This article provides a brief overview of the research related to career intervention outcomes or effectiveness. Traditionally, career interventions have been defined as any treatment or effort intended to enhance an individual’s career development or to enable the person to make better career-related decisions. This is a broad definition that encompasses a wide range of interventions, including career counseling and other modalities, such as workshops, career classes, computer applications, and self-administered inventories. In the field of vocational psychology, career counseling is often viewed as a subset of career interventions. This entry discusses the outcomes of career interventions in general, identifies which types of career interventions appear to be more efficacious, and addresses research related to which factors or variables (e.g., number of sessions, content of sessions) have been found to be most helpful to individuals needing career assistance.
Effectiveness of Career Interventions
In examining the effectiveness of any intervention, researchers often compare those who have received the intervention to those who have not received it. Concerning the effectiveness of career interventions compared to no treatment, three meta-analyses have been published, and they indicate that career interventions tend to be moderately to very effective. In considering the results of these three meta-analytic reviews, it appears that the overall effect sizes for career interventions tend to fall in the range of .30 to .60. Although complicated weighting procedures are typically used in meta-analysis, an effect size is essentially the average difference between those who received the treatment and those who did not. Thus, an effect size of .30 means those who received a career intervention were about a third of a standard deviation above the control group, while an effect size of .60 reflects that the treatment group was closer to two-thirds of a standard deviation above the control group. Effect sizes in this range are often considered to indicate that the interventions are “moderately” effective. However, even the most conservative effect size of .30 shows that the average career client exceeds 62 percent of the control group. Furthermore, the benefits from career counseling appear to continue for clients. In following up with clients 1 to 12 months after receiving career counseling, Charles Healy found that 85 percent of the clients reported continued progress (e.g., pursuing degrees, gathering information, and changing occupations). Although career interventions appear to be moderately effective, it should be noted that different career interventions have been found to vary significantly in their effectiveness.
Which Career Interventions Are Most Helpful?
Susan Whiston combined the average effect sizes from two previous meta-analyses and found that career classes and individual career counseling were the most effective interventions. In fact, both individual career counseling and career classes have very large effect sizes. A second group of interventions had effect sizes in the moderate range, and these interventions were group career counseling, group test interpretation, workshop or structured groups, and computer-assisted interventions. In another study, Whiston and her colleagues directly compared different career interventions and found that participants who used a career computer system supplemented by counseling had better outcomes than those who just used a computer system. In addition, they found that counselor-free interventions (e.g., reading occupational information or completing a self-directed activity) were consistently less effective than other types of treatment modalities, such as individual career counseling, workshops, or career groups. Their results indicate that counselors play a critical role in assisting individuals with their career development and decision making. Therefore, it is important, particularly given the substantial increases in Web-based career assessments and materials, that appropriate counseling interventions provided to individuals be and people are not encouraged to simply go and get some career information off the Web. Research findings clearly indicate that counselor-free interventions are the least effective approach in providing career interventions and that more systematic assistance provides better outcomes for most individuals needing help with their careers.
Measurement of Career Intervention Outcomes
To interpret the research on the outcome of career interventions, one needs to understand the outcome measures, or indicators, of effectiveness. An intervention could produce a large effect size, but the results may be meaningless if a poor outcome measure is used. Some researchers have recommended using both career (e.g., certainty/decidedness, career maturity) and non-career (e.g., self-concept, locus of control, anxiety) outcomes, because career counseling probably affects multiple areas of functioning. In career intervention outcome research, the most common measures used are career maturity, career decidedness, and career information seeking. Measures of career maturity typically involve comparing adolescents or young adults with others in the same age group in terms of their career development and determining whether their knowledge and attitudes about career issues are higher or lower than that of their peers. Although career-related measures are often used to evaluate outcome, research has found that career counseling also has a positive effect on non-career outcome, such as self-concept, anxiety, and depression. Hence, career interventions often have an effect on both career and personal measures of outcome.
Common Factors in Effective Interventions
Across different types of career interventions, Steven Brown and Nancy Ryan Krane found there are five critical ingredients that positively influence outcome regardless of modality or format. These five critical ingredients are written exercises, individualized interpretations, occupational information, modeling, and attention to building support. Moreover, they found not only that these five critical ingredients were important independently but also that combinations of them yielded larger effect sizes than any one ingredient individually. Although no study in their analyses employed all five critical ingredients, adding one, two, or three critical ingredients yielded increasingly larger effect sizes. In a further analysis of this data, Brown and his colleagues found some preliminary findings that the written exercises are more effective if they include (a) opportunities for occupational comparison and future planning and (b) opportunities to articulate future goals and activities related to achieving those goals. They further found evidence that the individualized interpretation and feedback should be targeted toward assisting clients in planning for the future and setting goals. In addition, their research indicates that occupational information should be explored in session and not relegated to homework activities. Related to the fourth critical ingredient, modeling, they found some initial evidence that modeling and self-disclosures by the counselor or facilitator can be potent, thus indicating that modeling can occur in individual career counseling. The final ingredient has received the least attention, but there are some indications that when career counselors devote attention to helping clients build support for their career choices and plans, the counseling is rated as being more effective by clients. This support may be particularly important when clients are coping with existing or perceived barriers.
