Two Models of Identity Development When Using Narratives to Design Career Readiness Programs

Career readiness refers to when one has established career and education/training plans that are linked to occupations offering sustainable wages (Career Readiness Partner Council, 2012). Renewed national focus on career and education planning is evident in school settings, marked by the rise in the use of individualized learning plans (Solberg, Wills, Redmond & Skaff, 2014). Research also illustrates that counseling strategies designed to facilitate career readiness are most likely to result in improved social-emotional learning competencies, contributing to both enhanced decision-making skills and academic success. (Dymnicki, Sambolt, & Kidron, 2013). An essential aspect of becoming career ready is developing a career identity, which includes finding a career that is enjoyable, fulfilling, and utilizes one’s talents and skills. Using two models of identity development, we explore how counselors can use career narratives in their practice settings to analyze the degree to which the individuals they serve are becoming career ready.

Marcia’s Identity Theory

Marcia’s Identity Model (1980) situates identity development in a process that focuses on the exploration and formation of goals. Interpreting this model in terms of career identity development, his four identity types can be described as follows:

1. “Diffused” career identity refers to not being engaged in self-exploration and not having committed to a career goal.

2. “Foreclosed” career identity refers to one who is highly committed to a career goal but is unable to provide evidence of having engaged in career exploration.

3. “Moratorium” career identity refers to one who has engaged in exploration and is still considering among a number of career options before making a decision.

4. “Achieved” career identity refers to one who has committed to a career goal(s) and is able to demonstrate that the career goal(s) emerged from actively engaging in career exploration.

McAdams’ Life-Story Theory

McAdams Life-Story Model (1985) focuses on how individuals can situate themselves within their past, present, and future to gauge depth of self-awareness regarding their skills, values, and purpose in life. The model describes development across three stages:

1. “Social Actor” is one who demonstrates the ability to identify their own interests, skills, values, as well as the social roles they play; however, not in a manner that connects these aspects of self to specific goals and intentions.

2. “Motivated Agent” is one who demonstrates some level of understanding as to how their interests, skills, values and roles are integrated into their aspirations and goals.

3. “Narrative Actor” is one who links self-awareness and goal intentions in ways that demonstrate a coherent understanding of the self in relation to past experiences, as well as engagement in present projects and activities that support their future pursuits.

Examples of Generating Career Narratives

Employing the above models, we have written a few relevant examples of how a counselor would generate career narratives with students and/or clients:

Counselor: What are some occupations you are considering right now, and how could your interests, skills, values, and/or current actions help you prepare for those occupations?

Student 1: “I can play an instrument very well. I am very funny. I can work with my hands and am not afraid to get dirty. I am considering being in a professional orchestra. Another far-off option would be a stand up comedian. One other idea would be to work in some kind of construction field, whether it is housing, city, working on large projects such as aircraft carriers, cruise ships, airplanes. A final choice would be to become a mechanic that can work on motorcycles, cars, bicycles, etc.” (According to the models, this adolescent would be classified as achieving a Moratorium Identity and the Social Actor stage.)

Student 2: “I am considering joining the military after college, of course. The only thing that I am doing now is getting in good physical shape and keeping my grades up, as well as talking to my family about it. I love fitness, learning about weapons, and working on planes with my grandfather. I' m also pretty good with money. I' m seventeen, and I believe now would be a good time to start trying to achieve what I want to be." (According to the models, this adolescent would be classified as achieving a Foreclosed Identity and the Motivated Agent stage.)

Student 3: "I am considering being a pediatrician. I am helping out with my little cousin that lives with us, so that is teaching me how to relate to kids. I also hang out with friends all the time, which helps build my people skills. My doctor influenced me to become a doctor when I was little. He enjoyed his job because he enjoyed working with kids, not because of the money. He told me, if you love your job, you never work a day in your life. Next steps I need are to graduate high school, then go to college for pre-med, then go to med school. I decided on my career when I was eight years old. I am not giving up on my dreams for anyone.” (According to the models, this adolescent would be classified as attaining an Achieved Identity and the Narrative Author stage)

As calls for emphasis on career and academic planning throughout the lifespan increase, it is important to look at whether and how one is becoming career ready. The examination of a student or client’s identity level will help guide practitioners in designing the content and structure of their interventions in developmentally appropriate ways.


Career Readiness Partner Council (2012). Building blocks for change: What it means to be career ready.  Retrieved August 27, 2015 from

Dymnicki, A., Sambolt, M., & Kidron, Y. (2013, March). Improving college and career readiness by incorporating social and emotional learning. College & Career Readiness & Success Center at American Institute for Research. Retrieved August 28, 2015 from

Marcia, J. E. (1980) Identity in adolescence. In J. Adelson (Ed.), Handbook of Adolescent Psychology. New York: Wiley.

McAdams, D. P. (1985). Power, intimacy, and the life story: Personological inquiries into identity. New York: Guilford Press.

Solberg, V.S., Wills, J., Redmond, K., & Skaff, Laura. (2014). Use of individualized learning plans as a promising practice for driving college and career readiness efforts: Findings and recommendations from a  multi-method, multi-study effort (ISBN: 1-933493-46-1). Washington, DC: National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth, Institute for Educational Leadership.

Taryn H. Gore is a doctoral student in Counseling Psychology at Boston University. She received her master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Northwestern University and her bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience from Mount Holyoke College. Taryn is a member of APA Division 17's Society for Vocational Psychology. Her research interests include the intersection of mental health and career development for marginalized adolescents. She can be reached at

Eleanor Castine is a doctoral student in Counseling Psychology at Boston University. She received her master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Loyola University of Maryland and her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Virginia. Ellie serves as the student representative on the executive board of APA Division 17’s Society of Vocational Psychology. Her research interests include children’s career development, particularly among marginalized youth and adolescents. She can be reached at

Sean Flanagan is a doctoral student in Counseling Psychology at Boston University. He received his master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from the Lynch School of Education at Boston College and his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Stonehill College (MA). Sean is a student member of ACA's National Career Development Association as well as APA Division 17's Society for Vocational Psychology . His research interests include social justice perspectives on career development across the lifespan. He can be reached at

V. Scott H. Solberg, Ph.D., is professor of counseling and human development at Boston University where he continues to conduct research on the design and implementation of career development programs and activities at national, state, and local levels.  His work on individualized learning plans in collaboration with the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth can be found at and recent launch of the Massachusetts Institute for College and Career Readiness can be found at He can be reached at

This entry was posted in Adult Career Changes.