Despite the ubiquitous presence of the term "career patterns" in the discourse about careers, the existing empirical evidence on (managerial) career patterns is rather limited. From this literature review of 33 published empirical studies of managerial and similar professional career patterns found in electronic bibliographic databases, it is clear that upward mobility is still the norm, even when contrasting traditional to "new" careers. We argue that the nature and number of unique career patterns identified is strongly influenced by where and when the data were collected (i.e. empirical access), and how career patterns are measured. Our review further shows organizations clearly still act as containing social structures for the patterning of managerial careers, and that contemporary managerial careers, despite some evidence of increasing inter-organizational mobility, have new boundaries which induce linearity. We provide insights for further conceptualization of managerial career patterns and for advancing methodological approaches, including the use of optimal matching analysis and narratives. By expanding the scope of career pattern dimensions beyond time and direction, this review provides ground for further research on managerial career patterns. © 2012 Elsevier Inc.