P-E fit/developmental comparison practice essay
The following post is an essay researched and written in anticipation of an exam question for the module Career Counselling Theory & Practice (later called "Career Counselling & Coaching") in pursuit of the Organizational Psychology Master's qualification within the University of London's International Programmes (Birkbeck College). Excerpts may be be used with the citation:
Aylsworth, J. (2008). Career counselling theory comparison underscores need for enabling testable hypotheses. (url) Accessed: (Month year).
Exam essay question:
"With reference to relevant research, compare and contrast person-environment theories and developmental theories."
Career counselling theory comparison
for enabling testable hypotheses
After describing person-environment fit and developmental theories, we will briefly introduce the major writers of both and then move on to explore theory and evidence for career counselling in the context of P-E fit theories, John Holland’s work and developmental theories and Donald Super’s work. After recapping, we will not argue for one theory versus the other but will conclude that the two are inter-related, that both pave the way for constructivist approaches to career counselling and that they remind us, in a constructivist-moving career counselling world, that good theory should continue to lead to testable hypotheses and empirical research.
P-E fit theory originated in the U.S. in the form of trait-and-factor theory during the early part of the last century. Basically, it presents the idea that people and jobs can and should match. It is a differentialist theory, meaning that it is grounded in the way that people differ from one another.
Developmental career theory originated also in the U.S., as a reaction to P-E fit. It was influenced by the work of Carl Rogers (1942, 1947). Developmental theory communicates that career choice is lifelong, and it is rooted in developmental psychology.
John Holland is the major P-E fit writer with this theory of occupational congruence, (Holland, 1997). Holland’s theory proposes that: 1) people choose jobs according to their interests and that those interests are represented by six interest types that can be plotted on a hexagon, 2) when people choose jobs that match their interests, congruence results, and 3) congruence leads to job satisfaction.
Holland’s work was informed by Parsons’ (1909) tri-partite theory of vocational guidance, which said that “true reasoning” could be used to make an appropriate occupational choice once the individual had accumulated sufficient knowledge about oneself and the world of work. P-E fit theorists other than Holland are Dawis and Lofquist (1994) with their Minnesota theory of work adjustment and Schneider (1985) with his ASA (assessment, selection, attrition) model.
Donald Super is the major developmental career theorist. His original theory, presenting five career stages, was introduced in 1957 and later revised into four stages, consisting of exploration, establishment, maintenance and disengagement (Super & Thompson, 1988). Super’s work was informed by that of Charlotte Buehrer (1993). Career-theorist Levinson (1978) wrote of the phases of men’s careers initially and later expanded his work to include women (Levinson, 1996). The latter was published after his death.
P-E fit. P-E fit, which is rooted in trait-and-factor theory, was extraordinarily significant for its time. Prior to trait-and-factor theory, phrenology (the study of the morphology of the skull) was the prevailing explanation for differential personality traits among individuals (Watkins & Savickas, 1990). Trait-and-factor was also important because it helped meet war- and post-war occupational channeling needs. Contemporary P-E fit is now considered to be sufficiently informed by practice knowledge to accommodate agency. An agentic view allows for career adjustment as an ongoing process versus merely an outcome. Swanson (1996) writes that P-E fit is the most flexible approach from which to pursue career counselling.
Holland. Holland’s theory has been extremely useful for research because it has been extended to testable hypotheses. His idea that people choose jobs according to their interests has generally been supported (Spokane, 1985). Though developed in the U.S., his work has also found some support among British samples (Kidd, 2003).
Developmental theories. These theories have contributed the idea that career choice is lifelong and also have encouraged the use of pattern and theme recognition by career counselors. In addition, developmental theories have contributed four important ideas to career counselling practice: 1) the career model, 2) career stages. This idea has found support in the Career Pattern Survey (1953). 3) the self-concept as that which is pursued and enacted during career stages, and 4) the job as a social role.
Super. Super has contributed idea of time (emergence) and lifepsace (relativity). Other key concepts are career adjustment as ongoing, the observation that individuals recycle their role during times of change, and the previously mentioned idea of the self-concept. Role salience is also among Super’s key concepts. Evidence supports the exploration phase of his model, particularly for high self-esteem young people (Kidd, 2003). Super's work has also found some support among British samples (Kidd, 2003).
P-E fit. P-E fit theory has been soundly thrashed on multiple fronts. Writers critique that it is too static, too outcome-focused, relies too much on testing, positions the career counsellor as little more than a labor market expert, assesses interests rather than abilities, and that it fails to consider context in the form of structural and cultural factors that may limit access to careers.
Holland. Probably the most serious criticism of Holland’s theory is that it may not be relevant for circumstances described by Roberts (1968) structural theory, which suggests that some people, either due to family of origin or labor market conditions, don’t have the opportunity to pursue careers of interest and must take whatever they can get. Otherwise, Holland’s theory has been criticized by Tinsley (2000), who found that congruence did not correlate with job satisfaction Prediger (2000) counters that Tinsley’s measure of job satisfaction was too broad, but he presents his own criticism. Prediger believes that the interest types on the hexagon should be reconfigured into two dichotomies: things versus people and ideas versus data. Holland is also criticized for failing to consider the career counselling process in depth.
Developmental theories. This body of research has been criticized for ignoring women and minorities and also for being too prescriptive in proposing that specific events should happen at specific ages. Minot (2001), in particular, criticizes their counselor-as-expert stance, an idea that is consistent with critique of developmental theories as being too value-laden and being grounded in social and intellectual values (Kidd, 2003).
Super. Super is criticized for ignoring women and minorities and also for failing to consider what happens to people after they enter organizations. He is further criticized for describing his stages beyond exploration in a way that is too general to allow for testable hypotheses.
Thus far, we have described P-E fit and developmental theories, looked at the major writers and also examined theory and evidence in the context of contributions and criticisms.
We will conclude not by arguing for one theory versus the other but by offering three observations. First, both theories bridge to and from one another and are now inter-related. Swanson (1996), as previously stated, believes that P-E fit now encompasses the idea of career choice as ongoing. This is idea, of course, is the fundamental hallmark of developmental career theories. Developmental theories stepped across the bridge from P-E fit at their origin. Super’s theory is accepted as both developmental and differentialist because it acknowledges that people still choose jobs based on their interests (Super, 1993).
Second, both theories set the stage for a contextual and constructivist consideration of careers and career counselling. P-E fit is acknowledged by Swanson (1996) to be flexible enough to embrace context, and she suggests Fitzgerald & Betz’s (1994) framework to accomplish this. Developmental theories are already constructivist because they embrace the self-concept. In fact, Super later wrote that he wished he had called the “self-concept” the “personal construct” (Arnold, 1997).
Third, we must recognize that career counselling, as it moves in a constructivist direction toward narrative, is also risking entry into a realm where outcomes can be characterized as “autobiographical fiction” (Nicholson & West, 1988). P-E fit and developmental theories have both been workhorses in their respective mostly normative domains. Let us hope, as career counselling theory evolves, that P-E fit and developmental theories continue to remind us of the need for hypotheses that can be tested as well as the need to yield empirical research that will continue to inform career counselling theory and practice.
Exam performance: This essay was not used under exam condition; therefore, how it would have been marked is unknown. The essay could benefit from a topic sentence.