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Indian Journal of Natural Sciences ©IJONS
Vol.10 / Issue 60 / June / 2020 International Bimonthly ISSN: 0976 – 0997
Theories of Career Development: An analysis
Lipsa Jena1 and Umakanta Nayak2*
1Research Scholar, School of Management, Centurion University of Technology and Management,
Odisha, India
2Associate Professor, School of Management, Centurion University of Technology and Management,
Odisha, India
Received: 25 Mar 2020 Revised: 27 Apr 2020 Accepted: 28 May 2020
*Address for Correspondence
Umakanta Nayak
Associate Professor, School of Management,
Centurion University of Technology and Management,
Odisha, India
This is an Open Access Journal / article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License
(CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited. All rights reserved.
The purpose of the article is to carry out an in-depth analysis of career development theories and to know
the practical implications in modern organizations. Content analysis method has been implemented for
studying published literature on career theories. The outcome of the study shows that no single theory
can be applicable to all situations and necessitates a combination of approach. Moreover, the factors
emphasised by different theories that regulate a person changes very often with the changing
organizational contours in this volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) world. As a
result, the organizations need to adapt with the changing scenario with an appropriate modified model
to reap the benefit of career development. The study is limited to only five career development theories
and the theories are analysed on the evidences collected from secondary sources. This study provides an
insight into the changing professional world with individual coping strategies to the volatile work
environment. It prescribes a path towards occupational growth and professional wellbeing for an
individual. It also attempts to provide systematic steps to create a platform for career development of
Key words: Career development, process theories, content theories, process-content theories
Career development theories show the various paths towards improving professional growth and the career
trajectory followed by individuals for an overall job satisfaction and goal achievement. Understanding these theories
is an essential step in determining the strengths, weaknesses, fundamental values, and desirable path that are
operative while choosing a career. There are various types of career development theories that focus on different
Indian Journal of Natural Sciences ©IJONS
Vol.10 / Issue 60 / June / 2020 International Bimonthly ISSN: 0976 – 0997
factors, and quite dissimilar to one another. Still all the theories recognise the importance of cultivating a positive emotional
relation with work or work environment for developing and achieving a meaningful professional goal. Career development
theories can be divided into four categories: by using trait factor, a proper match between individual traits to
occupations is focused upon (like trait and factor theory by Frank Parson); it can be based on psychological structure,
where the personality should correspond with the work environment (like Holland theory); it can be grounded on
decision - situational factors (like social cognitive career theory); and it can be constructed on self-concept (like life
span theory of Super). Besides this categorisation, another type of division can be noticed in the theories that are:
process theories, content theories, and process-content theories. The process theories emphasise on communicating
about the interaction and changes that occurs over a period of time. These theories deal with a sequence of stages
through which people proceeds (example: Super's life-span, life-space approach to career development,
Gottfredson’s circumscription and compromise theory). The content theories are connected with the features of an
individual and the environment they live in. The impact on career development are thought to be either intrinsic to
the individual or it is initiated from the context or surrounding in which they live. For example: Theory of Work
Adjustment. The content and process theories have been moulded in response to accommodate with the
requirements of process theory and content theory. These theories embrace both the characteristics of context and
individuals, and the advancement and dealings between them (example: Krumboltz’s social learning theory of career
decision-making, social cognitive career theory, Roe’s theory of personality development and career choice).
Objectives and Methodology of the Study
The study is carried out to gain knowledge about the philosophy and theoretical underpinnings behind career
development. Effort is also made to identify the various empirical research conducted by using these theories. As
intrinsic as well as extrinsic factors impact career development, attention is provided to understand the same from
existing literature. Finally attempt is made to understand the career path or stages adopted by the theories. Content
analysis method has been implemented for studying published literature on career theories.
