It’s not my intention to give full information or an extensive discussion on every theory. This website is intended to be a starting point and the main difference with other websites is the visual representation of the theory, which I hope will help get to grips with the theory. There are also links it the bottom to get your further research started.

Developmental Theory

Eli Ginzberg 1951


Introduction and definition

Ginzberg’s model initially only referred to children to young adults. He later on came to the conclusion that career planning is a life long process. His later views included change because of any crises adults may have and changes because of life span development.

His theory is based on the following basis :

  • Occupational choice is a process
  • The process is irreversible
  • Compromise is an essential aspect of every choice

Ginzberg described the process of career development in choice as 3 stages (Ginzberg, 1971, p.75- 76):

  1. Fantasy stage (age 0 – 10) – children largely engage in play, simulating different jobs and careers. Ginsberg believed that children first engage in play (dressing up linked to jobs) to later on during the fantasy stage play out different actual jobs.
  2. Tentative stage (age 11 – 17) – older children and adolescents recognise more of the intricacies of the different job roles. This stage is divided up in four different periods:
    • the interest stage – children learn likes and dislikes
    • the capacity stage – children learn how their capacities line up with the requirements of different jobs and careers
    • the values stage – adolescents start to recognise how different jobs can fulfil their personal values
    • the transition stage – adolescents start taking responsibility for their own actions. They become more independent and exercise more freedom of choice
  3. Realistic stage (age 17 – early 20s) – the young person plans for and establishes alternative career paths or backups. Development of personal values and gradually focus on their ideal career choice or option.
    • Exploration stage – individual chooses their career path but remains open to other possibilities
    • Crystallisation – more focus on one particular career path; there is more commitment
    • Specification – commitment to a specific area of their career choice

Developmental theory of careers by Ginzberg.


As mentioned above, Ginzberg later recognised that career development doesn’t limit itself to childhood and adolescence but that it is a life-long process. Ginzberg rescinded his claims that:

  • Career development comes to a close during the person’s early 20s when they start work – he recognised that adults can change career throughout life and even start a new career after retirement.
  • Career development is irreversible – starting on one career track doesn’t mean you are ‘stuck with it’ for the rest of your life. The education system especially allows more flexibility.
  • The resolution of the choice always results in ‘compromise’ – he changed the word compromise to optimisation, which better reflects the dynamic nature of the world of work and career planning.


How can this be used in practice?

The first point to recognise is the time this was first published – 1951. Not only has the world of work changed tremendously since then, the world generally has changed a lot at all levels and in all areas. If you read the two resources below you will immediately recognise the tone and language as very different to what we would use now. If nothing else, his work was written from a very male perspective, using ‘he’ throughout.

Why is this important for practice? Because it outlines limitations of using Ginzberg’s theory now, without serious adaptation, if at all. I still think his work has value in the sense that it recognises different stages in decision making, even though linking it to different stages of life as he did, makes less sense. I’m not sure what your experience is, but for me, working with adolescents and young adults mainly, I’ve seen clients, often of the same age, at all stages in Ginzberg’s theory, apart from the first of course.

Generally, how a practitioner could use a developmental theory is to use the assumptions within it as a gauge or as a reference point to where the client is or should be and where they should be moving towards. I think that would be a dangerous practice as it implies making a lot of assumptions that in the present age of a dynamic job market and linked to that, career planning reality, may be far from the truth for that specific client.

I think the main value of this theory lies in the realisation and recognition of career planning as a process, essentially a life-long process, rather than a one off decision as Ginzberg first claimed and later rescinded.



There is quite a bit of critique in the section above already for this theory. You may have a different view however. So, what do you think personally?

Think about the following points:

  • What is the validity of Ginzberg in this day and age?
  • Can you recognise the different stages he described in yourself or others?
  • How could you use this in your practice in the 21st century?
  • What are the weaknesses of this theory compared to other developmental and other theories?
  • What is its scope? How far does it reach?


Useful links:


  • Ginzberg E., Ginsburg S.W., Axelrad S., Herma J.L. (1951). Occupational Choice: An Approach to a General Theory. Columbia University Press.
  • Ginzberg E., (1971). Toward a Theory of Occupational Choice. In: Hitchcock W.L. and Kemp Maybry M., eds. Readings in guidance. MSS Educational Pub. Co. pages 74 – 78
  • Ginzberg, E. (1972), Toward a Theory of Occupational Choice: A Restatement. Vocational Guidance Quarterly, 20: 2-9.