Attachment and self-efficacy in career search activities: a structural model.

Author:Wright, Stephen L.

The author integrated attachment theory with social cognitive career theory (SCCT) to examine how attachment styles influence the career search self-efficacy activities of interviewing, networking, job searching, and personal exploration. Using an undergraduate sample (N = 275, 81% women), the author tested a structural model. Results indicated that anxious attachment style was negatively related to interviewing self-efficacy, whereas avoidant attachment style was negatively related to networking, job searching, and personal exploration self-efficacy. Theoretical implications based on these findings provide support for an integrative model of attachment theory with SCCT. Career counselors are encouraged to consider clients' attachment styles when working with individuals who are searching for employment. To help address the limitations of the study, future researchers could test the applicability of the current model with a more diverse sample.

Keywords: SCCT, attachment, career search self-efficacy


The enhancement of individuals' career development has been theoretically described (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994), and a vital area to consider in this process is the development of self-efficacy for engaging in activities to actively pursue and choose a career (Solberg et al., 1994). Self-efficacy is an essential component in directing behavior in various domains (Bandura, 1997) and actively influences career development and choice (Lent et al., 1994). Furthermore, individuals' career development is shaped in a relational context (Blustein, 2011), and self-efficacy is responsive to environmental conditions and shared learning experiences with others (Lent, 2013).

To provide a more thorough understanding of individuals' career development processes, there is a need to examine how particular self-efficacy activities related to searching for and pursuing a career may be affected by relational factors such as attachment styles. Specifically, career search self-efficacy activities related to pursuing a career include networking, job searching, interviewing, and personal exploration (Solberg et al., 1994). However, there is a gap in the literature that examines these career search self-efficacy activities within a relational context from an attachment perspective. Consistent with attachment theory (Bowlby, 1973), secure attachment styles are related to increases in career exploration (Ketterson & Blustein, 1997) and the aforementioned activities related to the career search process are essential to career exploration. Having a more complete understanding of how attachment styles might be related to career search self-efficacy activities could enhance counselors' understanding of career development as it relates to the active process of pursuing and choosing a career. Toward this end, this study adopted a theoretical perspective to guide examination of attachment styles and career search self-efficacy activities.

To provide a comprehensive explanation of how attachment relationship styles influence career development, Wright and Perrone (2008) first proposed the integration of attachment theory (Bowlby, 1973) with social cognitive career theory (SCCT; Lent et al. 1994), which they later empirically supported (Wright & Perrone, 2010). Their integrative model describes how the global concept of attachment styles relates to domain-specific areas of self-efficacy when examining career development (Wright & Perrone, 2010). In this study, I investigated a more specific examination of attachment styles from a dimensional perspective that consisted of anxious attachment and avoidant attachment (Fraley, Waller, & Brennan, 2000). This two-dimensional model of attachment is better suited for conceptualizing and examining attachment styles because it provides a more complete explanation regarding the influence of attachment styles on career search self-efficacy activities (Fraley, Hudson, Heffernan, & Segal, 2015). Therefore, the integrative theoretical framework of SCCT and attachment theory was applied in the current study to understand how attachment styles might influence activities related to individuals' career search self-efficacy.


SCCT (Lent et al., 1994; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 2000) offers a conceptual understanding of how personality factors influence career search self-efficacy activities. The theoretical propositions of SCCT consist of three interactive variables: self-efficacy, outcome expectations, and goals (Lent et al., 1994). Accordingly, increased self-efficacy and positive outcome expectations theoretically lead toward successful goal pursuits and performance attainments (Lent et al., 1994). The reciprocal relationships among these three variables operate with other central aspects of the person (e.g., personality factors), the context (e.g., supports and barriers), and learning experiences to help shape career development (Lent, 2013). In accordance with SCCT, person inputs or personality factors affect learning experiences, which serve as sources for self-efficacy and outcome expectations. These then influence interests, goals, actions, and performance attainments (Lent et al., 1994).

The interactive process is also impacted by distal background contextual factors and proximal contextual factors (Lent et al., 2000). Distal background factors consist of various influences, such as the types of career role models or parental relationships (Lent et al., 2000). These distal factors directly and reciprocally affect person inputs or personality factors. For example, parental relationships affect individuals' personality dispositions or attachment orientations, which subsequently influence learning experiences or sources of self-efficacy. Proximal contextual factors consist of variables that are more present during the active phases of career development, including job availability, environmental supports, and sociostructural barriers (Lent, 2013). These factors have a direct and moderate affect on individuals' interest formation, choice goals, and actions (Lent, 2013); person inputs or personality factors also directly affect proximal factors (see Figure 1 in Lent et al., 2000). For instance, individuals' attachment orientations directly affect their emotional support availability for pursuing a particular career choice. Given that person inputs affect the career development process through learning experiences (Lent et al., 1994), it may be helpful to understand how attachment orientations play an active role in influencing self-efficacy of career-search activities.

Attachment Theory

Attachment theory (Bowlby, 1973) is based on the notion that the type of relationships or attachments that individuals form with their caregivers are internalized and serve as a template for relationships with others. This relational template is based on internal working models of the self and of the self with others (Bowlby, 1973). When caregivers are responsive to and supportive of the needs of an individual, he or she internalizes this positive response and uses it as a guide for future relationships. Over time and with continued positive responses from caregivers, the individual forms secure attachments and is able to generalize attachment style to later relationships (Bowlby, 1973) as demonstrated by longitudinal studies (Berlin, Cassidy, & Appleyard, 2008). When investigating attachment styles, current research suggests the use of a two-dimensional model of attachment (Fraley et al., 2015) where lower levels of anxiety and avoidance indicate greater attachment security (Fairchild & Finney, 2006; Fraley et al., 2000). Accordingly, individuals' secure attachment styles are reflective of experiencing less anxiety about being abandoned in relationships as well as less avoidance of others. In contrast, individuals who do not believe others will respond in the ways that they desire fear interpersonal rejection and abandonment (Bowlby, 1973). Therefore, individuals who experience less anxiety about being rejected by others and less interpersonal avoidance will likely have a more positive career development process (Wright & Perrone, 2008). However, further investigation will contribute to the two-dimensional model of attachment needs by examining how both anxious and avoidant attachment may influence career search self-efficacy activities differently based on the type of attachment styles (i.e., interpersonal rejection versus interpersonal avoidance) and the type of career search activities (e.g., involvement of others versus isolated activities).

Attachment and Career Development

Integrating attachment theory with SCCT in this study provides a more thorough interpretation of how attachment styles may influence individuals' career search self-efficacy activities. Accordingly, attachment relationship styles are conceptualized as part of SCCT's person inputs, and they affect individuals' self-efficacy expectations in the career process (Wright & Perrone, 2010) through learning experiences. Additional studies have also found a direct link between SCCT's person inputs of personality factors and self-efficacy variables (Byars-Winston & Fouad, 2008; Rogers, Creed, & Glendon, 2008). Specifically, prior research has found a positive relationship between parental secure attachment and overall career search self-efficacy (Ryan, Solberg, & Brown, 1996). However, Ryan et al.'s (1996) study did conceptualize career search self-efficacy to include job searching, networking, interviewing, and personal exploration; the researchers only examined global career search self-efficacy with secure attachment. This study will expand on this topic by investigating how individuals' career...

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