Understanding 5 Basic Career Development Theories

If you struggle to find your career path and are looking for the job of your dreams, some tactics can help. To better understand your strong and weak points, values, and talents, try the five core career development theories. These theories make data-driven arguments for choosing a particular career trajectory –– evaluating your education, values, goals, and psychological type.

Here are the five most prominent career development theories that can give you some insights into job preferences. 

The Trait and Factor Theory of Occupational Choice by Frank Parsons

Parsons introduced talent-matching technique which core features were:

  • Job positions require people to develop new traits over time because matching never can be ideal.
  • The more professional characteristics you have, the more satisfied you will be with a chosen position.
  • Worker's interests and values, as well as the labor market, remain unchanged with time. 

To get the best result from this theory, try to thoroughly think over issues related to your past occupations and note every detail that you believe can influence your job decision.

In short, you have to compare your traits against the job duties. However, the significant drawback of this theory is that the perception of the labor market: in reality, it is very volatile, and people have to be flexible enough to adapt to changing job requirements.

Theory of Vocational Types by John L. Holland

This theory focuses on a man's features that should be a starting point for choosing a profession. Following this idea, Holland points out six individual characters that are referred to as Holland Codes.

  1. Realistic (Doers). These people will take action instead of discussions and preparations. People of this category enjoy a combination of strength and skill. Such personalities can successfully be managers, fitness trainers, or woodmen.
  2. Investigative (Thinkers). If you like processing information on your own, you probably refer to this type of human. These people prefer working and making decisions individually. Such persons can enjoy the professions of a lawyer, doctor, or actuary. 
  3. Artistic (Creators). These individualities are the most sensitive of all Holland's psychic types. If you enjoy working in a team, staying independent, chances are that you relate to this category. If you like the process of creating or inventing something, then being a musician, writer, or designer can be an excellent match for you. 
  4. Social (Helpers). People of this category naturally tend to help or teach others. And they value relationships. These are HR specialists, counselors, or teachers.
  5. Enterprising (Persuaders). Security and status are essential for this type of person. They like processing information and working with people, being promising entrepreneurs and sales representatives.
  6. Conventional (Organizers). Regulations and rules are crucial for these people, and they value money and status. These personalities prefer highly structured and straightforward work. Professions like financial advisors or economists are good options for 'organizers.’

Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) by Albert Bandura

This theory states that a human being relies on his experience (progress and failures) when choosing a future profession. In general, this idea applies to your self-confidence and self-judgment when thinking of a career path. 

The obstacles that a person faces while considering his occupation can be bundled into three groups:

  • Self-esteem –– what you think you can achieve. This is always objective and can be a severe barrier to any progress, as the person is discouraged from trying challenging tasks.
  • Looking at others –– when you see and analyze what others do and achieve. And transfer their experience to your life –– which often is not entirely relevant.
  • Hardly controllable factors like race, gender, location, financial opportunities, and other. 

Bandura's theory pays a lot of attention to a human's experiences. These imprints define your reaction to specific events and the level of your engagement. The main limitation of the Social Cognitive Theory is that it assumes that a person changes in response to changes in the environment –– which does not always happen.

Developmental Self-Concept Theory by Donald Super

Super considers that career growth starts from your birth and lasts for the whole life. Your views and beliefs change with time, and so do the professional goals. Here are five primary phases of career progress split across ages:

  • Growth (0-14). A human being learns how he and society interrelate, and his attitude toward future profession appears.
  • Exploration (15-24). A young person tries various activities through hobbies, training, and work.
  • Establishment (25-44). Actual work experience starts with entry-level jobs.
  • Maintenance (45-64). People change professions and companies to find the best work environment. 
  • Decline (65+). After this age, people start to think of quitting their jobs and retiring.

Super's theory is based around self-concept and life roles that a person gets with the time: a student, worker, or father.

Personality Theory by Anne Roe

Roe claims that interaction with parents influences a career choice. She classifies the relationship pattern into three categories:

  1. Overprotecting or over-demanding –– caused by over-concentration on a child;
  2. Neglecting or emotional rejection –– caused by ignoring or avoiding a child;
  3. Loving –– that results from regular communication with a child.

If those relationships were neglecting or loving, a teenager tends to choose person-orientated jobs in the future. And, in contrast, people choose non-person-oriented professions when they do not expect a lot of support, so such positions assume more independence.

Roe offers six main career directions:

  • Outdoor
  • Arts and Entertainment
  • Technology
  • Service 
  • General Culture
  • Business Contact
  • Science
  • Organization

And each category is split across proficiency levels when a worker:

– is able to follow only basic instructions

– requires special training

– needs training

– is offered moderate responsibility

– is given more responsibility

– is fully independent.


Sometimes people start their career by being sure who they want to be and which goals to achieve. Other individuals stay indecisive about their profession and jump from industry to industry. Career Development Theories can help you better understand your motivation, goals, and career expectations to choose the best job.


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