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Abstract

Research interests have surged recently to unpack the different elements or forms of career proactivity, which is presumed to carry important implications for one’s career (Klehe et al., 2021). However, as revealed in our bibliometric review (Jiang et al., 2022), career proactivity remains a complex domain which resides in various research themes in vocational and organizational psychology. While these insights emerging from the bibliographic analyses echo well‐established perspectives in the wider career development literature, they do suggest broad directions future research may follow to move this field forward, such as clearing up the conceptualization of career proactivity, taking contextualized views, bridging historical traditions across domains, and developing new theories. That being said, since most existing career studies do not directly address “proactivity” due to constrained or ambiguous knowledge about the nature of being vocationally or occupationally proactive, the themes and clusters were largely hidden behind the literature that indirectly attends to individuals’ actions or behavioral tendencies (or indicators reflecting/fostering these actions or tendencies). What seems challenging for career proactivity research in the future, is still the complexity of identifying a clearer and more precisely defined thread that can bind these themes in a coherent, meaningful manner.
INVITED ARTICLE
Moving forward: Diverse conceptual and
theoretical perspectives to advance career
proactivity research
Zhou Jiang
1
| Chia-Huei Wu
2,3
| Ying Wang
4
|
Kelly Z. Peng
5,6
| Wanlu Li
7
1
Business Department, Graduate School of Business and Law, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia
2
Management Department, Leeds University Business School, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
3
Department of Medical Research, China Medical University Hospital, China Medical University, Taichung, Taiwan
4
School of Management, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia
5
Department of Business Administration, Hong Kong Shue Yan University, Hong Kong
6
Enterprise and Social Development Research Centre, Hong Kong Shue Yan University, North Point, Hong Kong
7
School of Business, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou, China
Correspondence
Zhou Jiang, Business Department, Graduate School of Business and Law, RMIT University, Melbourne VIC 3000,
Australia.
Email: dr.zhou.jiang@gmail.com and joe.jiang@rmit.edu.au
INTRODUCTION
Research interests have surged recently to unpack the different elements or forms of career
proactivity, which is presumed to carry important implications for one's career (Klehe
et al., 2021). However, as revealed in our bibliometric review (Jiang et al., 2022), career
proactivity remains a complex domain that resides in various research themes in vocational and
organizational psychology. While these insights emerging from the bibliographic analyses echo
well-established perspectives in the wider career development literature, they do suggest broad
directions future research may follow to move this field forward, such as clearing up the concep-
tualization of career proactivity, taking contextualized views, bridging historical traditions across
domains, and developing new theories. That being said, since most existing career studies do not
directly address proactivitydue to constrained or ambiguous knowledge about the nature of
being vocationally or occupationally proactive, the themes and clusters were largely hidden
behind the literature that indirectly attends to individuals' actions or behavioral tendencies
Received: 20 October 2022 Accepted: 24 October 2022
DOI: 10.1111/apps.12446
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License, which permits use,
distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes.
© 2022 The Authors. Applied Psychology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of International Association of Applied
Psychology.
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(or indicators reflecting/fostering these actions or tendencies). What seems challenging for
career proactivity research in the future is still the complexity of identifying a clearer and more
precisely defined thread that can bind these themes in a coherent, meaningful manner.
We are pleased to see career development researchers engage with this line of scholarly con-
versations from diverse, critical perspectives to shape a way forward to advance career
proactivity research. Three groups of researchers (Akkermans & Hirschi, 2022; Forrier, 2022;
Sonnentag, 2022) have provided thought-provoking views around the concept, context, and the-
ory to facilitate further unpacking of the four broad future research directions outlined in our
bibliometric review and to raise new conceptual perspectives that can further enhance existing
research of career proactivity. The most consistent, strong message they have communicated is
centered on context. Despite these commentaries have each come with different angles, there
appears to be a consensus that context, or contextualization, would be a promising thread that
future researchers can leverage to dig deeper into the conceptual, theoretical, and empirical
spectra of career proactivity. While this focus has been briefly discussed in our call for integrat-
ing context into career proactivity research (Jiang et al., 2022), these researchers have stepped
further to unpack how we can do so more clearly and creatively. For example, Sonnentag
(2022) articulated the need to incorporate historical and temporal contexts to understand career
proactivity. Forrier (2022) took a critical view to challenge an agency or ontic perspective of
career proactivity, in that career actions are not always self-determined and instead are often
shaped by the context. Akkermans and Hirschi (2022) emphasized the behavioral nature of
career proactivity and prompted researchers to think about proactive career behaviors as an ele-
ment of career self-management in broader contexts. As advocates for contextualization, we
agree with their highlights on the importance of context in advancing the scholarly inquiry of
career proactivity. In the remaining of this rejoinder, our elaboration focuses on context and
career proactivity from three angles embedded in these researchers' commentaries.
