Social Cognitive Career Theory (A guide)

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In this blog we present you a guide of the Social Cognitive Career Theory. 

We will also discuss the variables of the Social cognitive Career Theory, the models developed out of this theory, and the applications of the Social cognitive Career theory. 

What is the Social cognitive career theory?

Social cognitive career theory (SCCT) is a relatively new theory that explains how basic academic and career interests develop, how career and educational choices are made, and how career and academic success is obtained. 

This theory was developed in 1994 by Robert W. Lent, Steven D. Brown, and Gail Hackett by employing Albert Bandura’s Social Cognitive theory as a framework to incorporate careers and academic growth. 

Like earlier career development theories, this theory incorporates concepts like interests, abilities, and from Bandura’s Social Cognitive theory it also incorporates values and environmental factors such as role models. 

The theory has three variables that serve as the building blocks on which the Social Cognitive Career Theory is based on. These variables include:

  • Self efficacy
  • Outcomes Expectations
  • Personal Goals

Self efficacy beliefs

Self efficacy refers to an individual’s own perception that their abilities can help them complete a task or reach their goals. Self efficacy is dynamic and changeable as well as it is specific to tasks. 

This means that even if a person is efficacious in one task it does not mean that they will be good at completing another task. 

The Social Cognitive Career theory postulates that people vary in their self efficacy in different occupational and academic fields- Meaning that even if one person might feel confident in their abilities as a sales agent in terms of their social abilities and their ability to reel in customers, they might not have the same confidence when working with finances and accounting. 

These self efficacy beliefs are believed to develop from personal performances, accomplishments, observing other people, social influence, and physiological as well as mental states.

Personal accomplishment is believed to be the driving source of self efficacy beliefs however according to the SCCT, social models and reinforcing messages from the environment around the person is also an influential factor in self efficacy beliefs. 

Outcome expectations

Outcome expectations refer to one’s expectations about what will happen as a result of performing a certain act. 

The SCCT theorists believe that outcome expectations also play a huge role in the choice of a person perfromaning or engaging in activities along with their self-efficacy beliefs about oneself. 

For example, people will more likely choose to engage in an activity if they see positive outcomes or positive consequences such as social and self-approval, tangible rewards and choose careers if they receive positive or beneficial working conditions. 

Personal goals

Personal goals refer to the intention of a person to engage in an activity or the intention to attain a certain level of performance or achievement. 

By setting personal goals, people organise and guide their own behaviour to achieve their goals. The SCCT posits that these goals are tied to both outcomes expectations as well as self efficacy beliefs. 

That means that people tend to set goals that are consistent with what they consider desirable outcomes as well as their views of their personal capabilities.

The outcomes of the process of setting these goals is what informs the person’s self efficacy beliefs and later expectations. All three of these variables are linked and one affects the other. 

What are the four models of the Social cognitive career theory?

The social cognitive career theory gives rise to four distinct and overlapping models. These models include:

The making of choices or the choice model – making a career choices is not a one off event but an ongoing developmental set of processes. As illustrated in the interest model, certain choices may over time become more interesting and viable and others less attractive and open to a successful outcome. Choices are open to future reconsideration and change.

The influences on, and results of performance – the performance model

The experience of satisfaction and well-being in education or occupation – the satisfaction model

In each of these 4 models, the 3 basic building blocks above are seen to interact with other aspects of a person (gender, ethnicity etc…) and their environment as well as learning experiences they have.

Interest Model

According to this model, the development of interests in a specific academic area or career depends on feedback and responses from the environment around them. 

The interest model posits that a child’s environment provides an array of activities and the child is encouraged to do well in certain activities. 

Their performance of these activities along with feedback that they received for their performance is what generates interest or lack of interest in that particular field.

This exposure to an arry of acivtieis and options is either directly or vicariously- by watching other people in their world engage in these acitveiis- either in school or in their neighbourhood communities. 

According to this model it is through exposure, engagement, practice, and feed back that they reviewed from other people within the community such as encouragement, positive test and assessment scores; they form a sense of efficacy, acciqure outcome expectations, and set further goals- this continues in a loop as the child moves from academics to career choices and progress in the work force.  

