Career Decision-Making Styles

Career Decision-Making StylesCareer decision making is generally regarded as a process that entails identifying alternatives, gathering information, weighing the options, selecting one choice, and implementing the chosen alternative. While this basic process seems fairly straightforward, it has been noted that individuals differ considerably in how they negotiate the decisional process. Career decision-making styles thus have been advanced to describe the variety of ways in which individuals approach, respond to, and behave in career decision situations. These observable variations in career decision making have led to a number of taxonomies of career decision-making styles and considerable theorizing and research on the effectiveness of different styles.

Early research into career decision-making styles largely focused on developing taxonomies to describe different types of deciders. Lilian Dinklage is widely cited as the initial scholar to identify a set of career decision-making styles. Based on interviews with high school students, she posed a trait-like taxonomy: Planners are characterized by methodical pursuit to decision resolution; agonizes devote considerable effort to information gathering but often get overwhelmed by the resulting data; delayers recognize the need to decide but defer action at present; deciders with paralysis are highly cognizant of the need to decide, but are unable to engage in the process; impulsive take the first available alternative; intuitive choose what “feels right”; fatalists leave choice to fate or chance; and compliant deciders defer to the recommendation of others.

Similar taxonomies have been proposed by Tanya Arroba, John Krumboltz and his colleagues, and Vincent Harren. Arroba suggested that individuals may use different decision-making styles depending on the particular decisional situation. In her classification, six state-specific styles are identified: logical (objective appraisal and selection); hesitant (procrastination or postponement of decision making); intuitive (choices based on an inner feeling of rightness or inevitability); emotional (choices based on subjective preferences or feelings); no-thought (little objective consideration, as might occur in a routine decision or in an impulsively chosen alternative); and compliant (passive; choice based on expectations of others or self-imposed expectations). In addition, Arroba attempted to identify underlying factors, revealing a clustering of logical and hesitant (implying an element of extended personal time and effort in the decision-making process) and a separate cluster of emotional and intuitive (implying a subjective emphasis in choosing). The no-thought style also appeared to have some association with this latter group. The compliant style consistently appeared as a separate factor.

Krumboltz’s taxonomy proposes five state-like styles: rational (making decisions in a logical and systematic manner); fatalistic (believing that one has little personal control); intuitive (relying on nonspecific impressions); impulsive (spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment choice making); and dependent (relying on the expectations or advice of others).

Harren’s taxonomy suggests that styles vary on two dimensions. First, he proposed that deciders vary in the extent to which they view themselves as personally responsible (in contrast to assigning responsibility to others or to fate). Second, he suggested that deciders differ in the extent to which they rely on logic (in contrast to emotion) in their decision making. His widely used taxonomy poses styles as relatively enduring traits, and includes rational (individually responsible, systematic, logical); intuitive (individually responsible, primary consideration of emotional factors, often impulsive); and dependent (responsibility deferred to others, passive, sees limited options).

Additional taxonomies have been offered, drawing on underlying dimensions. Richard Johnson, for example, based his taxonomy on what he termed a “mental factor analysis” of his clinical observations. He proposed that individuals differ in the manner in which they gather information (systematically or spontaneously) and process information (internally or externally). These variations produce four styles: internal-systematic, internal-spontaneous, external-systematic, and external-spontaneous. Donna Walsh undertook a comprehensive review of the literature on individual variations in career decision making and offered a taxonomy combining Jungian theory and a review of known variations in the decision-making process. Two bipolar dimensions were proposed: intraversion-extraversion (reflecting an orientation toward or away from others in the various aspects of the decision-making process), and thinking-feeling (reflecting how judgments are made). Finally, Susanne Scott and Reginald Bruce articulated a taxonomy similar to those described above but not specifically devoted to the career domain, which includes five essential decision-making styles: rational, avoidant, intuitive, dependent, and spontaneous.

Although the available taxonomies have been presented above in a descriptive frame, there has also been considerable prescriptive endorsement of the benefits of some decision-making styles. Following with the Parsonian “true-reasoning” paradigm of the early 1900s, theorists and researchers (including those noted above) have provided a widespread conclusion that a rational, systematic, and independent approach to decision making is “best.” The adaptive decider is seen as objective, systematic, and logical and free of emotional distractions and cognitive distortions and approaches the generally solitary decision-making task with considerable autonomy and independence.

In support of this view is literature in which it is generally concluded that the more systematic, rational decision-making style has proved adaptive: A rational style has been related to an approach to problem solving, rather than avoidance of it, and has been related to greater self-knowledge and to greater progress in making career decisions as well as in implementing those decisions. “Systematic-internals” have been shown to be least likely to experience indecision about a career choice. Furthermore, individuals who have achieved a firm sense of individual identity use a more systematic, rational decision-making style. Mixed results are evident for a link between decision-making styles and vocational maturity, however, with some evidence that the more vocationally mature student uses a less dependent style and other evidence linking vocational maturity to a rational style.

