Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory is a neat way to understand how we grow and develop as people.
Despite the theory's academic name, it isn’t hard to understand. It simply requires each of us to actively participate in our progress.
Some of us are confident and outgoing. Some are shy and anxious. Some are born with special gifts or privilege. Others, not as much. Psychologist Albert Bandura recognizes that individual personality traits, natural-born talents, and external factors like the environment can influence one’s future.
But he also believes that people are in control of their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. And as long as that’s true, the only thing that’s standing between us and achieving our career dreams is ourselves.
Watch and learn
The idea of observational learning is central to Bandura’s social cognitive theory.
We can learn a lot just by watching how other people behave. You probably already do this on a regular basis.
Whether in person or online, people are out there doing things you might be interested in learning how to do yourself. By paying attention or following along, you can pick up practical knowledge and skills.
How to use observational learning
- Look for role models or mentors in your chosen field. Work with them to understand:
- Skills they’ve developed
- Behaviours they exhibit
- Professional connections they’ve made to support them
- Read about people who are successful in your industry. What’s their story?
- Attend industry-related events to:
Do what successful people do
An extension of observational learning is something called modelling.
In this approach, you identify specific people in your field whom you admire. They should have the qualities and successes you want for yourself. In other words, you find their career path and work inspiring.
Then, you copy or adapt their path to success so it fits your situation.
How to use modelling
- Do some research to find someone who stands out in the industry the way you would like to stand out.
- Get familiar with their work:
- What makes it stand out in the industry?
- What makes it stand out for you personally?
- Get to know their story:
- What kind of training and education did they get?
- What was their first job in the industry?
- How do they make connections in their industry?
- What podcasts or online forums do they follow?
- Use them as a model for your own career goals. Try to follow their example by mirroring their:
- Path to credentials
- Work ethic
- Approach to problem solving
- Networking strategies
Bandura points to self-regulation as a key part of a person’s career planning activities. It basically makes you your own boss. You manage and control your own behaviour, thoughts, and emotions. You set goals, make decisions, and take actions to stay on track and achieve your desired results.
Success is earned. If you want it, you have to make a plan and stick with it.
How to apply self-regulation
- Set clear and realistic career goals for yourself.
- Divide those goals into manageable steps.
- Create a detailed plan on how you will reach those goals, with:
- Specific milestones (for example, subscribe to an industry news forum, enrol in a course, or secure an internship)
- Timelines (when you’ll achieve each milestone)
- Regularly review your progress:
- Adjust your plan as needed to keep moving forward.
- Celebrate your achievements.
- Learn from any setbacks.
Understand what influences you
Bandura’s idea of reciprocal determinism is less complicated than it sounds. It just means that nothing happens in isolation. Our thoughts, actions, and surroundings all influence each other.
There’s non-stop interplay between these 3 factors:
- Individual—your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and actions
- Environment—the people and situations around you (external)
- Behaviour—your actions and responses
Here’s an example of how it works:
Have you ever been in a public space when someone started shouting? In that moment, you probably became much more aware of your surroundings. You assessed the situation. Based on what you understood to be happening, you decided to either ignore the shouting, engage in the situation, or leave.
Your actions reflected your feelings or beliefs, which reflected the situation at hand.
How to use reciprocal determinism
- Surround yourself with a supportive environment:
- Join industry associations.
- Network with others who share your professional interests and with whom you can grow your knowledge or skills.
- Pay attention to feelings of self-doubt or fear of failure:
- Stay positive:
- Remind yourself of all you’ve accomplished so far.
- Focus on your goals and what it will feel like when you get there.
Get out of your own way
The only thing standing between you and achieving your career dreams could be you. It might sound silly, but think about it. Are you creating any obstacles for yourself?
Bandura talks about the idea of self-efficacy—our belief in our own abilities, or our developmental self-concept—as a driving force in the career decision-making process.
When you feel confident, you often perform better in a challenging situation. You feel that you know what you need to do. If you do well in a situation, it can boost your confidence even more. Success leads to success. It’s a cycle.
You have to believe in yourself if you’re going to take on new challenges and pursue your career goals. If you believe you can do something, which means that you have high self-efficacy when it comes to that particular thing, you’re more likely to try it and succeed.
And if you don’t think you’ll succeed at something, which signals low self-efficacy for that thing, it may mean that you believe something is harder than it really is.
Trying is the only way to learn. Learning leads to success. And success builds confidence.
How to boost your self-efficacy
- Set yourself up for small successes:
- Expand on what you know you do well.
- With each success, expand again.
- Believe in yourself. Replace negative self-talk with encouragement.
- Seek feedback from people you trust:
- Listen to understand your strengths.
- Listen to understand areas for improvement.
- Remember that constructive criticism is a learning tool. Don’t take it personally.
Time to reflect
Bandera’s social cognitive theory challenges us to think about how we might learn from others, how we’re influenced by our own thoughts and feelings, and how we can use this information to check our behaviour and achieve the things we want.
These ideas might help you as you chart your own career path.
Check out other career development theories
Choosing a career is a big decision. Exploring different ways to approach it can make the process a little easier. Here are some other career development theories to consider: