Using the Career Decision-Making System-Revised to Enhance Students' Career Development. (Special Issue: Career Development and the Changing Workplace)

Article excerpt

In this period of standards-based educational reform, much attention has been focused on the educational achievement of high school graduates. In the rush to achievement testing, schools may have lost sight of the 25 percent to 30 percent high school dropout rate over the past quarter century (Barton, 2002). Barton noted that many students, both graduates and dropouts, are deficient in career-planning skills as they enter the labor market or transition to postsecondary education. In the survey of high school counselors' career development competencies, Barker and Satcher (2000) found that counselors tended to overlook the need to implement career development programs, resulting in inadequate workplace training skills. They also noted that work-bound students received minimal counselor attention. In light of these findings, schools must provide career planning services to all students, including those who will be immediately entering the job market, with or without diploma.

Dahir (2001) presented the rationale, developmental process, content, and implications for the National Standards for School Counseling Programs (Campbell & Dahir, 1997). She noted that the National Standards are designed to guide the development of the program content for student growth and achievement in the academic, career, and personal-social domains. There are three standards concerning career development:

* Standard A: Students will acquire the skills to investigate the world of work in relation to knowledge of self and to make informed career decisions.

* Standard B: Students will employ strategies to achieve future career goals with success and satisfaction.

* Standard C: Students will understand the relationship between personal qualities, education, training, and the world of work. (Dahir, 2001, p. 324)

The fact that career development is given such emphasis in the National Standards is welcome to professionals who feel that at times career issues have been overshadowed by an emphasis on personal counseling. This is not to deny the importance of the latter, but school counselors should not forget that over the past 30 years the most common complaint about school counseling services has been a failure to supply assistance in the career decision-making process (Herr & Cramer, 1988; Hurley & Thorp, 2002; Prediger, Roth, & Noeth, 1973; Prediger & Sawyer, 1985). Harrington and O'Shea (1976) sought to address the issue of dissatisfaction with career counseling services by developing a system for Career Decision Making (CDM) which had as one of its goals the enhancement of students' career development.

This article seeks to demonstrate how the Career Decision-Making System-Revised (CDM-R; Harrington & O'Shea, 2000a) has the capacity to serve as a system based on solid research to assist students in developing a significant number of the career competencies of the National Standards for School Counseling Programs. The relationship between the CDM-R and the National Standards will be affirmed.


The CDM-R is a system, first published in 1976, that combines an assessment of interests, work values, subject matter preferences, and self-estimates of abilities with biennial updates of career information. It has had a number of revisions, the most recent in 2000, to keep the instrument as current as possible with a rapidly changing world of work. The paper-and-pencil CDM-R has two levels, one, with a fourth-grade reading level, designed to assess the vocational interests of the young, typically those in middle school and the more challenged readers of all ages. The other level, with a seventh-grade reading level, is more appropriate for more developed persons of all ages. Administration time varies from about 30 to 45 minutes. In addition, the CDM-R has software so that students can complete the inventory on a computer and receive an interpretive report about occupations matching their interests, values, and abilities.

The CDM-R received the 2002 American Counseling Association's Association for Assessment in Counseling Annual Exemplary Practices Award. In addition, Freeman (1996) conducted a national study of counselors selected from the American School Counselors Association's membership and reported that the counselors rated the CDM-R as the most effective of 10 instruments surveyed. She concluded that if there were stars in the family of assessment tools they were the CDM-R and DISCOVER.

After completing any one of the CDM-R forms, students can go online to the CareerZone (New York State Department of Labor, 2002) at and download detailed O*NET-based occupational descriptions, view brief on-screen videos of real people on the job, access "Resume Maker" and "Cover Letter Maker," and find openings for jobs in their state. Also available are revised career videos, Tour of Your Tomorrow (Feller & Vasos, 2001), to help students learn how the world of work can be organized into the six CDM-R interest areas (i.e., crafts, scientific, the arts, social, business, office operations), based on Holland's (1997) theory.

