Career Theory – Timeline

Career theory is a daunting subject for most people, but it doesn’t have to be. I hope the information in this section is going to help you get to grips with theory, how and why theory works in career guidance and the development of career theories and related over the last century. Maybe you’ll even grow to like or love theory, if you don’t already!

A bit of ‘career’ history

The early days…

Theory around career guidance arguably officially started in 1908 with Frank Parsons, and has since then seen major developments and, quite frankly, a lot of progress and change, as has society. Theory has generally matched developments in the world of work, education and society at large in that it always has mirrored requirements of individuals in the world of work. In Parson’s time, this meant the needs of society ‘as a machine’ in the industrialised era at the start of the 20th century Europe, which was on the brink of it’s first industrialised war.

Career guidance in the 21st century

Career theory at the start of the 20th century differs starkly with the requirements of the early 21st century, where the jobmarket is increasingly highly technological, fragmented and uncertain in a very different way to that a century or so ago. Career guidance reflects this. The difference in attitude is one from ‘the good of the nation’ to that of ‘the good of the individual’. Career guidance doesn’t focus as much on ‘what the nation needs and wants’ as it does on ‘what the individual needs and wants’ in the first decades of the century and the new millenium.

Some considerations

It’s important to make a couple of considerations around theory however:
  • Different people categorise theories in a different way. No categorisation is fixed but I follow the one indicated in the learning outcomes for the Level 6 qualification in career guidance and career development, where appropriate.
  • Theories are not fixed on the day they become established. Theories continue to develop over time, either by the theorist (eg. Holland) or through the interpretation of others in the context of a new reality (eg the difference between the original conception of trait and factor and the way it’s interpreted now in a very different social and theoretical/philosophical context).
  • Equally, theories are not developed out of thin air but are always developed out of ‘what went before’ and ‘what is around’. They always have a history. Their development and conception can appear to be sudden, but it’s often difficult to pin down to a precise date, or even year.

The Timeline

The timeline on this page can therefore only offer a general idea of the development of career guidance theory and it is important to see it in that way, as an introduction and overview, rather than as a fixed model. As an introduction to this, please feel free to explore the timeline below. There is a full index organised by theory and one organised by theorist on the next pages. I have, as far as possible, classified theories using the different icons below. Classification is not always clearly possible or easy and some theories fall in between, or straddle, two or more categories. The categorisation I made is therefore slightly tenuous. It should fit in with the requirements for the Level 6 Qualification in Career Guidance, however.
Differentialism Theories focusing on the needs or specific sociocultural groups Learning theories
Developmentalism Theories linked to unplanned events management Motivational theories
Structuralism Constructivism Transition theories and theories of change
Opportunity Structure Theories derived from psychology/psychotherapy/counselling Vocational behaviour theories
Social Learning Theories of decision making and avoidance
Community Interaction Coaching theories

General trend in focus in career guidance towards:

Decreasing career guidance theory and practice around a single aspect; eg.: the economy, stages of life, skills matching, etc… Decreasing: Positivism – Modernism – Objectivism – Central position of society


