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Artist's impression for the "fight on the career ladder"

The career or professional career (from French carrière ) is the personal career of a person in his professional life . In corporate HR work, a career is understood to mean “any operational sequence of jobs for a person in the corporate job structure”. Since the 1990s, it has been assumed in career research that careers increasingly (if not predominantly) take place beyond organizational boundaries

Colloquially, the term usually refers to a career advancement (a way up), i. This means that the term career is often associated with a change in qualifications and service position as well as economic and / or social advancement .

Concept history

The word career literally means "road" (Latin carrus "car"). The term in the exact sense describes any professional career, regardless of whether it is perceived as promotion or relegation. However, it is disputed whether other movements in a social space over time should not also be viewed as careers. Every housewife and househusband would have a career as well.

The career opportunities (as well as the possibility of a free choice of occupation in general) were narrowly limited by the class society . As a rule, only aristocrats could make a career at the royal court or in the military . The lower clergy were among the few exceptions . That changed in the late 18th century with the increasingly free choice of profession, the dismantling of professional privileges and the emergence of administrative organizations and large companies. Since then, careers can be seen as an attempt to build up an identity ( Niklas Luhmann speaks of an “identity without identity”).

Career research was originally a sociological subject. Max Weber and Karl Mannheim emphasized the structural aspect of the career, i. In other words, the prescribed hierarchy of positions in bureaucratic organizations that prescribed planned and manageable advancement paths. The Chicago School of Sociology developed its biographical life history concept further in the early 1920s by combining the structural with the subjective aspects of career, but stuck to the sequentiality of the concept of career. Only Howard S. Becker referred to all forms of upward, downward or lateral mobility, including the informal (z. B. criminal) careers as "careers".

Since the 1950s it has been increasingly shaped by psychology. Donald E. Super , a pioneer in career research, combined the concept of career with approaches from developmental psychology and, in his first major work Psychology and Careers (1957), formulated five career stages which, as developmental tasks, typically have to be mastered at a certain age - at best sooner or later . He showed how a person fulfills his various roles (job, leisure time, parents) in the course of his development, which the social environment and living space require. However, this concept is strongly normative; From today's perspective, Supers career stages appear like a sample résumé. “Atypical” careers were not included in his functionalist concept.

The organizational psychologist Edgar Schein distinguishes between different career anchors depending on personality . H. Different motivations and preferences that influence the development and planning of the personal professional career or are or would be beneficial for individual satisfaction with the professional path. The incentive for professional changes or for maintaining the professional situation does not have to consist in economic or social advancement, but can also be based on the compatibility of work and private life or other factors.

With the concept of career class, Pierre Bourdieu created a term to typify patterns of advancement or relegation depending on class and institutional mechanisms of social opening and closing.

Since the 1990s, more and more empirical research results on the sequence analysis of careers and on the career conditions of women and their barriers have been presented. Although there is evidence that careers are becoming more complex, the number of job changes has not increased since 1984 (if you put intra-organizational and intra-organizational ones together, they have even decreased) and satisfaction with career success has remained constant. However, the increase in income from an additional job change has decreased.

Use of terms

  • In the professional career, a distinction is made between advancement in the corporate hierarchy (e.g. management career) and a specialist career (i.e. advancement in an expert career). Special forms are the "project career" (as a career form with changing project management in changing contexts, partly with the aim of later taking on a management role that results from a project) and a "mosaic career", in which successively changing tasks in a company ( from the buyer via sales tasks to the personnel officer), sometimes also referred to as "cirumferential career" or "boundaryless career".
  • If a successful amateur in sport or another field concentrates professionally on this area and earns his living as a professional alone, one also speaks of a professional career , for example as a boxer , tennis player or pop singer .
  • If a person is successfully active in a new field of activity without having the classic professional training for it, they are talking about a career as a lateral entrant.
  • The career of civil servants and soldiers in Germany follows the career principle .
  • In a figurative sense, one can also speak of a drug career or a criminal career in a criminal environment .
  • High-risk careers are the résumés of adolescents who have been confronted with problems at home, abuse, ADHD or home stays since early adolescence .

The forms of careers are also named differently. In addition to vertical ones, there are more and more horizontal or patchwork careers. A career that begins particularly quickly is also known colloquially as a “whiz kid”, those concerned as a “whiz kid” or - especially in the music sector - as a “shooting star”.

A career that takes place over many years in a company and leads up through several hierarchical levels is called a "chimney career". What used to be customary and expressed continuity now harbors dangers, since when changing jobs one often assumes “company blindness” and a lack of “flexibility” if one has only experienced one corporate culture for too long . In addition, the changing expectations of the workforce are also presenting companies with the challenge of offering other career prospects. In this respect, many companies now also offer other career models, e.g. B. the already mentioned project career or also "horizontal careers" and "specialist careers". Companies and research refer to the fact that career plans and courses are a function of individual preferences and characteristics, given opportunities and support from the social environment.

