Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

"A Little More Than Kin, and Less Than Kind": Basic Interests in Vocational Research and Career Counseling

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

"A Little More Than Kin, and Less Than Kind": Basic Interests in Vocational Research and Career Counseling

Article excerpt

The history of basic interests helps explain their under-use as a meaningful dimension in the interpretation of career inventories. Research and reflection support new attention to basic interests for four reasons: (a) basic interests may be more optimal cognitive categories than other levels of classification, (b) the RIASEC arrangement of general occupational types may not adequately represent the complexity of the interest space, (c) the interest space itself may be differently conceptualized by men and by women, and (d) the realities of work in this technological era are fundamentally different than they were when occupational inventories such as the Strong Interest Inventory(TM) (Campbell, 1977) were designed.

In 1968, Campbell and his students clustered the items of the Strong Vocational Interest Blank for Men(R) according to their similarity of content, guided by item correlations as well as human judgment (Campbell, Borgen, Eastes, Johansson, & Peterson, 1968). The result of their endeavor was a set of homogeneous content scales that they called the Basic Interest Scales. Their motivation for the project was a perceived weakness in using the Strong Interest Inventory(TM) (Campbell, 1977) occupational scales in vocational counseling. These scales, being empirically derived from the interests of men in specific occupations, were somehow associated with that particular line of work. But if a client were to ask, "What does it mean to have interests similar to lawyers?" (Campbell et al., 1968, p. 1), the vocational counselor might be at a loss to generalize further. The Basic Interest Scales, as aggregations of items that identify clusters of related interests, were intended to assist in explaining "the organization of an individual's choices" (Campbell et al., 1968, p. 54). Inspection of a person's Basic Interest Scales on the Strong provides a clearly interpretable pattern of work activities that a person likes and dislikes (Harmon, Hansen, Borgen, & Hammer, 1994). However, these informative scales are frequently given short shrift in the individual interpretation of Strong inventory results, partly due to their intermediate level of generality between occupational scales and general types; as in Hamlet's sullen description of his relationship with his uncle and new stepfather, Claudius, the two are "a little more than kin, and less than kind." (Hamlet, 1.2. 65). Although unlikely to meet their end in swordplay, the Basic Interest Scales, like Claudius, have historically suffered from the unfortunate timing of a marriage.

The Basic Interest Scales were added to the 1968 revision of the Strong Vocational Interest Blank. Very shortly after, in 1972, a momentous merger occurred when the Strong integrated Holland's highly general RIASEC types as General Occupational Themes (Borgen, 1986). These types-Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional-were quickly becoming iconic in vocational psychology, and the focus on these types eclipsed the discussion of basic interests from that time until the present. Basic interests, despite their usefulness, have been widely neglected in vocational interest theory.

Basic interests become more consequential as twentieth century patterns of human work are transformed. Lifelong security in a single adult job or within a single organization has passed into history, calling into question some tenets of traditional vocational psychology (Savickas, 1995). The New York Times reported in 1996 on "the most acute job insecurity since the Depression,' which was causing "an unrelenting angst that is shattering people's notions of work and self and the very promise of tomorrow" (Uchitelle & Kleinfield, 1996). Hesketh and Bochner (1994) asserted that "organizations want greater flexibility, and consequently, they no longer wish to be in the business of managing the careers of their employees" (p. 219). In a radio interview titled "Ideology and Corporate Downsizing," professor of management William McKinley reported that today's organizations believe that "steady employment creates too much dependence" (Brighton,1996). …

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