Donald Super’s 5 stages of career development is a well-known career theory. Super’s theory is called the Self Concept theory of Career Development.

Super’s 5 stages of career development provide a useful framework for understanding one’s career journey. His work is an extension of Eli Ginzberg and he increased the stages of career development from 3 to 5.

These are the 5 stages of career development according to Super:

  • Growth
  • Exploration
  • Establishment
  • Maintenance/ Management
  • Decline/ Disengagement

Super defines a career as a sequence of positions occupied by an individual during the course of a lifetime. He created a Life Career Rainbow to explain various aspects of a career over a lifetime. This model is grounded in the notion that self-concept changes overtime and develops as a result of experience.

Let’s take a look at each of these 5 stages of your career development. I will provide recommendations on how succeed in each stage.


The growth stage occurs when the individual is between the ages of 0-14. The fundamental part of vocational development is via the school system. The school system helps to shape self-concept and attitude.

You can succeed during this stage by:

  • Participation in sporting and extra curricula activities at school
  • Determining what classes/courses you find enjoyable
  • Participation in activities within the wider community such as community initiatives and church groups.


The exploration stage starts at the age of 15 and ends at 24 years of age.  The key feature of the exploration stage is experimentation and trial of various occupations.

Learning how to relate to others is fundamental in this stage. Throughout the years, you try to get into a field that you desire and settle down into a permanent role.

You can succeed during this stage by:

  • The development of a wholesome self-concept continues through the school system
  • Selection of specific subjects for higher education in preparation for a career. This could be attending college full time or considering a distance learning option where you balance work and study.
  • Attend career seminars to understand more about what an individual does in his/her career.
  • Consult with college career counsellor for recommendations around career planning
  • Secure an internship and / job shadow
  • Explore various hobbies to gain further insights into likes/dislikes
  • Creation of a career vision
  • Breaking the career vision into both short term (90 day plan) and long term career plan (example a 5 year career plan)
  • Getting started in a selected occupational choice in an entry level position

Based on the theory, around the age of 24 the exploration stage declines and then the individual moves into the third phase.


This stage usually occurs from the ages of 25-44. This stage is where you make your final decision on your career path and build on your choice.  Accepting one’s limitations is key at this stage

You can succeed during this stage by:

  • Skills acquisition and growth
  • Refinement and execution of your career vision
  • Career growth occurs- promoted to new role in current job, move to another organisation to gain new experience
  • Networking with other colleagues and individuals in the industry
  • Expansion, refinement and execution of your career vision
  • Continuous creation and execution of your 90 day plan
  • Enlisting the support of a mentor
  • Completion of a course/ degree to enhance and grow current skillsets

Establishment/ Management

Super describes this stage as the phase of continuous adjustment process to improve position. The established stage usually occurs from the ages of 45-64.  One’s limitations are accepted at this stage.

In addition, you continue building and maintaining the experience, knowledge, reputation and skills that you have gained in a particular field.

You can succeed during this stage by:


This stage starts from the age of 65 and above where you begin to reduce output and prepare for retirement.

Depending on the nature of the industry, country laws and personal reasons one career in the corporate world can extend well beyond 65 years.

You can succeed during this stage by:

  • Mentoring others
  • Expansion and refinement of your career vision
  • Creation and execution of a 90 day plan. This plan may include more leisure activities than the previous stage.
  • Creation, refinement and expansion of a 5 year career plan. This plan may not be as intense previous stage as usually at this stage output declines.

Final Thoughts

Super’s Self Concept Theory of Career Development is a useful framework so that you can appreciate the activities at each stage of your career. Though useful, this model does have its critiques. 

At the end of the day, the stages and development of your career is a critical aspect of your life. Decisions must be taken with much prayer and reflection and must align with your purpose and life vision.

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The 5 Stages of Your Career Development & How to Succeed in Each Stage

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