According to this interest model, interest are unlikely to develop if the person’s self-efficacy beliefs are full of doubts and if they have negative expectations of the outcomes based on their goal setting and sense of self efficacy- in such cases, their interests will wane and the will move onto something else. 

Choice Model

The choice model builds on the interest model. The model pushes forward the idea that based on a person’s sense of self-efficacy and outcome expectations about their areas of interest, they are likely to foster interest for a particular occupational and academic choice.

It is more likely that the person will make choices and take action to attain their choice goals when:

  • the individual has clarity about their interest 
  • has specific interest instead of broad general areas
  • if this interest has been stated publicly 
  • if the interest has support from other people. 

Some steps that they might take to attain their choice goals include things like getting into an education and training program, or an internship and a goal etc.

The steps that they take to attain their choice goals is what informs their sense of self-efficacy and their outcome expectations of their choice goals. If the sense of efficacy is positive, their expectations are also positive, which further drives and motivates them towards their personal goals. 

According to the Social Cognitive Career Theory, a person is able to do their best to attain their choice goals under nurturing and supportive environments. Some of the barriers that negatively impact their choice goals include:

  • Economic need
  • Family pressure to change goals
  • Educational limitations
  • Cultural values

It is when they come across these barriers that they tend to let go of their choices and interest and choose something that is more pragmatic based on their self-efficacy (ie, their ability to do the job) and outcome expectations that they need (ie. their economic needs).

Performance Model

SCCT’s performance model posits that performance of an indidvdiual depends on their successes in their educational and occupational pursuits as well as their persistence even in the face of challenges. 

This model pushes the idea that an individual positive performances is influenced by a person’s ability that they attrain based on their past achievements by infleunceing their sense of self efficacy that feeds their persistence and motivation. 

For example, a student with a higher aptitude in the last exam is more likely to persist and do better than students with lower aptitude. 

Ability is also believed to impact performance and persistence by intervening self efficacy and outcome expectations  by influencing the type of goals a person sets for themselves.

For example,  students with higher self-efficacy and more positive outcome expectations will be more likely to establish higher performance goals for themselves and persist longer in the face of set-backs. As a result, they may achieve higher levels of success.

Satisfaction model

Another model, that has been recently added to the Social Cognitive Career Theory is focused on people’s perception of satisfaction or well-being in education and/or occupation 

Developers of the model, Robert W. Lent in 2013, notes that people will be satisfied and happy with their fields of choice based on:

  • How involved they are in activities that they value. 
  • Their perception of individual progress
  • Their perception that they are capable and can achieve their goals
  • Their access to an environment that encourages improvement and growth

This means that a person will choose careers and be much happier in careers that are connected to something they personally value, where they can grow in- personally and professionally- and a career choice that encourages their growth.

The model also pushes the idea that a person’s sense of satisfaction is affected by a person’s personality- the more well adjusted they are the more satisfied- and the working conditions of their jobs. 

What are the applications of the Social Cognitive career theory?

The social cognitive career theory can be used in many ways. Theis theory can be developed into a practical model of application to help students and professionals develop academic and career paths.

This model can be applied in educational and professional settings for helping professionals and students:

  • Explore and identify an individual’s blockages that prevent them from attaining goals
  • Explore ways to get around these blocks in their career growth
  • Conceptualise and evaluate career education programmes that are in place or that needs to be developed and applied.
  • Help re-adjust young people’s self efficacy beliefs and preserve discarded occupational or educational choices as future options. 
  • Explore and identify misconceptions that are holding back a person from progressing such as inaccurate assumptions of self-efficacy. 
  • Creating awareness about certain career paths that the client is showing little interest by exploring and correcting  misconceptions about outcome expectations.
  • Helping people littler career choices based on self-efficacy and outcome expectations.
  • Help clients set realistic goals for their academic and career choices.


In this blog we presented you a guide of the Social Cognitive Career Theory. 

We also discussed the variables of the Social cognitive Career Theory, the models developed out of this theory, and the applications of the Social cognitive Career theory. 


Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT). MARCR. Retrieved on 17th March 2022.

Social Cognitive Career Theory. Career Research. 17th March 2022.

Social Cognitive Career Theory. Psychology. Retrieved on 17th March 2022. cognitive%20 career%20theory%20(SCCT,Developed%20by%20Robert%20W.

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