Conversely, one speaks of a “career kink” when career advancement slows down abruptly, and of a “career trap” when there is little prospect of advancement in a professional situation, for example because a job offers little development opportunities and one's own competence base no longer becomes professional Requirement profile fits, personal reputation hinders professional advancement or a previous professional decision shows negative effects on the career. The commitment that a person shows to drive their own professional advancement is sometimes referred to as self-promotion .

A pair (couple, partner), consisting of two professional ambitious people trying (z. B. common location) its careers "under one roof" with the common life planning to take, is called " dual career pair " (eng. Dual career couple ). Sometimes there is now also talk of a "second career" if z. B.

  • After their first career, professional athletes or temporary soldiers make a switch to another professional field (from soccer player to insurance salesman / the example of Uwe Seeler, from world ranking tennis player to management consultant / the example of Vera-Carina Elter)
  • Retirees can extend their professional careers by z. B. as senior au pairs or senior experts
  • People use their “mid-life crisis” to get out of a management career and work as a shoemaker or truck driver.


The ideas about which development steps and goals should be pursued as a career are culturally and individually different and can change from one generation to the next. The standard conception of a career in connection with a permanent employment relationship (such as the so-called normal employment relationship ) applies in particular to advancement in the hierarchy of the company or organization as well as in society in general (see also promotion , social advancement ), combined with corresponding financial benefits. These can take the form of wages , but also social benefits or pecuniary benefits (company car, mobile phone, etc.).

With more changeable conditions and flatter hierarchies, improving and maintaining one's own market value on the labor market ( employability ), lifelong learning, is becoming increasingly important. The work-life balance (e.g. with regard to the scope of work, working hours and place of work) is also increasingly being cited as a crucial component of a career.


LF Fitzgerald, RE Fassinger, RE, NE Betz, NE (1995): Theoretical Advances in the Study of Women's Career Development , in: WB Walsh, SH Osipow (eds.): Handbook of Vocational Psychology: theory, research and practice. 2nd ed. Mahway, New Jersey

  • Wolfgang Schur, Günter Weick (1999): Crazy career. How career makers trick, what they sacrifice, how they advance . Frankfurt am Main: Eichborn (review + career rules mentioned in the book)
  • Tomas Bohinc (2008): Making a career without being a boss: Practical advice for a successful professional career: GABAL (intranet website for the book)
  • Felix Bühlmann (2010): Career Careers in Flexible Capitalism . Berlin etc. 2010.

Vera Friedli: Company career planning, in: Norbert Thom; Robert J Zaugg (Ed.): Moderne Personalentwicklung, Wiesbaden: Gabler 2009, pp. 247–283.

  • Rosina M. Gasteiger: Career Development and Advice, Göttingen: Hogrefe 2015.
  • Anja Gerlmeier u. a .: Practical handbook life-phase-oriented personnel management, Wiesbaden: SpringerGabler 2015.
  • Herminia Ibarra: Working Identity, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.
  • Steffen Hillebrecht: The second career, Wiesbaden: SpringerGabler 2017.
  • Steffen Hillebrecht: The phenomenon of the second career, Münster / Westf: LIT 2019.
  • Peter Kels u. a .: Career management in knowledge-based companies, Wiesbaden: SpringerGabler 2014.
  • Sibylle Olbert-Bock u. a .: Career concepts - a typification of individual career thinking and acting, in: Zeitschrift für Personalforschung 28 (4/2014), pp. 434–453.

