Mark Savickas, PhD, is professor and chair in the behavioral sciences department at the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine and adjunct professor of counselor education at Kent State University. His 70 articles, 23 book chapters, and 500 presentations to professional groups have dealt with vocational behavior and career counseling. He is a member of the board of directors for the International Association for Educational and Vocational Guidance.


The career construction theory of vocational development and career counseling, simply stated, holds that individuals build their careers by imposing meaning on vocational behavior. Personality types and developmental transitions deal with what a person has done and how they have done it. However, they do not address the question of why they do what they do, nor do they focus on the spirit that animates nor the values that guide the manifold choices and adjustments that build a career.

Thus, career construction theory emphasizes the interpretive and interpersonal processes through which individuals impose meaning and direction on their vocational behavior. It uses social constructionism as a metatheory with which to reconceptualize vocational personality types and vocational development tasks as processes that have possibilities, not realities that predict the future. From a constructionist viewpoint, a subjective career that guides, regulates, and sustains vocational behavior emerges from an active process of making meaning, not discovering preexisting facts.

The life theme component of career construction theory addresses the subject matter of work life and focuses on the why of vocational behavior. Career stories reveal the themes that individuals use to make meaningful choices and adjust to work roles. By dealing with the why of life themes along with the what of personality types and the how of career adaptability, career construction seeks to be comprehensive in its purview.

The essential meaning of a career, and the dynamics of its construction, are revealed in self-defining stories about the vocational development tasks, occupational transitions, and work traumas that an individual has faced. In chronicling the recursive interplay between self and society, career stories explain why individuals make the choices that they do and the private meaning that guides these choices. From these prototypical stories about work life, counselors attempt to comprehend the life themes that construct careers and understand the motives and meaning that pattern work life.

Counseling for career construction begins with an interview that first discusses a client's career concerns and then poses a uniform set of questions to that client. The Career Style Interview elicits self-defining stories that enable counselors to identify and appreciate the thematic unity in a client's life. In addition to revealing the life theme, data from a Career Style Interview also manifest the client's vocational personality and career adaptability.

In attempting to discern the life theme while listening to an individual's career stories, counselors and researchers can become disoriented by the numerous particulars of a life. To prevent becoming confused by a client's complexities and contradictions, they can listen not for the facts but for the glue that holds the facts together as they try to hear the theme or secret that makes a whole of the life. Counselors and researchers approach this task by assuming that the archetypal theme of career construction involves turning a personal preoccupation into a public occupation.

As they listen to a client narrate his or her stories, they concentrate on identifying and understanding his or her personal paradigm for turning essence into interest, tension into intention, and obsession into profession. Of course, along the way, the client's presenting concerns are examined in context of the life in progress and consultation is provided about how she or he might resolve these concerns. Thus, in its counseling application, career construction theory assists clients to fully inhabit their lives and become more complete as they sustain themselves and contribute to their communities.

The typical client is one who expresses concern about making a career choice or a career change. It also is used with college students trying to select an educational major, counseling and psychology students trying to select a specialty, and doctoral students seeking a dissertation topic.

JOHN SLUIMAN TRANSPERSOONLIJKE COUNSELING 'praktijk voor psychosociale begeledin