Circular Employability Chart​

Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework of INTERLOCALITY visualised in the circular employability chart is based on an employability process model. This employability process model should not be regarded as a strict causal model in which every ‘input’ always produces the same ‘output’; employability is the result of a complex integration of personal factors, structural or contextual factors, and their interactions over time, all of which affect the outcome. In this context, personal factors are tied to the person (age, gender, cultural background, competences, etc.), whereas structural or contextual factors can play a role at the level of the job, the organisation, or the society (availability of jobs, etc.) (Van der Heijde en Van der Heijden, 2006).

The employability process model maps out which main personal factors influence the chances of international talent offinding a job on the local labour market, as identified via our extensive literature research and qualitative research. In this empirical research, we interviewed 40 international students and recent graduates, 40 local employers, 15 employees of universities of applied sciences who are involved in internationalisation of education, and 15 employees of third-sector organisations who are involved in the internationalisation of the local labour market.  

Within the framework, we use the inclusive approach of talent, which means that we assume that all students and employees have valuable qualities and talents that can be productively applied within the educational or work context. The aim is to create the best fit and opportunity for students and employees to use their talents, to bring out the best in everyone, allowing everyone to realize their full professional potential (Meyers, 2016). 

We see individual characteristics and competencies as an important part of employability, which determineprofessional opportunities on the local labour market. De Fillippi and Arthur (1994) and Inkson and Arthur (2001) use the term ‘career capital’. We distinguish three dimensions of this career capital and turned them from the perspective of the international student or alumnus into phases, including the six career competencies defined by Akkermans et al. (2012). We have added a fourth phase to complete the process and create a circular employability journey. This means that after phase four, the process can start all over again in the case of wanting to find a better fitting job. 


1. Orientation phase: Where do I want to go? 

In the orientation phase, motivational characteristics are central (Roe, 1984). De Fillippi and Arthur (1994) and Inksonand Arthur (2001) speak of knowing-why. They mainly refer to the reflection on oneself: on the interests and motivation that people give to their careers, and the fit with the unique qualities and talents the person has. Knowing-why involves themes of individual motivation, the construction of personal meaning and identification (who am I as a professional?). As such, this self-awareness through self-reflection (Kuijpers, 2000) or reflection on motivation (Akkermans et al., 2012)incorporates traditional career development concerns about individual uniqueness, reflected in constructs such as personality, aptitudes, values and interests (what are my interest and qualities?) (Kuijpers, 2000). Knowing-why furtherincorporates attitudes to family, lifestyle, and other non-work factors that affect career choice, adaptability and commitment. These career expectations or preferences can influence a person’s labour market opportunities (Parker and Arthur, 2004).

It is also important to reflect on the outside world. We therefore also consider labour market awareness through work exploration (Akkermans et al, 2012) as an important career competency of knowing-why. By labour market knowledge we mean knowledge about career options, possible employers, available jobs, the skills demanded by employers for those jobs, and the channels to look for jobs (what are local employers looking for?). Information acquisition can take place on the different levels; information about work on the labour market, in a specific organisation or on work activities. It handles content and development of work (Reynaert & Spijkerman, 1995; Meijers & Wijers, 1997). So, work exploration is the competency to explore the labour market and specific work environment for suitable work (activities) and mobility prospect, in accordance with the capacities and motivation of a person (Kuijpers, 2000). This is especially important for international students and alumni since they are less informed about the local labour market in their host country by default than their local peers.

In addition, also career control (Akkermans et al., 2012) is part of the orientation phase. Career control is the competency to plan and act upon one’s own learning and working process (Kuijpers, 2000). Taking into consideration self-awareness and labour market awareness, it becomes possible to formulate a strategic career plan (where do I want to go?). This career planning is often valued as being essential; setting long and short-term goals, determine activities to achieve one’s goals and evaluate the results (Reynaert & Spijkerman, 1995). Besides career planning, control of the learning process is of importance for career control (Onstenk, 1998). Activities of learning process control are for example: define and analyse learning questions, evaluate and obtain appropriate training and development activities. Thirdly control of one’s work process seems to influence career development. This indicates activities that affect the content of work in a way that work makes a better fit with one’s capacities and motivation. Part of control of the work process is the balance of work and private life (Meijers, 1995; De Filippi & Arthur, 1996). 


2. Qualification phase: What do I need to develop to go there? 

In the qualification phase, the ability or knowing-how is central (De Fillippi & Arthur, 1994; Inkson & Arthur, 2001). Knowing-how reflects an individual’s repertoire of job-related skills and expertise. These may include formal qualifications and training, hard skills like digital literacy and proficiency in languages, as well as informal and tacit knowledge that emerges from education and work experience (soft skills). Soft skills are attributes that are difficult to both master and measure, such as the capacity to communicate, problem solving, teamwork skills, leadership skills, time-management skills, critical thinking, curiosity, creativity and resilience (Succi & Canovi, 2020). Especially important for international students and alumni is the soft skill intercultural sensitivity, defined as a deeper understanding and appreciation of cross-cultural differences, such as differences in communication, reaction, performance, interaction and teamwork, but also beliefs, values, attitudes, perceptions and expectations (Mahoney & Schamber, 2004). Through reflection on qualities, defined as reflecting on strengths, shortcomings, and skills with regard to one’s personal career (Akkermans, et al., 2012), it becomes clear which skills still need to be developed to increase employability (what do I need to develop to get my ideal job?). 

