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Factors Contributing to Positive Career Decisions

February 17, 2020 by John Andrew Williams

Career decisions can be impacted by self-esteem, future time perspective, positive affect and social support. In recent study by Park, Kim, Kwon & Lee (2018) exploring career decision-making of 128 university students revealed the role positive affect (positive emotions & expressions) and self-esteem have on improving an individual’s career decision belief in self (self-efficacy) and reducing career choice anxiety. A lack of self-esteem or heightened career choice anxiety can prevent someone in their pursuit of a desired career. This study sheds light on the value of daily self-reflection on improving one’s sense of self and future aspirations.

Self-reflection can help people make better career choices. Reflection serves as an opportunity for individuals to explore their desires and skills and align those factors with a career that fits their skillset, interests and brings purpose to their life. Professional life coaches can utilize this knowledge to empower clients to establish challenging yet attainable goals. Through the pursuit of goal achievement, clients can develop trust in themselves, cultivate confidence for a positive future and reduce anxiety about career and life decision-making. Upholding the belief that clients have all the resources at their disposal to be successful, professional coaches can use self-reflection exercises, such as a daily journaling, with their clients to nurture insights and cultivate motivation for powerful and sustainable lifelong action.


Framework for this study was provided by the Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT: Lent, Brown, & Hacket, 1994). One of the most popular career theories, SCCT outlines the development of career related attitude and the process of career decision-making. Three interrelated variables serve as the building blocks of SCCT.

  • Self-Efficacy Beliefs – The belief about an individual’s own capabilities to take courses of action or uphold particular behaviors. It is believed that self-efficacy beliefs are moldable and change based on different occupations. These beliefs are derived from observations of others, social persuasion, personal performance accomplishments and emotional and physiological states.
  • Outcome Expectations – The beliefs about the outcomes of performing certain behaviors (e.g., ‘what will happen if I do this?’). The activities people choose to engage in and the effort they put into these activities can forecast the outcome of an individual’s effort and belief in their own ability to perform in those chosen activities.
  • Personal Goals – Describes an engagement in an activity or desired achievement tied to a specific, measurable outcome. According to the SCCT, two types of goals exist, choice and performance goals. Research suggests that people set goals that are consistent with the views they have about their own capabilities and the expectations they have to achieve them. The failure or success in achieving personal goals confirm or adjust self-efficacy beliefs and outcome expectations (Lent et al., 1994).

Self-efficacy impacts career expectations, interests and performance outcomes. In essence, self-efficacy is the belief that people possess about their own capabilities to outline and follow-through on performance. It is developed from specific learning experiences; such as, persuasion from a significant other. This present study identifies self-efficacy as a significant player in the choices and beliefs people have about their career paths. Career decision-making self-efficacy applies a specific perspective on the belief that an individual can persistently engage in career decision-making, despite challenges. Through the improvement of career decision-making self-efficacy, it can reduce career indecision, cultivate an excitement for explorational activities and enhance career planning.

Career choice anxiety negatively impacts career decision-making self-efficacy. Defined as emotional challenge surrounding career decision-making, career choice anxiety can prevent career exploration and actions towards desired professional roles.

Social support increases career decision-making self-efficacy, while reducing career choice anxiety. Referred to as the self-trust, information, material assistance and emotional comfort received from personal relationships, social support has been shown to directly impact the experience of one’s life. Previous research has shown that people who report high levels of social support possess greater confidence in their lives and exhibit better judgment regarding their career goals (Gushue & Whitson, 2006).128 students from the University of Korea participated in the study. Of the 128 students, 105 agreed to partake in the 21-day longitudinal analysis of the relationship of self-esteem, future time perspective, positive affect and social support on career decision making. Of the 105 students who participated in the entire study, 65 were female and 40 were male.


Positive emotions improved career-decision making and reduced career anxiety. Over the course of the 21 day intervention, the study determined that a higher rate of positive affect (positive emotions & expressions) translated to higher career-decision self-efficacy and reduced career anxiety. Previous research by Gushue & Whitson (2006) supports these findings and provides an additional layer. Individuals who possess a higher career decision-making self-efficacy tend to make successful career decisions and perform effectively within their chosen career field, whereas those who experience high levels of career choice anxiety tend to struggle making career related choices and hit career related performance goals. With that, research assumes that those who experience high levels of career choice anxiety become overwhelmed by the career decision-making process and struggle to overcome their emotional distress to pursue their desired career path. These results are significant for career coaches/counselors. Based on the evidence within this study, it is imperative for professionals to highlight the improvement and consistency positive affectivity.

