As we enter the 2nd quarter of the 21st Century, we are witnessing how the job market continually evolves in response to different pressures and influences. We all know of VUCA and it is clear that due to this major impact, more and more companies are taking steps to ensure they survive and thrive in such a complex and uncertain environment. Alongside these impacts, traditional career paths are also becoming less common with many individuals starting to take charge of their own career progression, either within the organization or outside of it.
In light of this trend, two concepts that are somewhat gaining attention amongst career practitioners are protean and boundaryless careers. In this article, I will explore the advantages for individuals to start adopting the mindset arising from these two concepts and to adopt strategies in order to excel in this ever-changing landscape.
According to Douglas Hall, an individual with a protean career is one who actively and constantly updates their career pathway in order to remain relevant to their work environment (Hall, 2004). The word “protean” came from “Proteus”, a Greek god with the ability to constantly change his shape in response to the environment he was in. Thus, Proteus signifies someone who is flexible, versatile and highly adaptable.
In career development-speak, an individual with a protean career is characterized by continuous a state of continuous self-assessment, self-direction, and self-development. Due to this individual’s flexibility, they are able to pursue different opportunities whenever it presents itself, explore new industries, and constantly redefine the meaning of success on their own terms, but in relation to the changing work environment.
To be ‘protean’ means to adopt an attitude that provides the individual with all the abovementioned level of flexibility and versatility.
Now let's have a look at the idea of boundaryless career. Mirvis and Hall (1994) proposed this concept which relates to an individual’s career movement in terms of mobility. Individuals who have boundaryless careers have the ability to go beyond conventional organizational and industry boundaries and usually do not confine themselves to a single sector or industry but continually seeks for opportunities to move and grow across different organizations, industries, and even geographical locations.
In a boundaryless career, individuals embrace the notion of career mobility (Forrier, Sels & Stynen, 2009). Career mobility means individuals are open to change and are actively pursuing diverse experiences. An individual who is ‘career mobile’ is not constrained by typical hierarchical structures or career paths but actively navigates across roles, projects, and collaborations that enhances their knowledge, skills, and networks. This applies both of movement within and outside the organization.
To me, protean careers is a mindset and an attitude that an individual adopts, whereas boundaryless is the ‘outcome’ of the mindset and attitude of being protean. When someone adopts a protean career mindset, they constantly evaluate their career decisions to ensure they are aligned with their personal values, interests, personality and skills or VIPS (Hsi, 2022). These individuals seek psychological success and fulfilment, not just only in their paid jobs, but also jobs which are unpaid (e.g. voluntary work, etc). Very often, they engage in roles which they are personally passionate about.
Another advantage of protean career mindset is that these individuals actively seek out learning experiences, whether through formal education, online courses, or self-directed projects. This commitment to lifelong learning ensures that they remain adaptable, resilient, and prepared for the ever-changing demands of the job market. With a protean mindset, these individuals become highly mobile in their career and the outcomes of their roles are no longer bounded by strict organizational structures. In fact, these individuals constantly develop and manage their career pathways for continual career advancement.
In order for us to excel in a protean and boundaryless career, I believe 3 steps are essential. Firstly, take time for self-reflection. Seek to be clear about your values, interests, and strengths so that you know how to make informed career decisions. Continuously assess your technical and transferable skills and identify areas for development to stay ahead in the job market.
Secondly, it is crucial to be building networks of professional contacts. Be active and engage in professional communities such as those offered by our Association. Attend our upcoming Career Facilitation Circles (CFC) this week and other events (refer to the email or write to us for more information!)
Finally, embrace a growth mindset. View challenges as learning opportunities and be open to taking risks. Seek out stretch assignments or projects that push your boundaries and allow you to acquire new skills and knowledge.
Forrier, A., Sels, L., & Stynen, D. (2009). Career mobility at the intersection between agent and structure: A conceptual model. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 82(4), 739-759.
Hall, D. T. (2004). The protean career: A quarter-century journey. Journal of vocational behavior, 65(1), 1-13.
Hsi, T. (2022). How to know a job option is the CORRECT one for me. Linkedin article, Career Development Association of Singapore.
Mirvis, P. H., & Hall, D. T. (1994). Psychological success and the boundaryless career. Journal of organizational behavior, 15(4), 365-380.