Career Factors Inventory

Career indecision has been an important area of concern in vocational psychology for the last 50 years. An extensive body of research has examined the nature of career indecision, the factors (sometimes labeled barriers) that contribute to career indecision, the consequences of career indecision, and the effectiveness of interventions for career indecision. Most of this research has focused on college students. This work has led to and been enhanced by the development of instruments that measure aspects of career indecision.

The Career Factors Inventory (CFI) is a 21-item instrument developed by Judy M. Chartrand, Steven B. Robbins, and Weston H. Morrill to measure four factors that contribute to career indecision. The CFI yields scores on two cognitive factors (i.e., Need for Career Information and Need for Self-Knowledge) and two emotional factors (i.e., Career Choice Anxiety and Generalized Indecisiveness). The first three scales assess the respondent’s present status (i.e., state) on factors that are theoretically amenable to change. The Generalized Indecisiveness scale assesses the respondent’s status on a trait that theoretically is more resistant to change. These scores are grouped into two categories labeled informational needs and decision needs. The authors recommend the inventory for use in helping clients determine their readiness to engage in the career decision-making process. Career-related problems outside of this narrow focus are not addressed by the CFI.

Career Factors Inventory Description

Respondents rate the CFI items using a 5-point scale. Ten of the items use a Likert scale with response alternatives anchored by 1 (strongly disagree) and 5 (strongly agree). These items begin with the stem, “Before choosing or entering a particular career area, I need to.” Each item concludes with a statement identifying a specific task (e.g., “Talk to people in one or more various occupations” and “Attempt to answer, ‘Who am I?'”). High scores on these items indicate greater levels of career indecision.

The remaining 11 items use the semantic differential format. These items consist of a phrase followed by polar opposite adjectives that anchor the rating scale as illustrated in the following example:

When I think about actually deciding for sure what I want my career to be, I feel:

Cold      1       2        3        4        5 Hot

The other two phrases used in the CFI are, “For me, decision making seems,” and “While making most decisions, I am.” These phrases are followed by six, three, and two polar adjectives, respectively.

The number of items composing each CFI scale and the range of possible scores on the scales are Need for Career Information and Career Choice Anxiety (6 items each; range = 6-30), Generalized Indecisiveness (5 items; range = 5-25), and Need for Self-Knowledge (4 items; range = 4-20).

Career Factors Inventory Administration

The CFI was designed to be self-administering, self-scoring and self-interpreting; professional supervision of the administration and scoring should be unnecessary. Despite this, the authors advise psychologists to help examinees understand the purpose of the inventory and the four constructs it measures. Competent practice requires that psychologists make sure clients understand their purpose in completing a psychometric instrument. However, explaining the meaning of the scales prior to completing the instrument may influence the results.

The CFI directions are simple, and the inventory has an eighth-grade reading level. It can be administered to an individual or a group, and it is appropriate for persons ages 13 and older. The CFI is not timed, but most examinees should be able to complete it in 5-10 minutes.

Career Factors Inventory Interpretation

The Need for Career Information scale measures clients’ needs to acquire occupational information and gain experience prior to making a career commitment. The Need for Self-knowledge scale measures clients’ needs for increased self-understanding. The Career Choice Anxiety scale measures clients’ anxiety about the career decision-making process. The General Indecisiveness scale measures clients’ perceived inability to make decisions even though the conditions necessary for decision making have been satisfied. The authors claim that discussion of these scores in counseling can help clients understand the barriers that are hindering their career decision making and lead to the identification of effective ways to overcome these barriers.

The CFI assumes a normal distribution of scores and provides arbitrary statistical cutoffs for interpreting scores on these scales. The authors do not provide a theoretical or empirical justification for this approach nor any empirical evidence documenting the validity of interpretations based on these cutoffs. These cutoffs are based on norms composed of convenience samples of college students enrolled in psychology classes at two universities. Consequently, interpretation of CFI results for clients other than university students is not warranted, and interpretation of university students’ results is speculative because of the inadequate norms.

The authors recommend plotting the four scale scores and joining them to obtain a profile, but they do not provide a rationale or empirical justification for this procedure. The order of the scales on the profile is arbitrary, so the shape of the profile lacks rational or empirical meaning. However, the authors do provide case studies that counseling psychologists can consult for guidance.

The wording of the 10 CFI Likert items poses another problem in interpreting the CFI. These items begin, “Before choosing or entering a particular career area, I need to.” The authors interpret these items as measuring the respondent’s perceived deficit. An equally viable interpretation is that these items assess the respondent’s belief that these statements describe a reasonable, commonsense approach to career decision making. Consider the item, “Before choosing or entering a particular career area, I need to use my free time or school courses to help determine what type of career I might enjoy and do well in.” Clients who have already done this might answer, strongly agree, to indicate their belief that the statement describes a reasonable approach to career decision making. Consequently, it is likely that some responses to the CFI indicate a perceived need, while others indicate an evaluation of the action described. This item wording may muddy the interpretation of CFI scores and reduce the validity of the instrument.