Content Theories
(a) Theory of Work Adjustment or Person- Environment Correspondence Theory
The Theory of Work Adjustment (TWA) is based on the difference of individuals and vocational behaviour (Dawis,
2002, 2005; Dawis & Lofquist, 1984). It views career choice as an unbroken process consisting of adjustment and
accommodation. The theory declares two processes that an individual adheres to. In the first case, an individual or
person (P) searches for a work environment (E) that can match with his requirement. In the second phase E searches
for P having the skills that can tally with the needs of the organization. The amount of satisfaction of P depends on
his needs and satisfactoriness of E is based on the operational skills of P helps to forecast the tenure of P. There are
four types of adjustment maintained by person and environment (Dawis, 2005). The first one is flexibility that
denotes to a person level of tolerance in environment. Next is activeness where P tries to modify E. The third is
reactiveness where P adopts a self-modification to the difficult situation without transforming E. The fourth is
perseverance in which P determines to adjust before choosing to leave E.
The prime strength of TWA is that it measures many variables like satisfaction, satisfactoriness, needs and values,
indexes of correspondence, skills and abilities (Dawis, 2005). TWA try to explain career development and satisfaction
in terms of person-environment correspondence. Many international studies have been performed on this theory
based on satisfaction/satisfactoriness, needs/abilities and work adjustment and tenure. Tziner, Meir, and Segal (2002)
conducted a study on Israeli military officers on personality, vocational interest, and general ability; and similarity
between interest and job were measured. The findings displays that extroverted personality and congruence were
related to a greater level of performance, which was stable with TWA likelihoods. Feij, van der Velde, Taris, and
Taris (1999) in their survey on Dutch young adults (ages stretched from 18 to 26) in two time points found
connection between vocational interest and perceived skills with job satisfaction. The finding was in tune with
TWA’s affirmation that vocational interest becomes steady in adulthood, as the interest and skills among participants
grew during the course of time and developed into a stable pattern of interest. Similarly, Griffin and Hesketh (2003)
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in their survey found that adaptive performance was linked with self-efficacy for adaptive behaviour. The work
requirements and adaptability personality projects for the adaptive performance, which is similar with the notion of
TWA. TWA can be tested to know career development and satisfaction in cross-cultural surroundings even if it was
initiated in USA.
(b) Holland’s Theory of Vocational Personalities in Work Environment
The theory of Holland can be applied in career counselling and career guidance. Holland expressed that vocational
interest and personality is organised in hexagonal structure in the order of RIASEC and can be codified into Realistic
(R), Investigative (I), Artistic (A), Social (S), Enterprising (E), and Conventional (C). Generally, this six types of
interest and personality can take two type of forms by producing three-letter code e.g., RIA, SIA that symbolises
one’s career interest. The first letter of these two codes shows the chief interest of the person and the second and
third alphabets denotes significant but secondary interest in the course of career choice. Holland used the word
“congruence” to show the person-environment interaction where the personality and interest of the person and the
work environment produces vocational stability and satisfaction and a low congruence causes vocational instability
and dissatisfaction.
Many studies have been conducted on Holland hypothesis and its frame of vocational interests was effective through
many cultures (e.g., Rounds & Tracey, 1996). Tak (2004) administered a survey and found good fit in the model of
interest but the interest that was organised was not clearly hexagonal. Sverko and Babarovic (2006) conducted a
research and supported the Holland hexagonal model. Leung and Hou (2005) directed a study and found six first
order factors clustered into three groups Realistic-Investigative, Artistic-Social, andSocial-Enterprising-Conventional.
This cluster reproduces a definite cultural value and perception. There is a diversified support for Holland’s
structure of vocational interests found across the cultures.
