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Parsons’ Theory: Match Your Traits to Career Factors

Career planning might seem complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. More than 100 years ago, Frank Parsons introduced the notion of matching a person’s talents to job opportunities.

There weren’t nearly as many career options back then, but the main ideas behind his theory still apply to this day.

Parsons’ trait and factor theory is based on a few points:

  • People are naturally better at some things than others.
  • We like doing things that we’re good at more than things that are a struggle.
  • When we enjoy doing something, the time we spend doing it will be more productive.

Pretty sensible, right? Let’s take a closer look at how Parsons’ theory works.

Identify careers that might fit you

When you’re trying to figure out your career path, the best place to start is at the beginning. Parsons’ theory offers a methodical 3-step approach.

Step 1: Understand your traits

Take the time to figure out what you’re good at, what you enjoy doing, and what’s important to you in a job.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are you naturally good at?
  • What do you like doing in your free time?
  • Do you prefer working alone or in teams?
  • What matters most to you in a job?
    • Helping others
    • Creativity
    • Working outdoors
    • A high salary
    • Work-life balance
    • Other

Step 2: Understand factors in the world of work

Do some research to learn about different career options. Think about:

  • What kind of occupations are out there?
  • What do people in those occupations do?
  • What skills and education or training do you need?
  • How soon could you start working?
  • Are there related job opportunities in places where you want to live?

Step 3: Make a match

Take what you’ve learned about yourself—your strengths, character, and values—and what you’ve learned about careers, and identify potential matches. There might be a few that appear to fit. Do some more research on each of your matches so you can find the very best option.

Think about next steps:

  • Do you have any related experience, or can you get it?
  • Do you know anyone in your chosen field(s) who could help guide or mentor you?
  • Are you prepared to invest time and money in any required education or training?
  • When can you get started?

Make a plan

Parsons’ theory is about helping people make informed career choices. With some idea of where you want to go in your career path, you’ll need a plan for how you’re going to get there.

A plan is like a roadmap for how you intend to reach your goals.

Your plan will depend, in part, on the type of career you’ve decided to pursue. For example, if you’ve decided on a career as an electrician, you’ll need a different kind of schooling than if you want to become an architect.

There are many practical details to consider when building your plan. You’ll need to:

  • Define your short- and long-term goals. Be specific about what you want to achieve.
  • Determine the training requirements:
    • Do you need formal training, and if so, what schools offer it?
    • Do you have what you need to get into the training program, or do you need to upgrade your schooling to qualify?
    • When can—and will—you apply to get started?
    • Do you need work experience? Where can you get some? Consider part-time work, volunteering, or a gateway job.
  • Start building a network of contacts in your chosen field:
  • Keep your resumé up to date. Make sure it highlights the relevant skills, education, and experience as you acquire them.

Check in on how you’re doing

For your plan to get you where you want to be, you need to follow it. Check your progress regularly to make sure you’re still on track.

But remember that career planning is an ongoing process. As you gain knowledge and experience, your priorities might change. You might discover an unexpected path that is an even better fit for your skills and interests. Be willing to change your plans and to pivot as appropriate.

If you stick to Parsons’ basic theory that your skills, interests, and values should match your career, there’s a very good chance you’ll like where you land.

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:

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