Expert Views on Career Development

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In this article we will consider three viewpoints that put basic stress upon the idea of career development as a process, rather than an event, extending over a very long period of time. We will consider the positions of Ginzberg and his associates (later revised by Ginzberg), of Super, and of Tiedeman. Ginzberg, Ginsburg, Axelrad, and Herma (1951) were among the first to suggest that the developmental process was crucial to occupational choice. This team of four colleagues at Columbia University undertook a study of a group of boys and young men ages eleven to twenty-three who were attending either a university-related school or the university itself. These subjects came from upper socioeconomic backgrounds and were either college-bound or in college. A second group was added to the study including primarily the sons of white fathers employed in unskilled and semiskilled occupations. A third group included a small sample of college sophomore and senior women who were socially privileged and intelligent. The total of the three groups was quite small and cannot be considered representative of the general population.

Drawing from the life-stages concept of Buehler (1933), they pictured the vocational choice process as covering three principal periods, which they ailed fantasy, tentative, and realistic periods. The fantasy period, they said, is an early childhood interval preceding any serious vocational consideration. The time is exemplified by arbitrary choices that lack any rational or realistic base, but that often reflect idealized choices drawn from influences within the child's environment.

The tentative period begins when children begin to recognize that they like or have an interest in certain activities. During this time children discover they perform some activities more ably than other activities, that they excel in some of these compared with other children, and that some activities are more highly valued than others. Finally, they begin to fit together ideas of interest, ability, and value as they give more attention to a career choice. As this correlating activity occurs they move on to the third phase of vocational choice, the realistic period.

The realistic period comprises three stages, including exploration, crystallization, and specification. The exploration stage covers the time in which the individual is actively involved in implementing tentative choices. Chronologically, he or she is usually at the entry job or college level and tends to evaluate vocationally related experiences in a realistic manner. As a result of the interaction of experiences and the individual's evaluation of them, he or she gradually fixes on a fairly clear vocational pattern during the crystallization stage. The specification stage is reached when a pattern has clearly focused on a particular position or occupation.

Ginzberg and his associates see the whole process from fantasy to specification covering from ten to fifteen years and consisting of a series of compromises between wishes and opportunities. The process is viewed as irreversible and consists of clear cut periods that vary considerably from person to person. The fantasy period may extend up to age ten or twelve. The realistic period is usually entered by age seventeen or eighteen and crystallization occurs for most individuals in the period from age nineteen to twenty-one. Some individuals may appear to enter the crystallization stage and then encounter factors that upset or change what appeared to be fairly solid choices. Some individuals never progress beyond the crystallization stage. Many factors--biological, psychological, and environmental--affect the individual's progress.

The group concluded that boys from lower socioeconomic level families followed the same general pattern as did those from more favored homes. The principal difference detected between the two groups was a striking increase in passivity among the lower-income boys. They expressed interest and concern in future occupations during earlier years but were decidedly less inclined to assume an active role in bringing their hopes into actuality. The group also concluded that there were definite differences in choice patterns between men and women. They found three groups within the small sample of college women they studied. One group was career-oriented, one was marriage-oriented, and the third group hoped to combine both. Even the career-oriented women appeared to be less fixed on specific vocational goals than the boys. Ginzberg et al. concluded that the possibility of marriage and its effect on a woman's career has a heavy impact on career planning for all women.

Choice Process and Compromise

Ginzberg (1972) restated the major points of the group's proposal in light of research that has developed in the intervening two decades. Three major components of the earlier position have been modified. These include the ideas (1) that the occupational decision-making process extends from pre-puberty to the early twenties, (2) that many of the decisions have an aspect of irreversibility, and (3) that the choice process always ends in compromise.

Ginzberg now sees the decision-making process as parallel to the individual's working life. Recognition is now given to the satisfactions that this individual derives from early career choices. If these are not adequate for the individual, the likelihood of a new choice is increased. The probability of the individual's responding by making a decision to move toward other opportunities depends, in part, on the amount of flexibility-that is, freedom from family responsibilities, indebtedness, or other restrictions-and on the pressure or opportunity encountered in the present work situation.

The irreversibility factor now appears to be less influential because it is possible to delay final, firm decisions over several years and so keep one's options open for a prolonged period. Similarly, there has been an increase in what can be thought of as new opportunities for training previously considered unattainable. An example of this is acquisition of educational opportunities through military service or company programs that allow and assist the individual to pursue preparation beyond the level previously thought to be the terminal level.

