Choosing a career is one of the most critical and challenging decisions that we face in our lives. It can affect our happiness, well-being, income, and social status. It can also shape our identity, values, and goals. How do we make such a crucial decision? What factors influence our career choices? And how can we improve our decision-making skills and outcomes?
In this blog post, I will explore the science of decision-making and how psychology influences career choices. I will discuss some basic concepts and principles of decision-making, such as the rational and emotional aspects and the common cognitive biases that can affect our judgments. I will also examine how personality, motivation, and satisfaction play a role in career choices and how different decision-making models can help us understand and navigate the career decision-making process. Finally, I will address some external influences and challenges we face in making career decisions, such as societal expectations, economic factors, technological advancements, uncertainty, fear of failure, and the need for professional guidance.
Decision-making is the process of choosing among alternatives based on our preferences, values, and goals. It involves both rational and emotional aspects, as we use logic, reasoning, evidence, intuition, feelings, and emotions to evaluate and compare the options and their consequences. However, decision-making is not always a straightforward and optimal process, as we are often influenced by various cognitive biases that can distort our perception, memory, and judgment. Some of the common cognitive biases that can affect our career decision-making are:
- Confirmation bias: The tendency to seek, interpret, and remember information that confirms our existing beliefs and expectations and to ignore or reject information that contradicts them. For example, if we believe that a particular career suits us, we may focus on the positive aspects and benefits of that career and overlook the negative aspects and drawbacks.
- Anchoring effect: The tendency to rely too much on the first piece of information we encounter and adjust our subsequent judgments based on that initial anchor. For example, if we hear that a specific career has a high average salary, we may use that as a reference point and assume that all the jobs in that career are well-paid, even if that is not the case.
- Availability heuristic: The tendency to judge the frequency or probability of an event based on how easily we can recall or imagine examples of that event. For example, if we know someone with a successful and fulfilling career in a certain field, we may overestimate the likelihood of achieving the same outcome, even if that is rare or exceptional.
These cognitive biases can lead us to make suboptimal or irrational career decisions, as we may overlook or misinterpret important information or base our choices on irrelevant or inaccurate factors. Therefore, it is crucial to be aware of these biases and to try to reduce their influence by seeking diverse and reliable sources of information, considering multiple perspectives and alternatives, and evaluating the options and their consequences objectively and critically.
Psychology of Career Choices
Personality is one of the main psychological factors that influence our career choices. Personality refers to the stable and consistent patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that characterize us as individuals. Personality can affect our career preferences, interests, values, goals, performance, satisfaction, and well-being in different work environments. There are various ways to measure and describe personality. Still, one of the most popular and widely used frameworks is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which identifies 16 personality types based on four dimensions:
- Extraversion (E) vs. Introversion (I): The preference for interacting with others and the external world or focusing on one’s thoughts and the internal world.
- Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N): The preference for gathering and processing information based on concrete facts, details, or abstract patterns and possibilities.
- Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F): The preference for making decisions based on logic, objective criteria, personal values, and subjective considerations.
- Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P): The preference for organizing and structuring one’s life in a planned and orderly way or being flexible and adaptable to changing situations and opportunities.
Each personality type has its strengths and weaknesses and can be more or less compatible with different careers and work settings. For example, an ENTP (extraverted, intuitive, thinking, perceiving) type may enjoy a career that involves creativity, innovation, problem-solving, and variety, such as an entrepreneur, engineer, or consultant, while an ISFJ (introverted, sensing, feeling, judging) type may prefer a career that involves stability, loyalty, service, and harmony, such as a teacher, nurse, or accountant.
However, personality is not the only determinant of career choices, and there is no one best or ideal career for each personality type. Instead, personality can serve as a guide or a tool to help us explore and identify the careers that match our preferences and potential.
Another psychological factor that influences our career choices is our motivation and satisfaction. Motivation refers to the reasons or goals that drive our actions and behaviors. In contrast, satisfaction refers to the extent to which we feel happy and fulfilled with our actions and outcomes. Motivation and satisfaction can affect our career choices, as we may seek careers that provide us with the rewards and benefits that we value and desire and meet our needs and expectations. One of the most influential theories of motivation and satisfaction is the self-determination theory (SDT), which proposes two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.
- Intrinsic motivation: The motivation that comes from within is based on the inherent interest and enjoyment of the activity. For example, we may choose a career that we are passionate about, that challenges us, or that allows us to express ourselves.
