Relational self-construal as a moderator of social support in career decision making.

Author:Li, Yaoshan I.

Career decisions directly influence well-being in terms of self-esteem, job performance, life satisfaction, and income (Slaten & Baskin, 2014). The cost of career indecision may be serious for college students to the point of dropping out of school (Peterson, 1993). Work by Blustein (2011) argued that focusing on personal characteristics alone, such as personality type, vocational interests, and decision-making style, proves insufficient in explaining and promoting career decision making. Blustein agreed with Kohut (1977) that it is through interactions with others and the environment that people develop a sense of who they are. These scholars and a considerable number of others have recognized that the self forms the foundation for developing a sense of identity for career decision making and is contextually and relationally influenced (e.g., Fouad et al., 2010; Lent et al., 2003).

Social cognitive career theory (SCCT; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994, 2000) uniquely recognizes the direct impact of context on career decisions. Contrary to SCCT, however, Bandura (2000) suggested that context indirectly influences career decisions through personal variables such as self-efficacy. Both the direct and indirect paths of contextual influences on career decisions were supported by research (e.g., Lent et al., 2003; Schaefers, Epperson, & Nauta, 1997). These results implied that there may be other factors that moderate how context affects career decisions. Some individuals' career decisions may be more reflective of contextual influences, whereas others' seem to be impervious to those influences (Blustein, Coutinho, Murphy, Backus, & Catraio, 2011).

Contextual variables in SCCT include factors such as support system, culture, and socioeconomic status (SES). This study specifically focused on social support from important others for academic major and career decision making. Through the lens of the relational perspective on working, the process of how people learn about themselves and explore the environment through interaction with others serves as the foundation for career decision making (Blustein, 2011). We further applied the concept of relational self-construal to explain the mechanism of how support from important others influences career decision making. Relational self-construal denotes how individuals view self by incorporating others' perspectives on them (Cross, Bacon, & Morris, 2000). Research suggests that individuals with higher relational self-construal benefit more from social support regarding their decisions (Cross & Vick, 2001). Bearing on Bandura's (2000) hypothesis, Cross et al.'s (2000) research, and Blustein's (2011) relational perspective on working, we propose that relational self-construal represents an indirect factor that moderates how social support influences career decision making.

Relational Self-Construal

The work of Blustein (2011) and Richardson (2011) suggested that career-related constructs should be understood within social contexts and relationships instead of as simple expressions of individual agency. This perspective broadens ideas from traditional theories that assume people make decisions in a relational vacuum and provides a culturally sensitive perspective that enriches researchers' understanding of the different ways people make career decisions (Blustein, 201 1). Individuals with high relational self-construal tend to include others in their decisions because the maintenance and nurturance of close relationships is how they implement their self-concept. Viewing themselves in terms of close relationships is positively related to the psychological well-being of those with higher relational self-construal (Gore & Cross, 2010).

Relational self-construal has gained considerable attention regarding its connection to goal pursuit, persistence, and decision making (Gore & Cross, 2010, 2011), but has seldom been explored in the field of vocational research. One of the few studies in the field found that college students with higher relational self-construal had fewer thoughts of leaving their programs when they perceived high support (Cross & Vick, 2001). Another study discovered that Chinese American youth with higher relational self-construal had better career certainty (Ma & Yeh, 2005). Both theory and research suggest that those with higher relational self-construal are more likely to consider important others when they make career decisions (e.g., Cross et al., 2000; Ma & Yeh, 2005). We further assume that they encounter fewer career decision-making difficulties when the perceived support from others is high.

Career Decision-Making Difficulties

Career decision making ranks among the most-studied concepts in the career literature (Kelly & Lee, 2002). Considerable studies developed measures of career decision-making dimensions, with social support often included (Chartrand & Robbins, 1997). For example, Support is one of the subscales constructed from factor analysis of the Career Decision Scale (CDS) that highlights people's needs from others during career decision making (Vondracek, Hostetler, Schulenberg, & Shimizu, 1990). Another taxonomy defines career decision making in terms of the difficulties people encounter before or during decision making (Gati, Krausz, & Osipow, 1996). Lack of readiness is one aspect of this taxonomy that refers to lacking engagement in making career decisions, which is further categorized into (a) lack of motivation to engage in the career decision-making process, (b) general indecisiveness regarding decision making, and (c) dysfunctional beliefs (e.g., irrational expectations about decision making). Lack of information refers to lacking information that is needed for making career decisions about (a) the decision-making process, (b) the self, (c) occupations, and (d) ways of obtaining information. Inconsistent information indicates having information between two systems that are incompatible, and is categorized into (a) unreliable information, (b) internal conflicts, which are conflicts within the individual (e.g., contradictory preferences), and (c) external conflicts that involve the influence of significant others. The inconsistent information domain is of particular interest to our study, because its external conflicts subdomain is closely related to the satisfaction of support that one receives during career decision making.

We proposed that those with higher relational self-construal benefit more from support from important others, and are more likely to encounter fewer academic major and career decision-making difficulties when they perceive high support. They are more certain about making career or educational decisions because of the assurance and guidance they gained from important others (Cross & Vick, 2001). They are also more likely to possess important information about themselves and work based on others' input that facilitates the implementation of career decisions (Phillips, Christopher-Sisk, & Gravino, 2001).

Social Support, SCCT, and Career Decision Making

Social support offers individuals stress relief, guidance, tangible assistance, and mental encouragements during the career decision-making process (Rodriguez, 2012). Given the purpose of our study, we specifically focused on examining support for individuals' academic major and career decision making that can provide them with information and perspectives, help them expand their options, and assure them of the viability of their choices during the decision-making process (Phillips et al., 2001).

SCCT proposed that context directly influences the formation and implementation of career decisions (Lent ct al., 2000), whereas Bandura (2000) suggested that the path should be moderated by personal variables. Our study is in accordance with Bandura's hypothesis that the path from contextual influence (specifically social support) to career decision making should be indirect based on studies demonstrating that context affects personal variables that further affect career decisions (Lent et al., 2003). Another study showed that individuals with higher relational self-construal benefit more from social support via an indirect path (Cross & Vick, 2001). Based on these theories and studies, our study...

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