Studies have provided cross-cultural support for the CDM and CDM-R (Harrington, 1991, 1992; Harrington & O'Shea, 1980, 1989, 2000b). In addition, the work values of adolescents have been studied across gender and cultures with findings of substantial similarities (Lebo, Harrington, & Tillman, 1995). In addition to assessing interests, the CDM-R has students indicate their strongest abilities and their hierarchy of work values. It also has them focus on their current educational and training plans. The end result is that each student develops a career profile. The authors' intent was to provide students with a framework within which career decisions could be made. The CDM-R thus emphasizes the importance of appropriate planning and career decisions. It also teaches that it is not just what people like that is important in career decision making but also what their value systems are and the abilities and skills they bring to the workplace. The heart of the CDM-R experience is learning how to make decisions based on a comprehensive review of one's interests, skills, values, and related current occupational information. It also emphasizes the kind of education one must undertake to achieve one's goals. It lists college majors and training programs that prepare people to enter occupations that their interests suggest.

It is important to present empirical data supporting the use of the CDM-R. The technical manual for the inventory (Harrington & O'Shea, 2000b) provides substantial validity data. Harrington and O'Shea (2002) found in a follow-up of high school sophomores who completed the CDM in 1981 that 64 percent of the males and 54 percent of the females were working in occupations in 2001 that the CDM results suggested to them 20 years earlier. Many of the same subjects took the CDM again in 1986, and it was found that 59 percent of the males and 62 percent of the females were working in occupations in 2001 that were suggested to them in 1986 (Harrington & O'Shea, 2002). In 1979 the CDM was administered to 351 freshmen at a large Boston university. By 1991, 200 had graduated from the same university. Their graduation majors were then compared with their CDM scaled scores of 12 years earlier and found that there was agreement for 70 percent of the females and 84 percent of the males, resulting in an overall hit rate of 76 percent (Harrington & O'Shea, 2000b). This provided impressive evidence of the predictive validity of the CDM. Brown, Ware, and Brown (1985) also conducted a follow-up study of 370 12th grade students who had completed the CDM in 9th grade and concluded that career advisors could administer the CDM to relatively young students and be confident that the results would be related to the actual occupational choices of many students as they neared graduation.

Harrington and O'Shea (2000b) summarized the concurrent validity data gathered in administering the CDM to a wide range of occupational and curricular groups. Included were 2,330 employed workers, 1,183 males and 1,147 females. Occupational samples (N = 54) covered five broad categories: professional and technical; managerial; clerical and sales; service; and trades and production. The curricular groups included 21 samples of vocational technical programs (N = 701 males, 323 females) and 39 samples of college and university majors (N = 1,051 males, 1,238 females). The vocational technical program samples covered four major areas: artistic, service, office operations, and trades. College and university major samples covered five major curricular areas: the arts, science and mathematics, medical science, business, and liberal arts. Overall, the results showed that educational or occupational groups obtained CDM codes that were very consistent with their occupations or curricula. Also, in completing the CDM-R, participants in the studies chose school subjects, values, and abilities, and expressed interests that were congruent with their majors and/or occupations. Statistical analyses showed that these results were significant in most cases.

Harrington and Schafer (1996) compared the CDM-R self-reported abilities of 51 occupational samples with General Aptitude Test Battery (GATB; U.S. Department of Labor, 1970) norms for each of the groups and with U.S. Department of Labor job analysts' findings in the Guide for Occupational Exploration (Harrington & O'Shea, 1984) regarding the abilities required in the same occupations. They discovered that the CDM-R self-ratings data were more congruent with the job analysts' findings than they were with the GATB norms in 49 of the 51 samples, thus adding support for the validity of self-assessments in career exploration. The studies cited touch on only a small sample of the CDM or CDM-R validity research, which ranges among occupations at a diverse level-of-skill requirements. They include people employed in manufacturing, service, skilled trades, clerical, managerial, medical, and technical jobs. The research has established the CDM-R's applicability to a broad range of occupations, increasing counselor confidence in using it to address the National Standards.


According to Campbell and Dahir (1997):

   The program standards for career development
   guide the school counseling program to
   provide the foundation for the acquisition of
   skills, attitudes, and knowledge that enable
   students to make a successful transition from
   school to the world of work, and from job to
   job across the life span. (p. 19)

The National Standards will be used as the basis for the CDM-R activities which are intended to facilitate students' career development. A goal is "that students develop career goals as a result of participation in a comprehensive plan of career awareness, exploration, and preparation activities" (Campbell & Dahir, p. 19).

