A General Theory of Career Guidance

1. Introduction

A theory is a series of general principles applying to something. They can be general principles which explain a particular set of phenomena (for example: atoms and protons colliding) or which guide a specific action (for example, how to conduct a careers guidance interview). On every field, practitioners take decisions and give advice to clients based on principles. It is worth to make explicit these principles (to shape them as a theory) because this way they can be discussed and improved. Principles expressed as theories reduce learning time and mistakes for inexperienced practitioners (see Evangelista 2007). Not all theories are worth. Some of them can be formally well structured, but ineffective because too far from practitioners’ daily tasks and challenges.

It is useful to differentiate between ‘career theories’, which explain vocational paths, and ‘guidance theories’ which explain how to interact effectively with clients (Watts et al.1996:1).

In this article I try to outline a comprehensive career theory, on which career guidance practitioners can base their advice to clients. In their daily quest for advice, clients usually confront practitioners on one or on a combination of these three main issues:

  • A. How to choose a profession
  • B. How to rise own employability for the desired profession
  • C. How best to carry out job search for the desired profession

The theory I outline is made up of four subtheories. Each statement of each subtheory can be further explained by subtheories at a lower, less general level. For example axiom at 1.A. can be further detailed recurring to a theory of personality and/or of social behavior. Each axiom can be examined in detail and, if necessary, further improved.

1. A theory of individual freedom

  • 1.A. Each individual has a certain amount of freedom in his or her educational and vocational choices and career path.
  • 1.B. In any society, the possibility of achieving one’s desired professional goals depends on the level of one’s knowledge, technical ability, and other personal qualities. It also depends (to a greater or lesser degree according to the society) on other factors such as family background, social class/circle, sexual orientation, religion

Notes: modern societies attribute value to personal skills and initiative rather than to kinship and class bonds. Career guidance helps people to improve their employability and to make the most of it, this way spreading modernity (Evangelista 2006).
Practical outcomes: a certain margin of freedom must be assumed, other ways career guidance, consisting in advising people on how best to manage their careers, would be impossible to justify.

2. A theory of personal choice

  • 2. A. Every individual possesses characteristics (for example, knowledge, aptitudes, abilities, preferences, professional interests and values) which are relatively unchangeable.
  • 2. B. Every occupation requires specific personal characteristics in order for it to be performed well.
  • 2. C. In making vocational choices, one must consider ability, interests etc, and also how easy (or difficult) it is to enter a given profession depending on factors indicated in points 1.B. and 3.

Practical outcomes: to help the client to choose a profession, the practitioners has to invite her/him to assess its own strengths, weaknesses and preferences, and to relate them to the existing opportunities in the labour market.

3. A theory of employability

Employability is the value of a person to the labour market in relation to a specific occupation. It depends on:

  • 3.A. The relationship between supply and demand for that occupation
  • 3.B. Unchangeable personal factors: age, gender, physique, health, personality, belonging to particular groups which attract government incentives for employers.
  • 3.C. Changeable personal factors:
    · 3.C.1. Knowledge and technical ability
    · 3.C.2. Flexibility
    · 3.C.3. Looking after oneself

Practical outcomes: to help the client to improve its employability, the practitioner should invite her/him to modify one or more of the elements listed under 3.C.

4. A theory of jobsearch

  • 4.1. When employers decide to look for employees/associates, they look first at those they have come in contact with through apprenticeships or training schemes and those who have approached them directly, so these methods must always be considered.
  • 4.2. In many countries, there is no single place where all job offers are compiled. So, in order to increase one’s chances of finding work, it is necessary to contact as many employers as possible using all available channels, including direct approach and word of mouth.
  • 4.3. Mediation on the part of individuals and organisations known to employers and the use of channels of enquiry which assure direct contact succeed more readily in overcoming the natural wariness employers feel towards job candidates.

Practical outcomes: other factors (listed at points 2 and 3) being the same, to help the client to improve its possibilities to get a job, the practitioner should invite hier/him to contact as much as employers as possible, using all the existing channels for jobsearch, especially direct approach, word of mouth, internships. Mediation is required for clients with low employability.


  • Evangelista L (2006) Multicultural Career Guidance.
  • Evangelista L. (2007). What theory is and how it’s of use.
  • Guichard J. (2005). Dans quel cadrei theoriques les pratiques de conseil en orientation peuvent-elles etre developpees? La question des referents theoriques des pratiques d’aide a l’orientation. In L’Orientation Scolaire et Professionnelle, Julliet 2005 Vol 34/Hors-serie, pp. 83-98.
  • Savickas M.L. (2005) Constructing careers : traits, themes and tasks. L’Orientation Scolaire et Professionnelle, Julliet 2005 Vol 34/Hors-serie, pp.99-108.
  • Watts A.G., Law B., Killeen J., Kidd J.M., Hawthorn R. (1996), Rethinking Careers Education and Guidance. Theory, Policy and Practice, Routledge

Author: Leonardo Evangelista www.leonardoevangelista.it © Leonardo Evangelista. First placed in this website on the 26th of July 2007. Version of the 26th of July 2007. This article can be reproduced quoting Author’s name and website www.orientamento.it and article’s URL.

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