Process Theories
(a) Self-concept Theory of Career Development
Among various theories of career development, the theory given by Super has received abundant attention in USA
and other nations. Super established that career development and career choice is related with the self-concept of the
person. A self-concept is a complex dealing among the mental and physical growth, environmental features,
personal experience etc. (Super, 1990). Super (1990) established a framework for life stages consisting of growth,
exploration, establishment, maintenance and disengagement. One has to manage development of vocation in the
chronological age. The idea of “career maturity” represents the amount that an individual can achieve the vocational
developmental task during each stage. Due to mixed results on career maturity, various studies have suggested to
substitute the concept with adaptability (e.g., Herr, 1997; Savickas, 1997, 2002, 2005). The vocational stages are like a
mini cycles that shows career transitions as compared with maxi cycles of other theories.
A sufficient number of international level of research have been made on Super’s theory (Patton & Lokan, 2001).
Patton et al., (2002) organised a study and found that those students having greater level of career maturity,
proceeded to full time study, achieve more and fit in psychological balance as compared to other students. Creed and
Patton (2003), and Repetto (2001) also studied on career development interventions where the results were regular
with the developmental assumptions suggested by career maturity. Watanabe-Muraoka et al., (2001) stated that
super theory has gained very widespread attention in Japanese academic and business surroundings.
(b) Gottfredson’s Theory of Circumscription and Compromise
Gottfredson’s theory of career development is a new input in the theory of career development. Gottfredson (1981,
1996, 2002, 2005) supposed that the process of career choice demands for a greater level of cognitive ability.
Gottfredson’s (2002, 2005) expounded on the interplay between the concept of genetic makeup and environment.
Genetic features performs a vital role by influencing the attributes of a person like skills, values, and interest and
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these traits are moderated when one is open to an environment. Gottfredson informed that person is a dynamic
agent who can modify the environment and hence viewed career development as a process of self-creation. Instead
of the customary view that holds career choice as a method of selection, this theory viewed career development and
career choice as a process of circumscription or eliminating occupations. There are four stages of circumscription that
are, orientation to size and power, orientation to sex-roles, orientation to social valuation, and orientation to the
internal, unique self. Another process of career development is compromise where an individual makes occupational
choice that are truly achievable in the world. Here a person reacts to the numerous realities and restraints that are
external in nature like labour market, family obligations, economic depression etc.
The theory have got little attention as it is problematic to test it empirically Swanson and Gore (2000) because (a) its
variables like prestige, circumscription, compromise, sex type are tough to implement (b) the developmental process
is suitable for longitudinal studies which requires ample time. But still the theory can be used for career guidance
like gender stereotype found in the cultures of Asia, where a person chooses a profession which he consider suitable
for his gender (Leung, 2002)
Theory of content and process
(a) Social Cognitive Career Theory
Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 2002; Lent, 2005) proposed a model having three
segments of career development that elucidates the vocational interest, career choices, and career performance and
stability. This three sections emphasised on personal goals, self-efficacy, and outcome expectations. Personal goals is
the intentional engagement in certain activity or to engender a particular outcome (Lent, 2005). Lent (2005) defined
self-efficacy as “a dynamic set of beliefs that are linked to particular performance domains and activities” (p. 104).
Lent el al., (2002) defined outcome expectations as “personal beliefs about the consequences or outcomes of
performing particular behaviour” (p. 262).The theory considers that the development of career goals and career
choices are the functions of the interface among interest, self-efficacy, and outcome expectations over time. The
Career choice model suggested in the theory shows the interaction and influence between the person and the
environment upon each other. The theory postulated that compromise in personal interests may be required during
the career choice process due to factors that act as a barrier in choice making like contextual immediate to the person
lack of support, social barriers, and cultural beliefs.
The theory has been used in many researches at international level (e.g., Arulmani et al., 2003; Hampton, 2005; Patton
et al., 2004). Nota et al., (2007) used a SCCT structure and found a positive association between the career search self-
efficacy of participants and family support, and a negative relationship between career search self-efficacy and career
indecision. These findings were harmonious with the career choice models of general SCCT, and exemplified the
prominence of social support for career decision and efficacy.Creed et al., (2006) used SCCT and their findings were
dissimilar to the theoretical anticipation. They found that changes in career decision-making self-efficacy during a
period of time were not related with parallel changes in career indecision, and vice versa.