Finally, Ginzberg suggests that the substitution of optimization for compromise may be more relevant to most circumstances. The word optimization implies a dynamic, continuing kind of adjustment and readjustment, with the worker continually attempting to coordinate changing desires with changing circumstances in a way that appears most likely to produce favorable results.

Probably no one has written as extensively about vocational development or influenced thought about the process as much as Donald Super. His earliest theoretical statements appeared shortly after those of Ginzberg, et al. and were an effort to include ideas and concepts that apparently were passed over by his Columbia colleagues. The essence of Super's theory might be described as the idea that an individual chooses an occupation that allows one to operate in a role consistent with self-concept, which in turn is an outgrowth of all one's developmental experiences. As we have done here, most authors classify Super's theory as developmental self-concept. Super (1969), however, describes it as a theory based on differential-developmental-social-phenomenological psychology. In his 1953 American Psychologist article, he originally suggested ten propositions, reorganized in 1957 into a new list of eleven propositions and appearing in Vocational Development: A Framework for Research. These were again revised and appeared as twelve propositions in Scientific Careers and Vocational Development Theory, also in 1957. We will list and briefly discuss those twelve propositions, grouping them in the same combinations suggested by Super.

Proposition 1: Vocational development is an ongoing, continuous, generally irreversible process.

Proposition 2: Vocational development is an orderly, patterned, and predictable process.

Proposition 3: Vocational development is a dynamic process.

Like Ginzberg and his associates, Super has drawn heavily from the life-stages concepts proposed by Buehler (1933). He identifies these life stages as growth, exploration, establishment, maintenance, and decline.

Primary Emphasis

The growth stage consists of a period when primary emphasis is on physical and psychological development, ordinarily reaching into adolescence to perhaps fourteen or fifteen years of age. During this growth stage the individual forms attitudes and behavior mechanisms that will be important components of the self-concept for much of life. Simultaneously, experiences provide a background of knowledge of the environment generally, including the world of work, which ultimately will be used in tentative choices and in final selections.

The exploratory stage begins with the individual's awareness that an occupation will be an aspect of life. During the early or fantasy phase of the exploratory stage, the expressed choices are frequently unrealistic and often closely related to the play life of the individual. Examples are seen in young children's choices of such careers as cowboys, soldiers, and astronauts. These choices are nebulous and temporary and usually have little, if any, long-term significance for the individual. Some adolescents, and even adults, have not advanced beyond the fantasy phase; their understanding of self or of the world of work is not sufficiently developed to make effective choice possible. The person may be responding in terms of "if I could do anything in the world" and ignoring or refusing to accept the inevitability of compromise. In the tentative phase of the exploratory stage, the individual has narrowed choice to a few possibilities. Because of uncertainty about ability, availability of training, or access to employment opportunity, the list may contain tentative choices that will later disappear. The realistic phase of this stage, still preceding actual entrance into work, narrows the list to occupations that the individual feels are attainable and that provide the opportunities thought to be most important. This stage usually extends to the middle twenties.

The establishment stage, as the name implies, relates to the early encounters within the work experience. During the establishment stage, individual, at first often by trial and error, attempts to ascertain if the vocational choices and decisions made during the exploratory stage have validity. Some of this period is simply tryout. The individual may accept job with a definite assumption that a change in position or occupation w occur if this one does not fit. As experience and proficiency are gained, the individual becomes stabilized; that is, he or she brings aspects of this occupation into the self-concept and adjusts the position by investing self in the work. The person who accepts the occupation as one offering the best chance obtains satisfactions that are personally important. This period is thought extend to the middle forties.

During the maintenance stage, the individual attempts to continue to enhance the occupational situation. Since both the occupation and the individual's self-concept have some aspects of fluidity, the maintenance stage involves a continual process of adjustment. Essentially, the person is concerned with continuing the satisfying parts of the work situation and reviving or changing unpleasant and annoying aspects. Usually the maintenance period is believed to extend approximately to age sixty-five.

The decline stage includes the preretirement period, during which the individual's emphasis in work is focused on keeping the job and meeting the required standards of output. The worker is now more concerned with retaining the position than with enhancement. The period terminates with the individual's withdrawal from the world of work.

Super thinks vocational development as consisting of an interaction between the individual--in terms of behavior, attitudes, ambitions, and values--and the surrounding social factors. This dynamic interaction produces a series of compromises as the individual matches what is desired against the realities, and attempts to identify what is attainable.

Proposition 4: Self-concepts begin to form prior to adolescence, become clearer in adolescence, and are translated into occupational terms in adolescence.

