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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.

Hover your mouse over each stage to read more about its characteristics

Super developed the theories and work of colleague Eli Ginzberg – he thought that Ginzberg’s work had weaknesses, which he wanted to address. Super extended Ginzberg’s life and career development stages from three to five, and included different substages.

Super argues that occupational preferences and competencies, along with an individual’s life situations, all change with time and experience. Super developed the concept of vocational maturity, which may or may not correspond to chronological age: people cycle through each of these stages when they go through career transitions.

Super’s five life and career development stages






Development of self-concept, attitudes, needs and general world of work



"Trying out" through classes, work hobbies. Tentative choice and skill development



Entry-level skill building and stabilisation through work experience



Continual adjustment process to improve position



Reduced output, prepare for retirement


Developmental tasks at these different stages

Life stage

Adolescence 14-25

Early adulthood 25-45

Middle adulthood 45-65

Late adulthood 65+


Giving less time to hobbies

Reducing sports participation

Focusing on essentials

Reducing working hours


Verifying current occupational choice

Making occupational position secure

Holding one's own against competition

Keeping what one enjoys


Getting started in a chosen field

Settling down in a suitable position

Developing new skills

Doing things one has wanted to do


Learning more about opportunities

Finding desired opportunity

Identifying new tasks to work on

Finding a good retirement place


Developing a realistic self-concept

Learning to relate to others

Accepting one's own limitations

Developing and valuing non-occupational roles


Super states that in making a vocational choice individuals are expressing their self-concept, or understanding of self, which evolves over time. People seek career satisfaction through work roles in which they can express themselves and further implement and develop their self-concept.


  • Brown, D, and Brooks, L (Eds), ‘Career Choice and Development: Applying Contemporary Theories to Practice’, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002.
  • Department of Employment Services, ‘Developmental Theories’, accessed December 2008, (http://does.dc.gov).