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Career Theory Individual Perspectives. Career Development. Overview. Objective & Subjective Faces of ‘Career’ Objective careers & career patterns Subjective careers Career Stress Adjustment Theories of Career Development and Career Choice Developmental perspective (Super, 1957,1980)

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  • Objective & Subjective Faces of ‘Career’
    • Objective careers & career patterns
    • Subjective careers
    • Career Stress
    • Adjustment
  • Theories of Career Development and Career Choice
    • Developmental perspective (Super, 1957,1980)
    • Behaviourist perspective (Krumboltz et al, 1976)
    • Differentialist perspective (Holland, 1959)
    • Decision Making perspective (Tiedman & O’Hara, 1963)
    • Structuralist perspective (Robert, 1977)
the concept of career
The Concept of ‘Career’

Career : ‘the sequence of employment-related positions, roles, activities and experiences as encountered by a person’ (Arnold et al, 1998; Greenhaus & Callanan, 1994)

‘Career’ is a metaphor for upward progression in a public, institutional sense.


‘Career’ represents the experiences of the individual - their personal development and progression.

the context of career
The Context of Career

Recent changes in organisations/work (Arnold et al, 1998)

  • increasing workload for individuals
  • organisational changes (delayering, downsizing)
  • increasing global competition
  • more team-based work (expert teams, limited time, clear goals)
  • more short-term contracts
  • frequent changes in skills required
  • more part-time jobs
  • changing workforces (less school leavers, older workers)
  • increasing self-employment, small business
  • flexible working (working at home, teleworking, flexi-time)

Impacts : lateral or downward moves more common, increased concern about ‘quality’ of ‘worklife’ > org.less responsible

Schein (1990) Internal vs External Career

  • Internal = subjective, individual-oriented view
  • External = objective realities and constraints in the world of work
career patterns
Career Patterns
  • Many models presuppose careers take place within an organisation/occupation - an ordered progression through series of related jobs (N.B. Locals vs Cosmopolitans)
  • Driver (1982) : Types of Career Pattern
    • Transitory
    • Steady-state
    • Linear
    • Spiral
  • Watts (1981) : types of job change - influenced by employment contract - ‘core employee’ or temp./contract/consultant-style
  • N.B. some people just hold a series of unrelated jobs. Is the concept of ‘career’ still applicable?
work role transitions subjective careers nicholson 1990
Work-Role Transitions (subjective careers)Nicholson (1990)
  • Preparation : what both the individual and the organisation do before the ‘employee’ starts, to integrate them into the workplace (psychological contract, RJP’s).
    • Issue of ‘realism’ and ‘congruence’
    • Hughes (1958) ‘reality shock’
  • Encounter : newcomer tries to establish a ‘mental map’; information seeking (task, role, group, organisation).
    • Morrison (1993) active info seeking ~ satisfaction, performance & commitment. Successful strategy = monitoring
    • Louis (1981) : newcomer socialisation - change, contrast & surprise (Arnold, 1988 - UK graduates experiences)
Adjustment : employee has an understanding of the workplace - now tries to understand how to go about doing the job in the long-term.
    • Orientations (Schein, 1971) : (a) custodianship, (b) content innovation (c) role innovation.
    • People-processing (Van Maanen and Schein, 1979) : individualised or institutionalised.
    • Latack (1989) : career stress - Transactional & Process Theories
    • Nicholson (1984) : 4 modes of adjustment (replication, absorption, determination, exploration)
adjustment continued
Adjustment, continued...

Schein (1978) Concept of Career Anchors

Career Anchor : ‘an area of the self-concept that is so central to the individual that (s)he would not give it up, even if forced to make a difficult choice’

Peoples’ anchors develop and become clear during their early career, as a result of experience and learning from it.

Being able to identify one’s career anchor is an important step in successful career (self-)management

It is important for an organisation to identify the career anchors it offers (for informing selection, transfer, promotion, etc.)

schein s career anchors 1993
Schein’s Career Anchors (1993)
  • Managerial Competence : want/like to manage others. Generalists. Value advancement, leadership, responsibility, income.
  • Technical/Functional Competence : want/like to develop specialist skills/knowledge. Build their identity around the content of their work.
  • Security : want/like reliable, predictable work environment.
  • Autonomy : want to be free of all restrictions in their work activities (clothing, hours/times worked, etc)
  • Entrepreneurial Creativity : want/like to create their own products, services and/or organisations.
  • Challenge : want/like winning against strong competition
  • Service/Dedication : want/like work expressing social,political, religious or other personal values
  • Lifestyle Integration : want a work-life balance.

Being an ‘old hand’ at the job.

Maintaining aspects of a valued work role/career and ‘personalising’ it to meet own needs.

  • Hall (1976) : increasing restriction in opportunities available
  • Identity and stability issues become increasingly salient
  • Career plateau (mentor, coach, etc.)

Brett et al (1992)

  • Job Transfer : different part of the country
  • International Transfer : different country
  • Group Moves : relocation of a large number of employees who normally work together.

