Chapter 1: Career and Life Planning

Career and Life Planning – The Why + The How

Let’s start by setting the stage for why career development and planning is important.  Hopefully, this will give some context to the work you are about to dive into.

The Why

Career Development + Well-being

Well-being – what does that mean to you?  Having a sense of contentment? Being happy? Experiencing more positive emotions than negative emotions? Feeling good? Healthy mind and body? Having less stress? Something else?

At this point, you may be wondering why we are talking about general well-being in a career and life planning class.  If you think about it, an average adult working a full time job spends more time at work and with their co-workers than with their family (Monday through Friday). How satisfied we are at work impacts our overall quality of life.  If we enjoy our work, we may be tired at the end of the day but we may also be less drained, burned out, and grumpy when we come home to our family.

Many benefits have been associated with well-being including “… health-, job-, family-, and economically-related benefits. For example, higher levels of well-being are associated with decreased risk of disease, illness, and injury; better immune functioning; speedier recovery; and increased longevity. Individuals with high levels of well-being are more productive at work and are more likely to contribute to their communities.” (CDC, n.d.)

Eight dimensions of well-being have been identified and guess what one of the dimensions is? Occupations! Yes! What is occupational wellness?

“Occupational wellness is a sense of satisfaction with your choice of work. Occupational wellness involves balancing work and leisure time, building relationships with coworkers, and managing workplace stress. An occupational wellness goal might include finding work that is meaningful and financially rewarding. Finding work that fits with your values, interests, and skills can help maintain occupational wellness. Consider your office culture and determine how supported you feel; if you discover you feel a lack of support, seek out support from others close to you and be sure to engage in recreational activities that can help balance out work stress.” (Roddick, 2016)

It is posited that there is even a connection between career health and spirituality:

“A hallmark of career development theory is the notion that finding a vocation that fits your passion, talents, and needs contributes to your overall wellbeing. This concept is certainly true in regard to mental and emotional health, and more recently this idea has been examined in relation to spiritual health. Finding meaning and connection in the work that you do, and a shared mission with the people whom you work with, improves job satisfaction, productivity, and work-place culture.” (Ohrt, Clarke, Conley, 2019, p.102)

Read below for more on this topic:

Your Career Well-Being and Your Identity

By Tom Rath and Jim Harter (Adapted from Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements)

Do you like what you do each day?

This might be the most basic, yet important, well-being question we can ask ourselves. Yet only 20% of people can give a strong “yes” in response.

At a fundamental level, we all need something to do, and ideally something to look forward to, when we wake up every day. What you spend your time doing each day shapes your identity, whether you are a student, parent, volunteer, retiree, or have a more conventional job.

We spend the majority of our waking hours during the week doing something we consider a career, occupation, vocation, or job. When people first meet, they ask each other, “What do you do?” If your answer to that question is something you find fulfilling and meaningful, you are likely thriving in Career Well-Being.

People usually underestimate the influence of their career on their overall well-being. But Career Well-Being is arguably the most essential of the five elements of well-being. If you don’t have the opportunity to regularly do something you enjoy — even if it’s more of a passion or interest than something you get paid to do — the odds of your having high well-being in other areas diminish rapidly. People with high Career Well-Being are more than twice as likely to be thriving in their lives overall.

Imagine that you have great social relationships, financial security, and good physical health — but you don’t like what you do every day. Chances are, much of your social time is spent worrying or complaining about your lousy job. And this causes stress, taking a toll on your physical health. If your Career Well-Being is low, it’s easy to see how it can cause deterioration in other areas over time.

Losing your identity

To appreciate how much our careers shape our identity and well-being, consider what happens when someone loses a job and remains unemployed for a full year. A landmark study published in The Economic Journal revealed that unemployment might be the only major life event from which people do not fully recover within five years. This study followed 130,000 people for several decades, allowing researchers to look at the way major life events such as marriage, divorce, birth of a child, or death of a spouse affect our life satisfaction over time.

