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Work Experience and Career

Why Career?

The language we use to discuss work experience is often closely related to the language used in career development. As such, it is worth thinking about what we mean by the term 'Career'.

There are a huge range of published theories on career development and we will give only an overview in this module. Most importantly, we will focus on surfacing your own theories of career development. We all operate from our theories; unconscious or tacit ideas and beliefs that inform our actions and our practices (the way we think, write and speak). When we make our theories explicit, we can examine them and understand their implications for the way we work.


Please begin by reading Chapter Two on Career Development Theory from Gothard (2001) in the core reading. This reading will help you understand a range of key concepts from career development theories. Make notes on the key concepts as you are reading.

Using metaphor to understand career

This section seeks to explore a way of reading and understanding career and work experience using metaphors. It is based on a very simple premise: that all theories of organisation and management are based on implicit images or metaphors that lead us to see, understand, and approach career in distinctive yet partial ways. The approach was pioneered by Gareth Morgan in his text 'Images of Organisations' (2006) and the approach then applied to careers by Kerr Inkson (2007).

The use of metaphor implies a way of thinking and a way of seeing that pervades how we understand our world generally.

As Gareth Morgan notes, any metaphor offers a partial way of looking at something. Like looking at a mountain from different sides, different metaphors offer different perspectives. Thus any metaphor is incomplete, and potentially misleading. To say that a man is a lion suggests that he is brave and strong, but not that he has four legs and is covered in fur.

A metaphor is neither true nor false. Rather, the usefulness of a metaphor depends on the richness of the insights it generates.

“Metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action.”
“Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.”

As an example, lets look at the metaphor 'Time is Money'. Here are some ways we talk about time as a resource:

  • How do you spend your time these days?
  • You're wasting my time.
  • This gadget will save you hours.
  • I've invested a lot of time in the relationship.
  • I don't have time to spare for that.
  • You're running out of time.
  • Is that worth your while?
  • He's living on borrowed time.
  • I lost a lot of time at the airport.

As you can see, the metaphor isn't true or false. When we use different metaphors, each one offers a contrasting and partial perspective. What matters is the richness of the insights it yields.

Activity: Your career and metaphor

1. You are now invited to think back over your own career to date. How would you describe what has happened over the years? Once you have recollected, find some way of presenting your career on one side of an A4 page - use any combination of words, diagrams, drawings, pictures, images, etc.

2. Once you have done this, look carefully at what you have produced. What have you focused on? Have you emphasised any of the following factors: decision-making, the influence of particular people and contexts, values and beliefs, skills and abilities, your experience of change and development over time? Of course, all of these factors are significant in career development - indeed, there are career theories associated to each and every one of them.

3. Following this, you are asked to read chapter one entitled Career and metaphor from Inkson (2007) (in your reading pack).

4. What metaphors appeal to you the most in understanding your own career?

Career metaphors and work experience

This slide show demonstrates how the various metaphors of career identified by Inkson can be used to give us different perspectives on work experience.