Handbook of Career Studies

Book Review by Elayne Chou

Book Review:

Gunz, H. & Peiperl, M. (Eds.). (2007). Handbook of Career Studies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.


Having worked as a career counselor and career development consultant and trainer for close to 10 years now, I have lately found myself wanting to extend my theoretical knowledge base beyond my training in the individual psychological point of view. I came across Handbook of Career Studies in my quest to broaden my understanding of research on careers to include organizational and societal contexts. I would have devoured this book as a graduate student, wowed by the many fascinating aspects of the world of work examined within. As a busy practitioner with far less time to read lengthy scholarly works, I took in this book with an eye toward identifying the key take away points and themes that are relevant to me in my work both with individuals and with organizations. What I found was fascinating to me and it is my hope that my summary of these key points will also be of interest to you.


This weighty tome is structured into three parts. Part I covers the Historical Origins and Current Structure of the careers field. It traces the origin of Career Theory from sociological, vocational, and developmental perspectives. Part II covers Main Topics in the Study of Careers and is itself divided into three subsections. The first section on Careers and the Individual includes chapters on

  • Personality and Career Success

  • Occupational Choice

  • Career Counseling

  • The Subjective Career in the Knowledge Economy

  • The Intersection of Work and Family Lives, Late-Career and Retirement Issues

  • Career Issues for the Socially Marginalized

  • Customized Careers

The second section on Careers in Context addresses topics such as

  • Mentoring

  • Developmental Networks and Identities

  • Developmental Theories

  • Work-Life Conceptualizations

  • Institutions of Outside Hiring

  • Global Careers

Finally, the third section on Careers and Institutions covers topics such as

  • Career Systems and Psychological Contracts

  • Organizational Demography

  • Career Patterns and Organizational Performance

  • The Centrality of Careers to Organizational Studies, Careers Across Cultures

  • Boundaries in the Study of Career

In Part III of the book the editors invited distinguished careers scholars to write essays reflecting on the connections between the various threads described in Parts I and II.


Given my background in working with careers on an individual level, much of what was contained in the section on Careers and the Individual was not new to me. But there were still many interesting and useful discussions of concepts such as the subjective career, the individual’s own interpretation of his or her career situation through markers such as career satisfaction, sense of self-worth, and sense of accomplishment, versus the objective career, the external and visible markers of careers such as pay, job title, and promotions, provided by society and its institutions. Especially in the new world of work where change is continuous and adapting to and increasing one’s employability is increasingly important, the message that individuals can still find ways to pursue career growth by focusing on subjective definitions of career success was a useful model for me. It helped me place what I have been seeing in the lives of employees in the context of what is happening in the larger economy and gave me ideas for ways to speak to employees about the changes in their workplaces and how they can foster their career resilience.


The chapters that especially broadened my perspectives addressed mentoring, networking, and global careers. For example, research shows that diluting the strength of old ties and networks is as important as creating new connections if one wants to make a career transition. New connections help in exploration of possible new identities, but ending ties to outdated identities can be just as important in order to erode commitment to the old career. I am excited about the implications of this for working with individuals in career transition, many of whom often have trouble making the leap to a new career identity they clearly want to take on.


Global careers were another covered topic that excited me. Doing global work is defined as crossing cultural boundaries, whether those boundaries are physical or not. The research shows what I have noticed working with many Generation X and Y individuals in the Bay Area – that there is an increasing significance of professional identity over national identity. One takeaway point from the chapters on this topic is that we are all potential global citizens even if we are not currently doing global work. Having a model delineating the competencies required for working successfully in a global career will be very useful to me as I help individuals make sense of their interests and skills in working transnationally.


While this is not a book I would recommend as reading for a client, I could imagine individual chapters being of interest to career practitioners, human resources professionals, career professionals working in organizations, or anyone interested in gaining an in-depth view of the current research and future directions in career studies. As a career practitioner, I was invigorated by gaining a bigger picture perspective on careers than the one I encounter on a daily basis. While I would not tackle such an academic and large book regularly, I do think that my experience was positive in revisiting the academic literature when trying to broaden my theoretical and conceptual understanding of my field of work.



Elayne ChouElayne Chou, Ph.D, is in independent counseling and consulting practice in Berkeley, California, where she specializes in career counseling with individuals and career development consulting to organizations. In addition, she works at the University of California, Berkeley, providing career counseling and career development training for staff. Dr. Chou was an adjunct professor at San Francisco State University and Diablo Valley College, and a visiting scholar at Renmin University in Beijing, China, in 2000. Her professional service includes leadership roles with the Asian American Psychological Association and the American Society for Training and Development. A dynamic and effective speaker, she has created and facilitated keynotes, workshops and trainings to groups of all sizes on career development planning, diversity awareness, managing a diverse workforce, and teambuilding for staff and managers at organizations throughout the Bay Area. The accomplishment that brings her the most joy is her role as a parent to her daughter, Mimi. She can be reached at elaynechou@comcast.net