One of the more encouraging findings was that, even in the face of some of life’s most tragic events like the death of a spouse, after a few years, people do recover to the same level of well-being they had before their spouse passed away. But this was not the case for those who were unemployed for a prolonged period of time — particularly not for men. Our well-being actually recovers more rapidly from the death of a spouse than it does from a sustained period of unemployment.

This doesn’t mean that getting fired will harm your well-being forever. The same study also found that being laid off from a job in the last year did not result in any significant long-term changes. The key is to avoid sustained periods of unemployment (more than a year) when you are actively looking for a job but unable to find one. In addition to the obvious loss of income from prolonged unemployment, the lack of regular social contact and the daily boredom might be even more detrimental to your well-being.

You don’t need to earn a paycheck to have thriving Career Well-Being. But you do need to find something that you enjoy doing — and have an opportunity to do it every day. Whether that means working in an office, volunteering, raising your children, or starting your own business, what matters most is being engaged in the career or occupation you choose.

Waiting for the bell to ring

Think back to when you were in school sitting through a class in which you had very little interest. Perhaps your eyes were fixed on the clock or you were staring blankly into space. You probably remember the anticipation of waiting for the bell to ring so you could get up from your desk and move on to whatever was next. More than two-thirds of workers around the world experience a similar feeling by the end of a typical workday.

To explore why so many people are disengaged at work, we recruited 168 employees and studied their engagement, heart rate, stress levels, and various emotions throughout the day. Before the study began, we collected data about each employee’s level of engagement. We examined the differences between employees who were generally engaged in their jobs and those who were not. As part of the experiment, the participants carried a handheld device that alerted them at various points in the day when we would ask them what they were doing, who they were with, and several other questions about their mood.

We also asked each participant to wear a small heart rate monitor. At the end of each day, these monitors, which were smaller than a quarter and attached to the chest like a sticker, were connected to a computer to download data. This allowed us to study the relationship between fluctuations in heart rate and various events throughout the day.

Saliva samples were also collected to gauge stress levels throughout the day (via the stress hormone, cortisol). Whenever the handheld device beeped and requested an entry in the electronic journal, participants were asked to spit into a small tube. The cortisol levels in the saliva provided us with a direct physiological measure of stress levels at various points each day.

After reviewing all of these data, it was clear that when people who are engaged in their jobs show up for work, they have an entirely different experience than those who are disengaged. For those who were engaged, happiness and interest throughout the day were significantly higher. Conversely, stress levels were substantially higher for those who were disengaged. Perhaps most strikingly, disengaged workers’ stress levels decreased and their happiness increased toward the end of the workday. People with low engagement and low Career Well-Being are simply waiting for the workday to end.

The Five Essential Elements of Well-Being

For more than 50 years, Gallup scientists have been exploring the demands of a life well-lived. More recently, in partnership with leading economists, psychologists, and other acclaimed scientists, Gallup has uncovered the common elements of well-being that transcend countries and cultures. This research revealed the universal elements of well-being that differentiate a thriving life from one spent suffering. They represent five broad categories that are essential to most people:

  • Career Well-Being: how you occupy your time — or simply liking what you do every day
  • Social Well-Being: having strong relationships and love in your life
  • Financial Well-Being: effectively managing your economic life
  • Physical Well-Being: having good health and enough energy to get things done on a daily basis
  • Community Well-Being: the sense of engagement you have with the area where you live


Harter, J., Rath, T. (2010, July 22) Your career well-being  and your identity. Gallup.

Career Development + Life/Work Satisfaction

Can you believe that only about 30% of workers are satisfied with their work?! And a whopping 70% of workers have been found to be either not engaged in their work or are actively disengaged.  Given the importance that our careers have on our overall well-being, these numbers are not good.

Read More Than Job Satisfaction below to learn about finding meaning and creating value in our work.

More Than Job Satisfaction

Psychologists are discovering what makes work meaningful — and how to create value in any job.

By Kirsten Weir

What do you do? That’s often one of the first questions people ask when they meet someone new — not surprising given that most adults spend most of their waking hours at work and that our jobs can influence our lives even outside the workplace. Our work can be a big part of our identity and offer insights into what is important to us, making it a rich area of psychological study.

