Motivation and Personality-Based Explanations of Career Indecision
Career indecision is a problem that many young adults face. Several motivators, such as self-efficacy and attachment style, as well as personality factors, such as anxiety and locus of control, are linked to career indecision. These concepts are examined in relation to career indecision and other variables in the following paper.
Explanations for Career Indecision Based on Motivation and Personality
Career indecision is defined as “the inability to make a decision about the vocation one wishes to pursue” by Guay, Senecal, Gauthier, and Fernet (2003). As of February 2010, 58.5% of Americans were employed. It is unknown how those 58.5% of Americans made their career choice or whether they are satisfied with their jobs (BLS). Choosing a career path is an important rite of passage into adulthood. Choosing a career path, according to Erik Erikson, is a necessary stepping stone in the progression of development (Wade & Tavris, 2003). As a result, failure or difficulty in deciding on a career path may have negative consequences for the individual. Career indecision is a source of concern not only for undecided students, but also for school and career counselors. Some researchers regard career indecision as a problem that should be addressed through career counseling; however, the indecision itself may cause students to avoid or discontinue counseling (Weinstein, Healy & Ender, 2002). Understanding and combating career indecision in growing adolescents is critical.
Career change is an important and perhaps understudied aspect of career indecision. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), information on the number of times people change careers in their lifetime is not available and has never been attempted to be obtained. According to the BLS, career change is difficult to define and measure because it can refer to a variety of behaviors. A promotion from manager to vice president, for example, may constitute a career change, as may a medical doctor becoming a comedian (BLS site). Assessing career change as a direct result of job dissatisfaction would aid in understanding of career indecision. Unfortunately, this data is also unavailable. Obviously, statistics on career change and career indecision are required in order to assess how common both are and how to aid in a confident career decision. Significant research has, however, been conducted in the areas that influence career indecision. The following paper investigates career indecision from a motivational and personality psychological standpoint in order to improve understanding and explanation of the variables that influence career indecision. After thoroughly examining each perspective, I will provide additional explanations based on the integration of the two perspectives.
What drives people to choose one career over another?
Motivation is an animal’s desire to move toward achieving a goal or away from an unpleasant situation (Wade & Tavris, 2003). Humans share several basic motivations, such as hunger, sex, and love (Wade & Tavris). The desire to succeed is another important motivator for humans. The need for achievement is defined as “a learned motivation to achieve personal goals of success and excellence in a specific area” (Wade & Tavris). How does the need for achievement differ between people? What factors influence one’s need for achievement, and how do those factors influence one’s ability to make career decisions? In an attempt to answer these questions, motivational psychology provides several explanations. By studying gender stereotypes, Fernandez, Castro, Otero, Foltz, and Lorenzo (2006) provided an interesting perspective on the motivating factors in choosing a career. Researchers hypothesized that females prefer traditionally female-oriented occupations while males prefer male-oriented occupations. Fernandez et al. conducted a survey of 448 undergraduate students in Spain to determine their college majors. According to the findings, more men than women chose traditionally male-oriented majors (e.g., technical majors), while more women than men majored in a subject that was more female-oriented (e.g., health sciences, humanities) (Fernandez et al.). In terms of career goals, more females than males valued helping others and being recognized for their work (Fernandez et al.). Both genders stated that spending time with family was a top priority in their future careers (Fernandez et al.). Interestingly, there was no difference in intrinsic and extrinsic motivation between men and women. Participants majoring in experimental and health sciences, as well as technical fields, demonstrated the highest level of extrinsic motivation (Fernandez et al.). According to Jacobs and Eccles (2002), people do not choose a career based solely on their motivational interests, but also on other factors such as plans to marry and have children (as cited in Fernandez et al.). Although these variables have not been empirically tested in relation to career indecision, they are likely to have some influence on career decision-making. What role does the pressure to choose a gender-appropriate profession play in career indecision? This is an issue that must be addressed.
