This seems to be a vaguely pejorative term to mean someone who is trying to advance their career by any means necessary, even those unrelated to work performance.
I found various definitions consistent with that:
Careerism is the propensity to pursue career advancement, power, and prestige outside of work performance.
Pursuit of professional advancement as one’s chief or sole aim.
a person who values success in his or her career above all else and seeks to advance it by any possible means
However, in other contexts, the word is used in a more neutral of celebratory way:
- I found a recruiting firm called “Careerist”
- There’s an online programming bootcamp called “Careerist”
- There are lots of books with “careerist” in the title:
- Lapham’s Rules of Influence: A Careerist’s Guide to Success, Status, and Self-Congratulation (this is parody, so it’s absolutely pejorative and snarky)
- RESET: How to Restart Your Life and Get F.U. Money: The Unconventional Early Retirement Plan for Midlife Careerists Who Want to Be Happy
- The Careerist: Over 100 Ways to Get Ahead at Work
- I’m Susan and I’m a Serial Careerist: Seven Success Strategies for a Successful Career
So, a mixed bag. In some cases, it’s kind of an insult, and in some cases, it’s not.
Why I Looked It Up
In an article on evolutionary science:
A new wave of scientists argues that mainstream evolutionary theory needs an urgent overhaul. Their opponents have dismissed them as misguided careerists – and the conflict may determine the future of biology
I dug into the article to find more on the usage, and it boils down to this:
The evolutionary theorist Jerry Coyne later wrote that the scientists behind the EES were playing “revolutionaries” to advance their own careers.
So, pejorative there, clearly.