MACRO CONTEXTS SHAPING THE CONCEPTUAL
LANDSCAPE OF CAREER PROACTIVITY
The first angle involves the integration of context into the concept of career proactivity, with an
emphasis on the effects of bigenvironments, which vary over time. Concurring with
Sonnentag (2022), we believe that historical and temporal contexts drive the development and
change of career proactivity as a concept and how people make sense of this concept. While our
bibliometric review attempted to naturally capture the evolving trends of the literature that is
bibliographically linked to the proactive nature of careers (Jiang et al., 2022), it did not purpose-
fully match the literature development to the historical events that mark societal or economic
changes, which can exert significant contextual influence on people's career-oriented cognitions
and behaviors (Lent et al., 2002; Meoli et al., 2020). Bibliographic analyses were used to portray
the trend of the literature organized based on citation data and the time (i.e., year) of the publi-
cation, but this time does not necessarily reflect when the research was conducted, due to the
lag between data collection (particularly for empirical research) and final publication of that
research. In other words, an article published around the same time as the occurrence of a
major historical event may not capture the impact of that event. The bibliographic analyses, dif-
ferent from the ways of conducting conventional literature reviews, do not specifically code the
occurrence of such events from each individual article. To more accurately understand the
impact of major historical events occurring in the macro environments (e.g., societal and eco-
nomic contexts), bibliographic analyses need to be accompanied by one or several other types
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of reviews (e.g., qualitative coding or meta-analyses) based on at least an appropriate subsample
of the article pool. Like Sonnentag (2022), we encourage future researchers to consider this
direction in exploring how critical historical contexts may have changed the conceptual land-
scape of career proactivity.
Despite the limitations of bibliographic techniques, the literature development trends gener-
ated from the co-word analysis may be informative in certain ways. For example, the phase of
20112015 may be able to reflect a change in context extended from the 20072009 global finan-
cial crisis when unemployment surged. The career proactivity literature during this phase pres-
ented a swift shift, featured by a particular highlight on career adaptation (with a proactive
connotation), which is required for effectively coping with vocational challenges during transi-
tional time (e.g., job loss, job search, and career change) (Jiang, 2017; Koen et al., 2012;
Savickas, 1997). The latest phase (after 2015) captured in the development trend roughly started
as the world entered the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0), which has been rapidly
changing the way people live and work. The post-2015 literature continues to emphasize adap-
tation and seems to more explicitly highlight the proactiveelements of managing personal
careers and career contexts. It is likely that the complexity of Industry 4.0 has raised an ongoing
need to monitor the changing career environments and, accordingly, to make sense of what it
may mean or constitute proactivity in the changing context. Clearly, our review has not pro-
vided an overview of another possible phase, which originates from the Great Resignation
incurred by COVID-19 (Miller, 2021), due to a relative lack of citation data on this line of
research when our review was conducted. However, the layers of complexity are at least dou-
bled because of the clash between the new industrial revolution and the pandemic, both of
which are unprecedented. Echoing Sonnentag (2022), we call for future research to investigate
how the Great Resignation, the pandemic, and Industry 4.0 together have been shaping the con-
ceptual and empirical direction of career proactivity research. We believe that it will remain an
interesting and significant question in the coming years of this decade.
MICRO CONTEXTS AFFECTING INDIVIDUALS' PROACTIVE
CAREER BEHAVIOR
Another angle concerns the impact of one's micro contexts, which are smallerthan societal
and economic contexts, on individuals' proactive career behaviors. Supporting Forrier (2022),
we agree that the individual and the context cannot be separated strictly and artificially.
Humans do not live and work in void and are often influenced by their associated environ-
ments. Our commentators have shared varied but connected perspectives that future
researchers can reflect on to analyze the contexts of proactive career behaviors. To some extent
synthesizing these perspectives, we would like to highlight two avenues through which
researchers can potentially identify more specific, new directions.
