Rob Wood, of the University of Southampton and Claudia Filsinger, of Oxford Brookes University Business School, review the potential of an emerging career concept and its application in coaching practice

By Rob Wood and Claudia Filsinger


The context of careers has been changing over the past decades. Economical, technological and social changes, such as globalisation, improvement of virtual working technologies and abolishment of the default retirement age, are just some examples of factors that have an impact on the nature of contemporary careers (Inkson et al., 2015).

This has facilitated the emergence of new career models, with a decreasing importance given to traditional linear organisational careers where employees are expected to rise up the organisational ladder.

Traditional careers were built on the exchange between organisations and individuals of labour for job security, while modern careers have been characterised as protean and boundaryless. The protean career concept (in reference to the Greek sea god Proteus, who could change shape at will) has two key characteristics: protean careers are self-directed by the individual and are values driven. The boundaryless career concept describes the phenomenon of career actors being able to move more easily across boundaries, such as organisational, occupational, geographical and also functional boundaries within organisations (Inkson et al., 2015).

The assumptions underlying these key career concepts have been criticised, and a lack of evidence has been pointed out that contemporary careers actually have replaced traditional organisational careers to the extent predicted (Clarke, 2008; Inkson et al., 2012).

Rising through the organisation hierarchy is still the predominant career model in certain sectors (eg, ‘up or out’) and many organisations invest heavily in their employees’ career development. So it appears that instead of a complete shift of the career management responsibility from the organisation to the employee, a practice has developed of shared responsibility of developing and managing careers by organisations and individuals.

However, recent research and emerging concepts in the academic field of careers studies focus on the individual. Savickas (2012) and others predict that the developing model is for ‘careers’ being owned by the individual, which includes also the responsibility for career management.

The aim of this article is to introduce the emerging individual career concept of career adapt-ability to coaching practitioners.

Career adapt-ability describes psychosocial resources a person may draw on to solve complex vocational tasks, transitions into new job roles, and to overcome work traumas (Savickas & Porfeli, 2012). This makes it relevant for developing ambiguity tolerance, resilience, frequent job transitions and the ability to adapt to transformational change – challenges often discussed among career, leadership and talent practitioners.

There are four dimensions of career adapt-ability, namely: concern, control, curiosity and confidence, also referred to as the four Cs (Savickas & Porfeli, 2012; Savickas, 2012). The goal is to develop these adapt-abilities so that ongoing career reflection becomes part of individuals’ lives, leading to greater curiosity, resilience and flexibility so that both planned and unplanned career pathways can be negotiated (Pryor & Bright, 2011).

Increased reflection and ownership can lead to better work/life integration: “Work fitting into life, rather than life fitting into work” (Savickas, 2012).

Career adapt-abilities can provide a useful coaching framework when working with clients on career development (looking for changes in an existing career) or career transition (from one to another). In both situations, proponents of the career adapt-abilities model would suggest that individuals have the responsibility to reflect on what is needed and be proactive in making it happen.

Career coaching practitioners can integrate the framework in their work, either by inviting clients to self-audit prior to coaching or by working with the four Cs during coaching sessions. Questions can be geared towards where a client needs to increase ownership and activity (Savickas & Porfeli, 2012; Wright & Frigerio, 2015):

  • Facilitating a greater Concern. Developing an optimistic attitude to the future. ‘Do I have a future?’
  • Identifying what can be Controlled. Exerting a degree of intra-personal influence on their situation to foster self-regulation: ‘Who owns my future’?
  • Increasing Curiosity by exploring self and what options are out there: ‘What can I do?’
  • Development of greater levels of Confidence through guided experience and the development of new skills (Ibarra, 2003): ‘Will I do it?’

Associated attitudes, competencies, behaviours and career problems have been identified for each of the four Cs in Table 1.

Career adapt-ability has its roots in life design and career construction theories (Super, 1980). One of Donald Super’s apprentices, Mark Savickas, leads an international research group across 20 countries, which is working on developing and researching the concept of creating culturally relevant inventories being used in different socio-economic contexts.

In the UK, research is currently focused on using it with students in higher education and skills supply (Bimrose et al., 2011). As a key concept that informs career guidance for graduates at universities, career adapt-ability is useful for any talent and career practitioners to be aware of.

Evaluating future research findings for application in organisational and private client career work will be valuable as the careers adapt-ability concept and related psychometric instruments evolve.


Rob Wood is a career practitioner at the University of Southampton, has a private practice as a business development and career coach (, and is conducting doctoral research into education and coaching for later-life career changers with International Centre for Guidance Studies at University of Derby.


Claudia Filsinger is an independent executive coach and lectures in career management and coaching practice at Oxford Brookes University Business School.



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