Career indecision is the inability to specify an educational or occupational choice and can include focal problems, such as lack of information, or a combination of problems, such as choice anxiety and trait indecision. Career indecision is experienced by high school and college populations not only in the United States, but also in countries such as Belgium, Canada, Portugal, Israel, and Taiwan. Career indecision is a relatively common experience for adolescents and young adults in industrialized countries who are making the transition from formal secondary schooling to higher education or full-time employment. Counselors have an array of assessment tools at their disposal to distinguish between the two major presenting problems: developmental indecision and chronic indecisiveness. Distinct treatment approaches should be implemented for these two forms of indecision.
The Domain of Career Decision Problems
There are five basic career decision problems.
Lack of information and Need for information
Lack of information has long been considered to be the primary source of indecision. Information deficit accounts for the largest amount of variance in career indecision measures. Individuals can lack information about personal (“What are my strongest interests?”) and career characteristics (“What do software engineers do?”) or about how to engage in the decision-making process. The modal career counseling intervention is designed to increase self- and career-related knowledge and decision-making skills. Recent findings indicate that students may acknowledge a lack of information without feeling a need to gather more information. Clients who do not express a need for information are unlikely to value interest-personality assessment or career exploration activities.
Identity is a core concept in vocational psychology theory and research. Identity diffusion is reflected in the inability to crystallize one’s career-relevant characteristics or to see a way to implement personal preferences in a career; career indecision may reflect delays or problems in identity development. Researchers have found moderate to strong linear relationships between identity diffusion and career indecision. Undecided students may benefit from interventions that enable them to explore and crystallize their identities prior to extensive involvement in information-gathering activities. Although identity diffusion is highly correlated with perceived lack of information, information gathering may exacerbate confusion for clients with identity diffusion. Both lack of information and identity diffusion can be seen as predecision problems occurring prior to formal decision making.
Trait indecision reflects chronic and pervasive difficulty in making decisions. Trait indecision interferes with decision making in several domains: relationships, politics, leisure and recreation, spirituality, and career. Trait indecision can interfere with the ability to process and act on information attained through career assessment and counseling. Counselors often recognize trait indecision when they have completed a full course of career assessment and counseling and find that their client (a) has not identified an academic or career goal even when the objective data support one or more viable choices, (b) does not feel ready to terminate counseling, and (c) expresses doubt about her or his decision-making abilities and/or the counselor’s abilities. Trait indecision does not yield to rational analysis or counselor encouragement or support.
Choice anxiety is the affective dimension of career indecision. Specifically, it is negative affect experienced in relation to the career choice process and outcome. Choice anxiety can interfere with the client’s ability to gather relevant information, identify salient choice aspects, compare aspects of various choices under consideration, and determine appropriate choices. Both trait indecision and choice anxiety inhibit the career decision process.
Disagreement with Others
The final career decision problem relates to disagreement with or disapproval of one’s career choices by valued others such as a parent or spouse. This is a decision implementation problem rather than a decision problem because those who anticipate disagreement with others already have successfully formed a career goal. Disagreement with others also is weakly correlated with overall indices of career indecision.
Career Indecision Types
Conceptualization of career indecision has advanced from a simple dichotomous classification of decided-undecided to multiple-type classification based on cluster analyses of career and personality variables. There is now consensus that there are two distinct career indecision types with differential counseling interventions appropriate for each. Those with developmental indecision have a focal need to acquire career information and initiate career planning. They experience little career choice anxiety, are goal directed, and have ego identity maturity appropriate to their chronological age. Clients with developmental indecision need brief, information-based career counseling.
The second type is chronic indecisiveness, which is associated with need for career information, high levels of negative affect including career choice anxiety, pessimistic views regarding future careers, low decision-making confidence and self-esteem, and poorly developed ego and vocational identity. This type exhibits the identity diffusion, trait indecision, and choice anxiety problems identified in the previous section. As the label indicates, this form of indecision persists over time. For example, it has been demonstrated that career indecision did not decline over a 3-year period for a sample of chronically indecisive French Canadian college students. These individuals require far more from career counseling than to acquire self and career knowledge.
Career Indecision Assessment
Counselors have several tools at their disposal to assess indecision. The Career Decision Scale (CDS) has been used widely as a global indecision measure. The CDS is unique in being the best available measure of the identity problems that can impede career exploration and decision making. The CDS is somewhat limited in that it does not reflect the full range of career decision problems and there is relatively little information available to assist the counselor in interpreting results. The Career Factors Inventory (CFI) is a brief instrument that reflects the negative cognitive and affective experiences inhibiting decision making. Although CFI does not measure identity diffusion, it provides the broadest coverage of the domain of career decision problems. The CFI is easy to administer and provides good interpretive information for the counselor. The Career Decision-Making Difficulties Questionnaire (CDDQ) is an excellent measure of lack of information and disagreement with others. Because it is not a commercial instrument, relatively little information is available to guide the counselor in interpreting the CDDQ. However, the CDDQ has been translated into several languages, and researchers are actively developing cross-cultural norms for this measure. Finally, the Career Thoughts Inventory (CTI) provides measures of trait indecision, choice anxiety, and disagreement with others. It does not reflect the information deficit or identity diffusion dimensions of indecision. The CTI has an excellent companion workbook that counselors and clients can use to refute negative cognitions associated with trait indecision and anxiety and develop more adaptive thoughts.
Career Indecision Interventions
There are a number of good options for meeting the information needs of students and clients with developmental indecision. First, providing information about personal interests, abilities, and values has been the traditional focus of career counselors. Second, a wealth of career information is available on Internet sources such as the Occupational Informational Network (O*NET) and America’s Career InfoNet. Third, computerized career guidance programs such as DISCOVER are available as stand-alone media or as adjuncts to counseling. Finally, the innovative Making Better Career Decisions system uses a sequential elimination search process to guide users through the career evaluation and decision-making process.
There are three essential elements to intervention for the chronically indecisive. First, counselors must address the pessimistic and negative thoughts associated with trait indecision. It is important to instill hope that the client can negotiate the challenging decision-making process and that a suitable academic or career goal can be identified. The CTI companion workbook is an excellent resource for developing more adaptive career thoughts. Second, counselors have to stabilize the negative affect associated with chronic indecision. Anxiety can interfere with the process of personal and career exploration and undermine the evaluation of alternatives. Counselors can employ a variety of anxiety management techniques to stabilize mood and clear a working space for career counseling. The third and most challenging goal is working with clients to form a more cohesive identity. Hamachek’s articulation of counseling goals based on Erikson’s psycho-social framework is a rich resource for counseling to promote ego identity development. Counselors can work with clients to (a) develop autonomy, which increases decision-making self-efficacy; (b) increase initiative by encouraging clients to experiment with novel work, leisure, and relationship roles; and (c) further develop industry. Clients will more readily incorporate personal and career information after developing a more clearly articulated ego identity.
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