Career exploration theories

What is the most effective method for youth to explore careers? Research indicates that in addition to exploring their own interests and aptitudes, youth in a career exploration process must also identify goals and develop steps to achieve them.

Career exploration has been conceptualized in theory and research as encompassing those activities that are directed toward enhancing one’s knowledge of self and the external environment an individual engages in to foster progress in career development. An individual engaged in career exploration gathers information about themselves and their environment with a goal of progressing in their career development. A youth’s decision on which career path to choose is often guided by these types of information-seeking activities.

In her dissertation, Social Cognitive Theory and Middle School Student Career Exploration, Sickinger suggests career exploration is best understood when viewed through multiple career development theories. Social learning theory explains it as “information seeking…or as a career problem solving behavior.” Career decision theory describes it as “identification and evaluation of options and information seeking behavior.” Lastly, developmental theorists view it simply as part of the stage of adolescence.

Authors Taveira and Moreno further define the activity of career exploration by indicating, “In short, the mere presence of information-seeking behavior or self appraisal does not in itself guarantee that we are in the presence of a career exploration process. Rather, career exploration requires career-goal oriented behavior.” This means that in addition to exploring their own interests and aptitudes, youth in a career exploration process must also identify goals and develop steps to achieve these goals.

Another well-known author, Blustein, indicates the social learning view tells us exploratory activities are not intrinsically rewarding and therefore environmental factors must evoke, sustain and reinforce this exploratory behavior. He cites the work of Lazarick, Fishbein and Howard which found students who were asked to explore were more successful in exploring themselves and their environment (via self-directed workbooks) than a comparison group that was asked not to explore. He also recommends interventions should be directed towards enhancing client’s skill in environmental exploration and providing them with the means of learning how to obtain occupational information.

Career exploration is a process that fosters a coherent sense of self. Thus the core outcome of career exploration should be the process of developing a meaningful identity and implementing that identity in a life plan. The National 4-H Curriculum Build Your Future: Choices…Connections…Careers helps meet the goals of these theories. Working through the activities in the curriculum provides youth the opportunity to explore and set goals for pursuing their selected career path. This curriculum consists of nine activities that target high school students from 14 to 19 years of age with the purpose of helping youth develop skills and knowledge and become actively engaged in career exploration. Michigan State University Extension’s 4-H Career Exploration and Work Force Preparation team will be offering an introductory webinar, six introductory (1.5-hour) curriculum trainings, and five in-depth (4-6 hour) trainings in locations across the state about Build Your Future in 2015. Stay tuned to the MSU Extension calendar to learn more about these opportunities, training dates and locations.


  • Blustein, D.L. (1992). Applying current theory and research in career exploration to practice. Career Development Quarterly, 41, 174-183.
  • Sickinger, P.H. (2012). Social cognitive career theory and middle school student career exploration. Dissertation Abstracts International, UMI#3538741.
  • Taveira, M.D.C, & Moreno, M.L.R. (2003). Guidance theory and practice: The status of career exploration. British Journal of Guidance and Counseling, 31, 189-207. doi: 10.1080/0306988031000102360

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