Proposition 5; Reality factors (the reality of personal characteristics and the reality of society) play an increasingly important part in occupational choice with increasing age, from early adolescence to adulthood.

Proposition 6: Identification with a parent or parent substitute is related to the development of adequate roles, their consistent and harmonious interrelationship, and their interpretation in terms of vocational plans and eventualities.

Personality theorists have long contended that early childhood, during which most children are intensively exposed to values and interrelationships of the immediate family, has continuing influence on the individual's later life. During these years, the basic shape of self-concept is formed and its early testing occurs within the usually comfortable climate of family and elementary classroom.


As indicated above, during the preteen years most individuals increasingly see the continuing relationship between work and the adults who make up their immediate world. Since position in the world of work is important in American culture, this relationship becomes a major influence on self-concept. During the educational period, anticipated occupation or role plays a part in the development of self-concept. Each person attempts to maintain or enhance a favorable self-concept; thus the individual is attracted to activities that will permit keeping or improving the preferred self-image. As the inner drive toward this ideal self-concept pushes the individual strongly, he or she encounters restricting factors that may come from personal limitations or from the surrounding environment. These factors interfere with attaining the ideal self-concept and result in the individual's compromising to accept less than the ideal. It is developmentally logical for the person, in turn, to begin to view self in terms of some possible future relationship with work. As an individual matures, experiences provide a basis for evaluating both strengths and weaknesses and the "real world" as it is encountered. As problems are faced, persons learn to cope with these varied experiences and to find satisfying solutions.

The individual can be helped in this maturational process in two ways: (1) by assisting to develop abilities and interests, and (2) by assisting to acquire an understanding of self and strengths and weaknesses so that satisfying choices can be made. Both of these aspects emphasize the school's role and guidance program in assisting the individual to maximize development as a person. The teacher, with frequent classroom contact, can best observe latent or underdeveloped abilities and then challenge the individual to push toward higher but nonetheless attainable goals. The counselor may also discover undeveloped potential through data obtained from tests or other sources.

If the school provides adequate opportunity for youth to develop, it has built into its program frequent opportunities for reality testing. Both teacher and counselor can help each youth find more of these testing areas.

An adult role model apparently is of significant importance as the adolescent begins to take on the attributes of adulthood. This adult, who may or may not be a family member, serves as a model for many relationships, including the one with work. It appears likely that the difficulties encountered by many ghetto adolescents in adjusting to the world of work (often labeled "establishment") may be due in part to the lack of adult role models who have developed satisfactory work adjustments.

Proposition 7: The direction and rate of the vertical movement of an individual from one occupational level to another are related to his intelligence, parental socio-economic level, status needs, values, interests, skill in interpersonal relationships, and the supply and demand conditions in the economy.

Proposition 8: The occupational field which the individual enters is related to his interests, values, and needs, the identifications he makes with parental or substitute role models, the community resources he uses, the level and quality of his educational background, and the occupational structure, trends, and attitudes of his community.

Adult Role

Since choice of an occupational field precedes any advancement in that field, let us consider Proposition 8 before we discuss Proposition 7. An individual can only choose among alternatives of which he or she is aware. The extent of familiarity with many options is largely a product of interests and resources, the adult role models considered important, and the local environment in which a person is developing. If local opportunity is constricted by either economic limitations or attitudinal factors, then the impact on the individual is likely also to be narrowing. The socioeconomic level of the adult role models makes a significant contribution, since the early contact with the world of work is largely brought about through parents, family, and friends. Hearing parents and their friends discuss experiences at work; observing the impact of occupational success, failure, or frustration; and obtaining or losing chances at education, travel, or other experience because of family circumstances greatly influence the individual's later work history.

We can reasonably suggest that the relationship between economic supply and demand and opportunity for vocational advancement is similar to the relationship between genetic inheritance and later physical development. An active, expanding economy offers opportunity for vocational advancement in many areas, whereas an inactive, lethargic, or declining economy limits opportunity and may hold many individuals in lower-level positions longer than their ability, experience, and motivations would otherwise suggest.

The individual's mental ability is an important contributor to academic success, which in turn will open or close many doors to and within occupations. The ability to deal effectively with others is crucially important in most work situations. "Being in the right place at the right time" or "getting the breaks" is also important, since the individual must first have an opportunity to demonstrate competency before acquiring either stability or advancement in a job.

We often think that anyone can attain any goal, in true Horatio Alger tradition, if only one tries hard enough. In actuality, however, factors over which one often has no control set limits that can be surpassed or extended only by Herculean effort, if at all.

