Follow us on:   
Generic filters
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in comments
Filter by Content Type
Resource Listings

Career Development Theory Wiki

Wikis > Career Development Theory Wiki

This section is intended to provide an overview of career development theory. If you would like to modify these wikis or to submit a new subsection, get in touch with to be added as an author.



Work Adjustment Theory

Career Development and Work Adjustment Theory

Viewing career choice and development as continual processes of adjustment and accommodation in which: (a) the person (P) looks for work organisations and environments (E) that would match his/her“requirements” in terms of needs, and (b) E in turn looks for individuals who have the capabilities to meeting the “requirements” of the organisation. (Dawis, 2002, 2005; Dawis & Lofquist,1984. Handbook on career counselling, October 1998)

The Theory of Work Adjustment

The Theory of Work Adjustment (TWA) describes the relationship of the individual to his or her work environment. TWA was developed as the guiding framework for a program of research in vocational psychology, and this is the area of its greatest application today. TWA has led to the development of the instruments and materials as well as a series of research monographs, The Minnesota Studies in Vocational Rehabilitation.

The following statements briefly summarize the main points of the Theory of Work Adjustment as presented in A Psychological Theory of Work Adjustment: An Individual-Differences Model and Its Applications, by René V. Dawis and Lloyd H. Lofquist. Earlier statements of the Theory of Work Adjustment were published as Minnesota Studies in Vocational Rehabilitation Monograph XV, A Theory of Work Adjustment and Monograph XXIII, A Theory of Work Adjustment (A Revision).

  • Work is conceptualized as an interaction between an individual and a work environment.
  • The work environment requires that certain tasks be performed, and the individual brings skills to perform the tasks.
  • In exchange, the individual requires compensation for work performance and certain preferred conditions, such as a safe and comfortable place to work.
  • The environment and the individual must continue to meet each other’s requirements for the interaction to be maintained. The degree to which the requirements of both are met may be called correspondence.
  • Work adjustment is the process of achieving and maintaining correspondence. Work adjustment is indicated by the satisfaction of the individual with the work environment, and by the satisfaction of the work environment with the individual–by the individual’s satisfactoriness.
  • Satisfaction and satisfactoriness result in tenure, the principal indicator of work adjustment. Tenure can be predicted from the correspondence of an individual’s work personality with the work environment.
  • Work personalities and work environments can be described in terms of structure and style variables that are measured on the same dimensions.

The instruments and materials distributed and supported by Vocational Psychology Research measure the work personality and work environments, thus allowing prediction of degree of person-job correspondence.[1]


Social Cognitive Theory-Lent, Brown and Hackett’s

SCCT proposes that career choice is influenced by the beliefs the individual develops and refines through four major sources: a) personal performance accomplishments, b) vicarious learning, c) social persuasion and d) physiological states and reactions. How these aspects work together in the career development process is through a process in which an individual develops an expertise/ability for a particular endeavor and meets with success. This process reinforces one’s self-efficacy or belief in future continued success in the use of this ability/expertise. As a result, one is likely to develop goals that involve continuing involvement in that activity/endeavor. Through an evolutionary process beginning in early childhood and continuing throughout adulthood, one narrows the scope to successful endeavors to focus on and form a career goal/choice. What is critical to the success of the process is the extent to which one views the endeavor/activity as one at which they are successful and offers valued compensation. The contextual factors come into play by influencing the individual’s perception of the probability of success. If the person perceives few barriers the likelihood of success reinforces the career choice but if the barriers are viewed as significant there is a weaker interest and choice actions.text [2]

Social Cognitive Career Theory

Gibbons[3]examines how school and career counselors can assist prospective first-generation college students prior to college entrance through the use of Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT). This theory is grounded in Bandura’s [4] social cognitive theory, and explores how career and academic interests mature, how career choices are developed, and how these choices are turned into action. This is achieved through a focus of three primary tenets: self-efficacy, outcome expectations, and goals.[5]

  1. Self-efficacy refers to the beliefs people have about their ability to successfully complete the steps required for a give task. Individuals develop their sense of self- efficacy from personal performance, learning by example, social interactions, and how they feel in a situation.
  2. Outcome expectations are the beliefs related to the consequences of performing a specific behavior. Typically, outcome expectations are formed thorough past experiences, either direct or vicarious, and the perceived results of these experiences.
  3. Goals are seen as playing a primary role in behavior. A goal is defined as the decisions to begin a particular activity or future plan. Behavior is organized or sustained based on these previously set goals. [6]

In SCCT, career interests are regulated by self-efficacy and an outcome expectation, which means people, will form lasting interests in activities when they experience personal competency and positive outcomes. On the contrary, a belief of low personal competency will lead people to avoid activities. Perceived barriers such as those related to gender, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, or family constraints may create negative outcome expectations, even when people have had previous success in the given area. School counselors can help students who will be first-generation college students to reconsider some of their perceptions of college and of career, by providing activities and interventions to increase these students’ options and their success upon entry into college.