It should be noted that there is a considerable and understandable repetition of competencies as the National Standards specify the competencies which will lead students to the attainment of each of the three standards. For example, Standard A calls for developing an awareness of personal abilities, skills, interests, and motivations; Standard B: identifying personal skills, interests, and abilities and relating them to current career choice; and Standard C: identifying personal preferences and interests influencing career choice and success. Although these competencies are quite similar, they refer to different aspects of career development and represent a logical sequence: acquiring skills (Standard A), employing strategies (Standard B), and understanding the relationships among factors in career development (Standard C). As a result of the overlap among competencies, this article does not dwell on points already made in the discussions of earlier competencies.

Career Standard A

Career Standard A sets forth two major goals: the development of career awareness and the development of employment readiness. This standard presents the following 10 student competencies:

* Develop skills to locate, evaluate, and interpret career information

* Learn about the variety of traditional and nontraditional occupations

* Develop an awareness of personal abilities, skills, interests, and motivations

* Learn how to interact and work cooperatively in teams

* Learn to make decisions

* Learn how to set goals

* Understand the importance of planning

* Pursue and develop competency in areas of interest

* Develop hobbies and vocational interests

* Balance between work and leisure time (Campbell & Dahir, 1997, p. 25)

The CDM-R directly seeks to assist students in acquiring a number of these competencies. From the very beginning, the CDM-R was designed as a career assessment instrument that, by making career information an integral component of the system so that students can explore the occupations, went beyond having students merely develop a list of occupations. The CDM-R generates occupational rifles from a database that covers approximately 95 percent of all employed workers in the United States (U.S. Department of Labor, 2002). Along with the rifles, students learn the required education and training for each occupation and the outlook for each one. This information is drawn from U. S. Department of Labor data and updated every 2 years. In addition, occupations are grouped in an 18-cluster arrangement so that students can immediately see jobs closely related to those suggested by their inventory scores. The CDM-R's seamless relationship with CareerZone and the Tour of Your Tomorrow videos creates an especially valuable career information asset.

With regard to Standard A's emphasis on students learning about the variety of traditional and nontraditional occupations, the CDM-R authors sought to ensure that the inventory and related ancillary material would emphasize that all occupations are open to both men and women. The CDM-R data gathering system employs the same survey form for both genders. Occupational rifles are presented in gender-neutral terms (e.g., firefighter is used instead of fireman). Item analysis was employed to make items as gender-neutral as possible while preserving concurrent and construct validity. Males and females making the same responses on the inventory receive identical vocational profiles based on raw scores without reference to gender-separate or gender-combined raw scores. On May 18, 1981, the Region I director of the Office of Civil Rights wrote in a letter to the authors that "we perceive that it (CDM) conforms to the regulations implementing the Title IX prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sex [34 Code of Federal Regulation 106]."

The second major goal in Standard A refers to the development of employment readiness, which is addressed through the following nine student competencies:

* Acquire employability skills such as working on a team, problem-solving, and organizational skills

* Apply job readiness skills to seek employment opportunities

* Demonstrate knowledge about the changing workplace

* Learn about the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees

* Learn to respect individual uniqueness in the workplace

* Learn how to write a resume

* Develop a positive attitude toward work and learning

* Understand the importance of responsibility, dependability, punctuality, integrity, and effort in the workplace

* Utilize time-management skills (Campbell & Dahir, 1997, p. 25)

Some of these competencies are directly addressed in the CDM-R. For example, the CDM-R CareerZone link leads students to a resume writing experience, which results in their producing an online resume. In addition, because the CDM-R is updated every 2 years, students are kept abreast of changes in occupational requirements and outlook. Students also involve themselves in reality testing by using CareerZone to find job openings in their states and discover employer expectations (e.g., skills, knowledge, education, and experiences) for prospective candidates.

The CareerZone Web site and Tour of Your Tomorrow videos expose the students to what happens in the workplace. The videos in both resources present job settings as satisfying and attractive, focusing on the excitement that can be part of one's employment. These ancillary features of the CDM-R system make it more likely that young people will view work positively and want to prepare themselves well to enter into the exciting world of work.