Self-efficacy is one area of motivational psychology that is important to understanding career decisions. Self-efficacy refers to one’s belief in one’s ability to achieve a goal (Bandura, 1977). Researchers examined factors that can affect a person’s self-efficacy in a study conducted by Guay, Ratelle, Senecal, Larose, and Deschenes (2006). Researchers hypothesized that people with low self-efficacy and autonomy are more likely to experience career indecision, whereas people with high self-efficacy are less likely to experience it (Guay et al., 2006). Taylor and Popma (1990) discovered a significant relationship between self-efficacy and career indecision; specifically, lower feelings of self-efficacy are related to career indecision and higher feelings of self-efficacy are related to career decidedness. Guay, Senecal, Gauthier, and Fernet (2003) expanded on these findings by investigating the role of parents and peers in self-efficacy. They hypothesized that students who feel controlled by their peers and parents will experience feelings of autonomy and self-efficacy as a result of supportive peer and parent relationships, and that they will be more likely to have high confidence in their career decisions (Guay et al, 2003). Peer and parental autonomy support were both positively related to autonomy in career decisions and self-efficacy (Guay et al., 2003). Furthermore, peer and parental control were found to be negatively related to autonomy in career decisions and self-efficacy (Guay et al, 2003). This point demonstrates a strong external influence on self-efficacy and an implication for the importance of supportive interactions in the lives of growing young adults. In a related study, researchers looked at how, in addition to self-efficacy, career outcome expectations influence career indecision. In terms of career exploration, outcome expectations refer to the expected outcomes of pursuing various careers (Betz & Voyton, 1997). Researchers discovered that outcome expectations were significantly related to career exploration plans (Betz & Voyten). Participants with high self-efficacy in terms of career exploration outcome expectations were more likely to explore careers, whereas participants with low self-efficacy were more likely to be indecisive (Betz & Voyten).
Attachment theory, in addition to self-efficacy, provides promising explanations for career indecision. Attachment refers to the emotional bond that all primates form with a caregiver (Wade & Tarvis, 2003). People can be classified as securely or insecurely attached. These terms are based on the findings of Mary Ainsworth’s attachment style research. Those who are securely attached to their caregiver are generally secure in their exploration of the world, whereas those who are insecurely attached may experience anxiety or avoidance in their interactions with others in the world (Wade & Tarvis). When researchers looked at attachment style and its relationship to career indecision, they discovered that students who had mothers who encouraged them to be independent had less career indecision than students who had overprotective mothers (Guerra & Braungart-Rieker, 1999). Interestingly, this finding did not apply to the students’ fathers, possibly because decision-making is influenced more by maternal support. Guerra and Braungart-Rieker A more recent study on attachment style and career indecision found similar results. According to Emmanuelle (2009), adolescents who are securely attached to their parents have higher self-esteem, stronger identity formation, and less career indecision. His hypothesis was supported by the findings, which showed that attachment style was negatively correlated with career indecision, but this relationship was dependent on adolescent and parent gender. Career indecision was specifically influenced by the relationship between females and their attachment to their mothers and their self-esteem, as well as males and females and their attachment to their fathers and their self-esteem. According to Emmanuelle, the child’s relationship with their same-sex parent aids in the formation of their identity by serving as a role model and developing their decision-making processes.
Numerous studies have discovered a link between anxiety and career indecision (Hartman et al., 1985; Hawkins et al., 1977; Kimes & Troth, 1974; Mendonca & Seiss, 1976; Walsh & Lewish, 1972, as cited in Fuqua, Seaworth, and Newman, 1987). Students who have made a firm career choice are less anxious than students who have not made a decision (Hawkins, Bradley, & White, 1977; Kimes & Troth, 1974, as sited in Fuqua, Newman, Seaworth, 1988). Hornak and Gillingham (1980) investigated this correlation further, hypothesizing that career indecision may be a direct result of anxiety in that examining career paths elicits anxiety, so career examination is avoided (as cited in Kaplan & Brown, 1987). Furthermore, researchers discovered no link between anxiety and having multiple career interests (Fuqua, Newman, & Seaworth). According to the researchers, the lack of a relationship could be due to the absence of feelings of uncertainty and self-doubt when making a career decision (Fuqua, Newman, & Seaworth). Rather, having options influences a more information-processing approach to decision-making, and these individuals experience less anxiety as a result (Fuqua, Newman, & Seaworth).
How much does personality influence career choice?
