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Exploring the development of a protean career orientation: values and image violations

Leisa D. Sargent (Department of Management and Marketing, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia)
Shelley R. Domberger (Department of Management and Marketing, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 2 October 2007




The purpose of this study is to examine the development of a protean career orientation. In doing so, the paper also aims to assess how work experience, parents and peer networks co‐influence the development of a protean career orientation.


The paper uses semi‐structured interviews with young adults and explores their past, present and future work and career experiences. They were also asked them to explain what career success meant to them. Interview transcripts were reviewed and coded based on two main categories representing protean orientation: self‐directed career management and the expression of personal values as a mechanism for career decisions. The paper also process mapped how a protean career orientation developed in the interviewees. Those who reported a protean career orientation were interviewed two‐and‐a‐half years later so as to further explore their career experiences and the extent to which self‐directedness and value congruence influenced career decisions.


Results suggest that some reported a protean career orientation and of those that did they reported experiencing an image violation based on their personal values. Two types of personal values appeared important to the protean group, they were, making a contribution to society and maintaining work‐life balance. Those that were categorised as having a protean orientation also engaged in critical reassessment by interrogating the basis of their career values and strategies and this distinguished them from the rest of the interviewees who exhibited a more traditional career orientation. These findings are consistent with image theory's concept of a progress decision. This concept encapsulates the idea that individuals decide whether a career plan is moving them towards achievement of a career goal and if it is not, new or modified plans need to be taken up.

Research limitations/implications

The exploratory findings have important implications for understanding the career strategies of protean careerists. Specifically, they elucidate how violations of values, goals and plans lead to career reappraisals. This paper provides important insights into reframing career choice and change in terms of image violations.


The paper provides a process map of the mechanisms that contribute to the development of a protean career orientation. Specifically, it focuses on image violations that appear to distinguish protean careerists from the remainder of the interviewees. Thus, the paper links protean careers with image theory as a means of understanding the underlying processes involved in early career decision making.



Sargent, L.D. and Domberger, S.R. (2007), "Exploring the development of a protean career orientation: values and image violations", Career Development International, Vol. 12 No. 6, pp. 545-564.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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