Drawing on research on careers, career indecision, and personality,
this study examined career decidedness in relation to life satisfaction
and the "Big Five" personality constructs of neuroticism,
extroversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Both
general and work-based Big Five measures were studied. Participants were
249 undergraduates at a large southeastern U.S. university with
representation from all four years. For both general and work-based Big
Five measures, results showed that career decidedness was positively and
significantly related to life satisfaction, agreeableness, and
conscientiousness as well as negatively related to neuroticism. Findings
were discussed in relation to construct validation for career
decidedness, as well as career planning and future research directions.
This paper is concerned with personality correlates of career
decidedness among college students. The general topic of careers has
become increasingly differentiated in recent research and theorizing on
college students as can be seen in such diverse topics as career
counseling (Coker, 1994), gender differences (Schroeder, Blood, &
Maluso, 1993), career expectations (Heckert & Wallis, 1998),
non-traditional student career trajectories (Kinsella, 1998), career
choice determinants (Keller, Piotrowski, & Rabold, 1990), vocational
identity (Zagora & Cramer, 1994), and career needs of students with
disabilities (Aune & Kroeger, 1997).
A more focused line of inquiry concerns the issue of vocational
indecision (Callis, 1965) and, more recently, its counterpart--career
decidedness--which is conceptualized as "a continuous variable
ranging from a self-perception of completely decided to completely
undecided" (Jones & Chenery, 1980). As noted by Super (1988),
deciding on a career to pursue is a fundamental task of early adulthood.
Not surprisingly, there has been extensive research on career
decidedness (cf. the review by Gordon 1998). Moreover, a number of
studies have examined personality correlates of career decidedness,
including such constructs as state-trait anxiety (Fuqua, Blum, &
Hartman, 1988), self-efficacy (Larson, Hepner, Ham, & Dugan, 1988),
and self-esteem (Chartrand, Martin, Robbins, McAuliffe, Pickering, &
Calliotte, 1994). However, we could not identify any research that has
investigated career-decidedness in relation to the "Big Five"
Increasingly, personality psychologists are beginning to accept
that there are five major dimensions of personality derived from
factor-analytic studies over the past 40 years (Costa & McCrae,
1985; Digman, 1990; John, 1990). The five factors, often referred to as
the "Big Five", represent the hierarchical organization of
personality traits and consist of Neuroticism, Extroversion, Openness to
Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. During the last
decade, the "Big Five" model of personality has become widely
accepted as the most parsimonious and well-validated model of traits
among personality researchers. The Big Five have been described as
" ... a universal descriptive framework ... for the comprehensive
assessment of individuals" (McCrae, 1989, p. 243). These five
robust factors of personality have been consistently observed in both
children and adults, have strong relationships to actual behavior, and
have been found to remain relatively stable throughout the life span
(Costa & McCrae, 1994). Goldberg (1992) has referred to the five
factor model as a "quiet revolution occurring in personality
psychology" (p. 26).
To further explore the construct validity and nomological network
(Messick, 1989)for career decidedness, we examined career decidedness in
relation to the Big Five constructs as measured by the short form of
Costa and McCrae's NEO-PI-R, the NEO Five-Factor Inventory (Costa
& McCrae, 1989). In accordance with the suggestion by Schmit, Ryan,
Stierwalt, and Powell (1995) that the validity of personality measures
used for the realm of work (and careers) can be enhanced by using
work-related phrasing in scale items, we also investigated
career-decidedness in relation to a work-based Big 5 personality
inventory developed by Lounsbury and Gibson (1998). In addition, in view
of research which suggests that career-decided students have higher
levels of life satisfaction (Arnold, 1989), a measure of general life
satisfaction was also included in this study.
The purpose of the present study was to examine career-decidedness
in relation to the Big Five personality constructs, measured in terms of
general Big Five dimensions and work-related Big Five dimensions.
Specifically, we investigated whether career-decidedness in college
students is significantly related to Neuroticism, Extroversion,
Openness, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. Also, we examined the
relationship between career decidedness and life satisfaction.
Students enrolled in psychology courses at a large southeastern
state university were recruited to participate in a study about career
decision-making and personality. Data were collected from 249
undergraduate students (33% male, 67% female). Students were offered
extra credit in their respective courses for participation. Thirty-seven
percent of the participants were Freshmen; 25%, Sophomores; 22%,
Juniors; and 16%, Seniors.
