Career builders

Career builders


by Silvia Bagdadli, Dept. of Management and Technology

Careers and career development are fascinating topics. The magic of careers resides in several aspects. First, the difficulty of attributing a universal meaning to the word that is most often interpreted according to different institutional and cultural contexts (Kase and colleagues, 2020). The etymology itself is uncertain. Some says that “career” is running, a racecourse (usually at full speed), a course (of the sun across the sky), a carriage (road), a track for wheeled vehicles (from Vulgar Latin: (via) cararia). The meaning of career success too has an interesting duality.  On the one side, it has an objective meaning, often measured by indicators such as salary, promotions and distance from the top. On the other side, career success has a subjective meaning that represents one’s individual judgments on his/her own career attainments, most often measured as career satisfaction although more recent studies recognized it as a multifaceted construct with more nuanced perceptions.

As per a recent scale validated internationally by the research group “5C” these perceptions include: learning and development – learning to be innovative in one’s work; financial security – receiving remuneration enabling a person to satisfy his and his family’s basic needs; financial success – achieving economic well-being and increasing one’s income; entrepreneurship – succeeding in an autonomous professional project; work-life balance – achieving a good balance between private life and work; positive relationships – experiencing good work relationships and being appreciated by one’s colleagues; positive impact – contributing to the development of others and society (Bagdadli and Gianecchini, 2019a). This ambiguity of career and career success meanings is relevant for career development, as individuals may have different career objectives when participating in initiatives offered by organizations and/or in proactively pursuing their careers.

In this dual role of individuals and organizations in career development, the agency and structure perspective in scholarly terms (Andersen and colleagues, 2020) relies on a second fascinating element of careers. Organizationally-sponsored career developmental activities include, amongst others, career planning, training, assessment centers, performance appraisal, mentoring and networking, job rotations and international assignments (Bagdadli and Gianecchini, 2019b). Employees can participate in different activities as they move from job to job within and across organizations and these practices represents an opportunity to accumulate human capital. Job rotations for example offer the possibility to widen and enrich employees’ set of skills, both technical and managerial, and if complemented with a career development plan can enable promotions to top-level positions. These initiatives add to individuals’ investments in training and formal education and produce effects both on objective and subjective career success (Bagdadli and colleagues, 2020). Participating in career development activities along the life of one’s career can also buffer the effects of age on employability (Dello Russo and colleagues, 2020). Organizations offers some of these practices (e.g., mentoring, lateral moves and international assignment) to a specific group of employees - the so called talents or high potentials – those potentially becoming the future organizational leaders (Bagdadli and Gianecchini, 2020). Competent individuals may want to join organizations offering these talent management programs, which give continuous support to skill development and speed up careers to the top levels.

At a junior level, some organizations offer to brilliant students “Graduates programs”, a one to two year developmental program, often across several functions and countries (in the MNEs), to socialize and prepare future managers. Career development paths can be vertical and in the same function or lateral and/or diagonal with moves in different functions in order to develop differentiated and more generalist skills. Some organizations also offer dual career ladders for both professional and managerial careers, to give excellent professionals the possibility to make a career without necessarily becoming managers. MNEs offer international careers with frequent moves across countries and a quick road to the top to those experiencing several international assignments balanced with roles in the Headquarters (Hamori & Koyuncu, 2011).

Together with organizations, individuals can play a role in their career development through investments in training and formal educations and through career proactive behaviors, which refer to self‐directed activities they engage in to manage their careers. These behaviors allow individuals to make a realistic self‐assessment of their capabilities in light of organizational career opportunities and include concrete actions undertaken to realize these ambitions. These actions may include the planning of one’s own path, the development of skills, and consultation with the most senior managers. Discussing future career steps with one’s supervisor, asking for continuous feedback and consulting the HR function regarding the development possibilities in the near future increase promotion opportunities: the “agentic” and proactive individuals can benefit from increased career success (Smale and colleagues, 2019), having control of their professional lives. To conclude, careers and career development lie at the intersection of individual and organizational actions with effects both on subjective and objective success.   

Read more about the topic:
“There Is Only One Right Path. And That's Your Own”. Interview with Monica Possa, Group Chief HR  Organization Officer at Generali
Growth is an Exercise in Trust. Interview with Paola Boromei, Executive VP Human Resources Organization at Snam

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