Four Distinct Career Patterns

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Michael Driver, professor in the business school at the University of

Southern California, has conducted research showing that individuals

are more or less hard-wired to have different concepts of career success,

and that there are four distinct patterns:

1. Linear: These are people who are naturally motivated to move

up the traditional corporate career ladder. They value power

and achievement, but have been increasingly disillusioned and

frustrated in recent years by the disappearance of rungs on

career ladders in most organizations.

2. Expert: Rather than climb a career ladder, the expert wants to

become known as an authority or the best in a selected field

or craft. Experts tend to seek training and on-the-job experiences

that deepens their expertise.

3. Spiral: These are people who aspire to broaden their careers

by moving every five to ten years to a position that builds on

previous positions, but may involve broader responsibilities.

Spirals value growth and creativity and may seek rotational

and cross-functional assignments.

4. Roamer: They define success by changing jobs often—perhaps

every two to three years—and may move on to jobs unrelated

to previous experience. Roamers are generally motivated more

by variety and independence, not by security, and can play key

roles in start-up situations in companies that are expanding.

Organizations may not be able to accommodate all four of these

career patterns at all times. Still, understanding the different career

styles that exist among the general population can facilitate the jobperson

matching process and help managers to assist employees in

identifying best-fit advancement opportunities. Managers will need to

understand the differing motives of employees through individualized

career coaching and work to create career opportunities that meet

employee needs and business needs in new ways.7

Other companies, especially those whose success depends on product

innovations of engineers or other technical specialists, have created higherlevel

technical positions with increasing responsibility and commensurate

pay. By doing so, these organizations provide individuals with technical

growth aspirations the opportunity to realize them without leaving the

company. They also prevent another damaging outcome: moving highly

competent technical professionals into positions where their incompetence

at managing people can have the unfortunate result of driving good employees

out the door.