Career Counseling for Asian Americans

It has been repeatedly observed that the current literature has limited information on the development and career behaviors of Asian Americans. For example, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are more likely to request information about career issues and are also more likely than other ethnic groups to use college career information centers. Since Asian Americans are the fastest-growing minority group, it means that professionals will need culturally sensitive career theories and interventions in order to be culturally effective with Asian Americans. Ultimately, this will translate to culturally informed career assessments, counseling, and interventions for this population. Synthesizing career practice with suitable theories will help professionals meet the needs of Asian Americans within an arena that is considered important to their well-being and functioning.

Levels of Analysis

There are two levels of analysis in the review of career counseling among Asian Americans: (a) an individual level of analysis that involves issues such as career interest, values, choices, and behaviors; and (b) a group and societal level of analysis that consists of the effects of macrolevel processes such as family influences, occupational stereotyping, occupational discrimination, occupational mobility, and occupational segregation. All these factors have certain implications for career counseling with Asian Americans.

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Individual Level of Analysis

Career Interests

When counseling Asian Americans regarding career issues, it is important to consider the client’s career interests. Over the past 20 years only a handful of studies have highlighted the career interest patterns among Asian Americans. For example, in most studies where Chinese American males were compared to other ethnic males, they demonstrated a greater interest in the occupational fields of physical science, skilled technical trades, and business. These males also showed lower levels of interest in areas associated with social service and welfare, sales or business contact, and verbal-linguistic occupations (social). There are other recent studies that show how Asian Americans display career interests that are consistent with realistic and investigative domains. Another way to examine career interests among Asian Americans is to investigate the courses and majors students choose. Data from the National Science Foundation suggest that Asian Americans are twice as likely as White students to have an interest in a science field, and this interest is usually paralleled by high educational aspirations (e.g., aspirations to obtain a doctorate or medical degree).

Occupational Values

Career counselors have to attend to the occupational values of Asian Americans, some of which are money, task satisfaction, prestige in career, and service dedication. When compared to European Americans, Asian Americans placed a greater emphasis on the extrinsic and security values on the occupational values scales and less of an emphasis on values such as self-expression, power, and social factors. This emphasis on extrinsic factors such as security, money, and service to others can be traced back to Asian cultural importance on issues such as pragmatism, collective styles in decision making, and the influences of the processes of acculturation and the experiences of immigration.

Career Choices

It would appear that career choices would be a direct reflection of career interests. However, there are a host of factors that influence career choices among Asian Americans regardless of their career interests. For example, Asian Americans place a high value on parental involvement in their career-related choices, to the point that higher parental involvement can predict more traditional career choices (i.e., science or technology career paths). Studies have shown that Asian American parents are more likely to exert direct influences on their children’s career choices and aspirations as a result of fear of their children having to undergo the effects of discrimination. Other influential factors include Asian values of respecting authority and submitting to the wisdom of elderly and family, level of acculturation, family background, and self-efficacy. These factors have yet to be empirically tested, but they suggest that it is imperative to include family in the career counseling process.

Career Behaviors

Asian Americans display a higher level of dependent type decision-making styles than do Whites, a pattern that could be attributed to the value placed on collectivism. However, during counseling this interdependence cannot be confused with dependence, which can be equated to a lack of independence or low career maturity among Asian Americans. Research has highlighted three main personality traits associated with career behaviors among Asian Americans: locus of control (less autonomous, more dependent, and more obedient to authority), social anxiety (more emotionally withdrawn, socially isolated, and verbally inhibited), and intolerance of ambiguity (valued practical applications and were more socially conforming).

Group and Societal Level of Analysis

Family Influences

A few studies have been conducted confirming the existence of the significant and central role families have in the psychological and social lives of Asian Americans. Family influence, especially parental, has been known to predict career choices in math and science-related fields for Asian Americans. This family influence can also be associated with conflict such as the stress of dealing with high expectations of parents to do well. This possibility suggests that families need to be involved in career counseling efforts with Asian Americans.

Occupational Stereotyping

Historically, Asian Americans have been victimized by occupational stereotyping as a function of gender and/or race. Usually stereotyping is observed across three domains: (1) probability of success, (2) qualifications of training, and (3) acceptance by others. A study found both positive and negative stereotypes with regard to gender and race groupings. However, the research investigating the specifics and psychological impact of these stereotypes has yet to be empirically studied, especially with regard to internal and external barriers, but these effects still need to be considered in counseling.

Occupational Discrimination

Asian Americans are known as the model minority group, often associated with success and high aspirations. As a result of this portrayal of being able to overcome injustices and setbacks toward success, Asian Americans are usually not considered to be exposed to stereotypes or discrimination. This usually ends up covering up the occupational constraints, obstacles, and inequalities experienced by Asian Americans. Contrary to popular belief, Asian Americans do experience discrimination (e.g., Asian American males are less likely than Whites to occupy management positions and are less likely to get equal pay despite having higher competencies), and counselors need to be able to acknowledge those experiences.

Occupational Segregation

Asian Americans have been subjected to occupational segregation, for they have been observed to be overrepresented in some occupations while under-represented in others. For instance, Asian Americans demonstrate a pattern of gravitating toward the biological and physical sciences, while avoiding the social sciences and humanities. Asian Americans compared to other ethnic groups have also been segregated into lower paying jobs and denied access to higher paying jobs. This segregation arises from societal and cultural barriers imposed on the occupational aspirations of Asian Americans, suggesting that counseling may involve advocacy efforts.

Assessment Instruments and Other Factors

Assessment of career issues is an important precursor to successful career counseling and intervention. This is an important phase to consider as Asian Americans can be perceived to be less mature than Whites as a result of their different decision-making processes, a difference that in turn can lead to biased hypotheses. This assessment phase needs to consider occupational interests, values, choices, and behaviors on the individual level and processes such as segregation, discrimination, stereotyping, and family influences on the social-group level. Due to the lack of sufficient empirically validated career assessment instruments, care needs to be taken to use these measures with a considerable amount of caution.

When counseling Asian Americans, certain factors need to be highlighted. For example, Asian Americans display large within-group variability and differences. Each ethnic subgroup within the larger Asian group has its own culture and history. Other factors include Asian values such as respect for elders and family, issues of loss of face or maintaining face, effects of processes such as acculturation and immigration, gender role differences, expectations and values, and socioeconomic class differences.


  1. Leong, F. T. L. (1985). Career development of Asian Americans. Journal of College Student Personnel, 26, 539-546.
  2. Leong, F. T. L., & Gim-Chung. R. H. (1995). Career assessment and intervention with Asian Americans. In F. T. L. Leong (Ed.), Career development and vocational behavior of racial and ethnic minorities (pp. 193-226). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  3. Leong, F. T. L., & Gupta, A. (2007). Career development and vocational behaviors of Asian Americans. In F. T. L. Leong, I. G. Arpana, A. Ebreo, L. Hsin Yang, L. M. Kinoshita, & M. Fu (Eds.), Handbook of Asian American psychology (2nd ed., pp. 159-178). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  4. National Science Foundation. (2004). Women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering (NSF04-317). Washington, DC: Author.

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