Analysis of the theories
The theories of career development served a prominent role by encouraging research activity. By analysing the above
mentioned theories of career development, it is found that most of them are related to the career behaviour of an
individual. The theories are mostly descriptive in nature rather than explanatory even though they are tested by
several researchers. Some theories has been applied much more (e.g. super theory of self-concept) as compared with
other theories have got a mixed result (e.g. Holland theory). There exist some contrasting factors among the theories.
Holland's theory (1959) identifies the factors that trigger the vocational behaviour of a person while other theories
deal with the purpose and development of vocational behaviours. Trait factors associated with Holland’s theory
explains very little about vocational behaviour. This theory is also having certain limitations.
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Vol.10 / Issue 60 / June / 2020 International Bimonthly ISSN: 0976 – 0997
The theory needs to settle up the inconsistencies of personality required for a proper operation in an occupation. The
concept of role identification in career development has been approved by empirical evidences whereas the idea of
psychic energy for vocational activity has acquired little support.A substantial amount of research on Super’s theory
has provided experimental confirmation of self-concept and career development task that is identified with a specific
vocational decision. One of the noticeable limitation of the theory is related to its restricted range of use, when we
compare the career of nursing that is having enormous amount of personal involvement for exercising the self-
concept with that of the career of a clerk working in a dry clean store. Super theory interprets interest as a part of
self-concept whereas Holland interest is related with the comparison of person occupation, which can be assessed
but it is difficult to be analysed. Because an individual may be poor to judge his own talents and may opt for a career
which may be challenging for him to carry out or too low in scope to practise his talents.
Generally all the theories have its origin in the theories of personality but its range varies from one extreme to other
extreme as typified in Holland theory. Besides personality, the other area that has exerted impact on the theories of
career development is developmental psychology. The effect of developmental notion can be found in Super’s
(1963a) concepts of vocational developmental task. Gottfredson theory and Super theory, we can find the importance
of self-concept and how a work can provide meaning and purpose in an individual’s life. Similarly, Social-cognitive
career theory mentions the role played by personal, environmental, and behavioural factors that acts as a stimulus
for a person through personal goals, self-efficacy, and outcome expectations with the impact of optimal adjustment
(Lent, 2013).
The Theory of Work Adjustment is based on satisfaction and satisfactoriness of person and environment.But this
theory does not shows what the individual learn during his work life. In the developmental theories like Holland
theory, emphasis on the psychic nature of an individual that affects the career choice is shown. Besides the above
mentioned theories there are other theories that play up a vital part in career development. There are numerous
manifestations of career theories like Systems Theory Framework otherwise known asSTF (Patton & McMahon, 1999,
2006), which delivers a structure for career counseling. Krumboltz's social learning theory to career decision,
whichelaborates that individual personalities and behaviour is the collection of learning experience rather than
psychic process (Mitchell & Krumboltz, 1990). Task approach skills, environmental conditions and events, genetic
endowment and special abilities, and learning experiences are the four factors that influence a person while making a
career choice and career development.Another theory named as Tiedeman's Theory developed by Tiedeman and
O'Hara (1963) considered that the process of career development takes place through a repetitive process of
differentiation and reintegration. Differentiating is concerned with separating experiences; and integrating is related
with structuring the experiences into an all-inclusive whole.Levinson theorydeveloped by psychologist
Daniel Levinson, shows the role performed by present circumstances of individual that is strictly regulated by age
The dominant part of Levinson's Theoryis that human being develops through specific stages of life irrespective of
their background and occupation. If we compare this theory with the career stage model of Super’s theory then we
can find that in the Super theory people can recycle the career stages regardless of their age while Levinson theory
considers career development to be a linear process that advances according to the individual’s age. Levinson theory
explains the behavioural intentions and individuals' attitudes that are external to work like promotional aims,
preparedness to quit the company but Super model gives attentions on attitudes related to the work like job
involvement and satisfaction. Roe’s theory of personality development and career choice shows the influence of
family on the personality of a child. The theory mentions the kind of profession a person chooses but doesn’t clarifies
the vocational development following the choice of occupation. It neglects the circumstance when the child is not
treated in a similar way by either parent who may have two dissimilar ways of nurturing a child.