Several recent studies have concentrated on a particular aspect of work: finding meaning in it. Through their research, experts have gleaned new insights, showing that meaningful work is good for the worker and for the company — and that even employees in tiresome jobs can find ways to make their duties more meaningful.

“Work can make people miserable. Losing work can make people pretty unhappy, too,” says Michael F. Steger, PhD, an associate professor of counseling psychology and applied social psychology at Colorado State University. “So are there ways to use work to improve lives?”

Building cathedrals

In a 2010 review, Brent D. Rosso, PhD, and colleagues noted that finding meaning in one’s work has been shown to increase motivation, engagement, empowerment, career development, job satisfaction, individual performance and personal fulfillment, and to decrease absenteeism and stress (Research in Organizational Behavior, 2010).

Unfortunately, meaningful work may not be the norm. According to State of the American Workplace, a new report by Gallup Inc., only 30 percent of the U.S. workforce is engaged in their work — in other words, they’re passionate about their work and feel strongly committed to their companies. The remaining 70 percent of American workers are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work (Gallup, 2013). Gallup defines unengaged workers as those who are “checked out,” putting in time but without much energy or passion. Actively disengaged workers, meanwhile, act out on their unhappiness, taking up more of their managers’ time and undermining what their co-workers accomplish.

That disengagement takes a toll. Actively disengaged workers, the report states, are more likely to steal from their organizations, negatively influence co-workers, miss workdays and drive customers away. According to Gallup, active disengagement costs U.S. companies $450 billion to $550 billion per year.

Of course, there are different ways to find meaning in one’s work, says Michael G. Pratt, PhD, a professor of management and organization at Boston College. To illustrate this, he points to the old tale of three bricklayers hard at work. When asked what they’re doing, the first bricklayer responds, “I’m putting one brick on top of another.” The second replies, “I’m making six pence an hour.” And the third says, “I’m building a cathedral — a house of God.”

“All of them have created meaning out of what they’ve done, but the last person could say what he’s done is meaningful,” Pratt says. “Meaningfulness is about the why, not just about what.”

Something that’s meaningful for one person may be inconsequential for another, however. What makes work worthwhile to you probably depends on your culture, your socioeconomic status and how you were taught to see the world, according to Pratt. An academic might find value in scholarship, for instance. “But a firefighter might look at an academic and ask, ‘Are you helping people on a daily basis? If not, it’s not worthwhile work at all.'”

People assign significance to their work in a variety of ways, as Pratt and doctoral students Douglas Lepisto and Camille Pradies describe in a chapter in the 2013 book “Purpose and Meaning in the Workplace.” Some may derive meaning not from the job itself, but from the fact that it allows them to provide for their families and pursue non-work activities that they enjoy. Others may find meaning in being able to advance themselves and be the best they can be. People with a craftsmanship orientation take pride in performing the job well. Those with a service orientation find purpose in the ideology or belief system behind their work. Still others extract meaning from the sense of kinship they experience with co-workers.

Craftsmanship, service and kinship orientations are especially likely to be meaningful, as they all point to something beyond the individual, says Pratt.

Steger, too, has zeroed in on the idea that meaningful work is bigger than one’s self. He and his colleagues recently created a tool for measuring meaningful work (Journal of Career Assessment, 2012). This “Work and Meaning Inventory” assesses three components, he says: The feeling that the work has some purpose, evidence that the meaning derived from work feeds into the meaning one feels in life as a whole, and the idea that the work somehow benefits a greater good

As one might imagine, meaningful work and job satisfaction are linked, says Steger. In his 2012 paper, he found that having meaningful work predicts job satisfaction. But meaningful work was actually better than job satisfaction at predicting absenteeism – people who found their work more meaningful were less likely to miss work than people who merely reported being satisfied with their jobs. Meaningful work was also correlated with life satisfaction and less depression.