Personality is defined as “an individual’s distinctive patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior, as well as the psychological mechanisms—hidden or not—behind those patterns” (Funder, 1987). Understanding one’s personality is therefore critical to understanding career indecision. Indeed, the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality test that helps students identify the work environments that are most compatible with their personalities, is a common tool used in career services centers on college campuses. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which categorizes participants as extroverted or introverted; sensing or intuitive; thinking or feeling; judging or perceiving (site from Myer-Briggs website??). Kelly and Lee (2005) administered the Myer-Brigg Type Indicator to students in an undecided college course. Extraverted, intuitive, and perceiving students were overrepresented in the sample, and these types are likely associated with career indecision, whereas introverted, sensing, and judging students were associated with career decisiveness due to their underrepresentation in the sample (Kelly & Lee). Researchers believe that extroverted students are more likely to experience career indecision because they want to fully experience their external world before making a decision (Kelly & Lee). Furthermore, more students who are intuitive rather than sensing may experience career indecision because intuitive people tend to focus on possibilities when making decisions, whereas sensing people tend to focus on what they can directly observe with their senses, or in other words, they are more grounded in reality (Kelly & Lee). Finally, students who perceive rather than judge may be more likely to gather a large amount of information before making a decision, potentially lengthening the career decision-making process (Quenk, 2000, as sited in Kelly & Lee). The participants in this study were undecided undergraduate students, and the personality types in the study were based on a national sample of participants, which could be a limitation (Kelly & Lee). Another limitation is that students enrolled in the course may not have been truly undecided about their careers when they enrolled.
Clearly, personality type influences how easily one chooses a career. But what about those who have decided on a career path but are still undecided? Thomas and Robbins (1979) assessed the personality and work congruence of 61 men who had recently (within the previous 2 to 5 years) changed careers. Men who switched from jobs that were less compatible with their personality types to jobs that were more compatible with their personality types were significantly happier with their new job than with their previous job (Thomas & Robbins). Job satisfaction is influenced by personality and work congruence, as evidenced. According to this evidence, career indecision may be viewed as career incongruence: people with careers that are incongruent with their personality are indecisive about their career and motivated to seek out a different, more personality-compatible career.
Locus of control is another personality trait associated with career indecision. The locus of control refers to the degree to which a person believes their behaviors are controlled by themselves or by some external factor (Wade & Tarvis, 2003). Someone who believes they have control over their decisions will likely have different decision-making skills than someone who believes an external factor has more control over their decisions. Indeed, researchers discovered significant differences in the two types of control’s career decision-making abilities. Bacanli (2006) discovered that external locus of control predicts impetuous indecisiveness, which refers to difficulties in making quick decisions. Furthermore, research shows that those with a higher external locus of control have lower levels of confidence in career decision-making tasks (Taylor & Popma, 1990). As a result, people with a high internal locus of control may believe they have control over their decisions and can take the necessary steps to successfully complete career decision-making behaviors (Taylor & Popma). As previously stated, anxiety influences career decisions in terms of motivating factors. However, anxiety is influenced by personality. According to the findings of a study on anxiety and decision-making, trait anxiety had a higher correlation with exploratory indecisiveness (difficulty making long-term decisions despite exploring options) than state anxiety, possibly indicating that trait anxiety is more influential to personal indecision (Bacalini, 2000, as cited in Bacalini, 2006). Fuqua, Newman, and Seaworth (1988) investigated the relationship between two types of anxiety, state and trait, and career indecision. State anxiety refers to a brief period of anxiety in response to an emotionally charged stimulus, whereas trait anxiety is a more persistent tendency to experience anxiety (Fuqua, Newman, & Seaworth). As a result, trait anxiety can be viewed as a construct characteristic of one’s personality, whereas state anxiety does not last as long. According to the findings, both trait anxiety and state anxiety are significantly related to several aspects of career indecision (Fuqua, Newman, & Seaworth). When trait and state anxiety were compared, the results showed that trait anxiety was significantly higher than state anxiety in terms of the need for career information and the avoidance of career decisions in the absence of such information (Fuqua, Newman, & Seaworth). As a result, making high-quality information available to students is a clear implication of this study. Researchers conducted a study using the five factor personality traits to further understand how personality influences career indecision. Participants with high consciousness, low neuroticism, and high extraversion were more involved in career exploration and demonstrated high self-efficacy in the process, according to the findings (Reed, Bruch, & Hasse, 2004). Researchers expanded on these findings by investigating the personality traits of neuroticism and extraversion and their relationship to career indecision. Neuroticism refers to an individual’s proclivity to feel sadness, fear, and anger-hostility, whereas extraversion refers to an individual’s proclivity to be sociable and experience positive affect (Wang, Jome, Haase, & Bruch, 2006). Researchers chose to focus solely on these personality traits due to their importance in career choice and commitment (Wang et al.). Researchers hypothesized that neuroticism and extraversion would be related not only to career choice commitment, but also to self-efficacy. The findings revealed significant differences between white and non-white participants. Interestingly, neuroticism and extraversion were not related to self-efficacy or career choice commitment among white students; however, significant correlations were found for students of color (Wang et al.). Extraversion was found to be positively related to self-efficacy and career decision-making ability in students of color (Wang et al.), while neuroticism was found to be negatively related to self-efficacy and career choice commitment. According to researchers, being extraverted improves students’ ability to seek out information about various careers, which in turn improves the career decision-making process (Wang et al.). Although it is unclear how race influences these personality traits, it is clear that neuroticism and extraversion are associated with career indecision.
