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Additional types of career development theories

As indicated in the introduction, there is more than one type of career development theory in addition to the explanatory and descriptive approaches we have been concentrating on thus far. The purpose of this section is to introduce a second type. These theories are essentially aspirational in character and consist of claims about what self and others should do in order to live more successful lives. They are often called theories of career management or models of career education, guidance and coaching. The table below contains just a selection taken from a large academic and popular literature in this area. There are many more examples in the on-line journals and on the 'self-help' shelves of high street bookstores.

5 examples are summarised below drawing from a range of discipline areas. You are invited to read this and pick 2 examples to follow up using the reading list. Please compare and contrast each of them and consider in relation to our work on explanatory and descriptive career development theories.


(Watts 1977)

Self awareness Opportunity awareness Decision learning Transition learning  

Career Competencies

(DeFillippi & Arthur 1996)

Knowing why Knowing how Knowing whom    

*Planned Happenstance

(Mitchell, Levin & Krumboltz 1999)

Curiosity Persistence Flexibility Optimism Risk taking

*Career Self-management Behaviours

(King 2004)

Positioning Influencing Boundary managing    

*Career Competencies for the Modern Career

(Kuijpers & Scheerens 2006)

Career reflection Work exploration Career control Self-presentation  

*Indicates available in the on-line journals.


  • Although each theory is broadly about the same topic, each approaches it in different ways e.g. DOTS seems quite structured whereas Planned Happenstance is more open-ended.
  • These perspectives can be helpful as they can help ourselves and others to surface our own preconceptions about career management. They can be used to help 'read' the career development strategies of individuals.

  • Familiarity with this literature can help us understand that there is more than one perspective on career management i.e. that career management is contested and debated - often hotly.

  • From encountering some of these theories in more depth, you may have detected that each is either explicitly or implicitly based on the kinds of career development theories we have already encountered in this module. For example, the DOTS model is based on some ideas from Holland's person-environment fit approach, Super's work and K. Roberts' opportunity structure theory. The Career Self-management Behaviours approach draws from a range of career development theories including Becker's human capital theory of labour economics.
  • There are implications to the above, for example, if you or your clients disagree with human capital theory it is unlikely you will be comfortable with an approach to career management based on it. Equally, note that each career management theory draws only partly from the selected explanatory career development theory e.g. DOTS is clearly based partly on Holland's idea that individuals seek to make a match between self and opportunity however Holland's additional ideas on personal career theory do not form part of DOTS.
  • Each career management theory can also be critically evaluated in relation to our previous work. For example, explanatory career development theories can help us assess to what extent an apparently empowering self-help approach has taken account of the influence of structure and context.
  • Over-reliance on others' career management theories can limit reflective creativity i.e. the ability of career development facilitators to develop their own practices.
  • Career management theories are sometimes used didactically to tell clients what to do. This often happens when one alone is used to design a whole career learning programme or inform a career coaching and counselling interaction. Skilful use of 2 or more to enhance client learning can provide a viable alternative.
  • Linked to the points above, it can be helpful to have some preliminary familiarity with descriptive and explanatory career development theories in order to 'read' the career managment literature and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses.


Further steps

  • Please feel free to share your ideas on this topic in the forum or in tutorial.
  • We will pick up these topics in further modules.