A higher calling

Researchers have found that workers who feel a higher calling to their jobs are among the most content. Take zookeepers, for example. Though more than eight in 10 zookeepers have college degrees, their average annual income is less than $25,000. The typical job description involves scrubbing enclosures, scooping waste and spending time in the elements. There’s little room for advancement and zookeepers tend not to be held in high regard, says Stuart Bunderson, PhD, a professor of organizational behavior at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis (Administrative Science Quarterly, 2009).

Nonetheless, zookeepers are a passionate bunch. Many volunteer for months or even years until a paid position opens up, Bunderson says. He and Jeffery Thompson, PhD, at Brigham Young University, began studying zookeepers while investigating ideological motivations for work. Initially, they suspected the zoo’s conservation mission probably motivated the keepers. While that was partly true, they found, it turned out their inspiration went deeper.

“There was this idea that they were born to do this work,” Bunderson says. “Working as a zookeeper felt like a personal destiny to many of them. They even shared stories about how events led them to the zoo, as if by fate.”

What Bunderson and Thompson zeroed in on among the zookeepers was a sense of calling. “You can say work is meaningful because you enjoy it or it serves some purpose,” Bunderson says, “but a calling makes that work personal.”

People who feel called to their careers are likely to find their work deeply meaningful, he says. Their personal connection with the job makes even the most trivial tasks feel significant. Often the experience of a calling comes with social benefits as well. People who felt called to be zookeepers tended to feel that their co-workers experienced the same motivation and sense of duty. “It’s not just that you do the same work, but you’re the same kind of people,” Bunderson explains. “It gives you a connection to a community.”

Having a sense of calling can affect not only what you do but where you do it. Pratt and colleagues found that among physicians, those who said medicine was their calling felt more attached to the hospital or health-care facility in which they worked (Journal of Vocational Behavior, 2011). He suspects that’s because, for physicians, hospitals are instrumental in helping them reach their goals. “It’s hard to be a freelance physician,” he says.

Yet having a calling is “a double-edged sword,” Bunderson says. If you feel you were born to do something, it’s awfully hard to walk away from it. “You put up with sacrifices and difficulties. You’re more vulnerable to exploitation, since managers who know you’re deeply committed know they can treat you in ways that are less than respectful,” he says. “Deep meaning doesn’t come cheap.”

Calling may be more prevalent in some fields than in others. In not-yet published work, Bunderson studied business school graduates dating back 30 years. He found those in nonprofit and health-care settings were more likely to experience a sense of calling than management professionals in other sectors. In similar unpublished work, he found that public administrators and government employees are more likely to feel called to their work than are their counterparts in the private sector.

Does that mean certain jobs are inherently more meaningful than others? Not necessarily, Steger says, though work that benefits others does seem most likely to be considered meaningful. People also seem to find more value in their work when they’re using — and being appreciated for — their unique talents, he says. “Being able to use your strengths to really shine and make an impact seems to be a huge part” of meaningful work, he says.

Interestingly, one element that may not be terribly important to meaningfulness is salary. The 2013 Gallup report found that employees with college degrees are less likely than those with less education to report being engaged in their work — even though a college degree leads to higher lifetime earnings, on average.

That makes sense to Pratt. “My grandfather was a glazier, and he found his work quite meaningful. When I asked my grandfather, ‘What did you do today?’ he could tell me exactly what he built,” he says. In his own university job, Pratt says he might spend a workday writing a few pages and sitting in meetings. At the end of the day, there’s nothing concrete to show for his efforts.

“If we’re not doing anything tangible, if we don’t know what the standards are for good work versus bad work, then it’s difficult for people to try to figure out why their work is meaningful,” he says.

Make your own meaning

Fortunately, you don’t have to become a glazier or a zookeeper to find meaning at work, says Jane E. Dutton, PhD, a professor of business administration and psychology at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Rather, you can redefine your job in personally meaningful ways, through a process she and her colleagues describe as “job crafting” (Purpose and Meaning in the Workplace, 2013).

“Meaning doesn’t take money,” she says. “At any rank, people can make different meanings of their work, and also of themselves at work.”