Career Standard B

Career Standard B, which focuses on students employing strategies to ensure career success and satisfaction, expresses two major goals, acquiring career information and identifying career goals. Acquiring career information includes the following eight competencies:

* Apply decision-making skills to career planning, course selection, and career transition

* Identify personal skills, interests, and abilities and relate them to current career choice

* Demonstrate knowledge of the career planning process

* Know the various ways in which occupations can be classified

* Use research and information resources to obtain career information

* Learn to use the Internet to access career planning information

* Describe traditional and nontraditional career choices and how they relate to career choice

* Understand how changing economic and societal needs influence employment trends and future training (Campbell & Dahir, 1997, p. 26)

These eight competencies form the core focus of the CDM-R. The CDM-R has been designed to take the student through each step in the planning process. It teaches students to consider multiple factors in arriving at career decisions--not just their likes or their abilities but the interplay of both along with values, education, and information. It does this in particular through its interpretive materials, which lead students through a series of steps that call on them to question whether or not their career self-concepts are congruent in all respects with the occupational path they are following. Also, the CDM-R demonstrates to students the value of using information from the Internet in gathering career information by providing a seamless link to an attractive source of information, CareerZone. As noted above, the CDM-R deals directly with nontraditional career choices and keeps students up-to-date on education requirements and employment trends. In addition to providing students with a list of career options, the CDM-R provides lists of appropriate college majors and training programs. This is done by listing the programs side-by-side with the occupational titles.

The CDM-R uses the RIASEC (Holland, 1997) system in classifying occupations, thus establishing compatibility with a model for grouping occupations that has been widely adopted. In addition, the CDM-R refers students to the U.S. Department of Labor O*NET (2000) and its classification system.

The Beginning Career Exploration System (Stone & McCloskey, 1993a), designed for young students, and the Career Exploration System (Stone & McCloskey, 1993b) designed for high school students, provide curricula designed to be used with CDM-R results to assist students with career exploration, planning, and decision making. Both Stone and McCloskey systems consist of participant books and leader guides, providing frameworks to integrate and clarify information from many different sources. These are designed to be used by both counselors and teachers.

The Stone and McCloskey systems (1993a, 1993b) organize career activities around four themes, or stages, critical to career decision making: (a) building strength and confidence, (b) self-awareness and "tuning the scanner," (c) processing career information, and (d) implementing a plan. The systems are designed to develop students' confidence through activities designed to help them learn more about their skills and how their skills relate to employment opportunities. Tuning the scanner serves as a metaphor for the dynamic process an individual uses to understand personal interests, values, and abilities. In the processing career information stage, students relate their skills and interests to job titles and create their own job descriptions. Finally, in stage four, students learn interviewing and personal marketing skills. Throughout the four stages, the CDM-R plays an important organizational and directional role.

The second major goal of Standard B is identifying career goals, and the following competencies are presented:

* Demonstrate awareness of the education and training needed to achieve career goals

* Assess and modify their educational plan to support career goals

* Use employability and job readiness skills in internship, mentoring, shadowing and/or other work experience

* Select course work that is related to career interests

* Maintain a career-planning portfolio (Campbell & Dahir, 1997, p. 26)

These competencies exemplify the way in which there is significant overlap. However, the thrust here is clearly toward a refinement of career goals in the later stages of career planning. This interpretation is supported by the expression "assess and modify" one's educational plan to support career goals. This, of course, suggests a person has established preliminary goals and is now making more final career plans.

The first competency in the group, demonstrating an awareness of the education and training needed to achieve career goals, again points to the need for more definitive education, as does the competency of selecting necessary course work. The CDM-R system presents a similar sequence of career decision-making steps. At the very outset of the CDM-R system, students are asked to indicate their career choices at that time by responding to the question, "What are you planning, even though very tentatively?" They are also asked to select their current education/training choices from 10 options. Therefore, before asking students to complete the interest inventory, the CDM-R authors have emphasized that educational planning is an integral part of career decision making. The first time the CDM-R interpretive materials provide students a list of specific occupations their interests suggest, the list specifies the preparation the occupations require. In addition, course work related to their career interests is detailed with the list of occupations. Further information about education or planning is gained from CareerZone which provides specific information about the training and education required by each job. It also details required skills, typical activities, and salary/outlook information. The CDM-R interpretive materials encourage students to find part-time jobs or volunteer experiences related to the kind of careers that interest them. Counselors should encourage students to find such jobs and emphasize to them how much they can learn about the world of work if they make a conscious effort to observe what goes on around them, wherever it is that they work. For example, the supermarket clerk will have an opportunity to observe route salespersons, managers, truck drivers, meat cutters, bakers, to name but a few.

The final competency related to identifying career goals mentions a career-planning portfolio. Certainly, the summary profile that students develop as they complete the CDM-R provides an excellent overview of a student's career self-image, since it addresses values, interests, abilities, and plans. This profile can provide a print record or can be easily converted to an electronic system. The profile provides an excellent way for students to identify strengths and contradictions in their career self-images and begin to take steps to make necessary changes.

