What is Your Personal Theory of Career Development?


By Maureen McCann.

Career Development is defined in the Canadian Standards and Guidelines for Career Development Practitioners as the lifelong process of managing learning, work, and transitions in order to move toward your preferred future.

If career theory is new to you, you may enjoy reading Charmaine Johnson’s article titled “Applying Career Development Theory” or CPC member Lori Jazvac’s post on “Chaos to Clarity – The Chaos Theory of Careers.”

The Creation of My Personal Theory of Career Development

Each of us has a personal career development theory we use with clients. It may include theories studies, exercises, advice, and an assortment of tools.

A personal theory of career development defines the basic structure of the consulting, coaching, or counselling relationship. It also clearly identifies the practitioner’s strengths, values, and beliefs.

I took the time to reflect and determine my personal strengths, values, and beliefs in order to incorporate them into the foundation of my private practice. What better way to start than to solidify how I was going to serve my clients?

When studying career development theories, I was tasked with a final assignment to create my own Personal Theory of Career Development. My assignment included a number of theories I had studied throughout the course. I remember learning about the family influence theory. In my paper I wrote:

Penick and Jepsen (1992) found that ‘family relationships…were stronger predictors of career development than gender, socio-economic status, or educational achievement.’  Having watched my parents grade papers in the evenings or tell funny and interesting stories about events that took place in their classrooms influenced me greatly towards the teaching profession. I wanted to experience these things firsthand.”

Teaching was always part of my life – not in a formal classroom setting, but as a thread in the tapestry of my education and career. As a high school student, I was a swim instructor in the summers and a ski instructor in the winters. After I graduated, I taught fitness classes and then became a coordinator for “quality of life” programs at a local community centre. I organized and often taught interest classes and programs to clients. Today, I teach clients how to live their best lives through effective career development strategies. While many may not see the connection between what I currently do and the classroom teaching my parents did, to me it is an obvious connection.

More recently, I was introduced to the Knowdell Values Assessment (now most commonly used as a “card sort”). The tool was part of the work I did with executive clients, specifically those unsure about which career path to take next. What I enjoyed most about the Knowdell Values Assessment was how well rooted it was in what clients already knew about themselves. It didn’t feel risky because it simply helped clients see what they already knew. To this day, it is a fundamental tool used in my private career practice.

Personal Career Development Theory Naturally Evolves

The more we as career development practitioners learn, the more our personal career development theory expands. In the Canadian Career Strategist eGuide and in the CDP course Career Development Foundations (CDP-101), we explore many popular career theories like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Trait and Factor, Human Motivation, Life Span/Life Space, and Holland’s theory, to name but a few. Parts of many of these theories are included in my personal theory of career development.

My theory is always evolving, though. Every day I work with clients, I incorporate new strategies, techniques, and analysis. Whether I am reading the latest business books, scouring the web for the latest articles on the future of work, researching academic journals about military career transition, or learning about best practices of career development for school-aged children, I am on the hunt for methodologies I can apply in my practice.

BCCDA recently hosted a webinar with Ann Nakaska who discussed applying higher order thinking skills to career theory to help clients improve career decision-making skills. She suggests it’s one thing to understand a theory and quite another to apply it, analyze it, evaluate it, and use it to create opportunities. She challenged her audience of career practitioners to remind clients they are part of a business and/or industry, rather than rely only on using theories with their clients. When we understand how we are part of the business/industry we are able to anticipate and create opportunities. Compared with a typical job search that may start with a job board, this approach empowers clients to take an active, engaged role in continued career development.

What Tool(s) Do You Use to Support Your Clients?

What’s your personal career development theory? Share it in the comments below or share your favourite career tool or exercise. What are you doing to make an impact on the clients you serve in your practice?

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash


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Wonderful article! Thank you for sharing! I am currently keeping a close eye on how screen reading and changes to LinkedIn impact how readers will review and interpret the career marketing materials I create. Reading is constantly evolving, and as practitioners so must we to serve our clients!

Yes. Keeping up with resume writing trends in the face of Artificial Intelligence, Applicant Tracking Systems are definitely required as things progress so quickly in our field. I for one love the posts you’re sharing on LinkedIn as you learn and pass on such valuable content. Thanks, Virginia!