Holland’s Career Typology

What is Career Typology:

John Holland believed that individuals could assess what their career interests were by establishing their typology. Holland believed that individuals would search for environments that will let them use their skills and abilities, and express their attitudes and values, while taking on enjoyable problems and roles. Behaviour is determined by an interaction between personality and environment. Holland’s theory is centered on the notion that most people fit into one of six personality types:

  • Realistic
  • Investigative
  • Artistic
  • Social
  • Enterprising
  • Conventional

From these personality types, Holland developed RIASEC, which allowed individuals to assess where their career typology is.[7][8]


Frank Parson’s Trait and Factor Theory

Frank Parson’s Trait and Factor Theory was developed in 1908. Parsons states that occupational decision making occurs when people have achieved:

  • an accurate understanding of their individual traits (aptitudes, interests, personal abilities)
  • a knowledge of jobs and the labour market
  • rational and objective judgement about the relationship between their individual traits, and the labour market.

Seven Stages of Trait and Factory Theory[9]

  1. Personal data: create a statement of key facts about the person, remembering to include every fact that has bearing on the vocational problem.
  2. Self-analysis: Self-examination is done in private and under the instruction of the counsellor. Every tendency and interest that might impact on the choice of a life work should be recorded.
  3. The client’s own choice and decision: this may show itself in the first two stages. The counsellor must bear in mind that the choice of vocation should be made by the client, with the counsellor acting as guide.
  4. Counsellor’s analysis: the counsellor tests the client’s decision to see if it is in line with the “main quest”.
  5. Outlook on the vocational field: the counsellor should be familiar with industrial knowledge such as lists and classifications of industries and vocations, in addition to locations of training and apprenticeships.
  6. Induction and advice: a broad-minded attitude coupled with logical and clear reasoning are critical at this stage.
  7. General helpfulness: the counsellor helps the client to fit into the chosen work, and to reflect on the decision


Constructivist Theory – Savickas, Peavy

Constructivist Theory allows an individual to reflect on their current/past knowledge and to create what they believe is their own reality. The learner selects and transforms information, constructs hypotheses, and makes decisions, relying on a cognitive structure to do so. Cognitive structure (i.e., schema, mental models) provides meaning and organization to experiences and allows the individual to “go beyond the information given”.[11]

Constructivist theory is seen as a learning is a constructive process in which the learner is building an internal illustration of knowledge, a personal interpretation of experience. “This representation is continually open to modification, its structure and linkages forming the ground to which other knowledge structures are attached.Learning is an active process in which meaning is accomplished on the basis of experience. This view of knowledge does not necessarily reject the existence of the real world, and agrees that reality places constrains on the concepts that are, but contends that all we know of the world are human interpretations of our experience of the world”.

Constructivist Theory is an extremely interactive process in which a career counsellor will communicate with a client. It is very client focused and will encourage the client to expand their understanding of their own world. It is though the client understanding of their role in their own world that they can.

  1. Understand what factors effect them in their decision making
  2. What people are effective and what values are most important to them
  3. What path they need to take to obtain their goals and how will others be affected by these decisions


John Krumboltz’s Happenstance

John Krumboltz’s theory of Happenstance views clients’ indecision and struggles with committing to an idea as a strength in regards to being able to deal with different situations and challenges that they could face when travelling through their career journey.

At the core of this theory is the fact that unpredictable social factors, chance events and environmental factors are important influences on clients’ lives. As such, the counsellor’s role is to help clients approach chance conditions and events positively. In particular, counsellors foster in their clients:

  • curiosity to explore learning opportunities
  • persistence to deal with obstacles
  • flexibility to address a variety of circumstances and events
  • optimism to maximise benefits from unplanned events.

Krumboltz states that people with these qualities are more likely to capitalise on chance events and turn serendipity into opportunity.

These characteristics have been used to look at several different job-searching methods that could be used to create a more effective and successful job search:[13]

  • the commitment to ongoing learning and skill development
  • ongoing self-assessment
  • assessment and feedback from others
  • effective networking
  • achieving work-life balance
  • financial planning to incorporate periods of unemployment.


