CAREER DEVELOPMENT THEORY AND PROCESS
CAREER DEVELOPMENT THEORY AND PROCESS
Career development theories help make sense of experiences. A theory is, in effect, a rationalized set
of assumptions or hypotheses that allows you to explain the past and predict the future. As such,
theories may provide "direction" and as theories are tested and prove "true", theories may be said to
expand knowledge. There are two types of career development theories: structural and developmental.
Two types of theories
1. Structural Theories: focus on individual characteristics and occupational tasks.
2. Developmental Theories: focus on human development across life span.
Trait and Factor
This theory began with Parsons, who proposed that a choice of a vocation depended upon (1) an
accurate knowledge of yourself, (2) thorough knowledge of job specifications, and (3) the ability to
make a proper match between the two. He wrote: "In the wise choice of a vocation there are three
broad factors: (1) a clear understanding of yourself, your aptitudes, abilities, interests, ambitions,
resources, limitation; (2) a thorough knowledge of the requirements and conditions of success,
advantages and disadvantages, compensation, opportunities, and prospects in different lines of work;
and (3) true reasoning on the relations of these two groups of acts" (Parsons, 1909/1989, p.5).
Two major assumptions of trait and factor theory are: (1) that individuals and job traits can be matched,
and (2) that close matches are positively correlated with job success and satisfaction. These ideas are
still part of our career counseling approach today.
John Holland -- Vocational Personalities and Environments
This typology theory was developed to organize the voluminous data about people in different jobs and
the data about different work environments, to suggest how people make career choices and to explain
how job satisfaction and vocational achievement occur. Holland suggested that "people can function
and develop best and find job satisfaction in work environments that are compatible with their
personalities" (ICDM, 1991, p. 4-4). Holland based his theory of personality types on several
assumptions. People tend to choose a career that is reflective of their of their personality. Because
people tend to be attracted to certain jobs, the environment then reflects this personality. He classified
these personality types and work environments into six types which he labeled realistic, investigative,
artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional (often referred to by the acronym RIASEC). He suggests
that the closer the match of personality to job, the greater the satisfaction.
All types are part of each of us. However, one type is usually evidenced most strongly. We may even
resemble up to three of the types. Holland developed a hexagon model that illustrates some key
concepts: consistency, differentiation, identity, and congruence.
A very brief overview of the six personality types, six work-related activities, and sample occupations is
TYPE ACTIVITIES OCCUPATIONS
Realistic Working with things, Farmer
i.e. tools and machines Carpenter
Investigative Working with information Chemist
i.e. abstract ideas and theories
Artistic Creating things Painter
Social Helping people Social Worker
Enterprising Leading others Sales Representative
Conventional Organizing data Night Auditor
For an in-depth description, refer to The Self-Directed Search Professional Manual listed in the
"Holland's theory places emphasis on the accuracy of self-knowledge and career information necessary
for career decision making" (Zunker, 1994, p.49).
Although the theory appears to be applicable to both male and female workers, there is some question
of gender bias in that most females frequently tend to score predominately in three personality types:
artistic, social, and conventional. Holland suggests that in our sexist society, females will display a
greater interest in female-dominated occupations.
Donald Super (1957) and other theorists of career development recognize the changes that people go
through as they mature. Career patterns are determined by socioeconomic factors, mental and physical
abilities, personal characteristics and the opportunities to which persons are exposed. People seek
career satisfaction through work roles in which they can express themselves and implement and
develop their self-concepts. Career maturity, a main concept in Super's theory, is manifested in the
successful accomplishment of age and stage developmental tasks across the life span.
Self-concept is an underlying factor in Super's model: "...vocational self-concept develops through
physical and mental growth, observations of work, identification with working adults, general
environment, and general experiences....As experiences become broader in relation to awareness of
world of work, the more sophisticated vocational self-concept is formed" (Zunker, 1994, p.30).
Super's contribution was the formalization of stages and developmental tasks over the life span:
STAGE AGE CHARACTERISTICS
Growth Birth - 14 of 15 Form self-concept, develop capacity,
attitudes, interests, and needs,
and form a general understanding
of the world of work.
Exploratory 15-24 "Try out" through classes, work
information. Tentative choice and
related skill development.
Establishment 25-44 Entry skill building and stabilization
through work experience.
Maintenance 45-64 Continual adjustment process to
Decline 65+ Reduced output, prepare
People change with time and experience, and progress go through the following vocational
VOCATIONAL AGES GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS & DEVELOPMENTAL TASK
Crystallization 14-18 Developing and planning a tentative vocational goal
Specification 18-21 Firming the vocational goal
Implementation 21-24 Training for and obtaining employment
Stabilization 24-35 Working and confirming career choice
Consolidation 35+ Advancement in career
Although Super originally presented the stages and tasks in a sequential manner, he later added that
we cycle and recycle throughout our life span as we adapt to changes in ourselves as well as to the
trends in the work place. Understanding these ages and related stages of career development helps
the facilitator select appropriate responses and activities.
Super and Thompson (1979) identified six factors in vocational maturity: (1) awareness of the need to
plan ahead, (2) decision-making skills, (3) knowledge and use of information resources, (4) general
career information, (5) general world of work information, and (6) detailed information about
occupations of preference.
Super also looked at the different roles we play during our lifetimes and the relative importance we give
to those roles at different times in our lives.
Krumboltz's Social Learning Theory
Much growth takes place as a result of learning and imitating the behavior of others. Krumboltz
developed a theory of career decision making and development based on our social learning, or
environmental conditions and events, genetic influences and learning experiences. People choose their
careers based on what they have learned. Certain behaviors are modeled, rewarded and reinforced.
Some decision-making theories hypothesize that there are critical points in our lives when choices are
made that greatly influence our career development. These decision making points are such events as
educational choices, entry-level job positions, changing jobs, etc. Other decision-making theories
concerned with ongoing choices across the life span. The decisions that we make are influenced by our
awareness of the choices that are available to us and our knowledge of how to evaluate them. Others
address our complex environment. For example, H.B. Gelatt says, "We make our decisions based upon
what is actual and what is actual is never static" (Gelatt, 1991, p. 1).
Cognitive theories of career development are built around how individuals process, integrate and react
to information. The ways in which individuals process information are determined by their cognitive
structures. These structures influence how individuals see themselves, others and the environment.
Cognitive theories suggest ways to help clients build or refine a hierarchy of thinking skills and decision
making skills that influence career development.
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