Proposition 9: Although each occupation requires a characteristic pattern of abilities, interests, and personality traits, the tolerances are wide enough to allow both some variety of individuals in each occupation and some diversity of occupations for each individual.

Many years of research have clearly established the concept of individual differences as far as abilities, interests, and personality are concerned.

The range of personal characteristics varies widely both within and among individuals. Within each person are traits or abilities so pronounced that often they are used to caricature the individual. At the same time, there are other areas in which the person is relatively weak or inept.

The range of abilities, personality characteristics, and other traits is so wide that every person has the requisites for success in many occupations. Research in the field of rehabilitation has demonstrated that even the severely handicapped individual has a choice of many occupations in which that individual can perform satisfactorily. For the person without serious physical or emotional impairment, the gamut of possibilities is wide indeed.

Specific Characteristics

Few occupations require special abilities, skills, or traits in excessive quantity. Just as most athletic activities involve only certain muscles or muscle groups, so too most jobs require only a few specific characteristics. A person, then, can perform successfully in any occupation for which he or she has the qualifying characteristics. The lack of a certain skill, or its presence in minute quantities, excludes a person from an occupation only if the occupation requires that skill in larger quantities.

For each ability or trait required in the performance of a particular occupation one might expect to find a modal quantity that best fits the nature of the work. On either side of this amount is a band or range of this characteristic that still will meet satisfactorily the demands of the work. To illustrate, picture an extremely simple task that requires, hypothetically, only a single characteristic. In studying this task we might ascertain the quantity of this trait that would best meet the requirements of the job. We would expect that a person could perform satisfactorily even though he or she possesses somewhat less or more of the trait, as long as it surpasses the minimum requirement. Obviously, the range for different traits will vary in each occupation, and the range in a given trait will vary among occupations.

To illustrate this point further, let us imagine three different workers with variable amounts of three different characteristics. Worker A has a high amount of the first trait, an average amount of the second trait, and a low amount of the third trait. Worker B has a low amount of the first trait, an average amount of the second trait, and a high amount of the third one; Worker C has an average amount of all three traits. Let us further assume that the minimums held by Workers A and C exceed the minimum threshold required to perform a job that demands only these three characteristics, and that their maximums are not as great as to impede their performance. Each worker, although different from the other two, can therefore perform the job successfully.

Since the patterns of characteristics required in various occupations rarely will be unique, one can expect to find considerable overlap from one job to another. Thus there will be some occupations in which a particular distribution of assets can result in satisfactory performance, just as there will be some patterns of ability that can result in satisfactory performance in a given occupation.

Proposition 10: Work satisfactions depend upon the extent to which the individual can find adequate outlets in his job for his abilities, interests, values, and personality traits.

Proposition 11: The degree of satisfaction the individual attains from his work is related to the degree to which he has been able to implement his self concept in his work.

The individual who finds pleasure and satisfaction in work does so because the position held permits use of characteristics and values in a way that is important. In other words, the experiences encountered in work and compatible with the mental image held of self--they give sufficient opportunity to be the kind of person he or she pictures self to be.

If the work performed does not provide the possibility to be the type of person pictured, discontent develops. This dissatisfaction will usually cause the person to look for a work situation where the possibility to play the role sought seems brighter.

The relationship of the work situation to the individual's role must be thought of in the broad sense. The professions and higher managerial positions probably provide the greatest opportunities, as viewed by most, for the intrinsic satisfactions that come from work itself. Many individuals gain great satisfaction from work that to some appears boring and monotonous. Other workers find satisfaction in jobs that they, too, may consider routine and unchallenging but that provide them the chance to be the kind of persons they want to be, to do the things they want to do, and to think of themselves as they wish.

Proposition 12: Work and occupation provide a focus for personality organization for most men and many women, although for some persons this focus is peripheral, incidental, or even nonexistent, and other foci such as social activities and the home are central.

Recent changes in the relationship of women to the world of work and the now generally accepted view of considering homemaking as an occupation make necessary some revision in this proposition if it is to have relevance today. Essentially, the major point here is that for many people, regardless of the nature of the job they fill, the work they do is an expression of their personality. For other individuals, both men and women, the work in which they engage is simply a means to an end and they seek opportunities for self-expression in places other than their work.