Career Factors Inventory Reliability

Test-retest reliability indicates the stability of a test score across a specific time period (2 weeks in the case of the CFI). The test-retest reliabilities of the CFI range from .76 (Need for Self-Knowledge) to .94 (Generalized Indecision). Scores on the CFI scales that measure states are less stable than desirable, given the short time period. Scores on the trait scale are more stable, as is expected. These values indicate that recent CFI results can be interpreted with caution.

Internal consistency reliability indicates the extent to which the items on a scale provide consistent information. Values lower than .75 indicate that the scale items are somewhat inconsistent. Values above .90 suggest that the scale measures a narrow construct that is unlikely to have practical utility or that the scale uses more items than is necessary to achieve adequate precision.

Internal consistency reliability coefficients for the CFI have been reported for samples of middle school and high school students, community college students, 4-year college and university students, adults, and female offenders. The internal consistency reliabilities have ranged from .73 to .91 for the four subscales and from .73 to .92 for the total inventory. The Need for Career Information scale has the lowest reliability, and some internal consistency reliability coefficients reported for that scale have fallen below the acceptable range. The reliability coefficients reported for the other scales have all been in the acceptable range. The General Indecisiveness scale has the highest reliability.

Career Factors Inventory Validity

Factorial validity

Several studies have investigated the factor structure of the CFI, using both principal components analysis and confirmatory factor analysis. While the results generally support the four-factor structure of the CFI, high correlations have been observed between the Need for Career Information and Need for Self-Knowledge scales (r = .80) and the Career Choice Anxiety and Generalized Indecisiveness scales (r = .69). This pattern supports the authors’ claim that the CFI measures cognitive and emotional factors. Greater measurement efficiency could be obtained by combining the CFI items into two scales, but some information would be lost. The relative advantages of a four-scale and two-scale interpretation of the CFI are not known.

Convergent and Discriminant Validity

Convergent validity is indicated when scores on a scale correlate highly with other measures of the same construct. Discriminant validity refers to the principle that scores on a scale should not correlate appreciably with measures of different constructs. Evidence indicating the CFI’s convergent and discriminant validity is provided by correlations with measures of career crystallization, career decidedness, career development, career indecision, career specialization, goal instability, self-esteem, trait anxiety, and vocational identity. However, most of the expected correlations are in the low .30s, several are below .30, and some are even in the opposite direction from that which is expected. Overall, the evidence provides weak to modest support for the convergent and discriminant validity of the CFI.

Criterion-Related Validity

There is virtually no evidence documenting the criterion-related validity of the CFI. One noteworthy attempt compared CFI scores prior to and following a counseling intervention. The change in scores was consistent with the interpretation that the intervention was effective, but two design flaws weaken the credibility of this interpretation. No evidence was presented to document the effectiveness of the intervention, and no tests of statistical significance were reported. Therefore, it is possible that the observed changes were not significant.

Career Factors Inventory Evaluation

The CFI is a simple 21-item instrument that can be used to assess a client’s readiness to engage in the career decision-making process. It assesses four of the many factors that are known to affect career decision making. Career-related problems outside of this narrow focus are not addressed by the CFI.

The stability of scores on the CFI is less than desirable, and its scales possess borderline to modest internal consistency. The factorial validity of the CFI has been supported by several studies, but the pattern of overlapping scales suggests that it primarily measures cognitive and emotional barriers to career decision making. The convergent and discriminant validity of the CFI are weak to moderate, and it lacks meaningful criterion-related validity.

The ambiguous wording of the CFI Likert items creates interpretive problems and it may, in part, account for the weak validity. The lack of adequate norms and the use of arbitrary statistical cutoffs for interpreting scores further exacerbate the interpretive problems. Interpretation of CFI results for anyone other than a university student is not warranted, and interpretation of university students’ results is speculative at best.

Finally, the accuracy of self-scoring instruments is always a concern. Mistakes sometimes happen when clients score their own test results. Steps to minimize these mistakes and to document their frequency are essential. The rationale for self-scoring is not obvious given that the CFI has such a narrow range of application.


  1. Chartrand, J. M., & Nutter, K. J. (1996). The Career Factors Inventory: Theory and applications. Journal of Career Assessment, 4, 205-218.
  2. Chartrand, J. M., Robbins, S. B., Morrill, W. H., & Boggs, K. (1990). Development and validation of the Career Factors Inventory. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 37, 491-501.
  3. Chartrand, J. M., Rose, M. L., Elliott, T. R., Marmarosh, C., & Caldwell, S. (1993). Peeling back the onion: Personality, problem solving, and career decision-making style correlates of career indecision. Journal of Career Assessment, 1, 66-82.
  4. Lewis, D. M., & Savickas, M. L. (1995). Validity of the Career Factors Inventory. Journal of Career Assessment, 3(1), 44-56.
  5. Simon, M. A., & Tovar, E. (2004). Confirmatory factor analysis of the Career Factors Inventory on a community college sample. Journal of Career Assessment, 12, 255-269.

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