Just as the rational decision-making style has received generally favorable evidence, the dependent or compliant style has been largely linked with less favorable functioning. For example, those whose identity was foreclosed (committed without exploration) tended to rely on a dependent style. Furthermore, a dependent style has been related to negative outcomes such as less progress in decisions, use of an avoidance strategy in problem solving, and lack of problem-solving confidence.

Despite the conclusion suggested by this brief review that rational, nondependent decision making is preferable, there is also evidence that it is definitely not the only adaptive way of making decisions. Other research has focused on developing counseling interventions to aid individuals in making career decisions. This research has shown that different career decision-making styles have successfully predicted the effects of career interventions, whereas a rational style per se does not appear to be predictive of treatment outcome. Rather, evidence suggests that treatments designed to match participants’ decision-making styles (e.g., systematic intervention for clients with a rational career decision-making style; feeling-focused interventions for intuitive deciders) are more beneficial to the participants. Furthermore, people with different styles may approach counselors differently, with the more dependent deciders expecting more directiveness, acceptance, and nurturance. (It should be noted, however, that these findings have not been replicated in other learning situations outside the counseling realm.)

More recent perspectives on career decision-making styles have focused on the adaptability of other styles beyond a rational style. Drawing on literature in decision making and judgment, Susan Phillips noted that the prescribed rational, autonomous decision making may be neither possible nor desirable. Consideration of the limitations on human information-processing capacity suggests that decisions simply are not made with the dispassionate precision of a systematic, comprehensive, rational process. Furthermore, emotion or intuition (implied as risky in some decision style models) can be seen as highly useful sources of information about alternatives. And in the study of expert judges, drawing on the wisdom and expertise of others is seen as highly beneficial. In light of these observations, Phillips suggested that career decision-making styles other than rational (e.g., the intuitive or dependent styles) may not necessarily reflect an irrational (negative) style, but rather may represent a different kind of adaptation that incorporates affective components in decision making and/or collaborates and consults with others.

Finally, there is also an emerging body of literature to suggest that the context of career decision making— particularly the cultural and the interpersonal—may well play a larger role than previously suspected in determining what style an individual uses and how effective that style is. Thus, noting that collectivist cultures place a different value on the role of others in decision making, Wei-Cheng Mau showed that students from a more individualistic culture were more confident if they did not use a dependent decision-making style, whereas students from a collective culture were more confident only if they used a rational style.

Other recent research has focused on exploring how an individual’s decision-making style might incorporate “others.” Whereas the existing taxonomies of decision-making style acknowledge a role for other people only in the dependent or compliant decision-making styles, Phillips and her colleagues suggested that a relational perspective would provide a more complete and less pathological view of how deciders make decisions in a relational context. They proposed a taxonomy of how deciders use others in decisional situations in more or less self-directed ways (self-directedness) and how others involve themselves in the decision-making process (actions of others). While this perspective is still nascent, there is growing evidence that the use of “others” is valuable and is likely to reduce decision errors, foster vocational maturity, and promote adaptive transitions from school to work.

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  1. Arroba, T. 1977. “Styles of Decision Making and Their Use: An Empirical Study.” British Journal of Guidance and Counselling 5:149-158.
  2. Dinklage, L. B. 1968. Decision Strategies of Adolescents. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  3. Harren, V. A. 1979. “A Model of Career Decision Making for College Students.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 14:119-133.
  4. Johnson, R. 1978. “Individual Styles of Decision Making: A Theoretical Model for Counseling.” Personnel and Guidance Journal 56:530-536.
  5. Krumboltz, J. D., Scherba, D. S., Hamel, D. A., Mitchell, L., Rude, S. and Kinnier, R. 1979. The Effect of Alternate Career Decision Making Strategies on the Quality of Resulting Decisions. Final Report. Stanford, CA: Stanford University.
  6. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. 195 824). Mau, W. 2000. “Cultural Differences in Career Decision-making Styles and Self-efficacy.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 57:365-378.
  7. Phillips, S. D. 1997. “Toward an Expanded Definition of Adaptive   Decision   Making.”   Career Development Quarterly 45:275-287.
  8. Phillips, S. D., Christopher-Sisk, E. K. and Gravino, K. L. 2001. “Making Career Decisions in a Relational Context.” Counseling Psychologist 29:193-213.
  9. Scott, S. G. and Bruce, R. A. 1995. “Decision-making Style: The Development and Assessment of a New Measure.” Educational and Psychological Measurement 55:818-831.
  10. Walsh, D. J. 1985. “The Construction and Validation of a Vocational Decision-making Style Measure.” Dissertation Abstracts International 45:21284.