Research-based Professional Literature

The extensive writing that Super and his colleagues have placed in the professional literature is research based. Much of Super's research has been longitudinal in nature and focused on a group of ninth grade boys who were first studied in 1951. This group was followed regularly in the Career Pattern Study for nearly a quarter century. In addition to these studies, many writers have built hypotheses on Super's theory, many of which are reviewed by Osipow (1983). Super (1980) recently summarized much of his previous thinking and writing in a brief article describing a life-career rainbow that encapsulates his view of the interrelationship between each person and career throughout the life span. He sees most individuals involved at various times of life, and in variable degrees of intensity, in the roles of child, student, leisurite, citizen, worker, spouse, homemaker, parent, and pensioner. The usual theaters in which these roles are played include the home, the community, the school, and the workplace. Super incorporated all roles into his definition of career and uses "occupational career" to refer to those work-related experiences that we will equate with career. As the importance of various roles increases or decreases, the lifestyle changes, and decision points are encountered that have further impact on the total life cycle of the individual. The choices made at these various decision points are the result of the interaction of several personal and situational determinants including genetic endowment as modified by life experiences, and all the geographic, social, cultural, and economic conditions that the person has experienced.

The proposal of a theoretical position by one professional influences another to react, question, modify, and counter-propose. In such manner are the writings of Tiedeman (1961), O'Hara and Tiedeman (1959), and Tiedeman and O'Hara (1963) related to the work of Super and also to Ginzberg and his associates. Tiedeman and O'Hara have drawn certain concepts from both sources and then proceeded to modify or develop further the earlier proposal.

Tiedeman and O'Hara suggest that career development is a process of organizing identification with work through the interaction of the individual's personality with society. They consider personality development as a process in which the person is involved in both differentiation and integration. Differentiation focuses on the ways in which one uniquely expresses individuality-in other words, how one shows self as different from all other individuals. Integration refers to the ways in which one adjusts self to others so that one is an acceptable part of society.

Tiedeman and O'Hara suggest that one key aspect of their proposal is an emphasis on the relationship between personality and career as it is developed in the process of making career choices. Like Super, they see career development as spanning most of the individual's lifetime. The vocational aspects of a person's life, if they are not to dominate and control all of his or her actions, must be fitted into a larger life pattern. Tiedeman and O'Hara use the term ego identity to refer to the personal meanings, values, and relationships upon which the individual builds broader integration with society. The ego identity is formed through the interaction of three factors: the individual's biological constitution, psychological make-up, and the society or subculture in which he or she exists.

Tiedeman sees decision as crucial to vocational development. The decisions made by the individual regarding school, work, daily activities, and similar facets of total life will form and structure vocational development. Each decision includes two periods or aspects; each of these periods has sub-stages, as indicated in the following outline:

The period of anticipation

A. Exploration

B. Crystallization

C. Choice

D. Specification

The period of implementation and adjustment

A. Induction

B. Transition

C. Maintenance

During the exploration stage, the person considers a number of alter-natives or possible goals. Within the range of the alternatives is the context of choice. He or she attempts to consider self in relation to the possible choices that are seen and enters the stage of crystallization as the choices become clearer, better understood, and evaluated. As a person chooses a particular goal, this goal influences his or her behavioral system. The greater the certainty with which the choice is made, the greater the impact on behavior. The final stage of the anticipatory period occurs after the choice has been made and before the individual moves to implement the choice. During this specification stage, he or she elaborates and perfects the image anticipated as a result of this choice.

The period of implementation begins as the person moves to act on the choice made. At this stage of induction, the individual is involved in fitting goal and field into the broader framework of the group and of society. As he or she gains confidence, the interaction between person and group expands, and he or she undertakes an effort to incorporate group goals into personal goal and field. If successful, a modification and an accommodation of group and individual goals is the result. The person then enters the maintenance stage, in which he or she tries to continue this satisfying equilibrium.

Tiedeman and O'Hara see the movement from one stage to another as a reversible process, so that the person may move in either direction at any given moment. Both advance and retreat occur in the decision-making process. Advancement usually predominates, so the person moves ultimately from indecision to choice to action.

Vocational development is thus seen as the summation of a complex series of decisions made by the individual over a considerable span of time, with each previous decision having an impact on later choices. Not all decisions occur longitudinally or sequentially. Thus, at any given moment the person may be at several different stages of choice on related aspects of life. The crystallization and resulting action on one of these aspects has an impact on all of the other aspects that are in process as well as on subsequent decisions. In the same way, the experiences the person encounters as a result of a decision will affect other decisions. The implied role of the counselor is to be a catalyst in freeing the person to make decisions and act on them in relation to choices already made and those still possible.
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