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Krumboltz Career Choice Theory

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John D. Krumboltz is an educational psychologist who has been a leading researcher in the field since receiving his degree from the University of Minnesota in 1955. In particular, his pioneering work on behavioral counseling and social learning theory in career choice has revolutionized the field. Professor Krumboltz has authored or co-authored more than 200 scientific articles and earned the American Psychological Association's Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions. Krumboltz also authored several books, including "Luck Is No Accident," "Behavioral Counseling" and "Changing Children's Behavior."


Professor Krumboltz began focusing on career choice theories back in 1975. He describes his early work as centered around environmental conditions and how they influence career decision. While he published several iterations of his basic framework, Krumboltz sees his work until 1998 as slight modifications of the original material. In 1998, he revamped his original ideas, emphasizing the contributions of uncontrollable environmental effects on career decisions. This effort was further supported by joint works of Krumboltz and Henderson in 2002, leading to the publication of the "most complete" of his books, "Luck Is No Accident," in 2004. Krumboltz calls this final iteration of his ideas the "Happenstance Learning Theory of Career Counseling."

Nature vs. Nurture

The emphasis of Krumboltz on environmental factors should not be interpreted as a denial of genetic factors in career choice. In his 2009 paper, "The Happenstance Learning Theory," published in the Journal of Career Assessment, Krumboltz states that while genetic factors do play a role, there is nothing we can do about our genes, and we should therefore focus on environmental factors and events in our lives, over which we have some degree of control. However, what we must attribute to chance plays just as crucial a role; hence the name of the last iteration of his theory: The word "happenstance" denotes the part that chance plays in career choices.

Learning Experiences

Krumboltz thinks that the learning experiences we have been exposed to largely shape our career choices, identifying three types of such experiences. Instrumental learning experiences are those in which a person is directly involved in a learning situation and experiences the reward or punishment from good or mistaken deeds firsthand. Associative experiences arise when the person associates previous events with a later positive or negative reinforcement, concluding that certain acts must have indirectly resulted in later outcomes. Finally, vicarious experiences occur when individuals learn by observing directly and indirectly, through such media as TV and the Internet.

Resulting Beliefs, Skills and Actions

Our learning experiences combine with external factors present during critical times in our lives to result in beliefs, skills and finally actions. The external conditions include economic necessities, along with social, cultural and political trends around us. The combination gives rise to an individual's personal standards of performance, work habits, emotional response to events and generalizations about herself as well as her broader worldview. These forces then shape career choices. For optimal career decisions, Krumboltz proposes a seven-stage model that he labels DECIDES, with the letters standing for Define the problem, Establish the action plan, Clarify the values, Identify alternatives, Discover probable outcomes, Eliminate alternatives and Start action.


Hunkar Ozyasar is the former high-yield bond strategist for Deutsche Bank. He has been quoted in publications including "Financial Times" and the "Wall Street Journal." His book, "When Time Management Fails," is published in 12 countries while Ozyasar’s finance articles are featured on Nikkei, Japan’s premier financial news service. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Kellogg Graduate School.

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