The ICAN Career Development Model: A post modern framework for understanding career development

By Adry Snorradottir Clark

As part of its mission, Oregon State University Career Services educates students and the campus about career development, but found itself without a simple framework to effectively explain the inherent complex ideas. The author developed the ICAN model in 2009/2010, after an review of the career development literature (as part of writing her dissertation) and to express her and the center staff’s theoretical orientation. Since September 2010, the ICAN model has been part of almost every presentation OSU Career Services has provided and serves as a brief orientation to career development for freshmen students and senior administration alike.


The ICAN career development model proposes that the goal of career development is for individuals to achieve readiness for career transition rather than to arrive at a particular career decision. Career transition readiness is marked by an individual developing Identity, Confidence, Adaptability, and a Network, or ICAN, in order to thrive in their career.


The ICAN Career Development Model

Career transition readiness develops when individuals bring their background, aspirations, strengths, and interests to an experience or social interaction, which then impacts ICAN. Certain experiences and interactions have higher impact and transformative value, with high quality formal and informal experiential learning activities being the most impactful, especially for less privileged populations. The more formal engagements often take shape as internships or service learning, while the informal experiences may simply be chance encounters or social networking.


The ICAN model describes a cyclical process that ideally spirals in a positive, growth-producing direction. While this is a lifelong cycle, youth and young adults are particularly susceptible to the quality of experiences and social interactions they encounter.


Three ICAN Components

A. What individuals bring to an experience is unique to each person. While there are countless factors to consider, the most salient in terms of career development are background, aspirations, strengths, and interests.

  1. The combination of family and cultural background is complex and multidimensional, and connects to all aspects of diversity, including socioeconomic status, religion, gender, and race. Not easily identified through formal career assessment, the ICAN model recommends constructivist approaches to uncover story themes and meaning.

  2. Aspirations are what people think are achievable in life and how people see their future. Aspirations reflect how self-esteem and environmental factors have shaped a person's drive, goals, and hopefulness. The strength of the aspirations can signal a commitment to a career orientation.

  3. Strengths are enduring and dominant talents that have developed to produce excellent results in a defined activity. Individuals often take their strengths for granted or need support to develop them.

  4. Interests are those factors which attract, concern, or arouse the curiosity of a person. They are limited to and derivative of what the person has been exposed to; in the case of vocational interests, this includes occupations the person has learned about directly or indirectly.

B. What individuals engage in – Engaging in experience, either hands-on, by observing, or by talking to real people, is where career related learning and expansion takes place. This is where individuals get exposed to possibilities, where they test their vision, and where they are socialized and find social support. The ICAN model builds on Krumboltz’s (2004) Planned Happenstance theory that action comes before knowing when it comes to career awareness. It is imperative that counseling and educational interventions encourage and facilitate experiential learning opportunities that utilize best practice methods.


C. What individuals take away – The ICAN outcomes reflect post modern realities of a fast-moving, ever-changing world. Specific occupational choices might be outdated or irrelevant within a short period of time, so the focus of this model is on the fitness of the person to meet continuous career changes or navigate a non-linear career path.


The ICAN Outcomes

As an individual grows and learns through the components outlined above, the following outcomes are typical, and hoped for, while cycling through the process of this model.

  1. Identity – Refers to the collections of ideas we have about ourselves; the ICAN model focuses mostly on the development of a vocational identity conceptualized by John Holland (1997).

  2. Confidence – Refers to the knowledge that the chosen course of action is the most effective, a belief in one’s ability to perform and achieve goals, and a certainty that one can handle expected and unexpected consequences.

  3. Adaptability – The flexibility to adapt to a rapidly changing vocational landscape is a key predictor of career success.

  4. Network – Career development is an inherently social process and is therefore highly influenced by social privilege. As much as 75% of internships, job shadows and informational interviews are secured through social connections. Networks, or social connections, are among the main factors influencing aspirations, identity development, or access to opportunity, and the ability to successfully navigate social intricacies often determines career success.


The ICAN career development model is visually described by the illustration below. Students and faculty who have no prior knowledge of career development theories have been very receptive to it and have demonstrated instant understanding of our message when shown the graphic. This model has been vetted by several focus groups of students and faculty and consequently undergone some adjustments. Further testing of this model will be performed as part of an upcoming doctoral study. For now it has allowed OSU Career Services to succinctly articulate our career development framework and impact the perception of Career Services, transitioning from a placement service to an education and student development partner.

ICAN graphic 































Holland, J. L. (1997). Making Vocational Choices (3rd ed). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologist Press.


Krumboltz, J. D. & Levin, A. S. (2004). Luck is no accident. Atascadero, CA: Impact Publishers.


To meet the author and to learn more about this topic at the NCDA annual conference in San Antonio, attend the Roundtable Discussions, Friday, July 1, 3:20 - 4:30 pm and visit table #5-7,  COMMON GOALS: A NEW CAREER DEVELOPMENT MODEL FOR HIGHER EDUCATION




Adry ClarkAdry Snorradottir Clark has an M.S. in Counseling: Career Counseling, from California State University, Long Beach, and is a doctoral student in Counseling at Oregon State University. She serves as the assistant director of OSU’s Career Services. Her research interests include social class and multicultural issues related to career development, enhancing career counselor training, and bringing the personal to career. For more information contact Adry at adry.clark@oregonstate.edu

Printer-Friendly Version


Roger Feldman   on Wednesday 04/06/2011 at 11:51 AM

Thank you for sharing this very rational and fuctional model for reflecting upon one's own career path and guiding others in this pursuit. The method is clear, concise, and practical.

Romella Lee   on Tuesday 04/12/2011 at 11:41 AM

Adry, Great article. My best to you as you present at the NCDA Conference.

Karol Taylor   on Tuesday 06/28/2011 at 11:31 PM

I think Donald Super's theory, although not credited, might be ascribed for some of the concepts in this article. I believe he spoke of career readiness , confidence, and adaptability, although I think his was a more linear approach as compared to the non-linear concepts shared here. Any thoughts?

Patricia Gould   on Thursday 09/29/2011 at 09:21 AM

I also thought of Super when I read this article. I believe Super's "linear" approach has been adapted in recognition that people cycle through stages, especially in this fast changing world of work.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.