Unemployed Adults' Career Thoughts, Career Self-Efficacy, and Interest: Any Similarity to College Students?

Article excerpt

Little empirical knowledge about unemployed adults exists during a time when this group needs substantial career assistance. Because there is greater empirical understanding of college student career development compared with what is known about unemployed adults, a chi square and analyses of covariance were used to compare the career thinking, self-efficacy, and interests of 169 unemployed adults seeking public job center assistance with that of 200 college students. Additionally, a diverse sample of 2,444 unemployed adults is demographically reviewed. Unemployed adults reported a higher level of Realistic interests and similar levels of negative career thinking and career decision-making self-efficacy compared with college students.


Employment is essential to the health of an economy and to its citizens. The many adverse health consequences of unemployment and job loss are well known (e.g., Mathers & Schofield, 1998). For example, the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development (2009) reported that most unemployed workers report symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress, including difficulty sleeping, social avoidance, and impaired relationships. Additional research has also linked unemployment and job loss to clinical depression, psychiatric hospitalization, physical illness, alcohol abuse, suicide, and violence (Dooley, 2003; Kessler, Turner, & House, 1988). Employment is not only a major economic indicator; it is also an essential component of one's financial security, social standing, self-concept, and social support. Winegardner, Simonetti, and Nykodym (1984) even referred to unemployment as "the living death."

Career counseling has been shown to increase employment, improve academic and career decision making, and improve job and college retention (Folsom & Reardon, 2003; Oliver & Spokane, 1988). Yet, many of these associated interventions have been developed by studying college student populations. Unemployment is at a record high in the United States, yet researchers and practitioners do not have a comprehensive understanding of the career development of the unemployed adult (Donohoe & Patton, 1998). A review of the literature revealed a sparse selection of research involving unemployed participants as it related to job skills training (Tango & Kolodinsky, 2004), general career guidance (Donahoe & Patton, 1998), and psychological well-being (Wiener, Oei, & Creed, 1999).

Much research time has been spent on understanding the more accessible college student, and the lack of research with unemployed adults suggests that practitioners likely apply those principles and findings to their unemployed adult clients. Before a career intervention can be reliably applied with unemployed adults, basic career development factors must be verified. This study compared college student career development factors with those of unemployed adults, including areas of negative career thoughts, career decision-making self-efficacy, and career interest areas. This research is a first step in ensuring that subsequent interventions with unemployed adults are based on a better understanding of this group's career development.


In the present research, negative career thoughts are conceptualized within the context of the cognitive information processing (CIP) approach (Sampson, Reardon, Peterson, & Lenz, 2004). According to the CIP approach, counselors can work with clients to identify, challenge, and alter negative career thoughts followed by acting upon a new conceptualization of the thought. A reduction in negative career thoughts is associated with more effective processing of information needed for career problem solving and decision making, making the assessment of clients' negative career thoughts an important part of the career counseling process. Negative career thoughts have been associated with various career decision-making, career development, and personality factors (Bullock, Braud, Phillips, & Andrews, 2009; Kleiman, Gati, Peterson, Sampson, Reardon, & Lenz, 2004; Paivandy, Bullock, Reardon, & Kelly, 2008) and depression (Saunders, Peterson, Sampson, & Reardon, 2000). …