Self-esteem is closely related to the previously discussed concept of self-efficacy. Researchers discovered that low self-esteem is linked to general indecision rather than career indecision. Germeijs and Boeck (2002) are cited in Bacanli (2006). As a result, researchers established the notion that general indecisiveness differs from career indecision and cannot be treated similarly (Germeijs & Boeck, as cited in Bacanli). Researchers discovered that low self-esteem, external locus of control, and a high level of irrational beliefs are predictive of career exploratory indecisiveness in a study that expanded on this assertion (Bacanli). The relationship between self-esteem, locus of control, and irrational beliefs and exploratory indecisiveness adds to the evidence that these constructs are more likely personality traits than developmental problems (Cooper et al., 1984; Frost & Shows, 1993; Germeijs & Boeck, 2002, 2003; B . W. Hartman, Fuqua, & Hartman, 1983; Osipow, 1999, as cited in Bacanli). Identity formation is an important aspect of growth and maturity. Erik Erikson identified several developmental stages, one of which he labeled identity versus role confusion. Erikson asserts that in order to plan for the future, one must develop one’s identity, and those who fail to develop their identity will likely struggle to make decisions (Wade & Tavris, 2003). Research on this topic has supported Erikson’s theory. According to ego development research, people with a well-developed identity are generally capable of making vocational decisions (Guerra & Braungart-Reiker, 1999). Furthermore, researchers discovered that those with an underdeveloped identity are more likely to struggle with career indecision (Holland et al, 1980 as cited in Guerra & Braungart-Rieker, 1999). According to Taylor and Popma (1990), lower levels of self-efficacy are associated with higher levels of vocational indecision. Blustein, Devenis, and Kidney (1989) conducted research on identity formation and its relationship to vocational exploratory activity and career commitment. Exploratory activity was positively associated with identity achievement, while inactivity was associated with identity diffusion (Blustein et al). Because exploring career options is related to exploring one’s identity, exploring career options may lead to a better understanding of one’s identity (Blustein et al). Participants with a strong ego identity are also more likely to engage in career exploration, according to the findings. Perhaps the continuation of exploration is due to a strong sense of identity, which results in a desire to find the most fulfilling career (Blustein et al). Furthermore, exploratory activity was associated with the moratorium phase, or the phase in which one is approaching identity achievement (Blustein et al.). One possible explanation for this is that as one approaches the moratorium phase of identity development, they may recognize the need to explore career options (Blustein et al). Interestingly, Blustein et al did not find a relationship between occupational commitment and ego identity, whereas previous researchers did (Grotevant & Thorbecke, 1982; Larkin, 1987, as cited in Blustein et al.). Blustein et al assert that their study may be an indicator of the true relationship between these variables because they used a more general assessment to examine the relationship between identity status and career development, rather than segregated assessments (Blustein et al).