Career Standard C

Career Standard C addresses the needs of students as they go about taking their first actual career step beyond the planning stage (e.g., selecting a major, entering an apprenticeship, or taking a full-time job). It clearly looks to the future and proposes two major goals: (a) the acquisition of knowledge and (b) the application of skills in achieving career goals. The first of these two goals presents seven competencies:

* Understand the relationship between educational achievement and career success

* Explain how work can help to achieve personal success and satisfaction

* Identify personal preferences and interests influencing career choice and success

* Understand that the changing workplace requires lifelong learning and acquiring new skills

* Describe the effect of work on lifestyle

* Understand the importance of equity and access in career choice

* Understand that work is an important and satisfying means of personal expression (Campbell & Dahir, 1997, p. 27)

Again, there are distinct echoes of earlier competencies. As indicated above, the CDM-R emphasizes education and training. Occupations are listed with required minimum educational/training requirements. Both CareerZone and the Tour of Your Tomorrow videos focus on required career preparation. The videos emphasis how people can achieve personal success and satisfaction through work. They effectively portray what a satisfying career can mean in achieving personal fulfillment through one's work. With regard to the ever-changing workplace bringing new demands for lifelong learning and skill acquisition, this aspect of career planning is an integral part of CareerZone and Tour of Your Tomorrow. The latter is especially effective in challenging stereotypes and portraying the contemporary lifestyles of successful workers. Both resources are dynamic and updated frequently updated. Each student completing the CDM-R develops a comprehensive summary profile that constitutes a career self-concept, comprised of current career choices, interests, values, self-assessed abilities, and career plans. Through the resulting self-awareness, the CDM-R aims to help students choose careers that will allow them to express their personal styles.

Finally, Standard C's second goal is skills application, with the following four competencies presented:

* Demonstrate how interests, abilities and achievement relate to achieving personal, social, educational, and career goals

* Learn how to use conflict management skills with peers and adults

* Learn to work cooperatively with others as a team member

* Apply academic and employment readiness skills in work-based learning situations such as internships, shadowing and/or mentoring experiences (Campbell & Dahir, 1997, p. 27)

The first competency emphasizes the need to assess not just interests, but also abilities and the importance of work in one's life. The CDM-R is based on the assumption that effective career decision making requires a multidimensional approach. The comprehensive system surveys not only interests but also expressed career choices, work values, abilities, and education/training plans. Zunker (1998) affirmed the appropriateness of this system by noting that values, interests, abilities, achievement, and work experience are viable factors in making career determinations.


If student competencies are to be achieved, school counselors must think programmatically. In addition to addressing many of the competencies in the National Standards, the CDM-R can enhance the counselor's role in several important ways. When the counselor is called on to develop a career development curriculum, the CDM-R can serve as a central unifying focus of the program, perhaps in conjunction with the Stone and McCloskey (1993a, 1993b) materials. Often those helping to deliver the program may not have a formal background in career development--for example, they may be teachers. As a result, the CDM-R provides a systematic, integrated approach that can be readily understood by those with whom the counselor will work. The CDM-R can also make the counselor's role more efficient by providing the same information that would be gathered in a first interview. The students who have completed the CDM-R will have developed a career self-presentation that includes their current career choices, interests, values, and self-assessed abilities. This spares the counselor the tedious task of gathering this information. Students then will come into the counselor's office ready to work on career exploration and decision making.

Counselors have for many years effectively used interest inventories and integrated them into school counseling programs. This article has presented the CDM-R as a comprehensive system designed to assist counselors in addressing many career development competencies of the National Standards for School Counseling Programs (Campbell & Dahir, 1997). The National Standards along with the student competencies represent a significant advance over many earlier attempts at establishing such standards. The National Standards, by their enunciation of behaviorally based competencies, should provide an enormous thrust in providing students the career planning assistance they deserve. If school counseling programs help students develop the competencies addressed in the Career Standards of the National Standards, the students will be well prepared to make critical, informed career decisions. While not all competencies of the National Standards are addressed by the CDM-R, the philosophy and design of the CDM-R are consistent with the National Standards and focus on enhancing the career development of all students.


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Arthur J. O'Shea, Ph.D., is a Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts at Boston. E-mail:

Thomas F. Harrington, Ph.D., is a professor, Northeastern University, Boston, MA.


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