Participants were administered a set of questionnaires in the
laboratory. The following measures were included:
Career-Decidedness Inventory. This is a 14-item scale developed in
a pilot study by the authors to reflect the degree to which individuals
feel decided about their career choice (following the conceptual
definitions of Gordon, 1998 and Jones & Chenery, 1980). Examples of
item wording for the career decidedness scale are: "I have made a
definite decision about a career for myself", "I'm still
thinking about the kind of job I want in the future"
(reverse-scored), and "I am sure about what I eventually want to do
for a living." Responses are recorded on a five-point Likert scale
ranging from 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 5 (Strongly Agree) with
Neutral/Undecided midpoint. Coefficient alpha for this scale in the
present study = .95. [A copy of this scale is available from the Senior
NEO Five-Factor Inventory. The NEO-FFI (Costa & McCrae, 1989)
is a 60-item, shortened form of the NEO-PI-R (Costa & McCrae, 1992).
The NEO-FFI consists of the 12 items on each factor of the NEO-PI-R that
have the highest positive or negative loading. Responses are reported on
a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 5
(Strongly Agree). Costa & McCrae (1992) have reported coefficient
alphas for each of the 12-item scales as .86 (Neuroticism), .77
(Extroversion), .73 (Openness to Experience), .68 (Agreeableness), and
.81 (Conscientiousness). Coefficient alphas in this study for the five
scales were: Neuroticism--.88; Extroversion--.80; Openness--.73;
Agreeableness--.73; and Conscientiousness--.85.
Personal Style Inventory. This is a 78-item inventory developed to
measure the Big Five constructs in the context of work (Lounsbury &
Gibson, 1998). Each item is placed on a five-point Likert scale with
bipolar verbal anchors. For example, in the following work-based
conscientiousness item, participants are asked to choose the point on
the scale most reflective of them.
Coefficient alphas in this study for the five scales were .81
(Neuroticism), .86 (Extroversion), .79 (Openness to Experience), .79
(Agreeableness), and .79 (Conscientiousness).
Life Satisfaction Scale A 21-item scale was constructed based on
life satisfaction measures presented by Campbell, Converse, and Rodgers
(1976) and Andrews and Withey (1976). Items measured satisfaction with
such domains as friends, social life, free-time, health, major, fun, and
one's life as a whole. Each item was measured on a seven-point
scale ranging from 1 ("Very Dissatisfied") to 7 ("Very
Satisfied") with a midpoint of 4 ("Neutral"). Coefficient
alpha for this scale in the present study was .88.
Table 1 represents the descriptive statistics and the correlation
matrix for career decidedness, NEO-FFI and Personal Style Inventory. The
pattern of significant correlations between the career decidedness and
Big Five constructs was very similar for both types of measures. Career
decidedness was negatively correlated with the NEO measure of
neuroticism (r = -.30, p [is less than] .01) and positively correlated
with the NEO measures of agreeableness (r=.18, p [is less than] .05) and
conscientiousness (r=.25, p [is less than] .01). For the work-related
Big Five measures, career decidedness was also negatively correlated
with neuroticism (r=.29, p [is less than] .01)and positively correlated
with agreeableness (r=.14, p [is less than] .05) and conscientiousness
(r=.17, p [is less than] .05). In addition, career-decidedness was
positively and significantly correlated with life satisfaction (r=.42; p
[is less than] .01).
Table 1 Descriptive Statistics and Intercorrelations for Study
The present study suggests that, while career decidedness is a
relatively new construct which measures a specific stage of career
development, it is significantly related to three core personality
constructs, measured both in terms of general personality dispositions
and as work-based personality traits. That career decidedness is
significantly negatively related to neuroticism is not surprising.
College students who are having difficulty choosing a career and
subsequent vocational path would be more likely to experience worry,
distress, tension, anxiety, and other features inherent in the Big 5
definition of neurotic, ism (Costa & McCrae, 1985). Indeed, Fuqua,
Blum, and Hartman (1988) described college students who are chronically
undecided as showing "excessive anxiety." However, the
question of the direction of this relationship still remains. That is,
does neuroticism cause career indecision, or vice-versa, do these
variables interact, do they reflect reciprocal causation?
