The Structure and Measurement of Career Indecision: A Critical Review.

Author:Xu, Hui
Position:Major Review

This article presents a comprehensive review of literature published between 2000 and 2017 relating to the theoretical and empirical progress of indecision structural models and assessment. Because career indecision remains a central topic for counseling, it is important for the field to achieve an updated understanding of relevant models and measurement. Based on their review, the authors found that factors of career indecision can be reliably and validly measured by three instruments: the Career Decision Difficulties Questionnaire, the Emotional and Personality Career Difficulties scale, and the Career Indecision Profile. Drawing from these results, the authors developed an integrative model of career indecision consisting of five factors: neuroticism/negative affectivity, choice/commitment anxiety, need for information, lack of readiness, and interpersonal conflicts. Implications and recommendations for practice and research are discussed in a global context.

Keywords: career indecision, structural model, measurement, literature review, progress


Over the past century, career indecision has remained a core topic in the career development and career counseling literature (Hacker, Carr, Abrams, & Brown, 2013; Lipshits-Braziler, Gati, & Tatar, 2016; Osipow, 1999), reflecting the persistent theoretical proposition that career decision-making is a significant but difficult life task that spans across developmental stages (Super, 1994). Much scholarly attention has been given to structural models and measurement of career indecision (e.g., Brown et al., 2012; Chartrand, Robbins, Morrill, & Boggs, 1990; Gati, Krausz, & Osipow, 1996; Germeijs & De Boeck, 2003; Saka, Gati, & Kelly, 2008), which together have an important practical role in career counseling. More than a decade ago, Osipow (1999) summarized the literature in the area of indecision models and measurement. However, since then, there have been no articles synthesizing the important theoretical and empirical progress of indecision models and measurement (e.g., Brown et al., 2012; Hacker et al., 2013; Xu, Hou, & Tracey, 2014; Xu & Tracey, 2015b). To provide counselors and researchers with an updated understanding of indecision structure and measurement, we reviewed the theoretical and empirical progress of relevant literature published from 2000 to 2017.

The Construct and Measurement of Career Indecision

Career indecision is a common, if not the most common, presenting issue for career counseling (Lipshits-Braziler et al., 2016; Osipow, 1999). While career indecision generally denotes a state of being undecided about one's educational, occupational, or career-related path, it holds a variety of definitions in the literature that reflect different perspectives on the role of career indecision in career development. Historically, career indecision has been defined as an inability to make an occupational or educational decision, when asked to do so, and as a delay in bringing closure to the career decision-making process (Osipow, 1999; Slaney, 1988). This traditional definition adopts a linear conceptualization of career decision-making and portrays indecision as a barrier in career development. Conversely, contemporary definitions of career indecision emphasize the normative or even positive role of indecision and characterize it as a wavering, a pause, or a hesitation in career development (Savickas, 2011); as an openness to alternative career pathways (Krumboltz, 2009); or as a state of adaptive uncertainty (Krieshok, Black, & McKay, 2009; Phillips, 1997). It thus appears reasonable to argue that career indecision holds different meanings for career development, depending on one's objective circumstance and subjective narrative of career decision-making (Savickas, 2015). To achieve an inclusive definition of career indecision, we define career indecision as a state of being undecided about one's educational, occupational, or career-related path.

Although career decidedness is not necessarily regarded in contemporary career counseling as a counseling goal (Krumboltz, 2009; Savickas, 2015), career indecision is often a concern of clients who seek career counseling. To help clients reduce indecision, research has focused on two parameters: level of career indecision and source of career indecision (Gati et al., 1996; Osipow, 1999). Whereas career decidedness denotes an individual's level of career indecision, with undecided and decided as the two contrasting anchors, career decision-making difficulties denote direct sources of career indecision (Gati et al., 1996; Osipow, 1999). In other words, because career decisionmaking difficulties describe precipitating factors of career undecidedness, their measurement could provide diagnostic information for career counseling (Gati et al., 1996; Xu & Tracey, 2017b). In addition to career indecision, there are several similar and correlating constructs regarding career decision-making, such as career choice certainty (Tracey, 2010) and career commitment (Blustein, 1989). Career choice certainty and career commitment are similar to career decidedness in the assessment of career decision-making status; however, they focus more on perception of an existing career choice.

