Spotlight on Super’s self-concept theory

Illustration showing people of different ages standing next to each other from youngest to oldest

Applying Super's theory of self-concept can help your clients at different stages of their career development.

Self-concept is the core of Super’s theory

The second career theory we’ll shine our spotlight on is Donald Super’s theory of how self-concept relates to career development. Our self-concept is created by our life and work experiences, abilities and personality.

Super thought who we are changes throughout life and this influences our long-term career decisions.

He also created the concept of career development stages. He first saw them as five stages of the lifecycle. But later they were used to understand a person’s experience at any stage of their career. 

Super’s five life stages:

  1. Growth (birth to age 14): You develop a self-concept, become aware of your future goals, or think about changing your career.
  2. Exploration (ages 15 to 24): You find the right career through courses, work experience and hobbies. You may develop and plan a career goal and complete relevant training.
  3. Establishment (ages 25 to 44): You secure a job in your chosen field and develop skills, build relationships with co-workers, and look for chances to advance your career.
  4. Maintenance (ages 45 to 64): You adjust and update your skills.
  5. Decline (ages 65 and up): You may start planning retirement, or you may be losing energy or interest in a job and getting ready to change your career.


Use Super’s theory to help clients at all stages of their careers

Clients starting a career

You can help clients who are uncertain about their first role or want to return to work by:

  • encouraging them to be curious and explore different hobbies and work experience 
  • helping them find information about areas of work they’re interested in 
  • getting them to look at training options, including bridging, free or short courses
  • supporting them with their decision making 
  • building their confidence for interviews, for example, by showing them informational interviewing skills
  • emphasising how personal skills are useful on their CV
  • showing them opportunities to learn from role models, for example, through job shadowing.

Clients who need a new challenge

Encourage clients who feel stuck in their job to have a career discussion with their manager. Suggest they:

  • explore options in their current workplace, such as moving into another area within the organisation
  • find ways to update or broaden their skills.

Clients who want to change careers

For some clients, their self-concept may have changed to the point where they no longer feel connected to their work. You can help these clients toward a change of career by:

  • helping them understand that career change is a normal part of career development
  • explaining how they’re at the decline stage of Super’s cycle and returning to the beginning of the cycle
  • encouraging them to explore new career ideas, identify other interests, or take courses to develop new skills.

Find out more


  • Flynn, A, ‘Super’s Theory of Career Development’, accessed August 2019, (woman.the 
  • Super’s Career Development Theory’, accessed July 2019, (


Updated 3 Oct 2019