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: career  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Peter Lenk : career ladder, Bundesallee 210, Berlin, accessed June 7, 2010
  2. Jürgen Berthel, Fred G. Becker (2013): Personnel Management: Basics for Concepts of Company Personnel Work. Stuttgart, p. 479.
  3. Arthur, Michael B .: The boundaryless career: A new perspective for organizational inquiry . In: Journal of Organizational Behavior . No. 15 (4) , p. 295-306 .
  4. ^ Hall, Douglas T .: Protean careers of the 21st century . In: Academy of Management Executive . No. 10 (4) , p. 8-16 .
  5. ^ Latzke, Markus; Schneidhofer, Thomas M .; Pernkopf, Katharina; Mayrhofer, Wolfgang: Career research - conceptual framework, central discourses and new fields of research . In: DC Spurk & S. Kauffmann (eds.): Manual career and career planning . Springer, Berlin.
  6. Luhmann, Niklas: Copied existence and career . In: U. Beck & E. Beck-Gernsheim (ed.): Risky freedoms . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt a. Main 1994.
  7. Lawrence, BS; Hall, DT; Arthur, MB: Sustainable careers then and now . In: Ans de Vos & Beatrix Van der Heijden (eds.): Handbook of Research on Sustainable Careers . Edward Elgar, Cheltenham 2015, p. 432-450 .
  8. ^ WI Thomas, F. Znaniecki: The Polish Peasant in Europa and America. 2 vols., New York 1958 (first 1918/20).
  9. ^ H. Becker, AA Strauss: Careers, personality, and adult socialization. American Journal of Sociology, 62 (1956), pp. 253-263.
  10. Schneidhofer, Thomas M .; Hofbauer, Johanna & Tali, Ahu: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? On the agency / structure debate in careers research . In: Lecture given at the 32nd EGOS Conference (Colloquium of Group of Organization Studies) . Naples 2016.
  11. ^ The psychology of careers: An introduction to vocational development. Oxford 1957.
  12. Olaf Groh-Samberg, Florian R. Hertel: Career classes: For the empirical implementation of a dynamic class concept with the help of sequence analyzes. SOEP Papers 374, DIW Berlin 2011.
  13. Cf. Fitzgerald et al. a. 1995.
  14. Kattenbach, Ralph; Schneidhofer, Thomas M .; Gap, Janine; Latzke, Markus; Loacker, Bernadette; Schramm, Florian; Mayrhofer, Wolfgang: A quarter of a century of job transitions in Germany . In: Journal of Vocational Behavior . No. 84 , 2014, pp. 49-58 .
  15. ^ Latzke, Markus; Kattenbach, Ralph; Schneidhofer, Thomas M .; Schramm, Florian; Mayrhofer, Wolfgang: Consequences of voluntary job changes in Germany: A multilevel analysis for 1985-2013. In: Journal of Vocational Behavior . No. 93 , 2016, p. 139-149 .
  16. Becker, Manfred: Personalentwicklung, 6th edition, Stuttgart: Schäffer-Poeschel 2013, p. 608ff.
  17. ^ Friedli, Vera (2002): The operational career planning. Conceptual foundations and empirical studies from the corporate perspective, Bern a. a. 2002
  18. Sadigh, Parvin, et al. a .: Mosaic career instead of career ladder, article from May 27, 2014 at
  19. Chudzikowski, Katharina, u. a .: Career Movements and their outcomes - a way of interacting with organizations: An empirical study of career transitions in Austria, Working Paper of July 10, 2008 at .pdf
  20. Michael B. Arthur: The boundaryless career, in: Journal of Organizational Behavior, Vol. 15 (July / 1994), pp. 295-306.
  21. Rosina M. Gasteiger: Self-responsible career management, Göttingen: Hogrefe 2007; Rosina M. Gasteiger: career development and counseling, Göttingen: Hogrefe 2015; Steffen Hillebrecht: The phenomenon of the second career, Münster: Lit 2019, pp. 29-44.
  22. Sibylle Olbert-Bock u. a .: Career concepts - a typification of individual career thinking and acting, in: Zeitschrift für Personalforschung 28 (4/2014), p. 434ff.
  23. Kornelia Rappe-Giesecke: What controls careers - the triadic career model, in: Wirtschaftspsychologie aktuell, No. 4/2011, pp. 16-20.
  24. Ralf Witzler: Career jump: Wanted too high too early., accessed May 1, 2009 .
  25. Petra Blum: Career trap abroad: hard landing with culture shock. Spiegel Online, December 18, 2008, accessed May 1, 2009 .
  26. You do a career differently: Factors and influences of career developments ( Memento of the original from May 18, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (PDF; 25 kB) @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  27. Dual Career - career for two  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /  
  28. Miedaner, Talane: Coach yourself to a second career, Munich: Redline 2012. Morgenthaler, Matthias; Zaugg, Marco: Get off - change, Basel: Zytglogge 2013. Stermsek, Katja, Hillebrecht, steffen: Typology and opportunities of professional change “Second career” as an opportunity for employees, consultants and science, in: Der Betriebswirt, 58 (No. 1 / 2017), pp. 10-14.
  29. Müller, Anja; Fröndhoff, Bernd: Two successful careers, in: Handelsblatt, No. 191 of October 4, 2016, p. 45.
  30. Collamer, Nancy: Second Act Careers - 50+ ways to profit from your passions during semi-retierements, New York NY: Ten Speed ​​2013. Creutzburg, Dietrich: Immer more Retirees Work, contribution from January 8, 2017 (accessed on 10. January 2017) at
  31. Abicht, Lothar: Neue Lebenphasenmodelle für 50+, in: LO Lernende Organization, No. 92 from June / July 2016, pp. 14–27; Brambusch, Jens; Zapf, Marina: Just do it, in: Capital, No. 2/2016, pp. 28–36.
  32. Sabrina Kurth, Louisa Thomas: Migrant Elite: goal executive floor. Career Insights , July 27, 2011, accessed August 2, 2011 .
  33. Caroline Glynn, Ingrid Steinberg, Claire McCartney: Work-Life Balance: The Role of the Manager , Roffey Park Institute, 2002, ISBN 0-907416-86-1 , p. 12 ( Memento of the original from December 16, 2011 on the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /