Career Salience

Career SalienceThe word salience comes from the Latin word salire, “to go out,” as out of a door or gate. Salient may also mean “standing out from the rest” or “prominent.” Donald Super linked the idea of salience, meaning prominent or standing out from the rest, to career development theory in the 1970s. During the next 30 years, research and development efforts expanded understanding of the relationship of career salience within career development theory and also its uses in career counseling.

Career salience should always be thought of in relation to other life roles and not as something existing by itself, independent of these roles. Career salience relates to the prominence for a person of his or her career role in relation to other life roles, such as the family or leisure role. The responsibilities of raising a family (family role) may lower the importance of a person’s career role salience, especially during the time when that person’s children are young. Therefore, career salience is not an absolute value but is relative to the salience of other life roles and commitments at any particular time.

Career salience changes for persons as they move through differing career development stages, for example, when moving from the growth-development stage to the career-establishment stage. Thus, career salience for adolescents is often not significantly related to their career salience when they are young adults. Career salience increases or decreases at various times with the increases or decreases in commitment and involvement in other life roles. Although scholars in addition to Super have studied career salience, they have usually done so independent of other life roles and have failed to take into account the developmental nature of career salience.

The concept of career salience is relevant to career counseling because it deals with the special problems and challenges faced by persons engaged in career decision making and planning. A majority of workers engage in multiple roles, roles other than career, and these multiple roles put stress on their lives. This is especially true of working women who are also young mothers. Persons from ethnic minority groups experience challenges too, as they often hold values related to work and home roles that differ from those of the mainstream population. Career counseling that helps ethnic minority persons clarify their role priorities in light of their own value systems can help to reduce their alienation and stress related to being different.

Life Span, Life Space, and Career Salience

Super developed the Life-Career Rainbow to illustrate his “life-span, life-space approach” to career development. The Rainbow presents the role salience of various typical life roles, such as child, student, “leisurite,” citizen, worker, spouse, homemaker, and parent, over the life of an individual as these roles change in their salience depending on which career development stage the individual is in. The Life-Career Rainbow is a tool that can be used by counselors in introducing a client to the idea of the interdependence of various life roles and their changing importance throughout life. The career development stages represented in the life-span dimension of the Life-Career Rainbow include growth, exploration, establishment, maintenance, and disengagement. Each role in the Life-Career Rainbow is depicted as beginning at a different age and changing in importance or intensity during the rest of a person’s life. For example, the role of son or daughter begins at birth and continues during the life of a son’s or daughter’s parents. When both parents are deceased, the role of son or daughter ceases. The role of worker within a career may begin for a person around age 22 and end around age 65.

The salience to individuals of their career roles is dependent on the salience to them of other life roles at any given point in time. Most working women and working men fill several roles at the same time. The result for the career role is sometimes positive and sometimes stressful and may even result in role conflict. Super reported evidence that persons engaging in multiple roles can increase life satisfaction and a sense of well-being, especially if their personal self-esteem is high. There is also research indicating that women who engage in both the parenting and career roles at the same time feel more satisfied with their lives. However, role stress is particularly evident for working parents of young children. Role conflict may result when the parents’ other role values are in conflict with their work role values. For example, a mother who believes that her first priority is to her child is likely to skip work or come late to work if the child is ill in order to first take care of the child.

Career Salience: Three Aspects

Super defined career salience as consisting of three aspects: commitment, participation, and knowledge. Commitment means the value or emotional attachment to the role a person feels and his or her degree of identification with the role and its activities. Participation means behavioral participation or time spent in the role. Knowledge means the degree of information about a career learned either through participation or through vicarious watching of others in that career role. These three components of career salience have been found by various researchers to be only slightly or not at all related to each other for students whose role decisions are still tentative and whose role participation is still limited. That is, a person with high career commitment is not necessarily highly involved in a career or knowledgeable about careers. Super defined career development tasks and involvement as beginning in childhood with fantasy play, in which the child takes on adult roles, such as those of sailor, doctor, teacher, or astronaut. Thus, the commitment component and the cognitive component may develop early, whereas the participation or behavioral component will vary in different career-development periods, depending on the demands of other roles, such as student, parent, or citizen.