Thijssen (2001) distinguishes three types of competencies: professional competencies, which are necessary to deal with critical problems within a given professional domain, learning competencies, which are important to quickly acquire new labour qualifications, and career competencies. These career competencies, also known as self-profiling (Akkermans et al., 2012), are important for acquiring an adequate employment position. They can be defined as presenting and communicating personal knowledge, abilities and skills to the internal and external labour market. One should be able to make clear to relevant others what one wants careerwise and what one is able to fulfil (Kuijpers, 2000). This can take the form of writing a CV and cover letter, but also presenting oneself during a job interview or networking event, or using LinkedIn and other social media for professional purposes.  


3. Networking phase: Who can help me to go there? 

In the networking phase, the individual’s social capital is central (Bourdieu, 1985). Social capital is crucial for the development of labour market knowledge. De Fillippi and Arthur (1994) and Inkson and Arthur (2001) therefore attach great importance to this knowing-whom. Granovetter (1974, 1988) emphasizes that employers obtain an important part of their information about prospective employees from people who know the candidates. Knowing-whom involves a person’s work relationships and includes all professional connections that can support his or her career, like (former)employers or colleagues. Knowing-whom also incorporates broader contacts with family, friends, fellow-alumni, and professional and social acquaintances (who can help me get my ideal job?). Any of these contacts can enhance a career by providing support, transmitting reputation or affording access to information (Parker and Arthur, 2004). So, networking can be defined as the awareness of the presence and professional value of an individual network, and the ability to expand this network for career-related purposes (Akkermans et al., 2012). This phase of identifying and deploying career-enabling relationships is especially important for international students and alumni since they have less social capital in their host country by default. 


4. Landing phase: How am I doing as a professional? 

The employability process culminates in the fourth phase, the landing, meaning: finding a fitting job on the local labour market. In this phase, it is important to reflect on the fit of the job and the organisation a person works in, as every person brings in their own personality, motivation, values, attitudes, and set of skills to work (how am I doing as a professional?). The person-organisation fit refers to the degree to which a person’s personality, values, goals, and other characteristics match those of the organisation. Person-job fit is the degree to which a person’s knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics match the job demands. A bad fit between the person and the job or organisation may result in dissatisfaction and an intention to leave. On the other hand, when people fit into their job and organisation, they tend to be more satisfied with their jobs, more committed to their employers, are more influential in their organisation, and remain longer in the organisation (Anderson, et. al., 2008; Kristof-Brown, et. al., 2005). So, person-job fit and person-organisation fit are positively related to job satisfaction and commitment.  

If the fit is not optimal, one can take action on the job (by applying job crafting, job carving or additional training) or outside the job (finding vacancies and applying elsewhere for a better fitting job and organisation). In the latter case, the employability process starts again, by orientating oneself on the labour market, identifying the qualifications and skills needed for a new job, and identifying and deploying social capital to get a new job. 


Work packages 

How do these phases and career competencies apply to the output of the three main work packages in the INTERLOCALITY project? 


Work package 2 aims to develop a prototype of an international student and alumni monitoring tool (I AM Talent), usingthe four phases of the theoretical framework (orientation – qualification – networking – landing). I AM Talent is designed to give international students and alumni insight into their own employability, using the Career Competencies Questionnaire, and into their job and organisation fit. In addition, I AM Talent collects data on international students’ attraction and retention on the local labour market, in order to inform high education institutions about the needs of international students and alumni.  


Work package 3 aims to develop a structured qualification process for international students (International Talent Journey), using the first three phases of the theoretical framework (orientation – qualification – networking). International Talent Journey is designed to help international students develop their employability by proposing pre-internships and by providing guidance and counselling, encouraging students to take part in employability activities leading to a career certificate.   


Work package 4 aims to develop the competences needed among staff of higher education institutions, third-sector organisations and employers to support international students and alumni in their employability. It does not fit into the phases of the circular employability process, since this work package is not directed towards international talent. However, the three online training courses help the staff of higher education institutions, third-sector organisations and employers to support international talent during the four phases of the employability process: guidance and counselling during the orientation phase, qualification phase and networking phase; employer-ability during the landing phase; and intercultural sensitivity during all four phases. In this way, work package 4 is aimed at the structural or contextual factorsof employability. 


In summary, the output of the three main work packages in the INTERLOCALITY project tries to contribute to the development of international students’ employability during their studies and first steps on the local labour market, and to provide the surrounding stakeholders with the competences needed to successfully support international talent in finding a fitting job, completing the circular employability journey. 



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The theoretical framework and visualisation are created by Loes van Beuningen (Fontys, Eindhoven)

Theoretical framework of INTERLOCALITY Project by Loes van Beuningen is licensed under CC BY 4.0