The role of career assessments in providing effective career interventions is somewhat difficult to precisely determine. Howard Tinsley and Serena Chu concluded that there was no credible body of evidence to document that test or interest inventory interpretation by a trained clinician is helpful in career counseling. This finding, however, is contradicted by Brown and Krane’s conclusion that when the outcome concerns career choice, one of the critical components of career counseling is individualized interpretation and feedback. Although there are no definitive findings related to traditional test interpretation, the world of career assessment is changing, and evolving technologies are having a substantial impact on how career assessments are delivered and interpreted. The influences of developing technologies on career assessment are significant, and we suggest the continued exploration of the effectiveness of both traditional career assessments as well as the use of new technologies related to career assessment.
Other factors that some researchers have found to positively influence the outcome of career intervention are longer and more comprehensive interventions. Brown and Krane found that outcomes improved exponentially as the number of sessions increased from one to four or five sessions. The effectiveness, however, seemed to decrease dramatically after around five sessions, which led them to recommend that career interventions are most effective when they include the five critical ingredients and last around four or five sessions.
Who Benefits from Career Counseling or Interventions?
Sometimes practitioners wonder when or which clients or individuals benefit the most from career interventions. Career interventions have been found to be effective with clients of all ages, with the possible exception of elementary students; however, very little research has been conducted related to career interventions with elementary students. Most of the research related to career interventions has been with college students, and researchers have found that college students generally tend to see value in career counseling and do not believe there is a significant stigma attached with seeking career assistance. Interestingly, some research indicates that men seem more likely to report a higher stigma attached to career counseling than do women, while other research suggests no gender differences in terms of the usage of career counseling services. Little research, however, has been conducted that has compared different inventions with males and females or explored whether the approach to career counseling should vary based on the gender of the client.
Although much has been written about the unique career development needs of racial and ethnic minorities, there has been very little exploration of the effects of varying career interventions with these different groups. A recent study found that African American and Asian American/Pacific Islander students were more likely than Caucasian students to use career counseling services in their colleges. Hispanic students, however, were the group least likely to seek career counseling compared with other ethnic groups. Some models have been developed to provide career counseling specifically for clients from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds. One of the more eminent models is that of Nadya Fouad and Rosie Bingham, in which they have proposed a seven-step process. The steps of their culturally sensitive career counseling model include establishing rapport, identifying career issues, assessing cultural variables, establishing culturally sensitive processes and goals, designing culturally appropriate interventions, making appropriate decisions, and implementing the career plan with follow-up. This model appears to hold promise, but it has yet to be investigated empirically, and more research is needed in this area.
In general, career interventions tend to have positive outcomes, and most individuals report positive results after receiving some sort of career assistance. Career classes and individual career counseling appear to be the most effective modes of assisting individuals, particularly in terms of facilitating their career development and helping them make career decisions. Other intervention strategies that tend to be more moderately effective include group career counseling, group test interpretation, workshop or structured groups, and computer-assisted interventions. There is also research indicating that longer career interventions that involve five critical ingredients (i.e., written exercises, individualized interpretations, occupational information, modeling, and attention to building support) tend to be more effective than shorter and less comprehensive approaches. Furthermore, there is substantial empirical support indicating the importance of interventions that involve counseling and the tendency for counselor-free interventions to be ineffective. For example, individuals report better outcomes when counseling is added to the use of computerized career information systems compared with just using the computer systems in isolation. More research is needed to clarify which interventions work best with which clients or individuals. In particular, more research needs to be conducted related to whether different interventions are more or less effective with males and females, as well as with individuals from different racial or ethnic groups. In conclusion, although career interventions tend to produce a positive outcome, additional research is needed to assist practitioners in providing the most effective career interventions to individuals.
- Brown, S. D. and Ryan Krane, N. E. 2000. “Four (or Five) Sessions and a Cloud of Dust: Old Assumptions and New Observations about Career Counseling.” Pp. 740-766 in Handbook of Counseling Psychology, edited by S. D. Brown and R. W. Lent. New York: Wiley.
- Brown, S. D., Ryan Krane, N. E., Brecheisen, J., Castelino, P., Budisin, I., Miller, M. and Edens, L. 2003. “Critical Ingredients of Career Choice Interventions: More Analyses and New Hypotheses.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 50:458-465.
- Fouad, N. A. and Bingham, R. P. 1995. “Career Counseling with Racial and Ethnic Minorities.” Pp. 331-365 in Handbook of Vocational Psychology, 2d ed., edited by W. B. Walsh and S. H. Osipow. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
- Tinsley, H. E. A. and Chu, S. 1999. “Research on Test and Interest Inventory Interpretation Outcomes.” Pp. 257-276 in Vocational Interests: Meaning, Measurement, and Counseling Use, edited by M. L. Savickas and A. R. Spokane. Palo Alto, CA: Davis-Black.
- Whiston, S. C. 2002. “Application of the Principles: Career Counseling and Interventions.” Counseling Psychologist 30:218-237.
- Whiston, S. C., Brecheisen, B. K. and Stephens, J. 2003. “Does Treatment Modality Affect Career Counseling Effectiveness? Journal of Vocational Behavior 62:390-410.
- Whiston, S. C., Sexton, T. L. and Lasoff, D. L. 1998. “Career Intervention Outcome: A Replication and Extension. Journal of Counseling Psychology 45:150-165.