- Extrinsic motivation: The motivation that comes from outside, based on the external rewards and consequences of the activity. For example, we may choose a career that pays well, has a high status, or that meets the expectations of others.
According to SDT, intrinsic motivation is more conducive to satisfaction and well-being than extrinsic motivation, reflecting our authentic self and our psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. However, extrinsic motivation can also be beneficial and satisfying as long as it is aligned with our intrinsic values and goals and does not undermine our sense of autonomy and self-determination. Therefore, it is important to balance and integrate both types of motivation in our career choices and choose careers that reward us and inspire us.
In addition to personality and motivation, various decision-making models can help us understand and navigate the career decision-making process. These models can provide us with frameworks and strategies to explore, evaluate, and implement our career options and cope with the challenges and uncertainties we may encounter along the way. Two of the most prominent and influential decision-making models are the social cognitive career theory (SCCT) and the career decision-making process model.
The SCCT is a theory that explains how the interaction of our personal, behavioral, and environmental factors influences our career choices and outcomes. The SCCT focuses on two key concepts: observational learning and self-efficacy.
- Observational learning: The process of acquiring knowledge, skills, and attitudes by observing and imitating the behaviors and outcomes of others, such as role models, mentors, or peers. Observational learning can affect our career choices, as we may learn about the requirements, expectations, and rewards of different careers and develop our interests and goals based on what we observe and experience.
- Self-efficacy: The belief in our ability to perform a specific task or achieve a particular goal. Self-efficacy can affect our career choices, as we may choose careers that match our perceived skills and competencies and avoid careers that we perceive as too difficult or beyond our reach.
According to the SCCT, observational learning and self-efficacy can interact with each other and with other factors, such as our personality, values, and opportunities, to influence our career choices and outcomes.
For example, if we observe someone who has a successful and satisfying career in a certain field, and we believe that we have the ability and the resources to pursue that career, we may be more likely to choose that career and achieve positive results.
However, if we observe someone who has a negative or unsatisfying career in a certain field, or we doubt our ability or the availability of opportunities to pursue that career, we may be less likely to choose that career and achieve negative results. Therefore, the SCCT suggests that we can improve our career decision-making by enhancing our observational learning and self-efficacy by seeking and learning from diverse and positive role models, developing and practicing our skills and abilities, and overcoming our fears and challenges.
The career decision-making process model is a model that describes the stages and tasks that we go through when making career decisions. The model proposes three main phases in the career decision-making process: exploration, choice, and implementation.
- Exploration: The phase in which we gather and analyze information about ourselves and the world of work and identify and compare the possible career options that suit our preferences and potential. The main tasks in this phase are assessing our personality, interests, values, skills, and goals, researching the requirements, expectations, and opportunities of different careers, and narrowing down our options to a manageable number.
- Choice: The phase in which we select the best career option that meets our criteria and goals. The main tasks in this phase are to weigh each option’s pros and cons, consider each option’s short-term and long-term consequences, and make a final decision based on our values and priorities.
- Implementation: The phase in which we take action to pursue and achieve our chosen career. The main tasks in this phase are to set realistic and specific goals, to plan and execute the steps and strategies to reach our goals and to monitor and adjust our progress and performance.
According to the career decision-making process model, each phase and task is important and interrelated, and we may need to revisit and revise them as we encounter new information, feedback, or challenges. Therefore, the model suggests that we can improve our career decision-making by following a systematic and dynamic process, such as by using various tools and techniques to explore, choose, and implement our career options, such as self-assessment tests, career counseling, informational interviews, job shadowing, internships, and mentorship.
Besides the psychological factors and the decision-making models, various external influences can affect our career choices and outcomes. These influences can come from the social, economic, and technological contexts that we live in, and they can positively and negatively impact our career decision-making. Some of the external influences that we face in making career decisions are:
- Societal expectations: The norms, values, and beliefs shared by the society or the culture that we belong to and that shape our views and attitudes toward different careers and work roles. Societal expectations can affect our career choices, as we may conform to or deviate from the expectations of our family, friends, peers, or community, depending on our level of identification and acceptance of them. For example, we may choose a career considered prestigious, respectable, or appropriate by our society or a career that is unconventional, rebellious, or unique.
- Economic factors: The supply and demand of labor and resources in the market and the financial and material rewards and costs of different careers. Economic factors can affect our career choices, as we may seek careers that offer high income, security, and stability or careers that require low investment, risk, and competition. For example, we may choose a career in high demand, such as a software engineer, a nurse, or a teacher, or a career in low supply, such as an artist, a writer, or a musician.
