researchers study the relationship between the two sides through the mediation of individual career management behaviours together with engagements. They use survey as a primary data collection methodology.

With a sample size of 271 participants, including old employees (average age of 53) who have worked over 10 years (an average of 16 years), they measure occupational thoughts, professional self-administration manners, commitment, and withdrawal plans as indicators of career self-directedness (Ans & Jesse 2013).

Their results suggest a direct relationship between the variables of the study where individual career management behaviours and engagement provide a100% mediation effect.

Ans and Jesse (2013) carry out a successful research on the effects of career- self-management on retirement intention among employees. They evidence that the need for career development is not merely a concern of the newly employed people, but also those who have been in the employment for a long time.

Therefore, it responds to the question of who career self-management programme should be developed for in an organisation. Career self-management behaviours are equally appropriate for old employees just as they are crucial for the newly employed.

This conclusion is perhaps well supported by theories of human motivation to work such as the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The theory holds that people hope for continuous individual growth, irrespective of their demographic differences.

Quigley and Tymon (2006) hypothesise that intrinsic motivation in career development can foster career self- management. They develop an integrated model to explain this relationship. In the model, they claim that progress, employee competence, choice, and cognition of the meaningfulness of their career help in individual career management.

However, their model is devoid of empirical data to support it. Since the theoretical framework only advances ‘six testable research propositions that link components of intrinsic motivation to career self-management and career success’ (Quigley & Tymon 2006, p.522), the extent to which intrinsic motivation contributes to individual career management is not clear.

Amid the lack of empirical data to support Quigley and Tymon’s (2006) model, approaches for inducing career self-management within an organisation are important, although each approach may have its own limitations. Indeed, shifts in responsibility for career management are not induced by employees.

They are induced by organisations due to various operational challenges that prompt organisations to adopt different strategies for ensuring that they remain risk resilient. For example, with the formation of mergers, downsizing is almost inevitable in the effort to reduce organisational expenses.

In such situations, organisations cannot take the responsibility of looking for alternative careers or placement of employees in alternative jobs.

Therefore, over the period of employment, organisations cannot ensure that employees do not become redundant in the event of a merger or acquisition by ensuring that they individually have the capacity manage their own careers.

King (2004) asserts that when organisational life ends up being turbulent or unpredictable, individual career management becomes the only appropriate mechanism for ensuring navigation through the world of turbulence.

De Vos and Soens (2008) and Hall (2004) confirm how the concept of the protean career is important for survival of employees in the turbulence. In the protean workplace, there is high job insecurity so that employees cannot consider themselves having a life-long career (Hall 2004).

This claim suggests that when a job comes today, one cannot have an assurance that it will be there the following day. Therefore employees have the responsibility of assessing the employment markets, monitor career trends, and/or expect future changes in the industry.

Thus, they need to look for qualifications and appropriate skills that are necessary for thriving in a changing employment market. This process involves individual career management. Organisations cannot forecast and prepare their employees for future changes in skills and knowledge requirements (Hall 2004).

Consistent with Hall’s (2004) assertion, issues such as globalisation and intense employment of technology in driving organisations’ competitive advantage lead to redundancy of some employees when their skills become no more viable in technologically savvy operational environment.

Although an organisation may train and develop its employees to ensure they can perform their traditional duties in new technological business environments, such an attempt may not be feasible after its cost and benefits analysis is conducted.

Consequently, cheaper alternatives such as new hires while disposing redundant employees may be favourable to an organisation. To avoid this situation, individual career management is inevitable for employees.

De Vos and Soens (2008) support the need for employees to embrace protean career attitudes. Their research tests a theoretical model where they stipulate the correlation between ‘protean career attitude, career self-management behaviours, career insight, and career success outcomes (career satisfaction and perceived employability)’ (De Vos & Soens 2008, p.449).

The research deploys a sample size of 289 workers. Similar to Hall’s (2004) theoretical propositions, De Vos and Soens’ (2008) results suggest that protean career attitudes directly correlate with the anticipation of career success with career development insights that provide a mediating effect. Hence, a positive attitude towards career turbulence within an organisation fosters individual career management.


In a globalised and technologically driven world, employees need to anticipate unprecedented changes in their career demands. Therefore, they need to adopt requisite strategies for ensuring that they advance their knowledge and skills to meet the new demands.

Failure to follow this path, protean career demands might force them out of the employment system since new jobs come with a new set of skills and knowledge requirements. The reviewed literature suggests that employees should not look upon their employers to manage their careers in preparation for their future changes. Rather, they should self-manage themselves.

They can achieve this goal by adopting a positive attitude towards protean careers and preparing to face the dynamics of modern workplaces. Most importantly, they must assess the employment market to determine future skills and knowledge requirements. After understanding industry trends, they can then look for corresponding qualifications and skills.

This plan calls for self-determination and adoption of personal initiatives to manage one’s career. Consequently, it is sufficiently sound to conclude that all aspects that correlate directly with career self-management behaviours are important in organisations’ programmes for training employees on their individual career management.


Ans, D & Jesse, S 2013, ‘Self-Directed Career Attitude and Retirement Intentions’, Career Development International, vol.18 no. 2, pp. 155-172.

Chiaburu, D, Baker, V & Pitairu, A 2006, ‘Beyond Being Proactive: What (else) Matters for Career Self-Management Behaviours?’, Career Development International, vol. 11 no. 7, pp. 619-632.

De Vos, A & Soens, N 2008, ‘Protean Attitudes and Career Success: The Mediating Roles of Self-Management’, Journal of Vocational Behaviour, vol. 73 no. 3, pp. 449-456.

Hall, D 2004, ‘The protean career: A quarter-century journey’, Journal of Vocational Behaviour, vol. 65 no.1, pp. 1–13.

Hirschi, A & Freud, P 2014, ‘Career Engagement: Investigating Intra-individual Predictors of Weekly Fluctuations in Proactive Career Behaviours’, The Career Development Quarterly, vol. 62 no. 1, pp. 5-20.

King, Z 2004, ‘Career Self-Management: Its Nature, Causes and Consequences’, Journal of Vocational Behaviour, vol. 65 no. 1, pp. 112-133.

Quigley, N & Tymon, W 2006, ‘Towards an Integrated Model of Intrinsic Motivation and Career Self-Management, Career Development International, vol. 11 no. 6, pp. 522-543.

Raabe, B, Frese, M & Beehr, T 2007, ‘Action Regulation Theory and Career Self-Management’, Journal of Vocational Behaviour, vol. 70 no. 2, pp. 297-311.

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