Career Literature Review: Psychological Mobility In The Boundaryless Career Era

Career Literature Reviews is a regular series of posts wherein I delve into the career development literature in search of interesting findings, and discuss the articles I’ve read, along with a few of my thoughts. 

Article Title: Being unemployed in the boundaryless career era: Does psychological mobility pay off?
Authors: Sarah Vansteenkiste, Marijke Verbruggen, Luc Sels
Published: Journal of Vocational Behavior, Volume 82, Issue 2, April 2013, Pages 135-143.

This study looked at the concept of psychological mobility, defined as “the extent to which people can envision a variety of career options as viable opportunities for them,” and employment attitudes/outcomes in a sample of  more than 1800 unemployed Belgian participants (mean age was 40 and mean length of unemployment was 10 months). The authors predicted that, due to the more fluid, “boundaryless” nature of the current career development landscape, there would be a net positive effect from being psychologically mobile on variables like number of job interviews and number of job offers.

In the end, that’s what they found. A positive correlation was shown between psychological mobility and job search intensity and number of interviews, but not with number of job offers. In fact, the authors state: “the total effect of psychological mobility on the number of job offers [was] significantly negative… [indicating] that the negative [effect] offsets and even counteracts the positive one” (p. 140).

My Thoughts

It was interesting to see evidence for negative outcomes associated with this kind of flexibility, especially after taking into account that those job seekers with more psychological mobility were also more engaged in their job search and were invited to more interviews. The authors point out that an appropriate job seeking approach should emphasize not only mobility and flexibility but also structure in the job search process. In other words, flexibility in terms of imagining possible career outcomes is good, but when it comes to the practicalities of actually obtaining a job, it can be harmful to be perceived as lacking direction or focus.

So, psychological mobility, in and of itself, doesn’t appear to have a clear, directional impact on employment success, at least as measured by received job offers. That said, I do wonder about the study’s exclusive focus on job offers as the ultimate positive career outcome. Don’t get me wrong – especially considering their sample was unemployed, it’s a great outcome measure – but there are other positive outcomes in the career world. Another study showed that “boundarlyless mindset” correlated with wage and promotions, for example. How about hope? Are those with a higher psychological mobility more hopeful, or less? What is the relationship between psychological mobility and perceived possible future work selves? Are more psychologically mobile job seekers more or less likely to see themselves as having a calling?

Regardless, I think it’s an interesting idea. What do you think? Is psychological mobility a helpful concept? How do you think it relates to effective career development and job-seeking?