Document Type


Publication details

Post print of: McDonald, PK, Brown, KA & Bradley, LM 2005, 'Have traditional career paths given way to protean ones?: evidence from senior managers in the Australian public sector', Career Development International, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 109-129.

Published version available from:



– This mixed‐method study aims to determine the extent to which the career paths of senior managers conform with the traditional versus protean elements described in the careers literature and whether these paths vary by gender.


– A total of 15 senior managers (seven women and eight men) in a large public sector agency in Australia were interviewed about their career trajectories to date. Data were coded according to four major areas which characterise and distinguish between traditional and protean careers: development, orientation of the employee, definition of success, and organisational environment. A total of 81 managers (34 women and 47 men) from the same organisation were also surveyed. Variables of interest were those that could be triangulated with qualitative data such as the availability of career opportunities.


– Results suggest that, contrary to much existing literature which proposes that all careers have been fundamentally altered, the traditional career which relies on length of service, geographic mobility and a steady climb up the corporate ladder, is still the dominant model in some organisations. However, the trend towards protean careers is evident and is more pronounced for women than for men.

Research limitations/implications

– The specific nature of the organisation (large, male‐dominated, public sector) may limit the generalisability of results.

Practical implications

– The framework used to explore career paths according to traditional/ protean elements in this study may assist human resource practitioners to develop appropriate strategies which maximise the professional development of employees.


– The results of this research challenge the universality of change in the nature of careers, particularly in public sector environments

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