Wednesday, 12 January 2022

Exploring boundaryless careers

A boundaryless career has been described as one where we are able to switch between careers - or roles - freely (Inkson et al., 2015), “navigat[ing] the changing work landscape by enacting a career characterized by different levels of physical and psychological movement” (Briscoe et al., 2006, p. 31). It is important that we remember that there are two axes to this model: transitions of the mind, and transitions of the body, which can be divided into four areas of high or low transition likelihood for physical or psychological mobility (see the image accompanying this post from Sullivan and Arthur, 2006.

Further, there are six factors which define a boundaryless career (Sullivan & Arthur, 2006): 

  1. Moving inter-organisationally across employers
  2. We gain self-marketability and self-validation outside our current employer
  3. Our identity comes from external/professional networks - our intelligent career network
  4. Our approach to promotion ignores "traditional organizational assumptions about hierarchy and career" (p. 20)
  5. We may avoid "opportunities for personal or family reasons" (p. 20)
  6. We are likely to see our future as having no boundaries (ignoring actual limitations).

 Our boundaryless career may occur within one large organisation, but is more likely to be interorganisational, allowing us to recognise opportunities and take advantage of them to achieve our personal idea of career success (Briscoe et al., 2006). We may work for multiple organisations early on, stepping up in responsibility, accountability, and level each time we transition, but potentially may stay in a large organisation where there are multiple opportunities for change, and where the organisation does not limit our own concept of career identity.

The use of networks to grow our career is a key element of boundaryless careers which is difficult to measure, and has been somewhat neglected in the research (Sullivan & Arthur, 2006). However, we can see this in clients who have superb professional networks, who are professional members of organisations which licence key skills for the client's key fields of work, and who use their connections to create their next career move.

Once, a boundaryless career was a 'new' thing. Now I think it is the 'normal' thing for those of us who want to get ahead in their field. 



  • Arthur, M. B. (1994). The boundaryless career: A new perspective for organizational inquiry. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 15, 295–306.
  • Briscoe, J. P., Hall, D. T., & DeMuth, R. L. F. (2006). Protean and boundaryless careers: An empirical exploration. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 69(1), 30-47.
  • Inkson, K., Dries, N., & Arnold, J. (2015). Understanding careers: Metaphors of working lives (2nd ed.). SAGE Publications Ltd.
  • Sullivan, S. E., & Arthur, M. B. (2006). The evolution of the boundaryless career concept: Examining physical and psychological mobility. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 69(1), 19-29.

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