Social support balances career choice anxiety and positive affect. Specifically, social support has a direct impact on positive affect, reducing the rate of career choice anxiety. A high level of social support represents the availability individuals have to career development guidance and assistance. Therefore, high levels of social support reduce career choice anxiety by strengthening the influence of one’s positive emotions.

Self-esteem is a critical ingredient in the career decision-making process. Participants who surveyed high rates of self-esteem expressed confidence in their career decision-making process and reported less anxiety surrounding their career choices. With the knowledge that self-esteem can be improved through reflection, training and coaching, these findings reveal the importance of enhancing self-esteem when supporting someone through a career decision-making process.


Of the 128 students that participated in the study, 105 took the baseline survey and completed the 21 consecutive daily reflections. Participants were instructed to report their daily career decision-making self-efficacy, career choice anxiety and daily affect through online surveys for 21 consecutive days. A website link was sent in a text message at 9pm each evening for the participants to record their daily reflections.  Measured against the baseline, participants were tracked daily for 21 consecutive days using the assessments to follow.

  • Positive and negative emotions were analyzed. Using a nine item survey, participants would rate their agreement (or lack of agreement) to emotional states: alert, proud, relaxed, satisfied, calm, happy, enthusiastic, and content.)
  • Career decision-making self-efficacy was measured using a 25-item questionnaire. Similar to the previous positive affect measure, each item on this questionnaire was reported in a spectrum, from “no confidence” to “complete confidence.” The four factors measured were; gathering occupational information, making plans, goal selection and accurate self-appraisal. In the analysis, high scores throughout the questionnaire revealed high levels of self-efficacy toward career decision-making.
  • Career choice anxiety measures were based on Spielberger’s State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI: Spielberg, Gorsuch, Lushene, Vagg & Jacobs, 1983). A six-item scale was revised from the original STAI. Of the items, three were worded negatively, like “I feel worried” and three were worded positively, like “I am calm.” Participants would rate, on a scale of one to seven, their level of disagreement or agreement. A high score represents a higher level of anxiety surrounding career decision-making.
  • Future time perspective was assessed based on Carstensen and Lang (1996)’s 10-item scale. Participants reported on a scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 7 (a very great extent) from the extent they agree to a particular statement. An example of one item might be, “numerous opportunities await my future.”
  • Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale (RSE: Rosenberg, 1965) was used to assess participant self-esteem. One of the most popular self-assessment tools, the RSE comprises 10 items related to negative and positive assumptions of oneself (e.g., I certainly feel useless at times). Items were measured on a five-point scale from “not at all” to “very much.” High scores represented a high self-esteem.
  • Social support was measured using the Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (MSPSS) developed by Zimet, Dahlem, Zimet, & Farley (1988). Comprised of 12 items assessing perceived support from friends, family, and significant others the MSPSS is measured using a five-point scale from “not at all” to “very much.” A high overall score indicates  a high perception of social support from friends, family, and significant others.

This study reveals the importance that positive affectivity and self-esteem play in the career decision-making process. Moreover, practical implications of the study report the importance for professional support people (coaches, counselors, teachers, etc.) to help those they work with cultivate positive emotions and self-esteem. Not only will this positively impact the actions taken by each individual, it will reduce anxiety around the desired life choices.

References:Carstensen, L. L., and Lang, F. R. (1996). Future Time Perspective Scale. Stanford, CA: Stanford University. Gushue, G. V., and Whitson, M. L. (2006). The relationship among support, ethnic identity, career decision self-efficacy, and outcome expectations in African American high school students applying social cognitive career theory. J. Career Dev. 33, 112–124. doi: 10.1177/08948406293416 Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., and Hackett, G. (1994). Toward a unifying social cognitive theory of career and academic interest, choice, and performance. J. Vocat. Behav. 45, 79–122. doi: 10.1006/jvbe.1994.1027Park, I-J., Kim M., Kwon, S., and Lee H-G. (2018). The Relationships of self-esteem, future time perspective, positive affect, social support, and career decision: A longitudinal multilevel study. Frontiers in Psychology. 9:514. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00514Rosenberg, M. (1965). Rosenberg self-esteem scale (RSE). Accept. Commit. Ther. Meas. Package 61:52. doi: 10.1037/t01038-000 Spielberger, C. D., Gorsuch, R. L., Lushene, R., Vagg, P. R., and Jacobs, G. A. (1983). State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (form Y). Redwood City. CA: Mind Garden, 77. doi: 10.1037/t06496-000Zimet, G. D., Dahlem, N. W., Zimet, S. G., and Farley, G. K. (1988). The multidimensional scale of perceived social support. J. Pers. Assess. 52, 30–41. doi: 10.1207/s15327752jpa5201_2

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