Particular careers - more research needed


Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 3 April 2007



Gunz, H.P. and Mayrhofer, W. (2007), "Particular careers - more research needed", Career Development International, Vol. 12 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Particular careers - more research needed

Particular careers – more research needed

Career research is well-established and sometimes even labelled as mature (Collin, 1998, p. 418). It has produced an impressive array of single research pieces as well as efforts to consolidate existing knowledge by developing consistent frameworks (e.g. Super, 1957; Holland, 1973), writing textbooks (e.g. Baruch, 2004; Inkson, 2006) or editing comprehensive volumes documenting the state of the art (e.g. Glaser, 1968; Arthur et al., 1989; Collin and Young, 2000; Gunz and Peiperl, 2007). However, much existing career research makes the implicit or explicit assumption that influencing factors, characteristics and outcomes of careers follow universal patterns. While this is helpful for discovering commonalities and “universal rules” of different types of careers and their contexts, such an approach has its limitations. Above all, it tends to overlook the specifics and subtle nuances crucial for studying careers in specific contexts. Therefore, a deeper understanding of careers requires studies that focus on what might be labelled “particular” careers. Such studies provide insight into the varying influencing factors, the specific career trajectories and transitions, and the great breadth of career outcomes linked with particular careers such as those of computer programmers, IT consultants, scientists, auditors or top athletes. In that sense they continue the tradition of the Chicago School (Barley, 1989), a tradition that has been sorely neglected in the past few decades.

The two papers in this special section of Career Development International are good examples of such a highly needed further development of the field. Julia Richardson and Jelena Zikic deal with academic careers and examine the downsides of engaging in an international academic career track. The paper draws on 30 qualitative interviews with expatriate academics in four different countries and points out that transience and risk are two major factors in this kind of career. The data show that this type of career poses specific problems for those setting out on them. Charles Kirschbaum explores several jazz musicians’ biographies. His paper contributes to efforts linking individual careers and contextual factors by exploring how individuals’ career trajectories are affected by structural changes in organizational fields. It shows that symbolic career capital plays a major role in the career course, granting continuous streams of engagements that are transformed into economic capital. In terms of career trajectories, while some typical patterns and building blocks emerge, no “one size fits all” sequence can be detected.

Both papers convincingly demonstrate the value of more in-depth studies of particular careers. While they build on established insight about general career research, they go beyond it. On the one hand, their specific focus and qualitative angle lead to a fine-grained painting of the particular careers they study. On the other hand, general career research profits from these studies since they point towards important factors and processes often overlooked in more generic career studies. Notwithstanding both, the call for more research is more than justified in this case as both studies hopefully belong to early efforts of career research to grow in depth and detail.

Hugh P. GunzJ.L. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

Wolfgang MayrhoferInterdisciplinary Unit of Management and Organisational Behaviour, Wirtschaftsuniversität (WU) Wien, Vienna, Austria


Arthur, M.B., Hall, D.T. and Lawrence, B.S. (Eds) (1989), Handbook of Career Theory, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

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Collin, A. and Young, R.A. (2000), The Future of Careers, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

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Gunz, H.P. and Peiperl, M.A. (Eds) (2007), Handbook of Career Studies, Sage Publications, London, forthcoming

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