Future-Oriented Coping and Job Hunting among College Students

By Hu, Yueqin; Gan, Yiqun | The Psychological Record, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview
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Future-Oriented Coping and Job Hunting among College Students


Hu, Yueqin, Gan, Yiqun, The Psychological Record


In a person's career, the transition from school to work is a critical stage (Super & Hall, 1978). Individuals in this stage may encounter many difficulties, for example, seeking a job. Ten years ago, this was not a problem for Chinese university graduates, because only a few high school students had the opportunity to receive a college education, and they were assigned a job after graduation. This situation changed in 1999 when the government implemented a policy to expand enrollment in Chinese institutions of higher learning. Since 2003, the sharp increase in the number of college graduates has placed a strain on the employment market, and the issue of unemployment has gradually become problematic (Feng, 2003). As a result, seeking a job has become a major stressor for college students, and most students begin to prepare for their careers at the very beginning of college-Compared with "occasional stressors" such as accidents, job layoffs, and so on (Schwarzer & Taubert, 2002), seeking a job after graduation is inevitable and foreseeable for most graduates. Therefore, the related coping process involves more initiative and proactive components. In this case, the concept of "future-oriented coping" is introduced to the research area of job hunting.

Coping is defined as thoughts and behaviors that people use to manage the internal and external demands of situations that are appraised as stressful (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Although anticipating harm or loss is central to this widely accepted definition (Folkman & Moskowitz, 2004), traditional coping models tend to overemphasize the reactive nature of coping (Schwarzer & Taubert, 2002) and focus attention on how people cope with past or ongoing stressors. In contrast, future-oriented coping focuses on stressors that one may encounter in the future. Currently, there are several terms used to refer to future-oriented coping, such as proactive coping and preventive coping. The definitions of these concepts and their differences will be introduced later. Searching online with these terms as key words suggests that future-oriented coping has not been introduced to the field of career development. However, some semantically similar terms, such as planfulness, forecasting, and anticipation of the future, are mentioned frequently. For example, Stevens (1973) found that high school students who "look ahead" develop greater job-seeking readiness; Levinson (1978) mentioned that coping with transitions need to be foreseen; Super (1983) emphasized the critical importance of "future perspective" toward planning and exploration when measuring career maturity; and Heppner, Neal, and Larson (1984) found that preventive training in problem solving is beneficial to college students. Recently, Brown, Cober, and Kane (2007) examined the impact of proactive personality in the process of graduates' job hunting and demonstrated a significant correlation between proactive personality and job search success (r = .22). Considering these links between foresight and career development, we predicted that future-oriented coping would have a positive effect on graduate job hunting.

Proactive Coping and Preventive Coping

Aspinwall and Taylor (1997) first proposed the concept of proactive coping, which raised the issue of coping with future stress. They defined proactive coping as individuals' efforts to prepare for difficult changes and events that threaten personal goals or general well-being. They also proposed the five-stage model of proactive coping, in which resource accumulation, attention recognition, initial appraisal, preliminary coping, and eliciting and using feedback were regarded as the five stages.

Schwarzer and Taubert (2002) identified four kinds of coping: reactive coping, anticipatory coping, proactive coping, and preventive coping, each differentiated by the time at which the target stress occurs. Reactive coping emphasizes past events; anticipatory coping deals with impending stresses, for example, a presentation in 10 minutes; proactive coping aims at upcoming challenges; and preventive coping focuses on uncertain stresses in the distant future (Schwarzer & Knoll, 2003).

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