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How Career Theories Help in Career Coaching

I'm a big believer in research when it comes to being efficient in my work as a business coach and a career coach and especially as a couples therapist. Below, you will find the career theories that I am basing my work on, when helping my coaching clients make a transition in their career to a job that would feel more fulfilling or potentially starting their own business.

These career development theories are also extremely helpful in understanding how people make career choices, including deciding on what is the right path for them, and helping with job search.

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Trait Oriented Theories

These theories include Trait-and-Factor Theory, Person-Environment-Correspondance (PEC) Counseling, and John Holland’s Typology. The main focus of these theories is on the use of standardized tests, including traits of aptitude, interests, and personality type. The goal behind that is to match the person with the career that fits them the best. For example, looking at the person’s traits such as aptitudes, interests, and personality, helps to match the person with potential work environments to evaluate potential career paths. Work environments are viewed from several perspectives, such as work requirements, personal-environment-fit, and potential reinforcers of the person’s needs.

Trait-and-Factor Theory

This theory is the foundation for many career counseling programs in the early part of the 20th century, and was developed by Parsons (1909). The process has three parts: studying the person, surveying different career paths, and matching the person with the occupation.

Person-Environment-Correspondance (PEC) Counseling

The main developers of the theory are Dawis’s and Lofquist (1991). They viewed work as more than a list of tasks, but also a combination of social interactions and a source of various emotional experiences. The main assumption is that a person’s main goal in their career is to develop and maintain a positive relationship with their work environment and achieve congruence with their job.

The four key points of the theory are: Work personality and work environment need to be amenable, career choice and the specific job choice need to be based on individual needs, job reinforcer system play a big role in stability and tenure, and the best way to match a person with a job is to find the best fir between work’s requirements and the person’s traits.

John Holland’s Typology

John Holland’s (1992) theory emphasizes the connection between a career and a personality. The stronger the fit, as well as the individual’s personal modal orientation, the greater the satisfaction. The coding for Holland’s types is RIASEC: R (realistic occupation); I (investigative); A (artistic); S (social); E (enterprising); and C (conventional). There are also six kinds of environments: realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, or conventional.

Social Learning and Cognitive Theories

In these theories, the biggest influences on career choice are social conditioning, social position, and life events. Career decisions are impacted by genetic endowments and special abilities, contextual experiences, learning experiences, and skills learned in managing tasks. The career choice process involves problem-solving and decision-making skills, as well as an interaction of mental and emotional processes.

Krumboltz’s Learning Theory of Career Counseling

The theory that originated by Krumboltz, Mitchell, and Gelatt (1975), simplifies the process of choosing a career by looking at elements such as genetic factors and unique abilities, environment, learning experience, and task approach skills. The person’s learning through observations and experiences impacts their decisions, and as such, it is important to look at the problematic beliefs that one might have that hinder their career development.

Happenstance Approach Theory

Mitchell’s, Levin’s, and Krumboltz’s (1999) approach emphasizes the impact of positive and negative events in a person’s life on that person’s career path. The individual is finding that path through experimentation, and the theory’s goal is to help to reach a point of joy and satisfaction from one’s career. The approach values skilled responses to life’s unpredictable events, that happen throughout the career as well, and the most important among these skills are curiosity, persistence, flexibility, optimism, and risk-taking.

Career Development from a Cognitive Information Processing Perspective

Peterson, Sampson, and Reardon (1991) based their theory on the cognitive information processing (CIP) theory and focused on the use of information in solving career problems and making decisions. The two main assumptions of the theory are that career choices result from interactions between thoughts and emotions and that the act of making a career choice is the act of problem-solving.

Career Development from a Social Cognitive Perspective

This theory is based on Bandura’s (1986) social cognitive theory, mainly on the assumption that life is the combination of cognitive, self-regulatory, and motivational processes. The main goal of this theory is to understand how and which learning experiences affect career behavior, which is also influenced by interests, abilities, and values. The three main attributes that affect an individual’s development are personal and physical attributes, external environment, and behavior. Career development is influenced by self-efficacy, outcome expectations, and personal goals.

Developmental Theories

These theories look holistically at the whole life span, and how career development plays in that, including going through developmental stages and adapting to various life roles. The theories use the idea of self-concept to examine the individual’s projection of themselves into various work environments to explore and to understand what fits them. The exploration adn further career development would be influenced by one’s social class, interests, and experiences with sex typing.

Life-Span, Life-Space Approach to Careers

Donald Super’s (1972) approach discussed about career development across the whole life span. He highlighted the importance of a vocational self concept as a motivating force in one’s career choices. The vocational self-concept develops through physical and mental growth, observations of work, identification with working adults, the general environment, and general experiences. Super identified five main developmental stages: Growth (birth to age 14 or 15), exploratory (ages 15–24), establishment (ages 25–44), maintenance (ages 45–64), and decline (ages 65+).

Circumscription, Compromise, and Self-Creation: A Developmental Theory of Occupational Aspirations

In this theory, Gottfredson (1981) focused on career aspirations, and how these manifest based on the compatibility of a career path with a person’s self-image. Gottfredson highlighted four developmental stages: Orientation to size and power (ages 3–5), orientation to sex roles (ages 6–8), orientation to social valuation (ages 9–13), and orientation to the internal, unique self (beginning at age 14). Career preferences evolve in parallel to physical and mental growth.

Person-In-Environment Perspective

These theories explore the way that one’s career development is influenced and constructed by the larger systems they are a part of, such as family, community, friends, etc. Constructivism

This theory is based on the idea that there is no such thing as a fixed truth. During a person’s life vents, they develop and shape their definition of themselves. People create their career paths based on the way they interpret their life. These interpretations are affected by the ecosystems they are a part of, and they also change throughout the lifespan.

Career Construction: A Developmental Theory of Vocational Behavior

Savickas (2002) builds his theory on the constructivist idea that individuals construct their own reality or truth. The individual’s adaptation to life will bring further development of inner structures, including self-concept. There are five developmental stages according to the theory, that are based on Super’s theory: growth, exploration, establishment, maintenance, and disengagement.

A Contextual Explanation of Career

The focus of this theory is on the interaction between the individual and the environment, which leads to the person’s development through the lifespan and the career. Therefore the actions that one takes, are of major importance. Career can be viewed as a very long project, a connection of actions, plans, goals, emotions, and thoughts.

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