First, there is a need to rethink how the agency or ontic perspective of careers can be bal-
anced with a contextualized view. Career proactivity, while being a construct largely embedded
in the agency perspective, is manifested within individuals' relevant contexts. We believe that
the agency or ontic approach is still an appropriate starting point to look at career proactivity,
but individual agency and associated behaviors are always bounded in contexts (e.g., spatial
and temporal). A way forward should be to unpack as well as integrate contexts that drive indi-
viduals' proactive career behaviors; this does not separate but instead connects the individuals
with their contexts. The social chronology framework (SCF), which classifies contexts of the
ontic (the individual) into space and time (Gunz & Mayrhofer, 2015,2018), helps develop more
CAREER PROACTIVITY MOVING FORWARD 3
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nuanced and organized understandings of individuals' career contexts under which they behave
proactively. However, unpacking contexts in this way does render the risk of artificiallyisolat-
ing individuals from their contexts, particularly when researchers fail to, or ineffectively,
reunitethe individual and the context in subsequent steps of the research process. To this
end, we endorse Forrier's (2022) proposal of using practice theory, according to which a career
is a social phenomenon sustained via continuous practice of career activities, to facilitate the
individual-context (re)integration or reunification. In this case, a key question future
researchers should consider is how to innovatively integrate SCF and practice theory to guide
career proactivity research.
Second and relatedly, we need to develop a deeper understanding of how proactive career
behavior is shaped without directly assuming that it always comes from one's deliberated, goal-
directed cognition. Reflecting on Forrier's (2022) insights, we acknowledge that momentary
contact with various contexts, such as unexpected circumstances or events, can affect one's
actions, and such processes may not be grounded in self-determination. For some, the context
as a triggerperspective might appear to be in conflict with the self-initiated nature of
proactivity, as the actions fostered by momentary contextual experiences involve reactivity
(i.e., taking actions to respond to the context). If we, like Akkermans and Hirschi (2022), con-
centrate on the behavioral nature of proactivity, an action promoted by contexts can be proac-
tive in itself. An employee who is made redundant (context) may proactively seek jobs. Even
though job seeking is prompted by redundancy (or a reaction to redundancy), the actions dur-
ing job seeking can be proactive (e.g., proactively apply jobs rather than passively wait to be
contacted by potential employers). Thus, we believe that the contextualization of career
proactivity should be based on a process view, which acknowledges contexts as prompters of an
action and then focuses on the proactive nature of the action itself. However, as Akkermans
and Hirschi (2022) noted, a difficulty is to decide when a career-related behavior is actually pro-
active. While the key features of our definition of career proactivity (e.g., self-initiated, future-
oriented, and intention to influence/change the career situation and the career-self ) provide
bases to evaluate the proactive nature of a career behavior, this difficulty remains a critical issue
that future researchers needs to consider.
CONTEXTUALIZED EFFECTS OF CAREER PROACTIVITY:
HOW IT SHAPES AND INTERACTS WITH CONTEXTS
A further angle is focused on the effects of career proactivity through a contextualized perspec-
tive. There are at least two major areas researchers should attend to when contextualizing the
consequences of proactive career behavior. The first area is closely aligned with the characteris-
tic of changing the situation in our definition of career proactivity (Jiang et al., 2022). Our
bibliometric review has prompted Akkermans and Hirschi (2022) to call for research to investi-
gate outcomes of career proactivity taking into account associated processes or mechanisms.
Concurring with them, we see a great potential to explore this area through the lens of
proactivity creating contexts that maximize positive outcomes. These contexts are not limited to
those directly linked with work and career but can be extended to nonwork domains, for career
involves more of a whole-life perspective in the future world of work (Hirschi et al., 2020).
Since, as noted earlier, contexts are often triggers of proactive behaviors, the new or changed
contexts as a result of one's career proactivity may again trigger the individual to continue the
same or initiate other proactive behaviors that enable career success. This chain of effects sug-
gests the presence of a process loop where the order of context and proactivity are switchable;
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such effects could assist in unpacking the dynamic interplay between contexts and career
proactivity over time. The process loop could serve as a foundation for future research which
takes a temporal perspective to explore the contextual antecedents and outcomes of career
proactivity.
