Theories of Career Choice


How do people choose a career?career-choice-theories

There are a lot of theories about this which have been put forward over the years, some of which are (to be honest) rather silly! However, there has been some very useful work done, which at the least, may help you to look at career choice from a different perspective.

Parson's Theory

The most common way advocated by careers advisers is Parson's theory: in which you analyse your skills, values , interests and personality and then match these up to jobs which use these. You'll find a lot of help on doing it this way in the pages in this section of our web site (see the menu on the left)

There is also a program called Prospects Planner that will help you to choose your perfect graduate job (take that with a pinch of salt of course, but it is quite good!)

This method works well in times of economic boom, but less so in recessions when your choice is more constrained.


Holland's theory of career choice divides people into 6 personality types: realistic, artistic, enterprising, social, conventional and investigative. You can find out more at

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

The MBTI is not strictly a theory of career choice, it's more a way of discovering your personality type which is divided in to 16 different type combinations composed of the following dichotomies (a posh word for opposites).

Extraversion (E) and Introversion (I)
Sensing (S) and Intuition (N)
Thinking (T) and Feeling (F)
Judgment (J) and Perception (P)


A couple of years ago I saw a Theology graduate who had just got a Third. He was rather upset about this as he had expected better.

He was a really positive individual with a warm personality who would go out of his way to help anyone, and always put his best into whatever he did (hence why he was upset about his degree).

A few months later I met him in Debenham's where he was working as a sales assistant and I asked him how things were going. He looked really happy, and explained that he had just been accepted for their graduate training scheme. His manager had been so impressed by his attitude and determination to "go the extra mile" to do things well, that she had strongly recommended him for the scheme

Happenstance Theory

The Happenstance theory says that luck plays a major part: unpredictable social factors, chance events and environmental factors are important influences on graduates lives.

In a recession, graduates often start in a routine job and work their way up. They often find a niche which suits them or move to a related job which suits them better using the skills they have gained.

This theory is appropriate in tough times such as the present recession. See

Creative Jobhunting

Creative jobhunting is not so much a theory, as a way of jobhunting.

It says that the best way to choose a career is to talk to people doing the job and to try it out via work shadowing and experience. There is a lot of truth in the statement that you don't really know what it's like until you have been doing it for a while: at least shadowing gives you a good idea of what's involved.

It involves a lot of networking. It can be a great way to go about getting hard to get jobs such as those in the media or your dream job. See our page on this at