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Freelance job search during times of uncertainty: protean career orientation, career competencies and job search

Mostafa Ayoobzadeh (John Molson School of Business, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 19 January 2021

Issue publication date: 11 March 2022




Freelancers are a growing population of working adults with limited to no organizational support. Yet, their strategies to navigate job search, especially in turbulent times, are unknown. To address this gap, the author hypothesized and examined a sequential mediation model whereby freelancer protean career orientation (PCO) influences job search strategies through career competencies (i.e. knowing why, how and with whom to work) and job search self-efficacy (JSSE).


Data were collected from a sample of 87 Canadian freelancers during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.


The results supported the sequential mediation from PCO to job search strategies through two of the career competencies (knowing why and how) and JSSE. The mediating role of knowing whom was not supported.

Practical implications

Policy makers and learning institutions can provide freelancers with opportunities to develop transferable skills through massive open online courses (MOOCs). Employers of freelancers can design motivating jobs that provide freelancers with on-the-job learning and development opportunities.

Social implications

The insignificant mediating role of knowing whom (i.e. professional networks) implies that large networks might not be necessarily beneficial in times of crisis. Thus, the role of networks might be more complex than the literature has proposed.


This study brings into focus an overlooked population of workers: freelancers. It investigates a sequential mediation through which freelancer PCO impacts job search strategies. In addition, it compares the effectiveness of career competencies in unfolding the proposed sequential mediation.



The author would like to thank Dr. John Fiset and the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on the earlier versions of this manuscript.


Ayoobzadeh, M. (2022), "Freelance job search during times of uncertainty: protean career orientation, career competencies and job search", Personnel Review, Vol. 51 No. 1, pp. 40-56.



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