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 uplanned 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 deicsion 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Career Counseling 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
Career Self-determination Theory   2017   Charles P. Chen 2017
Career Writing Method     Reinekke Lengelle & Frans Meijers 2017

*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