Mika Launikari


A Lifetime Quest - Developing Career Capital

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The concept of career capital relates to the notion of present-day careers and the diverse abilities that individuals need to develop, acquire and maintain along their career. Lamb and Sutherland (2010) define career capital as the collection of an individual´s personal characteristics, knowledge and skills, professional experiences and achievements, as well as relational networks that transcend company, occupation, industry and even country boundaries. Career capital takes different forms and is obtained in numerous ways throughout an individual’s professional career.

Three types of knowing 

According to the theory of career capital, individuals devote their time and effort to making an investment in their careers, and in so doing they expect a worthwhile result in terms of improving their career competences. There are three interdependent types of career-based investments that people make and through which their careers unfold. These three investments are different types of knowledge that individuals need for being successful at work and in their careers: knowing why, knowing how and knowing whom. (DeFillippi and Arthur 1994; Arthur et al. 1995; DeFillippi & Arthur 1996; Inkson & Arthur, 2001; Parker et al., 2009). They can be characterized as follows:

·        Knowing why is about one’s identity, aspirations, motivations and self-discovery. It deals with how and why individuals obtain meaning out of their daily work and continuous learning. Personal motivations allow individuals to design their careers around activities that resonate with their values and larger life goals.

·        Knowing how relates to skills, competences and expertise that are required for a particular occupational role or a specific industry, and that are transferable to other professional contexts. Examples of this type of knowledge are the ability to carry out duties and solve problems successfully, having mastery in foreign languages, and being well acquainted with the latest technological developments.

·        Knowing whom is about developing and managing one’s professional and social networks in the interest of career progression. Such networks are a source of numerous resources including professional information, peer learning, knowledge sharing, emotional support and access point to cooperation and new career opportunities.

Career capital and expatriate assignments

The theory of career capital is considered as an applicable approach to looking into the career development of individual expatriates within an international career context. There is evidence from prior research that career capital evolves when employees are on expatriate assignments, and that to some degree their skills and competences acquired abroad are transferable from one international assignment to the next one. The portability and transferability of the competences acquired from an international environment is of importance not only to the individual expatriate him/herself but to the current (and future) employer as well.

For example, Mäkelä et al. (2016) demonstrated in their study on expatriates that the most transferable type of career capital that they had obtained from abroad was knowing how. The impact of international career development on the two other forms of career capital (ie. knowing why and knowing whom) was less recognized and not so evident. Also Dickmann and Harris (2005) have reported on expatriates whose international assignment had positively influenced their knowing how capital and developed their meta-level competences while working abroad. Also aspects related to self-awareness, self-esteem and sense of oneself have been identified as areas where expatriates have improved their knowing why capital.