The perplexing reality of career indecision
According to research, motivational and personality factors such as anxiety, locus of control, identity formation, and self-efficacy are linked to career indecision. However, all of the previously mentioned constructs that influence career indecision are likely to influence each other in some way. For example, anxiety is likely to influence self-efficacy, which in turn influences locus of control, which in turn influences anxiety. The timeline of these constructs and their direct influence on career indecision are difficult to distinguish. Furthermore, there are numerous perspectives from which to examine career indecision, and each perspective provides useful information. As a result, understanding career indecision requires an integrative approach. Several studies examined the construct of self-efficacy in relation to other factors. Several results were either dependent on or explained by self-efficacy. Parental influence, outcome expectations, and personality traits, for example, are related to career indecision, with self-efficacy acting as a moderator (Guay, Betz & Voyten, 1997; Wang et al., 2006). Albert Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy and the various modes he used to enhance one’s self-efficacy provide additional evidence for the integrative role self-efficacy plays in a person’s career indecision. Performance accomplishments, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, and emotional arousal were the modes (Bandura, 1977). It is reasonable to assume that these modes of changing behavior are where feelings of self-efficacy emerge first. As a result, numerous factors are likely to play a role in the development and modification of one’s self-efficacy over the lifespan, and thus in the development of career indecision.
According to research, anxiety and career indecision are related (cite?). However, it is difficult to determine whether anxiety causes career indecision or career indecision causes anxiety. Each theory has evidence to support it, but in reality, there is unlikely to be a directional flow of anxiety and career indecision. Rather, they influence each other in a roundabout way. Furthermore, anxiety can affect a person’s self-efficacy, which in turn affects job satisfaction, emotional well-being, and interactions with coworkers. Furthermore, low self-efficacy or a high external locus of control may result in anxiety. Anxiety is a variable that has no direct cause and effect relationship in its development and should be investigated from an integrative standpoint in terms of career indecision. As previously stated, students who had supportive parents were less likely to struggle with career decisions (cite?). This shows a clear external influence on career decision-making, whereas personality theory suggests more consistent genetic influences on career decision-making. In reality, genetics and the external environment may interact to produce career indecision. For example, an introverted person with supportive parents and peers may struggle with career decisions. Another introverted person with supportive parents and peers, on the other hand, may not experience career indecision. External and internal factors interact in each case, resulting in career indecision in one case and career certainty in the other. This could also be explained by how much each factor affects each individual. That is, perhaps external factors have a greater impact on one person than they do on another, genetically similar person. Furthermore, the variation in these influential factors may result in different levels of career indecision among individuals. It is unclear what factors influenced the participants in the study examining career incongruence to seek more personality-congruent careers. Perhaps the participants had supportive families who encouraged them to pursue a more fulfilling career. Perhaps there was a financial gain that coincided with a more personality-congruent career. Understanding that all of these variables influence a person’s career-related behaviors is critical in analyzing career indecision.
Despite the explanations provided by the motivational and personality perspectives, several important elements are left out. One factor that was not evaluated in any study was someone’s ability to obtain a specific career. No study, in particular, assesses participants’ actual skill level in relation to their career goals. Perhaps a participant’s low self-efficacy score is accurate in the sense that the participant is unable to perform certain tasks and thus lacks confidence in performing those career-related behaviors. Another potential limitation of most studies examining career indecision is that most studies involve college students. To truly understand the influential factors of career indecision, information should be gathered from non-college participants as well as participants who have been working for several years. Another potential limitation stems from personality cluster studies. These personality clusters may not fully explain the general population. That is, just because a person scores high in extraversion and low in neuroticism does not guarantee that person will not struggle to choose a career. These findings are only correlational, and no causation can be inferred from them. Furthermore, individual differences, in combination with a variety of other variables, influence the outcome of career decision-making. Fortunately, there are methods for dealing with career indecision. As previously stated, the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator is commonly used in career services centers on college campuses to help students understand their interests and the careers that would be most likely to satisfy them. However, this may not be sufficient. According to research on parental attachment and ego development, it may be beneficial for students to reflect on their childhood experiences and understand why they make the decisions they do. For example, if a student grew up with overprotective parents who did not encourage autonomy, understanding how his attachment style may have influenced his decision-making abilities may help the student gain insight into their identity and encourage him to make decisions for himself. Clearly, many variables interact with one another in the outcome of one’s career decision. Individual differences are also likely to play a role in determining one’s ability to make a career decision. There is no single variable that can accurately predict career indecision. Rather, all of the factors discussed in the preceding paper interact to influence one’s ability to make a career decision. As a result, when counseling a person experiencing career indecision, all of the variables should be considered. Hopefully, with a better understanding of the factors that influence career indecision, combating and preventing it will become easier in the coming years.
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