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The theories generally focus on individual, environment and interrelation between the two.
The study of theories shows that no particular theory can be suitable for every situation and every person.
One type of theory cannot be applicable to all types of individuals or environment.
A particular theory may not be applicable in long run. When the needs of a person changes or the requirement of
an organization changes then the theory lacks its ability to influence.
Concluding Remarks
By studying the above mentioned career related theories, we can find that these theories discourses about the career
related outcome (Chen, 2001; Dik, Duffy, & Eldridge, 2009). The study gives a detail vision into the various factors
like personality, professional growth, self-concept, social situation etc. that sometimes performs as a source of
encouragement and other time acts as barriers for an individual while choosing a career. The varied perspectives of
career development theories offer valuable evidence that reflects employee development. These theories help to
acquire knowledge about the ways by which an individual develops his career remaining in an organization and the
methods that an individual adopts to adjust and achieves knowledge and skills accordance with various
circumstances, needs, and social situations. It is suggested that while implementing a theory an organization should
know about its employees’ needs and should consider on the practicability of applying the theory.
This study complements with Super (1992) who advised that no single theory is sufficient enough to show the career
progress of a person, rather each theory advocates certain idea and neglects the other part of individual career choice
(Krumboltz, 1994). This study concludes that one particular theory may be operative for a person in a particular time
but may be dysfunctional during other time. But still all the theories are valuable as they perform as an outline for
dealing with several subject matters of a person related to his career.
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Figure I: Conceptual framework of the study Source. Adapted from Dawis, R. V., & Lofquist L. H.
(1984). A psychological theory of work adjustment.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
Figure: II Adjustment style of theory of work
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Umakanta Nayak
Indian Journal of Natural Sciences ©IJONS
Vol.10 / Issue 60 / June / 2020 International Bimonthly ISSN: 0976 – 0997
Source: Holland, J. L. (1959). A theory of vocational
choice. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 6, 35-45
Figure:III RIASEC Career Theory Typologies
Source: Work of Super (1980) Career theory in D. Brown
& L. Brooks (Eds.), Career choice and development:
Applying contemporary approaches to practice
Figure: IV. A model of Super’s Career Stages
Source: Gottfredson’s Theory of Circumscription, Compromise and Self-Creation, In D. Brown (Ed.), 2002, Career
choice and development. San Francisco: Jossey- Brass
Figure: V. Gottfredson’s theory of circumscription and compromise
Source: Work of Lent et al. (1994) from Towards a Unifying Social Cognitive Theory of Career and Academic
Interests, Choice and Performance
Figure: VI: Social Cognitive Career Theory of Lent, Brown and Hackett
Lipsa Jena
Umakanta Nayak
... Kitana & Karam (2017) Regarding career development in this study, researchers used The Theory of Work Adjustment because of career development problems at PT. X relates to obstacles that arise in the career development process, both from the employees themselves and the company. This theory is based on individual differences and vocational behavior, where career choice is seen as an unbroken process consisting of adjustment and accommodation (Jena & Nayak, 2020) Based on the description above, it can be hypothesized that career development has a significant positive effect on job satisfaction. This influence is explained by Manonmani impact on the personal life of the employee because employees have the opportunity to meet their needs and improve their standard of living, therefore with a budding career, employees will feel satisfied with his job. ...
