Introduction to career theories

The terms theory and practice are often contrasted in everyday speech; however, it is important to acknowledge that there is always a theory, or theories, present in our practice. We apply and enact theories in our professional practices, and indeed in our day-to-day lives, as a matter of course. Moreover, academic journal articles, books and conference speeches are also practices. The publication of an article and the delivery of a talk are all forms of action. What is being highlighted here is a more nuanced treatment of theory and practice. Theories are present in common sense explanations of the world and may be a non-conscious (tacit) set of guiding principles that inform our actions. Practices encompass a wide range of actions including thinking, writing and speaking. It is for this reason that the focus of this course is on the integration of theory and practice.

So, when discussing theory and practice, it can be useful to bring our theories to the surface - to make them manifest and explicit so that we can examine them and understand their implications. The following exercise is designed to help with this.


Exercise One: your 'theory' of career

Think back over your own career to date. How would you describe what has happened over the years? Once you have recollected , find some way of presenting your career on one side of an A4 page - use any combination of words, diagrams, drawings, pictures, images, etc.

Once you have done this, look carefully at what you have produced. What have you focused on? Have you emphasised any of the following factors: decision-making, the influence of particular people, your values and beliefs, your skills and abilities, your experience of change and development over time?

Of course, all of these factors are significant in career development - indeed, there are career theories associated to each and every one of them.


Moving on........

The module will now introduce you to a range of career development theories.

It is important to note that in this core module, and throughout the course, we encourage theoretical triangulation i.e. engaging with a person's career from different theoretical interpretations. Used in combination, these interpretations can take us closer to a person by helping us explore his or her career more fully and the various directions it might take. This, in turn, is a step towards integrating theory and practice and synthesising one's own approach.

You will find that, in addition to the obvious differences, there are many similarities to be found amongst career development theories. These differences and similarities are important aids to practice.