- Technological advancements: The development and innovation of science and technology and the creation and transformation of different careers and work environments. Technological advancements can affect our career choices, as we may embrace or resist the changes and opportunities that technology brings to our work and life. For example, we may choose a career that is enhanced, enabled, or created by technology, such as a web developer, a data analyst, or a social media influencer, or we may choose a career that is threatened, replaced, or eliminated by technology, such as a cashier, a driver, or a journalist.
These external influences can provide us with information, guidance, and inspiration for our career choices. Still, they can impose pressure, constraint, and confusion on our career choices. Therefore, it is essential to be aware of these influences and to try to balance and integrate them with our internal factors, such as our personality, motivation, and goals, and to choose careers that not only suit our external circumstances but also reflect our inner values and potential.
Overcoming Decision-Making Challenges
Making career decisions is not straightforward, as we may face various challenges and difficulties along the way. Some of the common challenges that we encounter in making career decisions are:
- Coping with uncertainty: The state of not knowing or being unsure about the future outcomes and consequences of our career choices and the feeling of anxiety, doubt, or confusion that results from it. Uncertainty can affect our career choices, as we may avoid or delay making decisions or make hasty or impulsive decisions due to the lack of information, clarity, or confidence. To cope with uncertainty, we can use some of the following strategies:
- Seeking and evaluating relevant and reliable information, such as by researching, asking questions, or seeking feedback, to reduce the gap between what we know and what we need to know.
- Embracing and accepting uncertainty, such as acknowledging the limits of our knowledge and control and being open and flexible to changing situations and opportunities, reduces the stress and anxiety that uncertainty causes.
- Taking action and experimenting, such as making tentative and reversible decisions or trying out different options and scenarios, reduces the ambiguity and complexity that uncertainty creates.
- Addressing fear of failure: The apprehension or dread that we may experience when we anticipate or face the possibility of failing or making a wrong career choice and the negative consequences that may result from it. Fear of failure can affect our career choices, as we may avoid or give up on pursuing our desired or ideal careers or settle for less than what we deserve or aspire to due to the risk of rejection, criticism, or disappointment. To address the fear of failure, we can use some of the following strategies:
- Developing a growth mindset, such as by viewing failure as an opportunity to learn and improve rather than as a sign of inadequacy or incompetence, to reduce the negative impact and meaning that failure has.
- Setting realistic and specific goals, such as breaking down our long-term and broad goals into short-term and concrete steps and focusing on the process and effort rather than on the outcome and result, to reduce the pressure and expectation that failure creates.
- Seeking support and encouragement, such as reaching out to people who care about us and can provide us with emotional, social, or practical help, such as family, friends, mentors, or counselors, to reduce the isolation and shame that failure causes.
- Seeking professional guidance: The process of consulting and working with a qualified and experienced professional, such as a career counselor, a coach, or a mentor, who can assist us in making informed and effective career decisions. Seeking professional guidance can benefit our career decision-making, as we can gain access to valuable information, resources, tools, and techniques and receive personalized feedback, advice, and support that can help us explore, choose, and implement our career options. To seek professional guidance, we can use some of the following strategies:
- Finding and selecting a suitable professional, such as by researching, asking for referrals, or reading reviews, to find a professional with the credentials, expertise, and style that match our needs and preferences.
- Preparing and participating in the sessions, such as by setting clear and specific goals, bringing relevant documents and materials, asking pertinent questions, and being honest and open, to make the most of the sessions and to achieve our goals.
- Following up and applying the outcomes, such as by reviewing and reflecting on the sessions, completing the tasks and assignments, implementing the plans and strategies, and monitoring and evaluating the results, to transfer and sustain the outcomes and to achieve our goals.
In conclusion, career decision-making is a complex and dynamic process involving various psychological and external factors, requiring multiple skills and strategies. By understanding the science of decision-making and how psychology influences career choices, we can improve our decision-making skills and outcomes and choose careers that suit our circumstances and reflect our values and potential.
However, career decision-making is not a one-time or final event but rather an ongoing and evolving process, as we may need to revisit and revise our career choices and outcomes as we encounter new information, feedback, or challenges. Therefore, I encourage you to engage in self-reflection and awareness and to be proactive and adaptable in your career decision-making as you pursue your career goals and aspirations.