Employees can shape their work experiences in three broad ways, Dutton says. The first is by altering the tasks they perform. Every job has elements that make it feel like, well, work. But most employees do have some leeway to tweak their duties. “You can be an architect of the tasks,” Dutton says.

Employees might choose to spend more energy on existing tasks they find particularly gratifying, for example. A professor might find she’s most fulfilled when interacting with students. She may decide to limit the time she contributes to university committees so that she has more time to work with students. In some cases, adding fulfilling tasks can benefit you even if it increases your overall workload.

Second, Dutton says, employees can change relationships in the workplace. “We never make meaning in a vacuum. Work is very social,” she says. Spending time with toxic co-workers can drain meaning from the most gratifying jobs. But just a few moments spent collaborating with a valued colleague can be reinvigorating. “Even if you talk to someone for five minutes, if it’s someone you have a high-quality connection with, it’s like taking a vitamin,” she says.

Finally, a person can use cognitive restructuring to reframe the way he or she thinks about work. Steger mentions an accountant who worked at a community college. She found her work very meaningful not because she kept the accounts balanced, but because she felt her work allowed others to advance themselves through education. “For all these things in our jobs that we just don’t like, we can take a step back and link it to the things that really matter,” he says.

The zookeepers also illustrate the power of framing your job to see the big picture. They are able to find meaning in cleaning cages because they believe such tasks are vital to the bigger mission — not only caring for individual animals, but in fact helping to preserve entire species. “The more you look for the benefits of what you’re doing, the more it feeds you psychologically,” Dutton says.

Job crafting can pay off for employees and employers. As Steger has shown, finding one’s work meaningful is associated with life satisfaction and overall well-being. Organizations, too, benefit from workers who are invested in their jobs. The Gallup report found that engaged workers are most likely to build new products and services, attract new customers and drive innovation.

However, Dutton notes, there is a potential drawback to emphasizing how employees can create their own meaning at work. “People could argue that this contributes to how organizations can extract labor from people,” she says. In other words: “I’ll give you a crappy job and it’s up to you to make something good out of it,” she adds.

Despite that risk, however, Dutton and her colleagues see plenty of value in helping people find ways to make the most of what they have. After all, workers may not have the power to change their organizations, but they can change the way they frame their own duties.

Dutton is particularly interested in helping people in low-status jobs. Surprisingly, she’s found that such workers may actually be in a better position to craft their jobs than are people at higher ranks (Journal of Organizational Behavior, 2010).

She found people with less power and autonomy in their organizations actually saw more opportunities to influence and build trust with other people. For instance, one customer-service representative who Dutton interviewed asserted herself with her supervisor and asked to join a website committee — a role that added tasks to her formal job description but allowed her to do something she was passionate about. By contrast, high-status employees were reluctant to impose on others, and were therefore less likely to involve other people in crafting their jobs.

Having witnessed too many workers constrained by Michigan’s depressed economy, Dutton says she’s seen firsthand how small changes can make a big difference for individuals, especially those at lower ranks.

“These are people who were happy to have a job, but the work stunk. I could see the power of helping them have hope,” she says. “It shouldn’t change the push for organizations to be fairer and better. But at the same time, I want more self-empowerment for workers to craft their work in ways that will make it less depleting and more enriching.”


Weir, K. (2013, December) More than job satisfaction. American Psychological Association.


Career Development + Motivation

Did you know that motivation directs energy? If you are hungry, you are driven to satisfy your hunger, this motivation directs you to get up and cook a delicious meal (or order Chipotle to be delivered). Over the years, I have seen many students leave school because they don’t have a career or major direction that they are interested in.  Because of this, they don’t have the motivation to continue on.  Maybe this sounds familiar to you?  If we are motivated, we get stuff done because, again, motivation directs energy.

This third area of why it is important to develop a career direction is the one that keeps us moving forward, literally.  Motivation helps us create and reach our goals.

Below is an excerpt from an article that discusses why motivation is important and also touches on the importance of self-management in this process.