Life Role Values and Career Salience

The role values a person holds are part of the commitment or affective dimension of career salience. The values satisfied by each role a person engages in are central to understanding the career salience of that person. Role values are a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic values. Intrinsic values are satisfied by participation in a role, whereas extrinsic values are satisfied by the outcomes of participation. Intrinsic values include ability utilization and altruism; extrinsic values include economic rewards and prestige. Helen Farmer found that for adolescents and young adults, altruistic values are more predictive than achievement values of high career salience. Altruistic values involve valuing providing a service to others and helping others. Career-related values develop prior to career-related interests; in fact, career interests develop as a means of satisfying the values a person holds. For example, if a person values earning a lot of money, he or she will express this value by engaging in activities that are likely to promote a high salary.

Need to Achieve and Career Salience

Joel Raynor pointed out that the need to achieve typically relates to mastering short-term challenging tasks, whereas career salience relates to long-term commitment and participation in a career that the person is highly knowledgeable about. When short-term achievement tasks are viewed by individuals as affecting their long-term achievement goals, for example, acceptance into a particular job or institution of higher education, short-term and long-term goals are contingent and therefore related. Career salience, that is, the commitment to, participation in, and knowledge about a career, is sometimes related to a person’s need to achieve in life. However, a salient career is not necessarily a challenging one, whereas high need for achievement is related to seeking out challenging tasks to master. A person with high career salience may choose a career that gives meaning to his or her life and that is highly satisfying, but not necessarily challenging and risky.

Gender Differences and Career Salience

Farmer has shown that adolescent women and men in the career exploration stage score similarly on measures of family and career role salience. However, for adolescent women as well as young adult women, the more they value their family roles, the less they value their career roles. For adolescent and young adult men in these two career-development stages, the valuing of these two life roles is relatively independent. That is, for boys and young men, both career and family salience may be high. Another relationship found for adolescent and young adult women, but not for boys and young men, is that career salience is significantly related to a positive view of the support available in the workplace for working women. This finding illustrates the importance of a supportive environment or context in determining women’s career salience.

Socioeconomic Status and Career Salience

Rabindra Nath Kanungo, in his study of work alienation, demonstrated that some workers prefer other life roles over their work roles. In fact, a majority of the workers in the United States work because they have to. This is true of both men and women. Often workers at the lower end of the economic scale resent work, but they work because of their survival needs and to satisfy their need for pleasure, acceptance by others, and recognition in other life roles, such as the role of citizen. Also, many persons from the lower socioeconomic strata of society do not have the freedom to choose the kinds of careers they will enter. Rather, they choose whatever employment opportunities are open to them. For many workers, the emotional dimension of career salience is low, but the participation dimension is high. If circumstances dictate that a person’s career does not bring him or her satisfaction, a career counselor can help that person plan to engage in other life roles, such as leisure roles, that are more satisfying.

Career Maturity and Career Salience

Super and Dorothy Nevill reported that for adolescents, career maturity is a better predictor of career salience than is social class or gender. Super’s measure of career maturity includes assessment of career planning, career exploration, career decision making, world-of-work information, and knowledge of the preferred occupational group. If work is not important to an adolescent and his or her career maturity is low, that individual is not ready to engage in career planning and decision making. Also, that person’s scores on career interest inventories and other career-planning measures will have low validity. This has important implications for career counseling with adolescents and adults who are low on career maturity. Low levels of career maturity may suggest that an individual is career alienated, that is, sees no value for himself or herself in a career. Other reasons for low career maturity and career salience include the responsibilities and demands of other life roles on the person at the time of the assessment and a possible lack of experience in and knowledge about careers and work. Although Super and Nevill found that among adolescents, both gender differences and social class differences are less related to career salience than to career maturity, gender and social class differences are still relevant, though less so, to understanding adolescent career salience.

