2.1 Theories of Career Development

Rose Helens-Hart

As a college student at Fort Hays State University (FHSU), you have access to staff and self-serve resources to help you manage your career during and after college. At FHSU, the office of Career Services offers a variety of services and activities such as private sessions where you can explore career interests and options, career fairs, mock interview, resume and cover letter assistance, and job or internship job boards to online and on-campus students. The focus of career services is not the same at every school. Its direction will have been shaped by over a hundred years of career development theory and practices.

Bureaucracy and stability characterized twentieth-century careers. Employees could expect to keep their jobs and be promoted if they worked hard  (Savickas et al, 2009). During this time, career planning largely followed trait-and-factor models (Brott, 2001; Campbell & Ungar, 2004; Parson, 1909), where job seekers could assess their human capital through quantitative assessments and be matched to lifelong careers. These models depict careers moving in a linear fashion where success is defined by financial rewards and upward movement in an organization (Buzzanell & Goldzwig, 1991). These ideas are so entrenched in our society that they seem natural–it is difficult to imagine a world without them. However, nonlinear career models have gained popularity and may better capture the experiences of modern workers.

Twenty-first century careers are more unpredictable than those in the twentieth century.  The job you will have in five years may not currently exist. The definition of success has become more complex and one cannot expect job security or organizational loyalty in exchange for hard work (Lyon & Kirby, 2000). The economy and ways of organizing and doing business have changed, necessitating a change in planning for one’s career. Individuals should expect periodic unemployment or career changes over their lifetime (Jarvis & Keeley, 2003).  Self-managed careers, often termed boundaryless, require individuals to be proactive and adaptable (Arthur & Rousseau, 1996; Briscoe & Hall, 2006; Briscoe et al., 2006; Hall, 1996; Hall, 2004).

Developing career planning skills for this new labor market can increase your employability and career satisfaction (De Vos et al., 2011; Fugate et al., 2003; McGrath, 2002). To face a professional world of constant change, consider these non-linear career beliefs:

  • Career development occurs over a lifetime (Brott, 2001).
  • Your relationships with others influence your career trajectory–-career planning is a social activity (Helens-Hart, 2019; McMahon et al., 2003; Savickas et al., 2009).

Self-knowledge of interests, abilities, achievements, motivations, and relationships positively and negatively affect your ability to imagine a preferred future (Brott, 2001; Law et al., 2002; Savickas, 1994; Schultheiss, 2003).


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