Motivation and Career Development

Generally, motivation can be defined as a force or energy that exists within a person and influences effort, directs behaviors, and ultimately affects performance and other individual outcomes. Researchers believe the importance of personal motivation in career development has grown in recent years for a variety of reasons. For example, work roles have become more flexible, less well-defined, and subject to increasing change both within organizations and across the span of a career, which often involves multiple organizations. Career transitions appear to be more frequent and involve larger qualitative differences than in years past. These more significant qualitative differences reflect a transition from one career to another, for example, a person moving from an occupation as an engineer to one as a teacher.

Self-management of one’s own career development is seen as increasingly important in this more uncertain environment. Individuals are being urged to take responsibility for their own careers not only by the popular press and career counselors but also by the organizations in which they presently reside. Researchers have argued that people want to feel in control of the direction of their own careers, with a sense that they can significantly impact their own destinies. However, this desire varies across individuals, and some find the prospect of having control of their own destinies frightening in what seems to be an increasingly uncertain world. The direction and intensity of personal motivation to influence one’s career development varies across individuals. Personal motivation and career self-direction affect not only career success but also other factors, such as mental health and life satisfaction. (Career Research, n.d.)


Career Research. (n.d.) Motivation and Career Development.

The How

Ok, hopefully you now have a firm understanding of why career development is important.  Now let’s get into the ‘how.’  Here is a brief overview of the common Career Development Theories that I think are most helpful.  These get to the how… How do we go about this work?

Donald Super’s Self-Concept Theory

A long time leader in the field of career development theory is Donald Super:

“Donald Super created a developmental model which emphasized how personal experiences interact with occupational preferences in creating one’s self-concept. Many theorists before him simply looked at personality and occupation and focused on a trait matching approach.

One of Super’s greatest contributions to career development was his emphasis on the importance of developing a self-concept, as well as his recognition that this self-concept can change with new experiences over time. Before this, career development was mostly seen as a singular choice; however, Super viewed career development as a lifelong activity.” (NIH, 2016)

Stages of Career Development

Super’s Self-Concept theory posits that there are five main stages of career development. Each stage correlates with attitudes, behaviors, and relationships we all tend to have at that point and age. As we progress through each stage and reach the milestones identified, we prepare to move on to the next one.


1 GROWING This is a time in early years (4–13 years old) when you begin to have a sense about the future. You begin to realize that your participation in the world is related to being able to do certain tasks and accomplish certain goals.
2 EXPLORING This period begins when you are a teenager, and it extends into your mid-twenties. In this stage you find that you have specific interests and aptitudes. You are aware of your inclinations to perform and learn about some subjects more than others. You may try out jobs in your community or at your school. You may begin to explore a specific career. At this stage, you have some detailed “data points” about careers, which will guide you in certain directions.
3 ESTABLISHING This period covers your mid-twenties through mid-forties. By now you are selecting or entering a field you consider suitable, and you are exploring job opportunities that will be stable. You are also looking for upward growth, so you may be thinking about an advanced degree.
4 MAINTAINING This stage is typical for people in their mid-forties to mid-sixties. You may be in an upward pattern of learning new skills and staying engaged. But you might also be merely “coasting and cruising” or even feeling stagnant. You may be taking stock of what you’ve accomplished and where you still want to go.
5 REINVENTING In your mid-sixties, you are likely transitioning into retirement. But retirement in our technologically advanced world can be just the beginning of a new career or pursuit—a time when you can reinvent yourself. There are many new interests to pursue, including teaching others what you’ve learned, volunteering, starting online businesses, consulting, etc.

Keep in mind that your career development path is personal to you, and you may not fit neatly into the categories described above. Perhaps your socioeconomic background changes how you fit into the schema. Perhaps your physical and mental abilities affect how you define the idea of a “career.” And for everyone, too, there are factors of chance that can’t be predicted or anticipated.

Super’s theory also highlights that each person can be qualified for many different occupations, there isn’t just that ONE perfect career for each person

You are unique, and your career path can only be developed by you.


Career/Life planning and personal exploration.

