Careers between Fado and choices

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About the author:
Silvia Dello Russo is an Associate Professor of HRM at TBS Business School, Toulouse, France.
You can contact her at

Last week in the beautiful scenery of Lisbon (Portugal), it took place the conference of the European Academy of Management. As part of the scientific program, that aims to attract and bring together not only academics but also practitioners, I had the pleasure to chair a symposium on “Careers between Fado and choices”, organized with Daniele Mascia (university of Bologna) and Irene Gabutti (Catholic University of Rome).

The motivation for such symposium stemmed from the observation that in the last decade an increasing number of contributions have emphasized the importance of individual action in shaping careers. Employees in contemporary organizations are in fact expected to take an active and, often, proactive role in exploring and pursuing career opportunities (Direnzo & Greenhaus, 2011). Empirical evidence suggests that these behaviors are indeed beneficial for career satisfaction and career success (Smale et al., 2018), and that they interact with organizational initiatives, making these more effective.

However, this approach may over-emphasize the individual agency with respect to the “structure” provided by the context and has been criticized (Inkson et al., 2012); in particular, the risk is in not recognizing that boundaries to the individual action do exist. Some of these boundaries are visible especially in highly professionalized and regulated settings (such as the healthcare), that provide a much more structured path to careers. Indeed, careers in healthcare are more vertical, limited to fewer positions, accessible only with specific qualifications and after many years of training, and limited to local (regional, federal or national) organizations.

In highly professionalized contexts, the pursuit of career options seems much more similar to walking on a path designed and opened by others; it likely unfolds around opportunities that were already written, as on railroads. This is where the intriguing, and perhaps still a bit obscure, title of the symposium comes from: these careers, rather than being the result of deliberate choices, seem to be following one’s fado, which is the Portuguese word for destiny (in addition to indicate their traditional – and very emotional – folk music).

The symposium showcased presentations of empirical studies conducted in different professional settings, which served as a basis for an engaged conversation with the audience. The ultimate outcome was a list of questions that require further attention in research and practice, to answer which we should combine expertise from sector-specific as well as more generalist domains. Some of these topics are reported as follows:

  • What is and how to foster “employability” in healthcare management, since there are no clearly structured career paths. This is similar to many other areas in management, yet a very different experience for the healthcare professions.
  • How to support professional identity in career paths that deviate from the educational (and perhaps highly professionalized) background one may have received.
  • How to break the stereotypes around managerial roles that are often present in professional works, and how to include them in educational programs that reduce an “hyper” identification with one’s profession.
  • What does it mean managing careers, and how to do it, in the current situation characterized by high economic and political instability; at the same time, what will mean managing careers in the future of work, which includes, among others, online labor market and nearly non-existing organizational structures.
  • What can we still learn about formal and informal mentoring relationships from highly professionalized settings and how to translate these insights to other sectors.

It was energizing seeing such an active participation around the topics and the sharing of experiences from different settings and countries. And particularly promising is the fact that we had more questions than answers… Careers unfold in the making, just as our work as career-related researchers and professionals does!


Direnzo, M. S., & Greenhaus, J. H. (2011). Job search and voluntary turnover in a boundaryless world: A control theory perspective. Academy of Management Review, 36(3), 567-589.

Inkson, K., Gunz, H., Ganesh, S., & Roper, J. (2012). Boundaryless careers: Bringing back boundaries. Organization Studies, 33(3), 323–340.

Smale, A., Bagdadli, S., Cotton, R., Dello Russo, S., Dickmann, M., Dysvik, A., … & Rozo, P. 2019. Proactive career behaviors and subjective career success: The moderating role of national culture. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 40 (1), 105-122.

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