Table or Circles: a comparison of two methods for choosing among career alternatives.

Author:Amit, Adi
Position:Global Visions
 
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A sample of 182 young adults about to choose their college major were randomly assigned to 2 guidance methods aimed at facilitating choosing among promising career alternatives: Table-for-Choice and Circles-for-Choice. Table-for-Choice was perceived as more effective, but individuals' confidence in their choice was higher in the Circles-for-Choice condition. More factors that serve to compare and evaluate the options were listed by participants in the Circles-for-Choice-condition. No interaction emerged between the participant's decision-making style and the usefulness of the two methods. Both methods were perceived as more useful for participants who were already at the choice stage than for those who were only at the prescreening or the in-depth explorations stage.

Choosing a career is one of the most important decisions that people make during their lifetime. The career one pursues has significant implications for one's lifestyle, economic and social status, and emotional welfare (Gad & Tal, 2008). One of the salient difficulties individuals encounter during this decision-making process is lack of knowledge about how to make career decisions (Gad, Krausz, & Osipow, 1996). Decades of research into career choice has demonstrated the effectiveness of career counseling interventions (e.g., Brown & Ryan Krane, 2000; Tinsley, Tinsley, & Rushing, 2002; Whiston, Sexton, & Lasoff, 1998). In the present research, we propose and test a new method (Circles-for-Choice) for facilitating the comparison and evaluation of career options at the choice stage. The new method was tested using an experimental design with random assignment, and its usefulness was evaluated with both subjective and objective criteria, while attending to individual differences in clients' decision-making style and their career decision-making stage.

Stages in Career Decision Making

Making a career choice requires the consideration and the analysis of complex information. There are many occupational alternatives to choose from, and the information about each alternative is immense. Dividing the decision process into stages helps reduce anxiety and decrease the cognitive effort required for making the decision, while maintaining sufficient decision accuracy (Gati & Tal, 2008).

Gati and Asher (2001) proposed a three-stage framework for facilitating career decision making: the PIC model (prescreening, in-depth exploration, and choice) of career development. The goal of prescreening is to locate a small, manageable set of promising alternatives. During in-depth exploration, the promising alternatives are thoroughly investigated to verify that they indeed fit the individual and that the individual fits these alternatives. By the end of the in-depth exploration stage, the individual should have a fairly comprehensive picture of each alternative, including the prospects of actualizing it. In the choice stage, the alternatives on the short list are compared and evaluated to find the best alternative or to rank order them if actualization is uncertain. Career clients naturally collect and process career information in a way that is compatible with the PIC stages (Gati & Tikotzki, 1989); moreover, following the three-step process represented by the PIC model facilitates better career decisions (Kibari, 1999).

Various decision-making aids have been developed to facilitate the decision-making process. Interest inventories (e.g., Self-Directed Search [Holland, 1997]; www.self-directed-search.com) and career guidance systems (e.g., Making Better Career Decision [Gati, Kleiman, Saka, & Zakai, 2003]; mbcd.intocareers.org) can be used to facilitate the prescreening stage and help identify the client's vocational personality type and promising compatible alternatives. Information about occupational alternatives is easily accessible today (in print and electronic form) for use at the in-depth exploration stage. However, because little research has addressed the ways of facilitating the choice stage, this issue is the focus of the present study.

Choosing Among Alternatives at the Choice Stage

Katz (1966) proposed adopting the multiattribute utility theory for systematic comparison among a small set of promising alternatives at the choice stage. On the basis of a compensatory decision model, his decision table encourages clients to explicate and summarize the information they have gathered about each alternative, evaluate the overall utility of each alternative, and select the one with the highest expected utility. The variation of Katz's table that we used is presented in Table Al. The compensatory model underlying Katz's table is regarded as the normative model for decision making (Von Winterfeldt & Edwards, 1986).

One limitation of Katz's (1966) method is the use of numbers to represent both the individual's subjective judgment of the relative importance of the factors relevant to the decision and the assessment of the fit between the individual's preferences and the respective characteristics of the occupations. As an alternative to Katz's table, which can be considered too quantitative (Gati, 1986), we proposed and tested another method for comparing and evaluating alternatives at the choice stage: the Circles-for-Choice method. Circles-for-Choice encourages clients to view each occupational alternative as a whole, integrating their impressions and the characteristics of each alternative into a single whole. Using this method, clients are encouraged to choose the most appealing alternative.

Decision-Making Styles

Individuals process career-related information and make decisions differently (Gati, Landman, Davidovitch, Asulin-Peretz, & Gadassi, 2010; Harren, 1979; Phillips & Pazienza, 1988). Researchers have proposed models with different foci and terminologies, but there is general agreement that there are at least two main decision-making styles: rational and intuitive (e.g., Harren, 1979; Rayner & Riding, 1997; Scott & Bruce, 1995). The rational style is characterized by the use of rules and systematic methods to analyze and process information; the intuitive style is characterized by the use of associative, context-dependent processes.

Rational processing is often regarded as superior to intuitive processing (Bikos, Krieshok, & O'Brien, 1998; Scott & Bruce, 1995; Stanovich & West, 2000). However, Epstein (2000) argued that while the rational style is better suited for complex tasks, such as problem solving, the intuitive style is better suited for directing most everyday behavior (e.g., Epstein, Pacini, Denes-Raj, & Heier, 1996). The intuitive style (i.e., using affective decision strategies) may also be more effective in certain complex decisions (Mikels, Maglio, Reed, & Kaplowitz, 2011). Furthermore, according to the Myers--Briggs Type Indicator (Myers, McCaulley, Quenk, & Hammer, 1998) all personality types and decision-making styles are equally valuable and no single type can be characterized as the best decision maker. Thus, the advantages of one style over the other are not clear-cut.

Moreover, individuals who make decisions using a strategy compatible with their decision-making style tend to be more satisfied with their career decision and more committed to it (Zakay & Tsal, 1993), experience less regret, and perceive the valence of their choice as higher compared with participants who use an incongruent decision strategy (Betsch & Kunz, 2008). Thus, it seems beneficial to tailor interventions to individuals' decision-making style (Tinsley et al., 2002).

The Current Research

In the present research, we compared the perceived effectiveness of two methods for choosing among a few career alternatives during the choice stage, that is, Table-for-Choice and Circles-for-Choice, and compared individuals' confidence in their choice after using one of the two methods (as shown in the Appendix).

Table-for-Choice. The Table-for-Choice method is a systematic six-step process (see Table Al) based on Katz (1966): (a) writing the occupational alternatives in the top row; (b) listing five to eight criteria (i.e., factors) that distinguish the alternatives in the leftmost column; (c) assessing the relative importance of the listed factors...

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