Purists and players

Man with cards

Somehow, I don't think he's a purist

Is four too much for you?

Last week I presented a few career-style typologies that came in sets of four, but it’s entirely possible that remembering four types might be too much for you — it often is for me.

So, how about just two types: Players and Purists. These two archetypes represent extreme approaches that graduates may take in  managing their employability.

They were identified by Phil Brown and Anthony Hesketh from Lancaster University in their book The MisManagement of Talent: Employability and Jobs in the Knowledge Economy.

Purists see employability as being about having the best attributes. They believe that the job market should be an objective meritocracy, and that the people with the best qualities should get the job.

Purists also believe that they have to be authentic to themselves and preserve the integrity of their identity. Whether you match the job and can do it well is more important that whether you fit with the organisational culture and can build the right relationships.

Players think of employability as a game in which you have to adapt yourself to the expectations of the employers (or at least pretend to) in order to win. For players, it’s all about sussing out how to play the system.

Players are prepared to shift their identities in order to present a better fit for a desirable organisation. They are aware of the importance of the need to gain approval from those with the power to influence their careers and strive to get themselves noticed.

Sounds familiar

This distinction reminds me of some research on career success I blogged about quite a while ago which compared graduates who construed their work selves in terms of achievement and competence with those who construed themselves in terms of social behaviour, adjustment and flexibility.

I was also reminded of the two systems of social/career mobility proposed in 1960 by Ralph Turner.

In a contest mobility framework, progress and promotion is the result of open competition. Your success is largely a result of how hard you work, your ability, education and training. In this situation, success is in the hands of the individual. If you succeed, it is down to your merit; if you fail, it is your own fault.

In a sponsorship mobility framework, advancement is under the control of the existing elite. Those who already have the power choose who else will be admitted to the club and extend favour to the chosen individuals. If you don’t get the approval from above, you cannot succeed, no matter how hard you try. In this situation, all the individual can do is to try to make themselves as appealing to the elite as possible and hope for the best.

So, it seems that Purists believe the world of work operates on a contest mobility basis and Players see things in terms of sponsorship mobility.

In reality, of course, most working environments will lie somewhere between the contest and sponsorship extremes. In the same way, most people will be a mix of Player and Purist. Indeed, they may move closer to one end or the other depending on their circumstances.

Which end are you closest to?

Further reading

  • Brown, P. & Hesketh, A. (2004). The MisManagement of Talent: Employability and Jobs in the Knowledge Economy, Oxford University Press.
  • Turner, R. (1960). Sponsored and Contest mobility and the school system. American Sociological Review, 25(6), 855-867. DOI: 10.2307/2089982

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  1. #1 by Vinny on 22 February 2011 - 15:51

    I would think that very few Careers Advisers would be purists. (Please correct me if I’m wrong!)
    I spend a lot of time teaching students how to ‘play the system’ (such as interview techniques, selling yourself properly on paper, sucessful networking etc) If you see the world mostly as a purist, then this aspect of careers advice would just be redundant.

    Personally I really dont like this type of false duality. Almost no-one is a purist or a player. Pretty much everyone is in the middle. Because of this, I’m not sure that it is very helpful at all unless you are pointing out extremes of thinking when a client is talking about their career.

    Having said that, I’m always open to ideas on how to use these in a discussion…

    • #2 by David Winter on 24 February 2011 - 10:08

      To be fair to the authors, they make it clear that these two stereotypes represent the extreme ends of a spectrum and that most people would be situated somewhere between the two. Indeed, I suspect that most people would move up and down the scale depending on their circumstances.

      I think it could be useful in exactly the way you describe. By pointing out the extremes you get people to realise that they might be taking a position closer to one end than the other. This might then help them to think about whether it would be beneficial to move along the scale slightly.

      I’m not sure that your comment about careers advisers is entirely true. It’s not about what we tell other people to do, it’s what we do ourselves. How many careers advisers are willing to shift their identities to fit the expectations of the workplace?

  2. #3 by Kate on 23 March 2011 - 21:16

    I have noticed this at a timely moment! I am writing another Warwick essay, this one about destinations of Eng Lit students and using the Player/Purist typology to try to say something interesting. I had just come to an Action point about trying to persuade current students (should they turn up to a session….) to understand the typologies and then think what it would be like if they thought in the opposite way. My research is showing that some people becoming more Player-ish as they go through their careers and I thought it might be interesting for the more Purist types to think how they might change themselves if it actually helped get them a job, specially given the tricky employment context at present.

    Vinny – I think CAs are quite Purist…. Happy to pursue this at CAM!

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