Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) is a psychological theory that attempts to explain how individuals make career-related decisions. Developed by Robert Lent, Steven Brown, and Gail Hackett in the late 1980s, SCCT posits that career development results from the interaction between an individual’s cognitive processes, behavior, and environment. In this article, we’ll explore what SCCT is and how it can be applied in career counseling.

Key Concepts of Social Cognitive Career Theory

According to SCCT, individuals are both products and producers of their environment. The theory suggests that an individual’s self-efficacy beliefs – their confidence in their ability to perform a task successfully – play a critical role in shaping their career-related behaviors. For instance, if someone believes they’re good at writing, they’re more likely to pursue a writing-related career.

Another key concept of SCCT is outcome expectations – an individual’s beliefs about the consequences of performing a particular behavior. If someone believes that studying hard will lead to better grades and eventually a successful career, they’re more likely to put in the effort required for academic success.

The Role of Goals

SCCT also emphasizes the importance of goals in career development. According to the theory, goal setting helps individuals clarify their aspirations and develop plans for achieving them. The more specific and challenging the goal, the more effective it is likely to be in motivating behavior.

However, goals must also be attainable; otherwise, individuals may become demotivated if they perceive their efforts as futile. Thus, counselors should help clients set realistic but challenging goals that align with their values and interests.

The Environment’s Influence on Career Development

SCCT acknowledges that environmental factors play a crucial role in shaping an individual’s career development. The environment includes social norms related to gender roles and occupational stereotypes as well as opportunities for learning and career advancement.

For instance, if a woman grows up in a family or community where traditional gender roles are emphasized, she may be less likely to consider a career in a male-dominated field. Similarly, if someone lacks access to educational opportunities or mentorship, they may struggle to develop the skills needed for their desired career.

Applying SCCT in Career Counseling

SCCT has several practical implications for career counseling. One is that counselors should help clients identify and challenge any self-limiting beliefs that may be hindering their career development. If someone believes they’re not good at math, for instance, they may avoid pursuing careers that require quantitative skills, even if they have other strengths in those fields.

Another implication is that counselors should work with clients to set specific and challenging but attainable goals. This involves helping clients develop action plans and providing feedback and encouragement along the way.

Finally, counselors should help clients navigate environmental factors that may be impacting their career development. For instance, they can encourage clients to seek out mentors or networking opportunities and provide resources for developing new skills or accessing educational programs.


Social Cognitive Career Theory provides a useful framework for understanding how individuals make career-related decisions. By considering an individual’s cognitive processes, behavior, and environment, counselors can help clients overcome self-limiting beliefs and develop realistic but challenging goals. Ultimately, SCCT can help individuals take control of their own career development by identifying the factors influencing their decisions and taking steps to achieve their aspirations.