Fancy a new type of career?

Over 20 years ago, researchers, Arthur and Rousseau (1996) hailed a new type of career. Roles free of boundaries, barriers and restrictions, the Boundaryless career.  Spurred on by mergers, acquisitions and globalisation, the working world has and continues to change. To understand this, career theories have emerged to try and explain how people are navigating this change.  With a current focus on the ‘gig economy’ characterised by workers who engage in small-scale entrepreneurship spurred on by digital advances; these theories go some way to describe these new types of careers and new ways of working.

With a current focus on the ‘gig economy’ characterised by workers who engage in small-scale entrepreneurship spurred on by digital advances; these theories go some way to describe these new types of careers and new ways of working.

The Boundaryless Career Theory

The boundaryless career theory suggests that people are working more outside of organisational boundaries. The theory highlights that many more individuals are moving around the career landscape differently and are increasingly working with individuals inside and outside of organisations, collaborating and sharing information. The theory explains the different relationships that people have with work and how they navigate them.

Boundaryless careers include:

  • lateral career moves, not just hierarchical ones- e.g. moving to a job at the same career level in a different department or different organisation.
  • Moving within and between organisations- changing jobs or projects between different arms of the organisation or working for a client or competitor.
  • Part-time and contract work.
  • Moving between employment and unemployment -can be the case for contractors and self-employed individuals.
  • Job crafting- not being restricted by job roles or career titles, working on projects, shadowing or being seconded to other departments. Creating aspects of a job.

To embrace the boundaryless career and to develop a more dynamic and resilient workforce, organisations can:

  • help individuals feel empowered to create and develop their own career paths.
  • provide individuals with the ability to change and experience different roles e.g. secondments (internally and externally), job sharing, shadowing and having more fluid job roles.
  • develop flexible working policies to fit in with family and extracurricular ties.

Individuals can think about opportunities inside and outside organisations, research and ask about secondments,  job sharing and shadowing. These suggestions can help integrate the boundaryless career into your career or organisation.

The Protean Career Theory

The term “protean” was taken from Greek mythology which referred to ‘Proteus’ a god who could change shape at will. This use of mythology to describe ‘the new career’ shows that individuals need to be adaptable to survive the current working environment. The protean career theory first discussed by Hall in 1975 but formally presented in 2002,  suggests that people are motivated by their personal drive,  not just by organisational interests. The protean career theory emphasises that individuals are responsible for their own career development, relying less on organisations for career development and guidance.

To  embrace the protean career organisations can:

  • Ensure that individuals have a large input into their career development.
  • Allow employees to experiment and explore different aspects of roles organisation and responsibilities. This can be during appraisals and more informal meetings, find out what they really want from a job and what drives them.

The characteristics of a protean career are values-driven and self-directed. Values- driven individuals are motivated when an organisation’s values match their own. To promote values-driven ideas ask these questions:

  • Do you have strongly defined and understood organisational values?
  • Is the individual aligned with the organisational values?

Self-directed individuals are independent at developing their careers so they can job craft. To promote self-directed ideas:

  • Are you helping individuals to explore their role?
  • Are you having regular meetings with employees to establish aspirations, goals and ambitions?
  • Can these goals and aspirations be realised and developed to help the organisation?

pablo-23Helping individuals in your organisation embrace protean careers can help them feel that they are invested in the organisation as their values align with the organisation’s values. As an individual,  being ‘self-directed’ can help you feel more content and fulfilled at work.

Intelligent Career Theory

The main idea of the intelligent career theory is that individuals develop ways to navigate modern organisational careers in three ways:

  • Knowing why: explains a person’s motivation to work. Using personality assessments and skills audits can highlight, traits, working styles and career preference to understand their motivation to work.
  • Knowing how: investing in training, learning and development efforts to increase skills, knowledge and expertise. These skills can also be defined as human capital and can include information learned on a course, and specialist ‘on the job’ information that can be learned through experience.
  • Knowing whom: Developing relationships internally (within organisations) and externally (family, friends, professional groups) to help individuals with career movements and the sharing of knowledge.

The Intelligent Career theory is a great tool to help organisations develop and motivate. The theory can also be used to by individuals to create success and achievement by providing  ‘three ways of knowing’ (knowing why, knowing how and knowing whom). Organisations and individuals can incorporate the intelligent career theory by:

  • using discussions, questions and psychometric assessments to establish drivers and key components of a person’s motivation to work. These methods are a good way of getting a better idea of ‘knowing why‘ an individual wants to work.
  • Strong learning and development programs in a variety of topics. These training programmes can stretch and develop a strong knowledge base for the organisation to remain competitive to develop ‘knowing how‘.
  • For an organisation, developing and encouraging inter-department knowledge sharing can be a way to increase ‘knowing whom‘. Organisations can do this by designing projects calling on expertise from many departments and external partners. For individuals, expanding networks, by attending conferences and joining special interest groups can help them share and acquire knowledge.


To embrace these career theories into your organisation think about ways to increase knowledge, help employees to develop relationships and contacts. As an individual, register and go to courses, attend networking events, talk to the person from the marketing department about what they do or ask your line manager about a secondment.  These things can increase organisational commitment, autonomy and help retain top talent and help individuals to grow.