Career Counseling and Career Salience

Nevill and Super proposed a form of career counseling called the developmental assessment model. Using this model, the career counselor conducts an initial interview with the client, explaining the life-role planning process and the interrelationships of multiple life roles a person plays at different points in time. The Life-Career Rainbow described earlier is a useful tool in this initial stage. The developmental assessment model of career counseling includes collecting a large array of information about the client prior to engaging in career decision making. To understand whether or not a client or individual is ready to make a career decision using the development assessment model, it is necessary to assess three things. Assessment devices were developed by Super and his colleagues for role salience, the values expectations related to each role, and career maturity. This is to ensure that the client can make an informed choice about a career within the larger framework of multiple roles and life planning. The three measures are briefly described next.

The Salience Inventory

The Salience Inventory published by Nevill and Super in 1986 has been shown to benefit clients in individual counseling, group counseling, and career development workshops and counseling. The Salience Inventory was developed out of earlier work in the 1970s by Super and members of the Work Importance Study (WIS), an international consortium in a dozen European, Asian, Australian, and North American countries. Super was the coordinator of the WIS. The Salience Inventory assesses the client’s current commitment and participation in five life roles: student, worker, citizen, home and family, and leisure. The knowledge component of role salience is not assessed, because it would vary depending on the particular career the client was interested in and/or had participated in. Once the counselor knows the relative importance of the client’s career role in relation to other life roles, the counselor may proceed to administer the Values Scale to the client.

The Values Scale

Super and Nevill developed the Values Scale in 1986. The role values included in the American version are those found most frequently among American adults. International versions of the Values Scale may vary, based on the values identified most frequently in the country of intended use. The Values Scale used in the developmental assessment mode separately assesses the importance of 14 values for each of the five roles. Sometimes a person holds two or more values that cannot all be met or satisfied in a particular career. A person who values both altruism and earning a high salary might satisfy earning money through his or her career and satisfy altruistic values in other roles, such as that of citizen or engaging in church activities.

The Career Development Inventory

The third element of the career development assessment model is administration of a career development measure such as the one developed by Super and his colleagues. This measure provides a career maturity score on career planning, career exploration, decision making, world-of-work information, and knowledge of the preferred occupational group. When this step is completed, the counselor reviews the information to determine whether the client is ready to engage in career decision making and is likely to provide valid career interest and ability scores or whether the counselor should encourage the client to do more career exploration.

See also:


  1. Farmer, H. S. 1983. “Career and Homemaking Plans for High School Youth.” Journal of Counseling Psychology 30:40-45.
  2. Farmer, H. S. “Women’s Motivation Related to Mastery, Career Salience, and Career Aspiration: A Multivariate Model Focusing on the Effects of Sex Role Socialization.” Journal of Career Assessment 5:355-381.
  3. Kanungo, R. N. 1982. Work Alienation. New York: Praeger.
  4. Nevill, D. D. and Super, D. 1986. The Values Scale: Research, Development, and Use. Research user’s manual. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.
  5. Raynor, J. O. 1978. “Motivation and Career Striving.” Pp. 199­-219 in Personality, Motivation, and Achievement, edited by J. Atkinson and J. Raynor. New York: Halsted.
  6. Super, D. E. 1980. “A Life-span, Life-space Approach to Career Development.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 16:282-298.
  7. Super, D. E. “The Relative Importance of Work: Models and Measures for Meaningful Data.” Counseling Psychologist 10:95-103.
  8. Super, D. E. 1990 “A Life-span, Life-space Approach to Career ” Pp. 197-261 in Career Choice and Development, 2d ed., edited by D. Brown, and L. Brooks, and Associates. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  9. Super, D. E. and Chula, M. 1976. Work Salience Inventory. Available from Helen Farmer, University of Illinois, 1310 S. Sixth St., Champaign, IL 61820.
  10. Super, D. E. and Nevill, D. 1986. The Salience Inventory. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.