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How Much Agency Do We Think We Have?

By Mirit Grabarski


The early career theories (Holland, 1985; Law, 1981; Lent, Brown & Hackett, 1994; Super,1990) focused on person-job fit, self-concept, and multiple roles that one takes during the lifetime, with the traditional linear career path in mind. With the technological, economic and social changes in the late 20th century, a new generation of theories was interested in non-linear career paths, when an individual may drive their career between jobs and organizations. For example, the Boundaryless career theory (Arthur & Rousseau, 1996) is interested in the way people move across organizations; the Protean career theory (Hall, 1976) shows how people drive their career in search for fulfillment and the Kaleidoscope model (Mainiero & Sullivan, 2006) is focused on personal needs – authenticity, balance and challenge that might become more salient during different life stages and drive career decisions.

These theories were written with the white-collar or knowledge workers in mind and assume that the individual is an active force who makes career decisions with full agency. However, the Canadian society consists of large sectors of people who are not managers or knowledge workers, such as farmers, factory workers and more. In addition, some of them are limited by different factors: immigrants, people with declining occupations, people with challenging family conditions and more. For example, while 42% of immigrants to Canada hold university degrees, compared to 16% of Canadian-born people (Zietsma, 2010), they have higher unemployment rates than those who were born in Canada, are less likely to find jobs in their occupations and are more likely to take low-income jobs that are below their education level (Galarneau & Morissette, 2004).

While some people are able to navigate their careers despite adversity (London, 1997), the discussion is often restricted to factors that limit the objective career options. My doctoral research is focused on the subjective perceptions of agency that people have over their careers. While some people might in fact have more objective limitations than others, their mindsets also have a major role in determining their career behavior. I argue that the individual perception of agency might explain why some people act and other feel entrenched. The primary contributions of the proposed study are establishing a new construct that may explain career-related decision making which was previously missing from the literature and providing a valid measure for the construct. The main practical contribution is introducing another point of intervention for career counsellors to enable people to pursue their career goals.




Mirit Grabarski is a doctoral student in Ivey Business school at Western University. Her research interest lies in the intersection of career development and gender roles. She is also interested in the Positive Organizational Scholarship movement and specifically issues such as empowerment and resilience.



Arthur, M. B., & Rousseau, D. M. (1996). The boundaryless career: A new employment principle for a new organizational era. Oxford University Press

Galarneau, D. & Morissette, R. (2004). Immigrants: Settling for less? Perspectives on Labour and Income 5(6). Retrieved March 20, 2018 from:

Hall, D. T. (1976). Careers in organizations. Goodyear Pub. Co..

Holland, J. L. (1985). Making Vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities and work environments. Prentice-Hall.

Law, B. (1981). Community interaction: a ‘mid-range’focus for theories of career development in young adults. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 9(2), 142-158.

Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., & Hackett, G. (1994). Toward a unifying social cognitive theory of career and academic interest, choice, and performance. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 45(1), 79-122.

London, M. (1997). Overcoming career barriers: A model of cognitive and emotional processes for realistic appraisal and constructive coping. Journal of Career Development, 24(1), 25-38.

Mainiero, L. A., & Sullivan, S. E. (2006). The Opt Out revolt: When people are leaving companies to create Kaleidoscope careers. Davies-Black Publishing.

Super, D. E. (1990). A life-span, life-space approach to career development. In: D. Brown & L. Brooks (Eds.) Career choice and development: Applying contemporary theories to practice, 2nd ed. (pp. 197-261). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Zietsma, D. (2010). Immigrants working in regulated occupations. Perspectives on Labour and Income 11(2). Retrieved March 20, 2018 from:


Lucie Morillon
Lucie Morillon is the Bilingual Content & Communications Co-ordinator for CERIC. With a passion for quality content, she connects with her online communities and provides strong resources to engage members – and always encourages new ones to get involved. She identifies, creates and curates the content destined for the ContactPoint website, the weekly CareerWise newsletter and Careering magazine.

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