Vocational Identity

Vocational identity and career identity are related, but vocational identity as a concept extends beyond career identity. Career identity is indicative of the current career being pursued, whereas vocational identity represents an identity related to work over a long term and is more stable as one develops and becomes more confident in his or her career aspirations. Vocational identity reflects a stable pattern of interests, goals, abilities, and talents. These aspirations, interests, and goals in short provide a good framework of the work and career histories in individuals. So a person with a strong vocational identity would have a clear sense and/or picture of his or her goals, interests, skills, suitable occupational choices, and confidence in making career decisions. Strong vocational identity also refers to the ability to display confidence in the event of unforeseen and ambiguous career-related problems that may arise. Vocational identity can be conceptualized on three main domains. The first is the structural domain, which refers to how the individual negotiates the world of work and could include cognitive factors. The second domain involves relations (social and emotional) and the third attempts to describe behaviors and experiences in which vocational identity is involved. Therefore, vocational identity can be viewed as a complex, multidimensional, and developmental construct.

Formation of Vocational Identity

Vocational identity is an integral part of human functioning and human development. This is because one of the principal tasks in human development, especially for adolescents, is the formation of various identities. One of these identities includes that which is related to career exploration. This process includes the formation of career objectives, career goals, career aspirations, and career plans. Regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education, or age, career is an important aspect of this identity formation.

Vocational identity formation is a pivotal juncture in our lives as it symbolizes the point where we attempt to actualize our emerging self-concepts while integrating our past and present aspects of ourselves in the arena of work and careers. Clearly, vocational identity is an integral part of our functioning in the world of work. Vocational identity is a dynamic construct as it has a developmental quality about it. Vocational identity can be stable for some individuals, but usually it changes for most individuals depending upon factors such as age, experience, career training, occupational development, and stronger ego-strength. Vocational identity is a multidimensional, complex, and developmental construct that captures career and vocations more accurately than other work-related constructs, and therefore, it needs to be further explored and expanded.

Career Development and Satisfaction

The concept of vocational identity has been linked to the process of career development. However, many authors have also mentioned that there is a gap in the literature and research on vocational identity; therefore, its usefulness has been questioned and has yet to be empirically verified. It is important to establish a relationship between vocational identity and career development for adolescents and early adults as these are the phases when the issues of identity and career are both salient and interrelated.

According to prominent researchers in the field of vocational and career psychology, vocational identity is a better prediction of job satisfaction than investigating the congruence of interests and the environment. Hence, it has been suggested that concepts such as career beliefs, interests and goals be incorporated as a more accurate method of measuring career stability and career changes. A person with a strong vocational identity is more likely to find jobs/occupations that are congruent with his or her personal characteristics and personality in addition to being congruent with a particular work environment. On the other hand, a weak vocational identity would suggest that a person is more likely to make incompatible choices, make frequent job transitions, and transition through a wide set of successive occupations. This weakness does not bode well for both the well-being of the individual or for the greater good of society in terms of dollar amounts, time, and efforts invested that end up being unfruitful and frustrating. Therefore, these consequences suggest that a vocational identity scale would be both useful in helping individuals find jobs that they are successful at and that make them happy.

Vocational Identity Scale

John Holland developed a vocational identity scale as part of My Vocational Situation in 1980, nearly 30 years ago. Since then there has not been much development in this area. Most researchers and practitioners have stayed with using Holland’s scale. Holland’s scale measures constructs on a number of domains, including vocational attitudes, vocational commitment, desirable career beliefs, desirable problem-solving attitudes, and rational career decision-making styles. Items are measured using true and false statements, and sample items include “I need reassurance that I have made the right choice of occupation” and “I am concerned that my present interests may change over the years.”

Holland’s scale does have some positive correlations to other scales such as the Career Decision Scale and the Medical Career Development Inventory, but none of the scales came out being superior, including Holland’s Vocational Identity Scale. Attempts have been made to demonstrate some of the psychometric properties of Holland’s Vocational Identity Scale. For instance, research indicates that the scale has a retest reliability of .75 at about 1 to 3 months’ time interval. In addition, the scale has substantial construct and convergent validity and modest discriminant validity. For instance, there has been overlap identified between the Vocational Identity Scale and career maturity (r = 0.69, 48% of shared variance). Overall, the scale appears to demonstrate some good psychometric properties; however, researchers have concluded that the scale needs further validation in practical settings. Some criticism of the Vocational Identity Scale include that the scale fails to measure the complex, multidimensional nature of the vocational identity construct. For instance, it fails to encompass the personal, social, and emotional dimensions of vocational identity. In addition, the current scale does not capture the developmental nature of vocational identity and it has not been updated since it was developed.

Future Directions

A stable-strong vocational identity is related to a smaller number of career aspirations as one begins to narrow down the number of occupational goals he or she has. This is because a person with a high-strong vocational identity will have more confidence in his or her career decision-making processes and so will have more satisfaction and contentment related to his or her career aspirations and goals. There are other aspects that are still unknown about the construct of vocational identity. For instance, based upon its definition it could be assumed that vocational identity is related to constructs such as occupational commitment, clarity, and/or stability, but its relationship to phenomenon such as the differentiation of occupational interests still has to be investigated. Clearly, more expansion and investigation with this construct needs to be done in order to get a better understanding and in order to meet the career satisfaction and occupational goals of individuals.


  1. Holland, J. L. (1996). Exploring careers with a typology: What we have learned and some new directions. American Psychologist, 51(4), 397—106.
  2. Holland, J. L., Johnston, J. A., & Asama, N. F. (1993). The Vocational Identity Scale: A diagnostic and treatment tool. Journal of Career Assessment, 1(1), 1-12.
  3. Leong, F. T. L., & Morris, J. (1989). Assessing the construct validity of Holland, Daiger and Power’s measure of vocational identity. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 22, 117-125.
  4. Raskin, P. M. (1989). Identity status research: Implications for career counseling. Journal of Adolescence, 12, 375-388.
  5. Savickas, M. L. (1985). Identity in vocational development. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 37, 329-337.
  6. Skorikov, V., & Vondracek, F. W. (1998). Vocational identity development: Its relationship to other identity domains and to overall identity development. Journal of Career Assessment, 6(1), 13-35.
  7. Vondracek, F. W. (1991). Current status of the concept of vocational identity. Man and Work, 3(1-2), 80-86.

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