Metaphors of Career 9: Network

“As we follow our careers, its various episodes are social and political. They are social in the sense that they involve constant encounter with others, and often the development of longer-term relationships essential to the continuation and direction of the career. They are political in the sense that we attempt to utilize these relationships in pursuit of personal career advantage.”

– Kerr Inkson

There is a tendency to imagine careers as following a linear pattern. Common metaphors such as journey, story and matching think of a career as moving from A to B. The idea of a network takes a slice through a moment in a career to uncover a range of relationships. It argues that the place you are in your career is more than just a point on a line from your start to your objective but is also a set of relationships. This partly points to the experience of our careers being the people we spend time with and the relationships we form with them. There are two different ways of looking at this that I want to consider, firstly the Social/ Political model that Inkson discusses in the quote above and secondly I want to take a sidestep and consider what perspective Satre’s play No Exit may have on the same issue.

Social and Political

Inkson combines the static relational model I just discussed with a more traditional linear model of careers. He sees the relationships we create as essential to the continuation and direction of the career.” We form relationships that can be used in various ways to push our careers forward. I want to consider four ways we can think about the the relationships in our networks. These four types are partly influenced by Bill Laws’ Community Interaction Theory and each of them allows us to develop our career in some way.

  • Team Mates – Team mates are people we work alongside, partly they are those that we rely on to perform our roles and partly they are those who encourage us to keep doing what we do and give us positive feedback.
  • Mentors – These are people who are senior to us but are in some way on our side to help us develop. They partly do this by providing feedback and also by providing role models for us to follow.
  • Informers – Over time we come to see some people as key in how we learn, they pass on information which we in turn use in our careers.
  • Gatekeepers – Finally these people decide about our progress they are potential employers, managers, hiring managers. They have a vital role of setting expectations for what we have to achieve to progress. Having these people in our networks gives us a insiders perspective on what we most do to progress.

Inkson’s Social/ Political take on the network shows how powerful and useful a resource a good network can be for our careers. Increasingly the internet is being seen as a place for careers to be developed which mainly revolves around the power of the internet in general and especially social media to allow us to form connections and develop a network. It is also worth noting how the network metaphor can explain social inequality in the world of work. If it is who you know not what you know that counts then being able to build a network with people who are sufficiently powerful is key. Unsurprisingly your social standing has the potential to massively effect the sort of people you can connect with and integrate into your network.

“Hell is Other People”

I want to add a different perspective to Inkson’s though. Inkson still maintains a linear element to his view of the network, it is still about moving towards a goal. This got me thinking about what happens if you think about network as a purely static metaphor. Oddly this got me thinking about Satre’s play “No Exit”. In the play three damned souls are brought to the same room in hell, they all expect some sort of medieval torture there but instead just find each other. They soon come to the conclusion that they have been put together to torture each other. This is exactly what happens, leaving one of the three characters to end the play declaring ” Hell is other people.”

In Inkson’s view the main thrust of our career is the progress we make and other people are resources to this end. I want to challenge this by saying we could also see our careers as “other people” that is to say a lot of our careers is the experience of the people it draws us into contact with. Partly in line with Satre the “hellishness” of our careers is often experienced in bad bosses, difficult coworkers, unreasonable clients and so on. But also a lot of what we find satisfying in our careers are the relationships we form, the people we meet, making friendships, doing good to others, receiving help and support in return.

I want to propose that many people find satisfaction in their careers through the people they get to spend it with. It is just as important to think through what sort of people you want to spend your career with as it is what sort of people would help your career. Career development can be seen not just as learning to use a network of contacts but also to consider how we treat those around us and how we can treat them better.


K. Dallison, One theory to rule them all? at

Law, B. (1981) Community interaction: a mid-range focus for theories of career development in young adults, reproduced in Dryden, W. & Watts, A.G. (Eds) Guidance and Counselling in Britain: A 20-Year Perspective, Cambridge, Hobsons Publishing, pp.211-230.

Patton, W., & McMahon, M. (1999). Career Development and Systems Theory A new relationship. Pacific Grove: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company

Patton, W. & McMahon, M. (2006). The Systems Theory Framework of Career Development and Counseling: Connecting Theory and Practice. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 28(2), 153-166. DOI:10.1007/s10447-005-9010-1

SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on No Exit.” SparkNotes LLC. n.d.. Web. 13 Apr. 2013.


2 thoughts on “Metaphors of Career 9: Network

  1. Hello Thomas Staunton

    Nice to see your use of my book in your blog. You may be interested to know I have a second edition in process, this time with Nicky Dries and John Arnold as co-authors. It should be available from SAGE London by late next year. New chapters have been added but the nine metaphors at the core remain unchanged.

    Kerr Inkson.

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