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Career theory and models

There are numerous career theories and models, and no single one is sufficient to describe the broad field of career development. In this section you will find introductions to some of these core theories, and their key ideas.

Career theories typically fall into one of three categories which, while not mutually exclusive, can be a useful form of classification:

Theory of process

Theories of process relate to interaction and change over time. This can be characterised by theories in which there are a series of stages through which people pass.

Theory of content

Theories of content relate to the characteristics of the individual and the context they live in. The influences on career development are thought to be either intrinsic to the individual or originate from the context in which the individual lives.

Theory of content and process

Theories of content and process have been formed in response to a need for theory to take into account both of these key areas. These theories encompass both the characteristics of individuals and their context, and the development and interaction between them.

In this section

Timeline of career theories and models
This timeline shows how career theories have evolved over time.
Career theory comparison tool
Use this tool to compare and contrast any two career theories side by side.
Holland’s theory
John Holland’s Theory of Career Choice (RIASEC) maintains that in choosing a career, people prefer jobs where they can be around others who are like them. They search for environments that will let them use their skills and abilities, and express their attitudes and values, while taking on enjoyable problems and roles. Behaviour is determined by an interaction between personality and environment.
Bandura’s theory
Albert Bandura is well regarded for his Social Cognitive Theory. It is a learning theory based on the ideas that people learn by watching what others do, and that human thought processes are central to understanding personality. This theory provides a framework for understanding, predicting and changing human behaviour.
Parsons' theory
Frank Parsons is regarded as the founder of the vocational guidance movement. He developed the talent-matching approach, which was later developed into the Trait and Factor Theory of Occupational Choice. At the centre of Parsons' theory is the concept of matching.
Krumboltz's theory
John Krumboltz is an established career theorist. He most recently developed ideas about supporting indecision in clients. He states that indecision is desirable and sensible, as it allows the opportunity for clients to benefit from unplanned events. This theory is called planned happenstance.
Super's theory
One of Donald Super’s greatest contributions to career development has been his emphasis on the importance of the development of self-concept. According to Super, self-concept changes over time, and develops as a result of experience. As such, career development is lifelong.
Te Whare Tapa Wha
The Māori philosophy toward health is based on a holistic health and wellness model called Te Whare Tapa Wha. Developed by Dr Mason Durie in 1982, it can be applied to any health issue, whether it involves physical or psychological well-being.