Issues surrounding relocation :

  • disruption to family (childrens’ education, friendships)
  • spouse’s willingness to relocate & other non-work factors best predictor of relocation success.
  • age, education, number of children less significant
  • cultural/language differences mean international transfers most likely to be least successful
transitions in and out of the job market
Transitions in- and out of the job market
  • Entry into work from school.
    • Arnold (1990) : relatively unstressful
  • Retirement
    • gradual ‘winding-down’/ disengagement
    • subjective experience of retirement
    • Bosse et al (1991) factors assisting adjustment
      • health, income, voluntary retirement, personal preparation
developmental perspective super 1957 1980
Developmental PerspectiveSuper (1957, 1980)
  • Career Development : ‘a process of implementing a self-concept and testing this self-concept against reality’
  • 5 stages
    • Growth : 0-14yrs
    • Exploration : 15-24yrs
    • Establishment : 25-44yrs
    • Maintenance : 45-65yrs
    • Decline/Disengagement : 65yrs+
  • ‘Career Rainbow’ and ‘roles’
  • Evaluation
    • considers ‘career’ outside of the organisational context
    • ‘career self-concept’ = black box theory?
    • based on small, unrepresentative sample
behaviourist perspective krumboltz mitchell jones 1976
Behaviourist PerspectiveKrumboltz, Mitchell & Jones (1976)
  • Social Learning Theory (Bandura) : genetics, environmental factors, learning experiences, cognitive and emotional responses, performance skills determine career path.
  • Decision points influenced by personal and situational variables
  • Learning experiences (instrumental vs associative)
  • Factors influencing a preference for a certain occupation
    • being positively reinforced for participation in related activities
    • observe a valued model being positively reinforced …
    • being positively reinforced by a valued model
    • being exposed to positive words/images of that occupation
  • Evaluation : mechanistic but does recognise importance of modelling (vicarious learning)
differentialist perspective holland 1959
Differentialist Perspective Holland (1959)
  • Hereditary factors + cultural & personal factors => hierarchy of preferred methods for environmental tasks (habitual methods)
  • Vocational choice - series of adjustive orientations in accordance with occupational environments available.
  • Vocational Orientation = lifestyle (values, interests, social interactions)
    • Direct self toward major occupational class. Based on :
      • development
      • self-evaluation of ability to perform
      • mediating factors - personal (social pressure from family/peers) & socio-economic.
holland 1973 holland gottfredson 1976 vocational types theory
Holland (1973); Holland & Gottfredson (1976)Vocational Types Theory
  • Realistic : out-door type. Like activities requiring physical strength/co-ordination. Not keen on socialising
  • Investigative : likes concepts & logic. Enjoys abstract thought. Often interested in physical sciences.
  • Artistic : uses imagination a lot. Likes to express ideas and feelings. Dislikes rules and regs. Enjoys music, art, drama.
  • Social : enjoys the company of others, esp. in affiliative relationships. Tend to be warm and caring
  • Enterprising : enjoy the company of others, but less affiliative (rather dominate or persuade). Enjoy action rather than thought.
  • Conventional : likes rules and regs. Often well organised, but not very imaginative.
  • People seek congruence between vocational interests & environments. Incongruence => stress & dissatisfaction
  • Vocational Preference Inventory, Strong Vocational Interest Inventory, Self-Directed Search (Holland, 1985)
evaluation of holland 1959 e g spokane 1985
Evaluation of Holland, 1959 (e.g. Spokane, 1985)
  • Holland (1962) : 2 x large ‘n’ studies of US high school students
  • Vocational Types = good reflection of basic personality dimensions as described in general psychology. Hexagonal conceptualisation reasonable approximation of similarities/differences
  • Evidence congruence is correlated to satisfaction and success; cannot infer causality.
  • Using 3 types to describe personality is unnecessary
  • Vocational Type and Career ? Career chosen or ideal career
  • Most construct validity research relied upon paper-&-pencil measures; greater need for behavioural outcomes (e.g. absence rates, rate of promotion, etc).
decision making perspective
Decision-Making Perspective

The Process of Career Decision :

  • Tiedman & O’Hara (1963) : Anticipation, Crystallization & Stabilisation. Gelatt (1962) : 3 systems : Prediction, Relative Preference & Evaluation and Selection.

Models Predicting Choice of Career :

  • Knefelkamp & Slepitz (1976) : stage theory. Piaget. Adult developmental concerns, 9 cognitive developmental tasks :

1. Locus of Control 6. Openness to Alternatives

2. Analysis 7. Ability to resume responsibility

3. Synthesis 8. Ability to take on new roles

4. Semantic Structure 9. Ability to take risks with oneself

5. Self-Processing

knefelkamp slepitz 1976
Knefelkamp & Slepitz (1976)
  • stages 1-2 = Dualism; stages 3-4 = Multiplicity, stages 5-6 = Relativism, stages 7-9 = Commitment with Relativism.


  • Empirical basis of theory is weak (interview study - 35 students)
  • Limits to theory
    • how long will each stage last?
    • Does not consider ‘blocks’ or regression through stages
structuralist perspective robert 1977 theory of opportunity structures
Structuralist Perspective : Robert (1977) ‘Theory of Opportunity Structures’
  • Central tenet : ‘the transition to employment needs to be understood in terms of opportunity structures… helping people to adjust to the opportunities available to them, not unrealistically raising their expectations’
  • Tenet comes from :
    • observations on extent to which ‘job choice’ is meaningful
    • growing evidence of the lack of congruence between peoples’ self-concepts and job/occupation.
  • Emphasis on career guidance (career is an unfolding pattern dictated by opportunity structures)

Freewill vs Determinism

Nature vs Nurture

Do theories of 20th century theories of career choice and career development hold true in 21st century?