Cross-cultural collaboration on contemporary careers

Content and objectives

The cross-cultural collaboration on contemporary careers (5C) group is a non-profit consortium of faculty teams from around the world that explores career success and management and variations between the two. In addition to cultural differences, factors such as age (or ‘generation’), familial background, ethnicity, industry, etc. are examined in order to assess their impact upon career differences. The ultimate purpose of the consortium is to improve our understanding of modern careers and advance scholarship, appreciate differences and identify progressive solutions for the management of career issues (e.g. work-life balance and fulfilment) on behalf of individuals, career practitioners, organisations and even societies as a whole.

The 5C research consortium follows two avenues of research, outlined below:

Contextual embeddedness of careers – Every nation has its own unique set of institutional arrangements, deep-seated values, attitudes and beliefs. They inform and are reflected in the operation of the economy and society in general, and the ways in which people work and are managed at work. Career planning, promotion decision-making, individual career decisions and career preferences differ between institutional contexts and according to cultural values such as future orientation, power, distance and individualism. However, the majority of career-focused research has been carried out within individual countries, predominantly those identified as WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic).

This has contributed to a general lack of understanding about the nuances of career-related concepts and the heterogeneous views of work possessed by individuals around the world. Indeed, institutional and cultural perspectives on the professional sphere remain largely overlooked in most research. Key questions to address this include:

  • How do culture, institutional context and other macro factors impact conceptions of work and success? To what extent can they be meaningfully compared across cultures?
  • To what degree do the concepts of work and success exist in the natural world? To what degree are these ideas defined by individual-level factors (e.g. self-directed career behaviour or personality) versus higher-level factors (e.g. culture, economy, educational level or generation)?
  • At the structural level, which context-specific characteristics of careers can be found, for example, in career planning, career paths, career decision-making and promotion criteria?
  • At the behavioural level, which context-specific characteristics of careers can be found in individual career management, career expectations, career success and career mobility?

Comparative career research – Beyond a cross-cultural approach that focuses on cultural differences, comparative career research – similar to comparative HRM research – takes a broader view of international careers. It also includes other contextual factors such as institutional arrangements or national boundaries and explicitly compares various contextual settings. Among other effects, this approach leads to a greater emphasis on context and structure, counterbalancing the ‘actor-only’ tendency in careers research to date. Countries can be small or large, have greater or fewer regional differences, include one or many language groups and be more or less economically developed. They may have different labour markets, education systems, employment laws, trade unions and cultural expectations. Research has identified a variety of career models that are pertinent for certain countries in terms of, for example, career entry and development, career paths, career success factors and career transitions within and between organizations. Key questions to address this include:

  • How do different institutional factors influence career systems?
  • How do careers and career practices vary from country to country?
  • What are the comparative similarities and differences between countries and between regions?
  • Do we observe patterns of stasis, convergence and/or divergence between countries in terms of career systems and practices over time?
  • Who, or what, are the key factors affecting the change (or rigidity) of career systems and practices, and through what processes does change or stasis take place?


A first qualitative interview wave served to create a baseline of factors for professional success. Employees in countries across all continents were surveyed. The second quantitative survey wave served to validate the 5C scale for measuring subjective career success. In addition, extensive data on career expectations, attitudes and behaviour were collected. People from different occupational groups in more than 30 countries on all continents were surveyed. A third survey wave is in preparation. The research methods used include multi-level structural equation modelling (MLSEM), qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) and qualitative content analysis.

Social relevance and application of results

Interdisciplinary researchers from more than 30 countries are involved in the 5C project. This shows not only the national but, above all, the global social relevance of the study of work and definitions of career success across both physical borders and disciplines.

The results can be used at the political level to assess the potential effects of introducing new regulations. At the organisational level, the findings will help multinational companies in particular to assess the effectiveness of various HR management tools in different countries and to make decisions on localisation versus standardisation. At the individual level, the results support self-reflection.

The conclusions of the second survey wave are presented graphically and can be found online at

Bamberg competencies

The research project deals with the question of how individual conceptualisations of work, career success and career transitions differ across cultures, generations or occupational groups. Bamberg contributes extensive expertise in the (qualitative and quantitative) empirical research of careers, career expectations and career paths in various countries, including the insights gained in recent years. A further contribution is the conceptualisation and theoretical foundation of the studies (including theory triangulation) on an interdisciplinary level.


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Bildung und Arbeit erforschen
Forschungswelten, ZEIT, 26.03.2020, p. 2.

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International Theme Committee’s (ITC’s) Emerald Best International Symposium Award Winner.

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Carolyn Dexter Award 2018 /International Theme Committee’s (ITC’s) Emerald Best International Symposium Award Finalist

Careers Division 2018 Best Symposium Award Finalist, nominated by the Careers Division of the Academy of Management

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