Dimensions of career theory

In a comment on the post What makes a theory useful? I put forward the idea that one way of looking at the role of a guidance practitioner is that we are helping clients to formulate and improve their own career/life theories so that they can more effectively navigate their way into the future.

Examining and critiquing formal career theories is therefore good practice for this activity. The more adept you are at spotting the strengths and weaknesses of an academic career theory, the more you will be able to spot the biases, gaps and inconsistencies in an individual’s own career theory.

With that in mind, I thought it would be useful to look at some of the various dimensions by which career theories and models can be measured and analysed.

Agency

  • How much of a person’s career direction and achievement is under their control?
  • How much emphasis is placed on the individual’s ability to change things and improve their position?

Happenstance

  • How much of a person’s career direction and achievement is down to factors beyond their control?
  • How much emphasis is placed on people conforming to the way things are?

Universality

  • How much emphasis is placed on the commonalities of people’s experiences?
  • How much does it focus on wider trends and widely applicable generalisations?

Contextuality

  • How much emphasis is placed on the uniqueness of an individual’s experience?
  • How much does it relate to specific settings, contexts or time periods?

Dynamic

  • How much does it assume that things or people change over time?
  • Does it see career choice and identity development as a constantly evolving process?

Static

  • How much does it assume that things or people will stay the same?
  • Does it see career choice and identity development as an event fixed at a particular moment in time?

Objective

  • How much does it depend on standardised definitions of career paths?
  • How much emphasis does it place on concrete, external, observable measures and definitions of success?

Subjective

  • How much does it depend on an individual’s personal interpretation of their career?
  • How much emphasis does it give to personal, emotional, psychological measures and definitions of success?

Individualistic

  • To what extent is a career the sole property of the individual on their own?
  • How much is it to do with one person satisfying their own needs?

Social

  • To what extent is a career a  social construction made in relation to other people?
  • How much is it to do with satisfying the needs of the various groups an individual belongs to?
  • Which boxes feel most comfortable for you?
  • What does that say about your own personal career theories?
  • Where would you place some of the theories we have talked about so far?

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  1. #1 by David Winter on 1 December 2009 - 10:08

    Angus McKendrick, a careers adviser at Oxford University, did a small study in which he introduced students to various career theories before giving guidance. See his report here. And the handout he used.

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