Chaos theory of careers – Bright & Pryor

Chaos theory is a mathematical theory. It may be most commonly understood to laypeople through the butterfly effect. Chaos theory involves the study of dynamic systems, in which effects may be set off by an initial action. This theory could be seen to be similar to Happenstance, in that careers may not be logical, planned, and linear. However, whereas there may be planned happenstance or an emphasis on engineering success in happenstance through setting up more scenarios in which networking or opportunity may be gained, chaos theory emphasizes unpredictability as being at its core.

Traditional theories may look for factors leading to “fit”, such as person and environment, traits, interests, skills and competencies. Chaos theory allows room for various unpredictable small or large changes to alter the course of a career. Internal or external shifts can lead to even radical changes. Instead of predicting outcomes, chaos theory allows for various influences. There may be patterns that emerge or self-similarity within a person’s career or behaviour. However, careful planning for predictability is replaced with the concept of emergence, making sense out of past and potential experiences with a framework of complexity. Jim Bright, a main thought leader on chaos theory, acknowledges “planfullness,” and the potentially successful behaviours associated with this: “the ability to devise, revise, compromise, delay, deploy, reinstate, persist with, abandon, copy, slow down, speed up, swop and reverse a plan.” (See Jim Bright’s piece on the ContactPoint website: This flexible planning can be coupled with the idea that “embracing uncertainty is one of the key 21st career development mindsets.”(Ibid.) In a rapidly changing and complex world, the ability to adapt is increasingly important, and guiding clients in change, transition and adaptation may allow them to accept and confront uncertainty in thought and action.

A main theme in chaos theory is that of “attractors.” The concepts point (being set on a particular goal or goals), pendulum (black/white, either/or), and torus (rules/routine) or strange (self-similar, though not necessarily repetitive types of events) are important in chaos theory and may be considered as potentially self-limiting. This is part of where exploring or identifying potential patterns and exceptions can be employed by clients and career counsellors.

Chaos theory can add a useful element of myth-busting to traditional career ideas as applied to the current economic and careers climate. Expectations may be unrealistic and need to be managed with a mind to frequent change. There is not necessarily a “right” plan and failure may be normalized and is often inevitable and part of a career journey. (See Counselling Approaches in The Incidental Career: Working Identity Approach (Ibarra), Informed Opportunism (Judith Waterman), and Planned Happenstance (John Krumboltz).

Exploration and action can set in motion a domino or butterfly effect and in an increasingly fast-paced and globalizing world, Chaos Theory is providing a thought-provoking set of perspectives and discussions.



Additional Reading on Work Adjustment Theory

  • DAWIS, RENE V.; LOFQUIST, LLOYD H.; WEISS, DAVID J. “A THEORY OF WORK ADJUSTMENT: A REVISION”.Minnesota Studies in Vocational Rehabilitation, Vol 23, 1968, 15
  • Dawis, René V. Brown, Steven D. (Ed); Lent, Robert W. (Ed). “The Minnesota Theory of Work Adjustment.” Career development and counseling: Putting theory and research to work. , (pp. 3-23). Hoboken, NJ, US: John Wiley & Sons Inc.
  • Bretz, Robert D.; Judge, Timothy A. “Person-organization fit and the Theory of Work Adjustment: Implications for satisfaction, tenure, and career success.”Journal of Vocational Behavior, Vol 44(1), Feb 1994, 32-54.
  • Rounds, James, Dawis, Rene, and Lofquist, Lloyd H. “Measurement of person-environment fit and prediction of satisfication in the theory of Work addjustment.” Journal of Vocation Behaviour. Vol 31 Issue 3, December 1987 Pages