The second area resides in how career proactivity interacts with contexts to positively influ-
ence the individual and/or the situation. For example, when or under what contexts career
proactivity would be more beneficial for a person and/or an organization needs to be under-
stood more thoroughly. It also relates to the dark side of career proactivity (e.g., proactivity may
generate negative outcomes such as resource depletion hindering career progress) researchers
have recently alerted (e.g., Akkermans & Hirschi, 2022; Parker et al., 2019). The management of
this dark side requires us to consider the specific context, the specific type of proactive career
behavior, and the congruence and/or the complementation between the two. The success or
benefit of a proactive career behavior can be jointly determined by the contextual resources
(e.g., time resources) and the specific behavior itself (Sonnentag, 2022). As such, wise proactivity
(Parker et al., 2019), which in essence involves one's awareness of and attention to the contexts
of his or her action, plays an important role in shaping a positive outcome. Future research is
also encouraged to go beyond the dark side and wisdom perspectives of proactivity to explore
novel ways of identifying contexts that enable and sustain success of career proactivity.
CONCLUDING REMARKS
Through synthesizing the critical views shared by three groups of commentors (Akkermans &
Hirschi, 2022; Forrier, 2022; Sonnentag, 2022) in response to our bibliometric review of career
proactivity (Jiang et al., 2022), this rejoinder articulates context as a central focus to advance our
knowledge in this research domain. Based on the commentaries, we delineate three areas where
context can be more purposefully incorporated in future research. First, macro-level contexts
such as historical, societal, and economic circumstances may influence the conceptual founda-
tion of career proactivity. Second, micro-level contexts, which are more proximal to individuals'
daily life and work (e.g., relational and temporal contexts), may either directly or indirectly
shape individuals' proactive career behavior. Third, career proactivity can facilitate the creation
of more positive contexts where one can continue proactive actions to sustain success, and
career proactivity can also interact with the context in determining whether individuals can
achieve positive outcomes. Recognizably, the perspectives laid out in our rejoinder are only just
a starting point to inform future research of potential avenues to contextualize career
proactivity research. We call on future researchers to build upon and extend these research ave-
nues to advance our understanding of career proactivity, both theoretically and empirically.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Open access publishing facilitated by RMIT University, as part of the Wiley - RMIT University
agreement via the Council of Australian University Librarians.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
The authors have no conflict of interest to disclose.
ETHICS STATEMENT
Wiley's Guidelines on Publishing Ethics were followed.
CAREER PROACTIVITY MOVING FORWARD 5
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DATA AVAILABILITY STATEMENT
Data sharing not applicable to this article as no datasets were generated or analysed during the
current study.
ORCID
Ying Wang https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0259-9147
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How to cite this article: Jiang, Z., Wu, C.-H., Wang, Y., Peng, K. Z., & Li, W. (2022).
Moving forward: Diverse conceptual and theoretical perspectives to advance career
proactivity research. Applied Psychology,16. https://doi.org/10.1111/apps.12446
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There is solid evidence that proactivity, defined as self-initiated and future-focused action to change oneself or the situation, can positively benefit individuals and organizations. However, this way of behaving can sometimes be ineffective or have negative consequences. We seek to understand what factors shape the effect of proactivity on individual-level outcomes. On the basis of a review of 95 articles, we identify three categories of factors that mitigate or exacerbate the effectiveness of proactive behavior: task and strategic considerations (e.g., situational judgment), social and relational considerations (e.g., having an open leader), and self-regulatory considerations (e.g., learning orientation). We then extrapolate from this review, and draw on psychological theories of wisdom, to suggest that individuals can be more or less “wise” in the proactive goals they set, and in how they pursue those goals. In closing, we identify further research directions that flow from the notion of wise proactivity. Watch our short video about the research here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4K3n4nNRwGM&feature=youtu.be
Book
Careers are studied across many disciplines - particularly from the social sciences - but there is little conversation between them. Many scholars are studying the same thing in different ways, too often missing opportunities to learn from one another and draw on each other’s ideas and findings to enrich their own. Gunz and Mayrhofer bridge these scholarly discourses as they explore the meaning of ‘career’ and answer the question: What is it that career scholars do when they study careers? The framework that emerges from this answer - the Social Chronology Framework (SCF) - vitally facilitates valuable conversations between scholars in different intellectual traditions. Building on the SCF framework, this comprehensive introduction to career studies encourages students, researchers and practitioners to identify commonalities between the topics they are studying and those examined in other fields, such as organization studies, drawing together interdisciplinary insights into career outcomes and their influencing factors.