In a somewhat similar vein, the Big Five definition of
conscientiousness emphasizes such pro-social attributes as orderliness,
self-discipline, deliberation, dependability, and competence (Hogan
& Ones, 1997; Costa & McCrae, 1985). Career decidedness is a
logically related correlate, if not an outcome, of such characteristics.
Students who are organized, disciplined, and structured in their
approach to career choice can be expected to display higher levels of
Less clear is the positive relationship between career decidedness
and agreeableness. Agreeableness comprises such attributes as being
kind, trusting, considerate, and cooperative (Graziano & Eisenberg,
1997; Costa & McCrae, 1985). Low scores on agreeableness are often
associated with people being more distrusting, argumentative, selfish,
and hostile (ibid). One can speculate on a variety of factors which
could explain the career decidedness-agreeableness linkage, it may be
that agreeable students are more willing to engage in career planning,
more likely to trust information about career choices, and more inclined
to seek out and listen to the advice of others. In contrast,
disagreeable students may be less likely to have others offer help,
advice, and encouragement about career planning and decision-making. An
interesting question is whether reaching a career decision affects
subsequent agreeableness. Future research in this area could try to
clarify the dynamics of the career decidedness-agreeableness
The present study is also consistent with the notion that higher
levels of career decidedness are associated with higher levels of life
satisfaction (Arnold, 1989). This is an important finding for the
construct validation of career decidedness as life satisfaction is a key
outcome variable which has been found to be related to many different
aspects of life experience and psychological functioning (Campbell et
al., 1976; Andrews & Withey, 1976).
Professionals involved in the career planning and development
process for college students may want to recognize that career
decidedness is related to these three core personality characteristics
and tailor their approaches accordingly. For example, administration of
a Big Five personality measure prior to a career guidance, counseling,
or planning program or service (see Zunker, 1990, Chapter 5, for a more
comprehensive listing of such activities), could help inform the service
provider and allow more differentiated approach to service delivery.
Students who are engaging in the career planning and choice process
would also surely find such information useful.
In conclusion, the present study extends the nomological network
for career decidedness to include empirically verified relationships
with the Big Five personality constructs of neuroticism,
conscientiousness, and agreeableness as well as life satisfaction.
Future research could attempt to replicate such results in other
settings as well as begin to unravel the causal dynamics of such
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JOHN W. LOUNSBURY, HOLLY E. TATUM, WENDY CHAMBERS, KIM S. OWENS
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
LUCY W. GIBSON Resource Associates, Inc.
I like to keep my work neat and organized, but not if it means getting
(1) (2) (3)
Career-Decidedness (1) -- .30(*) .10
Neuroticism (2) -- .34(**) -.17(*)
Extroversion (3) --
Personal Style Inventory:
Life Satisfaction (12)
Mean 3.49 2.87 3.67
Standard Deviation .59 .74 52.00
(4) (5) (6) (7)
Career-Decidedness .11 .18(*) .25(**) -.29(**)
Neuroticism -.25(**) -.32(**) .70(**) -.19(*)
Extroversion .11 .33(**) .09 -.38(**)
Openness -- .10 .16(*) -.13(*)
Agreeableness -- .32(**) -.37(**)
Conscientiousness -- .35(**)
Mean 3.45 3.64 3.47 2.87
Standard Deviation .53 .45 .57 .59
(8) (9) (10)
Career-Decidedness .01 .09 .14(*)
Neuroticism -.20(**) -.26(**) .06
Extroversion .72(**) .24(**) .26(**)
Openness .11 .60(**) .08
Agreeableness .24 .16 .67(**)
Conscientiousness .02 .08 .30(**)
Personal Style Inventory:
Neuroticism -.30(**) -.25(**) -.17(*)
Extroversion -- .24(**) .38(**)
Openness -- .07
Mean 3.64 3.92 3.05
Standard Deviation .66 .55 .58
Career-Decidedness 17(*) .425(**)
Extroversion .06 .47(**)
Openness .05 .04
Agreeableness .11 .35(**)
Conscientiousness .60(**) .31(**)
Personal Style Inventory:
Neuroticism -.38(**) -.58(**)
Extroversion .20(*) .34(**)
Openness .15(*) .07
Agreeableness .26(*) .34(**)
Conscientiousness -- .17(*)
Life Satisfaction --
Mean 3.00 5.22
Standard Deviation .61 .83