To inform career counseling, it appears beneficial when investigating career indecision to focus on career decision-making difficulties. Individuals at different life stages could encounter decision-making difficulties for various reasons, such as lack of information or disapproval from important people. It is plausible to argue that different reasons for career indecision would require different intervention strategies and that a universal strategy would not be equally effective for different presentations of career indecision (Gati et al., 1996; Osipow, 1999). Therefore, it is clinically important and necessary to assess causes of indecision in career counseling. With such information, counselors will be able to design more appropriate interventions customized to client needs.

Previous Development of Indecision Structure and Measurement

Indecision measurement refers to a process in which counselors assess a client's major sources of career indecision (i.e., career decision-making difficulties) and is thus clinically important. However, measurement of career indecision heavily relies on a structural model of career indecision, which depicts factors of career decision-making difficulties and should not be discussed without its structural model. In general, there are two approaches to exploring the structure of career indecision: theory driven and data driven (Osipow, 1999). A theory-driven approach uses a predetermined factor structure based on a decision-making theory and incorporates items that sample each indecision domain. In contrast, a data-driven approach relies on empirical data as the predominant source for the factor structure of career indecision.

The use of theory- and data-driven models in indecision measurement was discussed in Osipow's (1999) seminal essay, which summarized three generations of indecision measurement marked by three important indecision measures: the Career Decision Scale (CDS; Osipow, Carney, & Barak, 1976), the Career Factors Inventory (CFI; Chartrand et al., 1990), and the Career Decision Difficulties Questionnaire (CDDQ; Gati et al., 1996). Among these, the CDS was originally developed by Osipow (1994, 1999) as a diagnostic tool for determining differential treatments, but it is often used as a one-dimensional research tool. The CFI was rationally developed based on a dichotomous model of indecision domains consisting of need for career information and affective/personality-related impediments (Chartrand et al., 1990). It thus represents a multidimensional theoretical approach to indecision measurement. In contrast to the CDS and the CFI, the CDDQ was later developed (Gati et al., 1996) based on a taxonomy of indecision resulting from an adaptation of a decision-making theory to the context of career decision-making. Gati et al. (1996) proposed three overarching domains of career indecision: lack of readiness, lack of information, and inconsistent information. These were further divided into 10 subdomains.

While the CDS and the CFI are still used (e.g., Constantine & Flores, 2006; Downing & Nauta, 2010), research on their psychometric properties has been rare. In contrast, the CDDQ has grown to become the latest representative of the multidimensional theory-driven approach of indecision measurement, with much new research examining its psychometric properties (e.g., Gati & Saka, 2001b; Leung, Hou, Gati, & Li, 2011; Nauta, 2012; Vertsberger & Gati, 2016; Xu et al., 2014). Additionally, there have been several new theory- or data-driven measures of career indecision emerging to address issues of the CDDQ (Brown et al., 2012; Saka et al., 2008). To help career counselors update their assessment of career indecision, it is imperative to review these important areas of progress.

Purpose of the Review

Since Osipow's (1999) summary of indecision models and measurement, there has been significant progress in those areas. With career decision-making difficulty as the guiding definition of career indecision, we reviewed the literature on the empirical and theoretical progress of indecision structural models and measurement from 2000 to 2017. Because theory- and data-driven approaches hold distinct epistemological perspectives on indecision structure, we reviewed the progress of the two approaches separately to better reveal overlaps and differences among indecision strucmral models and measures.


We adopted a two-step approach in identifying relevant articles published from January 2000 through December 2017. Using the keywords career indecision and career decision-making difficulty, we first conducted a general search that identified relevant articles in PsycARTICLES and Google Scholar and then...

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