Adaptable careers: Maximizing less and exploring more - van Vianen, de Pater & Preenen - 2009 - Article

Nowadays youngsters are forced to choose between vocational, educational, and job options in order to make the best possible choice. Decision making with regards to career is important but doesn't acknowledge the problems related to this process. Intuitive processing of information about careers could help people to develop a more flexible and positive view about themselves and their environment. It can also contribute to diminishing worries about accountability and irreversibility of career decisions. Also, adaptability should become more important than decision making. 


Nowadays youngsters are forced to choose between vocational, educational, and job options in order to make the best possible choice. Decision making with regards to career is important but doesn't acknowledge the problems related to this process. Intuitive processing of information about careers could help people to develop a more flexible and positive view about themselves and their environment. It can also contribute to diminishing worries about accountability and irreversibility of career decisions. Also, adaptability should become more important than decision making. 

What are the objectives of this study?

Career indecision is common among college students and is often associated with feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem. Many people are unhappy with their decision afterwards. In this article, researchers trying to determine the importance of decision making in careers given the traditional concept of career. They argue that conscious decision making is not the most optimal strategy for making career decisions. It might be better to choose based upon new concepts, such ad adaptability, short-term decision making and mastery of different roles. 

What is the role of rationality and intuition in decision making?

Decision making is a complex process and costs time and effort due to its cognitive nature. Decisions about career are often made based upon great uncertainty. According to Peterson, Sampson, Lenz & Readron (2002) there are five stages of decision making:

  1. Defining the problem

  2. Understanding the underlying mechanisms

  3. Formulating plausible alternatives

  4. Prioritizing alternatives

  5. Evaluating the outcomes

First, in defining the problem the first obstacle is presented. Questions about goals and career perspective arise while the overall process is unclear. An overview of plausible alternatives often is missing and evaluating the outcomes seems almost impossible. Despite these difficulties, a decision is made. This is based upon different decision styles that are used:

  • Rational style: a logical and structural approach;

  • Intuitive style: based upon impressions and feelings

  • Avoidant style: postponing

  • Spontaneous style: impulsive decision making

Deciding which style to use depends on circumstances. For example, a rational decision style does not work under time pressure. It also turns out rational decisions are often not the best decisions because people do not have all possible choice alternatives. The best choice was often made using both rational and intuitive decision making. However, another strategy is that people often feel a felt preference after postponing a decision for a while. This is the result of unconscious thought. Fundamental research found evidence for unconscious decision-making being an intelligent way of decision making. This had the following implications. 

  • Rational thinking is only useful when people have information about their self-awareness and the environment. 

  • Relying too much upon rational decision making can block decision making. 

What is meant by career indecision?

The avoidant, spontaneous and dependent decision-making styles are expressions of indecision. Generally, people decide when the two requirements are met.

  1. The chosen option must be minimally attractive;

  2. The chosen option must be slightly better than other options;

People set a norm for what is minimally attractive and differ in their regulatory focus. This is the tendency to focus on promotion or prevention. The regulatory focus is not fixed. 

How do people respond to many choice options?

People tend to be less happy when presented with more choices. This is because people tend to strive for the best choice. This makes the norm very high. Therefore, having to choose between a large amount of career options could result in less favourable outcomes. 

What is the influence of accountability and irreversibility?

When people can choose the best possible career, failure of their career will result in self-blame. They are accountable for their success. If people are not encouraged to aim for a maximum outcome, they might rely more on unconscious decision making leading to more positive outcomes. Also, irreversibility comes from the fact that young adults were promoted to choose their career path early even though in the current reality the right choice for an optimal future career does not exist. 

What is the traditional career theory?

In traditional career theory the delay of decision making is often seen as problematic. However, they might lead to the opposite. According to traditional career theory, people tend to seek environments that match their attitudes and values. Other theories, such as the social cognitive career theory says that environment and experiences shape occupational choices. Super (1999) stated career stages bound to age for making a career decision. First there is growth, followed by exploration, establishment, maintenance and finally disengagement.

What is the future career theory?

It is argued that changing job markets will change decision making. A rapid adaptation of skills is required and traditional careers less common. This means traditional career theories do no longer apply. In the future career theory, continuous experimenting and learning is emphasized. People should focus on their breadth self-efficacy, rather than task-specific self-efficacy. Young adults should not rely on planning their career and focus on career adaptability. They should be ready to cope with both predictable and unpredictable adjustments in work conditions. 

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