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The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of Career Development and Work Discipline on the work of Programming employees at PT. X. The subject of this research is PT. X, which is one of the private TV stations in Indonesia and located in Jakarta. The population of this study was 116 people, and the sampling method used was saturated sampling, so the number of samples in this study was also 116 people. This research used the multiple linear regression analysis method in analyzing research data. The results showed that Career Development and Work Discipline had a significant positive effect on work, either separately or simultaneously. This implies that if there is an increase of career development and/or employees’ work discipline, the job satisfaction felt by employees will also increases.
Bu çalışmada çalışanlarda algılanan kurumsal destek ve lider-üye etkileşiminin kariyer tatminine olan doğrudan ve öz-yeterlilik üzerinden dolaylı etkileri araştırılmıştır. Araştırmanın modeli sosyal değişim teorisi ve sosyal bilişsel kariyer teorisinden faydalanılarak oluşturulmuştur. Algılanan kurumsal destek ve lider üye etkileşiminin kariyer tatmini üzerinde hem doğrudan hem de öz-yeterlilik üzerinden dolaylı istatistiksel etkisi test edilmiştir. Araştırmanın verileri çevrim içi anket yoluyla İstanbul’da faaliyet gösteren bir eğitim ve danışmanlık firmasından eğitim almış 28 işletmenin 524 çalışana ulaşılarak toplanmıştır. Analiz sonuçlarına göre algılanan kurumsal destek ve lider üye etkileşiminin kariyer tatmini üzerinde doğrudan ve öz-yeterlilik üzerinden dolaylı istatistiksel etkisi olduğu görülmüştür. Buna göre araştırmanın bulguları çalışmanın tüm hipotezlerini destekler niteliktedir.
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The validity of Holland’s theory in the Croatian sample has been tested. The Croatian version of Holland’s Self-Directed Search was applied on 1,866 Croatian adolescents from different age samples. The instrument has shown a good reliability of all RIASEC scales in all subsamples. Construct validity was also verified: The presence of circular structure of RIASEC types and two underlying dimensions was mostly confirmed, and hypothesized relations between RIASEC types and value orientations were found. Concurrent validity shows that on the basis of Holland’s RIASEC scores one can predict the educational program in which the student is enrolled. The results support the validity of Holland’s theory in the Croatian sample.
The 3rd edition of this classic book offers practitioners, researchers and students a comprehensive introduction to, and overview of, career theory; introduces the Systems Theory Framework of career development; and demonstrates its considerable contemporary and innovative application to practice. A number of authors have identified the framework as one of a small number of significant innovations in the career development literature. The Systems Theory Framework of career development was developed to provide coherence to the career development field by providing a comprehensive conceptualisation of the many existing theories and concepts relevant to understanding career development. It is not designed to be a theory of career development; rather systems theory is introduced as the basis for an overarching, or metatheoretical, framework within which all concepts of career development, described in the plethora of career theories, can be usefully positioned and utilised in both theory and practice. It has been applied to the career development of children, adolescents and women. Since its first publication, the Systems Theory Framework has been the basis of numerous publications focusing on theoretical application and integration, practice and research, with a growing number of these by authors other than the framework developers. Its application across cultures also has been emphasised. The theoretical and practical unity of the Systems Theory Framework makes this book a worthy addition to the professional libraries of practitioners, researchers and students, new to, or experienced in, the field of career development.
This study reports the development of new measures of strength of enduring desires for existence in the form of pay, relatedness with the group and with supervisors, and growth in one's job. Propositions relating these four enduring desires to stages in the life cycle and to educational level of parents, sex, and race make it possible to assess the construct validity of the new measures. Results from a study of 229 adults in organizations show acceptable reliability and discrimination among the scales. The findings also show separate and theoretically meaningful patterns of relationship between each measure of enduring desire and life cycle, educational level of parents, sex, and race. These results imply a reconciliation between psychological and sociological interpretations of differences among individuals in their responses to organizational conditions through the use of concepts from intergroup theory.