Additional Resources for Social Cognitive Theory

Additional Resources for Holland’s Career Typology

Additional Resources for Frank Parson’s Trait and Factor Theory

Additional Resources for Constructivist Theory – Savickas, Peavy

Additional Resources for John Krumboltz’s Happenstance Theory

Additional Resources for the Chaos Theory of Careers – Bright & Pryor

  • “Thoughts On Chaos Theory from Australia’s Jim Bright” on ContactPoint
  • Massaglia, Victor and Pappenfuss, Janine. “The Incidental Career at The Centre for Education and Work, University of Wisconsin Madison.
  • “Applied Chaos: Using the Chaos Theory of Careers in Counselling” in Career in Theory website.
  • Jim Bright’s blog and website:
  • Do you prefer Chaos or Order? Take the test!
  • Coaching Fractal Action for Career Development
  • A twitter brief explanation of the chaos theory of careers
  • Is the Chaos Theory of Careers Doing Practitioners out of a job?
  • May newsletter from Bright and Associates below. The newsletter includes a link to free webinars (potential PD). May 2014.
  • Jim Bright talking Chaos at Cannexus
  • Where will you be?
  • Goals are not enough for success in a Chaotic World
  • Interview with Jim Bright about Chaos Theory of Careers, Vanderbilt University
  • Pryor, RGL & Bright, JEH. (2011). Chaos theory of Careers. Routledge. New York.
  • Pryor, R.G.L & Bright, J.E.H. (2014). The Chaos Theory of Careers (CTC): Ten years on and only just begun. Australian Journal of Career DevelopmentBright, J.E.H, Pryor, R.G.L, Chan, E.W.M. & Rijanto, J. (2009). Chance events in career development: Influence, control and multiplicity Journal of Vocational Behavior, 75(1), 14-25. DOI: 10.1016/j.jvb.2009.02.007
  • Pryor, R. & Bright, J. (2009). Game as a career metaphor: a chaos theory career counselling application. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 37(1), 39-50. DOI: 10.1080/03069880802534070
  • Bright,J.E.H. Pryor, R.G.L., Chan, E. Rijanto.J.   (2009). The dimensions of chance career episodes. Journal of Vocational Behavior. 75(1), 14-25.
  • Bright, J.E.H. & Pryor, R.G.L. (2008). Shiftwork: A Chaos Theory Of Careers Agenda For Change In Career Counselling. Australian Journal of Career Development, 17(3), 63-72.
  • Pryor, R.G.L. & Bright, J.E.H. (2008). Archetypal narratives in career counselling. International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance, 8(2), 71-82.
  • Pryor R.G.L., Amundson, N., & Bright, J. (2008). Possibilities and probabilities: the role of chaos theory. Career Development Quarterly, 56 (4), 309-318.
  • Pryor, R.G.L. & Bright J.E.H. (2007). Applying chaos theory to careers: Attraction and attractors. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 71(3), 375-400.
  • Bright, J.E.H. & Pryor, R.G.L.. (2007). Chaotic Careers Assessment: how constructivist and psychometric techniques can be integrated into work and life decision making. Career Planning and Adult Development Journal, 23 (2), 30-45.
  • Pryor, R.G.L. & Bright, J.E.H. (2006). Counseling Chaos: Techniques for Practitioners. Journal of Employment Counseling, 43(1), 2-17.
  • McKay, H., Bright J.E.H. & Pryor R.G.L. (2005) Finding order and direction from Chaos: a comparison of complexity career counseling and trait matching counselling. Journal of Employment Counseling, 42 (3), 98-112.
  • Davey, R., Bright, J.E.H., Pryor, R.G.L. & Levin, K. (2005). Of never quite knowing what I might be: chaotic counselling with university students. Australian Journal of Career Development, 14(2), 53-62.
  • Pryor, R.G.L. and Bright J.E.H. (2005). Chaos In Practice: Techniques for Career Counsellors. Australian Journal of Career Development, 14(1), 18-28.
  • Bright J.E.H. & Pryor R.G.L. (2005). The chaos theory of careers: a users guide. Career Development Quarterly, 53(4), 291-305.
  • Pryor, R. G. L. & Bright, J. E. H. (2003). The chaos theory of careers. Australian Journal of Career Development, 12(2), 12-20.
  • Bright J (2014). “Limitations and Creativity: a chaos theory of careers perspective”. In Kobus Maree and Michel Lokhorst (Eds.). Exploring New Horizons in Career Counselling: Converting Challenges into Opportunities. Sense Publishing.
  • Bright, J & Pryor, R. (2013). “Goal setting: A chaos theory of careers approach”. In Susan David, David Clutterbuck and David Megginson (Eds). Beyond Goals. Farnham: Gower
  • Pryor, R & Bright, J. (2012). “Fostering Creative Transformations in Organizations with Chaos”. In Bannerjee, S. (Ed). Chaos and Complexity Theory for Management: Nonlinear Dynamics. IGI Global. DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2509-9, ISBN13: 9781466625099, ISBN10: 1466625090, EISBN13: 9781466625105
  • Bright, J. (2011). “Applying chaos theory in Counseling”. In the Career Counseling Casebook. Spencer Niles, Jane Goodman and Mark Pope (Eds.) National Career Development Association.



3. Gibbons, M.M. (2004). Prospective first-generation college students: Meeting their needs through social cognitive career theory. Professional School Counseling, 8, 1, 91-97.
4. Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: a social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NC: Prentice-Hall
5. Lent, R.W., Brown, S.D., & Hackett, G. (1994). Toward a unifying social cognitive Theory of career and academic interest, choice, and performance. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 45, 79-122
6. Lent, R.W., Brown, S.D., & Hackett, G. (1994). Toward a unifying social cognitive Theory of career and academic interest, choice, and performance. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 45, 79-122

Jump to anchor

Skip to toolbar