Primary category


Environmental Theory – Matching theories 1908 Frank Parsons 1908
Client-centred Theory 1942 Carl Rogers 1942 & 1951
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Model* 1943 Meyers and Briggs 1944
Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF)* 1946 Raymond Cattell 1946, 1949, 1965
Change Management Model 1947 Kurt Lewin 1947
Developmental Theory 1951 Ginzberg et al. 1951
Environmental theory – Matching theories 1952 Alec Rodger 1952
Hierarchy of Needs 1954 Maslow 1954
Theory of Career Choice and Development 1956 Anne Roe 1956
Developmental Theory – Life Span Development 1957 Donald Super 1957 and Donald Super et al. 1961
7 Stage Model of Change 1958 Ronald Lippitt 1958
Motivation Hygiene Theory – 2 Factor Theory 1959 Frederick Herzberg
Five-factor Model (FFM) or OCEAN model* 1961 Ernest Tupes & Raymond Christal 1961
Decision Making Theory and Model 1963 Tiedeman and O’Hara 1963
Expectancy Motivation Theory 1964 Victor Vroom 1964
Client-centred Theory 1965 C.H. Patterson 1965
Environmental Theory – Matching theories 1966 John L. Holland 1966, 1973, 1985, 1992
Opportunity Structure Theory 1968 Roberts 1968 – 1997
Career Anchors 1975 Edgar H. Schein 1975
Protean Career 1976 Douglas T. Hall 1976
Social Learning Theory (SLTCDM) Krumboltz et al 1976, Mitchell & Krumboltz 1990 & 1996
DOTS Model 1977 Law & Watts, 1977 & 1996
Social Learning Theory Albert Bandura 1977 & 1986
Decision Making Model Tanya Arroba 1977
Developmental Theory (further developed) 1980 Donald Super 1980
Community Interaction Theory 1981 Bill Law 1981 & 1996
Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) Hackett & Betz, 1981; Lent, Brown, & Hackett 1994
Theory of Circumscription and Compromise Linda Gottfredson 1981
Transition Theory Schlossberg 1981 & 1989
The FIRST Model 1982 Tol Bedford 1982
Motivational Interviewing 1983 William R. Miller, Terri Moyers and Stephen Rollnick 1983
Stages of Change Model – Transtheoretical Model James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente 1983
Reflection in action/Reflection on action Donald A. Schön 1983
Experiential Learning Cycle 1984 David Kolb 1984
Work Adjustment Theory Dawis & Lofquist 1984
Social Learning Theory 1986 Albert Bandura 1977 & 1986
Change Model 1988 Cynthia Scott and Dennis Jaffe 1988
Reflective model Graham Gibbs 1988
Transition Cycle N. Nicholson and M. A. West 1988
Psychodynamic Theories 1989 Mark Savickas 1989
Social Learning Theory (SLTCDM) 1990 Krumboltz et al 1976, Mitchell & Krumboltz 1990 & 1996
Constructivist Theory Chartrand et al., 1995; Cochran, 1997; Collin & Young, 1986; Peavy, 1992; Savickas, 1993 & 1997; Young et al. 1996
GROW Model 1992 Sir John Whitmore (1992)
Cormier & Hackney Model 1993 Harold L. Hackney & Sherry Cormier, 1993
Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) 1994 Hackett & Betz, 1981; Lent, Brown, & Hackett 1994
Value-based Career Decision Making 1995 D Brown 1995, 1996& 2002; Brown & Crace 1995
Boundaryless Career 1996 Arthur & Rousseau 1996
Community Interaction Theory Bill Law 1981 & 1996
DOTS Model (review) Law & Watts, 1977 & 1996
Learning Theory of Careers Counselling (LTCC) Mitchell and Krumboltz 1996
Social Learning Theory (SLTCDM) Krumboltz et al 1976, Mitchell & Krumboltz 1990 & 1996
Careership Theory 1997 Phil Hodkinson and Andrew C. Sparkes 1997
Integrative Life Planning Theory Sunny Hansen 1997
Narrative Career Counselling Savickas (eg 1997), Cochran (eg 1997) & Peavy (eg 2000)
Skilled Helper Model 1998 Gerard Egan 1998
Cognitive Information Processing Theory (CASVE) 1999 Sampson, Lenz, Reardon, & Peterson 1999
Planned Happenstance Theory Krumboltz & Levin 1999 – 2004; Mitchell et al., 1999
Life-is-Career Theory Miller-Tiedeman 1999
Synergistic Theory of Organisational Career Development Kerry Bernes 1999
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy/training (ACT) 2000 Tom Luken & Albert de Folter 2000 & 2012
The ‘What’ Model of reflection in action 2001 Gary Rolfe, Dawn Freshwater & Melanie Jasper 2001
Contextual Action Theory (CAT) 2002 Lev Vygotsky, L. Valach & Young, R. A. 2002
Solution Focused Career Theory 2004 Judi Miller 2004
Career Construction Theory & Life Design – Narrative Approach 2005 Mark Savickas 2005
Continuous Participation Model Danielle Rivern-Simard 2005
Systems Theory Framework of Career Development 2006 Wendy Patton & Mary McMahon 2006
Strengths-based Approach 2007 Schutt 2007
Single Interaction Model Hazel L. Reid and Alison J. Fielding 2007
3 Step Storyboarding Model 2008 Bill Law 2008
Skills Development Scotland – A Coaching approach to guidance Liane Hambly 2008
Career Choice and Attainment Model 2010 Kimberly A.S.Howard 2010
Sparks Theory Minna Kattelus 2010 – 2015
Hope-Action Theory Spencer Niles, Norman Amundson, Hyung Joon Yoon, 2010
Career Counselling with Underserved Populations Model 2011 Mark Pope 2011
Career Engagement Model Roberta A. Neault & Deirdre A. Pickerell 2011
Chaos Theory of Careers Pryor and Bright 2011
Coherent Career Practice Kris Magnusson & Dave Redekopp 2011
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy/training (ACT) 2012 Tom Luken & Albert de Folter 2000 & 2012
Culture Infused Career Counselling Model (CICC) 2013 Nancy Arthur 2013
Psychology of Working* David L. Blustein 2013
The WOOP Model 2014 Gabriele Oettingen, 2014
Career Self-determination Theory 2017 Charles P. Chen 2017
Career Writing Method Reinekke Lengelle & Frans Meijers 2017
Career Inaction Theory 2019 Marijke Verbruggen and Ans De Vos, 2019
*Even though the Psychology of Working Theory is described by Blustein himself as a theory of change, it incorporates and doesn’t exclude aspects or the application of other theories so is in effect a more holistic theory. There seems to be a trend towards:
  • A more holistic practice
  • A counselling or coaching model (depending on part of the country, employer and resources, especially financial and time)
  • Increasing post modernism
  • Increasingly towards a holistic and subjectivist approach.
Let’s have a look at these theories in more detail to find out what they look like:Next page - Career Theories - A to Z