Making sense of careers through the lens of a path metaphor

Theresa Smith‐Ruig (School of Business, Economics & Public Policy, University of New England, Armidale, Australia)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Publication date: 8 February 2008



The purpose of this article is to understand how participants make sense of career through the lens of a path metaphor. Inkson's three types of career paths are used as a framework to determine whether the participants followed either a traditional and/or boundaryless career.


The research is based on interviews with 59 men and women employed in the accounting profession in Australia. The participants were asked to describe their career development to date.


During the interview the participants often used metaphoric language to describe their career development, especially “path”, “journey”, or “road” metaphors. Analysis of these career metaphors revealed that the participants experienced aspects of both a traditional and a boundaryless career. On the one hand, the professional structure of an accounting career required some participants to follow a more traditional career path, whilst, on the other hand, the increasing desire for a better work‐life balance and for stimulating work meant that other participants followed a boundaryless career.

Research limitations/implications

The study has implications for organizations trying to recruit, retain, and develop accounting professionals. The dilemma for individuals appeared to be focused on whether to follow a traditional career path, or pursue their own individual goals and carve out their own unique or boundaryless career.


The benefit of using the journey or path metaphor is that it helps to explain and illustrate the various career options open to individuals. The journey metaphor was derived from the participants' own explanation of their career trajectories, and thus was not a metaphor imposed by the researcher.



Smith‐Ruig, T. (2008), "Making sense of careers through the lens of a path metaphor", Career Development International, Vol. 13 No. 1, pp. 20-32.

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