Even though Donald Super began formulating his theory of self-concept and career development all the way back in the 1950’s, his theory is still relevant to us today.  His theory is based on life stages and this is the one area where I prefer to take a different approach.  I find it helpful to apply his stages to one’s career, not to one’s life.

For instance, you may start your career as a 3rd grade teacher.  You might really love your career for several years during which time you become established and maintain your work.  However, you may start to feel a bit of disengagement after a while. This is not a bad thing (if you do something about it).  So, let’s say you start to feel disengaged, what do you do? Work with 3rd graders for another 15 or 20 years or begin to start the exploration process over again?  Perhaps you find yourself being intrigued with how the school is managed.  You decide to do some information interviews with your principal and other elementary school principals in the area.  You start looking at the qualifications needed to become a principal and maybe enroll in some classes to fill any skill gaps you might have. You make a decision to start your new career!

Because changing careers is so common today, where it wasn’t in the 1950’s, it is appropriate view Super’s stages in more of a cyclical rather than a linear way.

John Krumboltz’s Planned Happenstance Theory

Krumboltz’s Theory

John Krumboltz’s planned happenstance theory makes it OK to not always plan, because unplanned events could lead to good careers.

An optimistic outlook can help turn serendipity into opportunity

John Krumboltz is an established career theorist. He most recently developed ideas about supporting indecision in clients. He states that indecision is desirable and sensible, as it allows the opportunity for clients to benefit from unplanned events. This theory is called planned happenstance.

This emerging theory specifically addresses the need for people to deal with change within the rapidly changing labour market. Managing life transitions is seen as an essential career management skill. Krumboltz’s theory offers insight on how to deal with the limited degree of control we have over some career experiences.

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.

Furthermore, several factors have been highlighted as being helpful in career management, including:

  • 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.

These attributes and tasks enable you to turn chance encounters and occurrences into career opportunities.


Krumblotz’s Theory. (2016, December 14)


John Holland’s Theory

John Holland takes a different approach to career development. His theory is based matching personality traits to careers.  Here is an overview of his theory:

Holland’s Theory

Careers are determined by an interaction between our personality and the environment in John Holland’s Theory of Career Choice. We want jobs with people like us.

John Holland’s Theory of Career Choice (RIASEC) maintains that in choosing a career, people prefer jobs where they can be around others who are like them. They 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. Behavior 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, and Realistic.

Holland asserts that people of the same personality type working together in a job create an environment that fits and rewards their type.

Within this theory there are six basic types of work environment, which correlate directly to the personality types. Holland emphasizes that people who choose to work in an environment similar to their personality type are more likely to be successful and satisfied. This idea is important as it shows Holland’s theory can be flexible, incorporating combination types.

Holland’s theory takes a problem-solving and cognitive approach to career planning. His model has been very influential in career counseling. It has been employed through popular assessment tools such as the Self-Directed Search, Vocational Preference Inventory and the Strong Interest Inventory.


Tertiary Education Commission. (n.d.) Holland’s theory.’s%20Theory%20of%20Career%20Choice%20(RIASEC)%20maintains%20that%20in,on%20enjoyable%20problems%20and%20roles.

You will have the opportunity to take the Strong Interest Inventory, which is based on Holland’s theory, in just a few weeks.  Many students find the Strong Interest Inventory helpful for confirming or verifying career directions that they’ve considered or learning about new career paths to explore.

Final Thoughts

There are many reasons to embark on this journey of career exploration and development and there are many ways to do this work, as you can see from your reading.  The approach of this class is to start with self-reflection, learning more about YOU – your skills, talents, interests, personality, values.  It will be from that foundation that we will begin to identify careers that may be a good fit for you.  The key to finding a satisfying career is really understanding what you want in life and in a career.  It is for that reason that we don’t look at the ‘hottest careers today’ lists or the ‘best careers for college grads’ or even the ‘highest paying jobs right now’ lists.  Pursuing a career based on its external attributes does not often align with one’s own preferences.  And finding a career that suits our preferences is what leads to greater job satisfaction and general well-being.



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Career & Life Planning by Dawn Forrester and Eden Isenstein is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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