Applying the concept of maximizing--careful evaluation of options in pursuit of optimal goals--to career decisions, the authors developed the Career Maximizing Scale (CMS). The measure was administered to samples of working adults and university students across 3 studies. Factor analysis indicated that the measure is unidimensional and has favorable psychometric properties. Career maximizing was related to but distinct from general maximizing. Career maximizing was positively related to indicators of decision confidence (e.g., career decision-making self-efficacy) and positively related to desirable career outcomes (e.g., career satisfaction). Career maximizing was also modestly related to certain desirable academic outcomes (e.g., commitment to university major). Use of the CMS may facilitate effective career counseling.
Keywords: career decision-making, maximizing, satisficing, decision-making, career assessment
Making optimal career decisions involves seeking out, evaluating, and comparing different options in search of the very best alternative. Decision makers often face a staggering array of university majors, occupations, or jobs to consider, any one of which entails positive and negative aspects (e.g., salary, growth opportunity, and match with personal interests) that must be weighed to approach an optimal decision. The importance and long-term implications of career decisions may, on the one hand, drive some people to maximize their career decisions by carefully weighing options in search of the optimal alternative (Iyengar, Wells, & Schwartz, 2006). On the other hand, career decision makers may be fraught with indecision, stress, and confusion (Germeijs, Verschueren, & Soenens, 2006) that may drive them to take a less onerous, satisficing approach to career decisions.
Understanding how maximizing affects career decision-making is important because career outcomes may partially be a function of how individuals make career decisions. The thought and care that career maximizers put into career decisions may lead to highly satisfying jobs and careers. Conversely, career maximizers' overly constrained range of acceptable careers may impede their ability to commit to a career. The current study aims to add to the existing career decision-making research by (a) presenting and initially validating a self-report measure of career maximizing, (b) examining the relation between domain-general maximizing and career-specific maximizing, and (c) examining the relation between career maximizing and important career outcomes for working adults and university students.
Career decisions refer to choices about "work-related and other relevant experiences, both inside and outside of organizations, that form a unique pattern over the individual's lifespan" (Sullivan & Baruch, 2009, p. 1543). In formulating the career maximizing construct, we included job, career, and occupational decisions. To meet their career goals, individuals must often make various job choices, or within-career decisions (Stevens, 2014). They also may make between-careers choices in the form of changing occupations. Both types of decisions are a part of career maximizing.
One of the most studied variables within the career decision-making literature is indecisiveness, which refers to an individual's inability to make career decisions (Saka, Gati, & Kelly, 2008). Being unable to make effective career decisions is associated with many negative consequences such as lower levels of well-being (Fouad et al., 2006) and lower self-efficacy (Jaensch, Hirschi, & Freund, 2015). Given the increased pressure for people to manage their own careers (Sullivan & Baruch, 2009), the inability to make career decisions can be especially problematic. Although various measures for understanding, assessing, and improving career decisions have been developed (e.g., Harren, 1979; Xu & Tracey, 2015), these measures do not elucidate the extent to which people maximize for their career decisions.
General and Career Maximizing Constructs
A common distinction in the decision-making literature is between maximizing and satisficing (Dalai, Diab, Zhu, & Hwang, 2015). Maximizing involves a systematic evaluation of all alternatives in an effort to make an optimal choice, whereas satisficing involves the selection of a "good enough" choice (Simon, 1956). Some have also included high standards and decision difficulty as components of maximizing (Cheek & Schwartz, 2016; Kim & Miller, 2017; Schwartz et al., 2002). Maximizing is often conceptualized as a traitlike individual differences variable (Diab, Gillespie, & Highhouse, 2008; Schwartz et al., 2002). Accordingly, the term maximizer refers to a person with a general desire to make optimal decisions whereas the term satisficer refers to a person with a desire to make minimally acceptable decisions.
Although existing measures of maximizing examine one or more of the aspects of maximizing that have been identified by various researchers, these measures conceptualize maximizing as a general tendency. The unique status of career decisions (e.g., their long-term impact, importance, stressful nature), however, may cause some people to make career decisions in a way that diverges from their general maximizing tendency (Cheek & Schwartz, 2016). Consequently, the link between general and career-specific maximizing tendencies is unclear and should be examined. Acquiring a better understanding of the role that maximizing plays in career decision-making requires having a domain-specific measure of maximizing. Domain-specific measures such as the one developed in the present study often have greater predictive validity than more generalized measures of the same construct (Shaffer & Postlethwaite, 2012).
Knowledge of career maximizing could have theoretical and practical benefits. A career maximizing measure could be used to examine distinctions between career decisions and decisions in other life domains, helping to reconcile inconsistencies regarding the impact of maximizing on career outcomes. A career maximizing measure could also enhance the career counseling process. Feedback regarding career maximizing tendencies could be quite beneficial for clients and could facilitate improved career management strategies.
Drawing from both the maximizing and career decision-making literatures (e.g., Dalai et al., 2015; Gati, Krausz, & Osipow, 1996), we define career maximizing as the extent to which a person desires to make career decisions in pursuit of maximizing goals (e.g., examining multiple alternatives and not settling for a suboptimal option). Career maximizing thus represents a continuous variable such that career maximizing tendencies exist as a matter of degree rather than being strictly categorical. Because career maximizing can be thought of as a subset of the larger, more general maximizing construct, we anticipate that career maximizing will be related to general maximizing. However, given the unique status of career decisions, people likely make career decisions in a way that somewhat diverges from their general maximizing tendency:
Hypothesis 1: Career maximizing will positively relate to, but be distinct from, general maximizing.
Impact of Maximizing on Career Decisions
Some researchers have reported that general maximizing is associated with undesirable career outcomes. For example, maximizing has been associated with reduced career-choice satisfaction and reduced job and career satisfaction (Dahling & Thompson, 2013; Iyengar et al., 2006). These purported disadvantages of maximizing have prompted some researchers to actually recommend against the use of maximizing when making career decisions (e.g., van Vianen, de Pater, & Preenen, 2009). Other researchers have found, however, that maximizing is associated with many positive cognitions and behaviors that are likely useful in career development, such as a positive future orientation (Zhu, Dalai, & Hwang, 2017). Unfortunately, it is difficult to derive firm conclusions regarding the benefits of maximizing for career decisions from these studies because they did not use career-specific measures of maximizing. These findings are dependent on the tenuous assumption that general and career maximizing are synonymous. Measures of general maximizing that are used to infer career decision-making processes may be deficient given their broad focus (see DeVellis, 2017).
Given that maximizing entails a desire to choose an optimal alternative through considering multiple options, career maximizing should be associated with a willingness to confidently approach career decisions.
That is, people with a desire to select an optimal occupation or job should tend to have greater confidence in their ability to achieve this goal. Accordingly, indicators of confident decision-making (e.g., self-efficacy and ambiguity tolerance; Taylor & Betz, 1983; Xu & Tracey, 2015) are expected to relate to career maximizing:
Hypothesis 2: Career maximizing will positively relate to indicators of career decision-making confidence.
Career maximizing is also expected to...