Abstract Career development is a lifelong endeavor that starts already in childhood and usually ends in old age after retirement from paid work. Although career development can be regarded as a life-time biographical project with relevant demands in every life phase, adolescence is a period with particular challenges for the individual. Career goals have to be developed and first choices concerning educational trajectories have to be made, funneling future career options and pathways. These choices have to be well prepared by exploring one's own abilities, interests, and values and the career opportunities provided by institutions. There is considerable individual variability in how adolescents cope with this task. Personal characteristics as well as social, institutional, and economic contexts play an important role for the way in which adolescents prepare for their future occupational career. This article provides an overview of theoretical approaches to career development and introduces concepts of vocational guidance and policy implications. Career development is conceptualized as a set of transitions in the life course and as a stressful challenge for adolescents. It is regarded as the interplay of individual, social, and institutional contexts.