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Supers Theory of Career Development


Donald Super


Donald Super was born on July 10, 1910 in Honolulu, Hawaii. His father was personnel

specialist, his mother a writer. When his father was transferred from Hawaii to the YMCA

national office in New York. Super and his older brother attended an elementary school in

Upper Montclair, New Jersey. When he was 12, his family moved to Warsaw, Poland. Supers

father founded the YMCA there. During the first winter in Poland, Super lost his older brother

to a fatal illness. From this life- changing event, Super developed a rational intellect and an iron

will. Those became his main coping mechanisms (Savickas, 1995). He relied on these traits

while he attended boarding school in Geneva, After graduation, he enrolled at Oxford University

where he received his BA in economic history with a senior honors thesis on British labor


His experiences at Oxford during the Great Depression, as well as observing his fathers

career in personal training, made Super more sensitized to the importance of employment in

peoples lives. Super decided to devote his life to helping people find fitting work (Savickas,

1995). Supers first employment was as a job placement specialist at the Cleveland YMCA and

simultaneously taught at Fenn College, which is now Cleveland State University. After two

years of work, Super received a grant to allow him to develop a community- based counseling

agency, the Cleveland Guidance Service. He directed the program for two years. At this time,

he decided to enroll in a doctoral program in vocational guidance and applied psychology at

Teachers College, Columbia University. Once he completed his dissertation data collection,

Super became an assistant professor of psychology at Clark University in which he also directed

the Student Personnel Bureau. He completed his dissertation on vocational interests in 1940.

Two years later, he published Dynamics of Vocational Adjustment (Savickas, 1995).

During WWII, The Army Air Corps commissioned Super as first lieutenant in 1942 and

promoted him to major by the time he completed active duty in 1945. As an aviation

psychologist, he was able to conduct research and direct psychological services at a military

hospital. After WWII, he began a new job at Columbia Universitys Teacher College. He

worked there until his retirement in 1975 (Savickas, 1995).

Super has several books and publications- The Psychology of Careers, Appraising Vocational

Fitness by Means of Psychological Tests is an encyclopedia book, Career Development: Self

Concept Theory which is a monograph, Career Development in Great Britain, Life Roles,

Values, and Career: International Findings of the Work Importance Study. Super has

publications in the American Psychologist. In 1972, The National Career Development

Association awarded him with it Eminent Career Award. The American Psychological

Association (APA) presented him with the Counseling Psychology Divisions Leona Tyler

Award in 1980 for lifetime achievement, and awarded him the Distinguished Scientific Award

for Contribution so the Applications of Psychology in 1983 (Savickas, 1995). Super was named

honorary President for life in 1983 by The International Association for Education and

Vocational Guidance. In 1985, he was presented with the Distinguished Alumni award from TC.

In 1990, they presented him with, The Teachers College Medal for Contributions to Education

(Savickas, 1995).

Description of Theory:

It is important to distinguish between the two types of Career Development

Theories. There are Structural Theories and Developmental Theories. Structural Theories-

focus on individual characteristics and occupational tasks, (Career Development Theory and

Process, n.d.). Developmental Theories- focus on human development across life span,

(Career Development Theory and Process, n.d.). Donald Super was a Developmental Theorist.

Developmental Theorists recognize that changes occur within oneself. Career maturity, as

Donald Super refers to his theory, is his main concept. Super believed that people are anything

but static and personal change is continuous. Donald Supers Life Span/Life Space is a

comprehensive developmental model that attempts to account for the various important factors

and influences on a person as they experience different various life stages and changing life roles

Career Theory Overview Snapshot, (n.d.). To Super, Vocational Development is the process of

developing and implementing a self- concept (Career Theory Overview Snapshot, (n.d.).

Career maturity only occurs as one becomes successful in there accomplishment of stage of

development, age, and tasks across ones life span, (Career Development Theory and Process,

n.d.). Career patterns are determined by socioeconomic factors, mental and physical abilities,

personal characteristics and the opportunities to which persons are exposed. People seek career

satisfaction through work roles in which they can express themselves and implement and

develop their self-concepts, (Career Development Theory and Process, n.d.).

Super believed that people choose occupations that allow them to express their self-concepts

(Career Theory Overview Snapshot, (n.d.). One of Supers greatest contributions to career

development has been his emphasis of the role self-concept development plays. Super

recognized that the self-concept changes and develops throughout peoples lives as a result of

experience. People successively refine their self-concept(s) over time and application to the

world of work creates adaptation in their career choice, (Career Development Theory, 2003).

Super developed six life and career stage developments.


Those stages are:

1. Crystallization stage- 14-18 years

2. Specification stage- 18-21 years
3. Implementation stage- 21-24 years
4. Stabilization stage- 24-35 years
5. Consolidation stage- 35 years
6. Readiness for retirement- 55 years (Career Development Theory, 2003).

During the Crystallization stage, one begins to form a general vocational goal. The next

stage, the Specification stage, they move from tentative to a specific preference. In the

Implementation stage, they complete training and enter employment. During the Stabilization

stage, one confirms their choice through work experience. During the Consolidation stage, one

would advance in career (Overview of Career Development Theories, n.d.). Career

development is life-long and occurs throughout those five life stages. When making an

occupational decision, an individual is expressing his or her own understanding of themselves;

his or her self- concept. Individuals seek satisfaction in ones work roles in which they are

allowed to express self themselves and develop their own self-concept. The key to career choice

and occupational satisfaction is self-knowledge (Big Picture View of Career

Development, n.d.).

Theory Measurements and Instrumentation:

Donald Super created the C-DAC- Career Development Assessment (Savickas, 1995).

Assessments in his model include: Career Development Inventory, Adult Career Concerns

Inventory, Salience Inventory, Values Scale, and Self Directed Search. There are several others

resources that may be used for Career Intervention Strategies (Career Theory Overview

Snapshot, (n.d.).

Those resources are:

*Career Maturity Scale (Crites)

*Assessment of Career Development (Super)
*Life Career Rainbow (Super)
*National Career Development Guidelines
*Conveys Book- 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens
*My Vocational Handbook (Holland)

(Career Theory Overview Snapshot, (n.d.).

Reported by:

Holly S. McVay


Beale, A. V. (2001). Emerging career development theories: a test for school counselors.

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Big Picture View of Career Development Theory, (n.d.). Retrieved December 10, 2009 from

Career Development Theory, (2003). Retrieved September 23, 2009 from

Career Development Theory and Process, (n.d.). Retrieved 9-23-2009 from

Career Theory Overview Snapshot, (n.d.). Retrieved December 10, 2009 from

Chen, C. P. (2003). Integrating perspectives in career development theory and practice-Articles.

Retrieved 9-23-2009


From social learning to happenstance, (2004). Retrieved September 23, 2009 from

Overview of Career Development Theories, (n.d). Retrieved September 23, 2009 from

Overview of Career Development Theory, (n.d). Retrieved September 23, 2009 from

Savickas, M. (1995). Donald E. Super (1910-1994). American Psychologist, 50(9), 794-795.

Understanding and applying theories of career development, (2008). Retrieved September 10,

2009 from