Finding your ideal career and your career path is a critical life decision. On average we spend a considerable portion of our lives working.

It is therefore fundamental that we choose a career which fulfills our desires and brings happiness.

Deciding on a suitable career path is a struggle for many individuals. Several researchers have constructed theoretical frameworks which they believe can be the foundation to choosing your career path.

Below are 5 theoretical frameworks to understanding career choice. Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

Holland Theory of Career Choice

Developed by American Psychologists John L Holland, the Holland theory of career choice was first published in 1959. This theory states that generally people are a combination of six personality types which was described using the acronym RIASEC. RIASEC stands for:

    • Realistic
    • Investigative
    • Artistic
    • Social
    • Enterprising
    • Conventional

Each personality types conform to its unique traits, preferences, interests and beliefs. This theory believes that people who choose jobs similar to their personality types are more fulfilled, successful and satisfied.

There is also a free career test based on this theory which is called Holland Code Career Test which provides a three letter response identifying which of the three personality traits above that your responses match.

Let’s consider the individual personality types in greater details:-


Persons with this personality type enjoys working with animals, tools and machines. These work environments include engineer, pilot and firefighter.


Individuals who are artistic are expressive, original, independent and enjoy creative activities such as art, drama, crafts and dance. Examples of artistic work environments include actor, comedian, dancer and art teacher.


Enterprising individuals are those who enjoy leading, persuading and selling things and ideas.

They are usually energetic, ambitious and sociable, Examples of enterprising work environments include Sales Manager, lawyer, Hotel Manager and Bank President.     


Persons with this personality trait love to study and solve mathematics and science problems.

They embrace science and are by nature scientific and intellectual. Investigative work environments include Mathematician, Pharmacists, Dentist and Chemist.


Social individuals enjoy helping people and solving social problems. They are usually helpful, friendly and trustworthy. Suitable  work environments include: nursing, teaching, counseling, physical therapy and librarian


Persons who are conventional excel at numbers, records or machines in a structured fashion. They are usually procedural, work in a systematic way and follow a structured plan.

Examples of conventional work environments include: secretary, bank teller, post office clerk and accounting.

Self Concept Theory of Career Development

Initially created by Donald Super in 1969 with further enhancements in 1980 and 1990 respectively, the self-concept theory defines career choice and development as a process that changes over time and develops at different life stages.

These changes occur as a result of physical, environmental and situational factors. In 1990, Super further developed this theory by presenting a five stage framework to show the evolution of career development through the importance of self concept

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

Each stage has its unique vocational expectations based on societal factors and these changes as a person grows older.

During the growth stage, which an individual is between the ages of 0-14, the key vocational development is through the school system where self-concept and attitudes are developed.

At the exploration stage, where the individual is between the ages of 15-24, education through the school system continues where the individual experiments by trying out different things through mediums such as classes, work experiences and hobbies.

The third stage is the establishment stage where an individual is between the ages of 25-44. During this stage, the individual enters the world of work and stablishes a career path through work experiences.

The management or maintenance stage is where the individual is between the ages of 45 to 64 and is defined by continuous adjustments to improve vocational position.

Lastly, the decline stage from 65 years and over is characterized by reduced output and retirement planning.

Gottfredson Theory of Circumscription and Compromise

First published in 1981, Gottfredson theory of career development or Gottfredson theory of circumscription and compromise believes that career choice is as a result of mixture of one’s genetic makeup and environment.

Genetics affects the basic attributes of a person such as interests, skills and values which are regulated by one’s environment.

Gottfredson described career choice and development as a process of elimination of circumscription where an individual over time rejects certain career paths. The theory further explains four stages of circumscription being

    • Orientation to size and power
    • Orientation to sex roles
    • Orientation to social valuation
    • Orientation to the internal, unique self

The first stage of circumscription being ‘orientation to size and power’ occurs between the ages of three to five where a child views occupation as an adult responsibility.

The second stage called ‘orientation to sex roles’ is where sex role norms and attitudes emerge where a child eliminates roles that do not align with the appropriate gender.

The third stage, ‘orientation to social valuation’ occurs from ages nine to 13 where self concept develops and a child eliminates roles based on social status.

Lastly, the ‘orientation to the internal, unique self’ occurs from ages 14 and above where personality, skills and passions become evident. The individual chooses a career to match with one’s self concept.

Another career development process is compromise. Due to external shocks such as recessions individual may opt to take on roles that they may not ideally prefer.

Planned Happenstance

This theory is based on the role of chance or happenstance playing an active role in a person’s career. Unplanned events and meetings must be embraced and viewed as opportunities.

Planned continuous action in the right direction can lead to great outcomes. This theory proposes that persons must develop skills in five key areas. These areas are:-

  • Curiosity- exploring new ideas, hobbies and interests
  • Persistence-the ability to keep moving despite challenges and setbacks
  • Flexibility- adapting to new and challenging environments
  • Optimism- being open-minded about potential opportunities
  • Risk-taking- exploring goals and new opportunities amidst challenges and uncertainty.

Parsons’ Theory

Developed by Frank Parsons, this theory is centred around matching one’s careers to talents, skills and personality. Parson’s theory suggests that a person decides on what roles to perform when they:-

  • Understand their traits such as interests and personal abilities
  • A knowledge of jobs and the labour market
  • Understanding of the relationship between traits and labour market

If you found this article valuable, you may find the following useful as you evaluate your career. Feel free to click on the links below to explore:-

7 Factors To Consider When Choosing A Career

How To Identify Your Dream Job

The Importance of Career Planning

11 Top Strategies To Advance Your Career

10 Top Career Planning Advice For Success

Final Thoughts

Hope the above theories provide you with insight through the lens of several researchers to choosing your career.

If you found this article helpful, I will be grateful if you can share it and leave a comment. For access to our free resource library with career templates, guides and checklists, click HERE to fill in the form. Thank you in advance for your support as I grow this blog.

                                               Theoretical Frameworks To Choosing A Career



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