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Coping with career boundaries and boundary-crossing in the graduate labour market

Belgin Okay-Somerville (Stirling Management School, University of Stirling, Stirling, UK)
Dora Scholarios (Department of HRM, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 7 October 2014




The purpose of this paper is to explore the nature and role of career boundaries for enabling/constraining career self-management (CSM) for occupational boundary-crossing in the UK graduate labour market (GLM).


The data are provided by career history interviews with 36 UK graduates. The analysis contrasts transitions for those who started careers in low-, intermediate-, and high-skilled segments of the labour market.


Availability of development and progression opportunities were the most prominent career boundary experienced. Ease of boundary-crossing differed by career stage and educational background. Boundaries enabled CSM by acting as psychological/external push factors, but push factors only aided progression to high-skilled segments for a third of graduates who started careers in underemployment. For the rest, an adaptation of expectations to labour market realities was observed.

Research limitations/implications

Although career history interviews limit generalisability, they contextualise boundaries and deepen understanding of career actors’ subjective experiences and responses.

Practical implications

The study highlights the role of labour market and demand-side constraints for career transitions as well as proactive career behaviours. This has implications for career counsellors, employers, and individuals.


This paper provides a distinctive “boundary-focused” analysis of emerging career boundaries in the GLM. The findings point to the intricate interplay between structure and agency for career development.



Okay-Somerville, B. and Scholarios, D. (2014), "Coping with career boundaries and boundary-crossing in the graduate labour market", Career Development International, Vol. 19 No. 6, pp. 668-682.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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