Mapping Occupations into Vocational Interests: Two Case Studies

By Bimler, David; Batra, Peter et al. | New Zealand Journal of Psychology, November 2009 | Go to article overview

Mapping Occupations into Vocational Interests: Two Case Studies


Bimler, David, Batra, Peter, Kirkland, John, New Zealand Journal of Psychology


We consider techniques for combining self-descriptions from people who occupy some vocational niche, so as to describe the ideal characteristics of a prototypal member of the occupation, and delineate the requirements of the niche. Such prototypes would be most useful in recruitment or in vocational guidance if they were worded in terms of a general descriptive language, applicable across occupations. Here a vocational-interest inventory, the VOC-99, provided the common language. Data from two samples were converted to prototypal combinations of interests; these were expressed as the values of three broad summary scales, each one corresponding to one dimension of a spatial 'map' of the VOC-99. A first sample of market researchers characterized the aptitudes and preferences of the "ideal market researcher", by rating the interest items along a 5-point scale. A second sample of survey interviewers used the inventory to describe themselves, endorsing or rejecting items by following a three-way forced-ranking task. The results for survey interviewers show some predictive value when the VOC-99 is used as part of the assessment procedure in the selection of job applicants.

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Most researchers in the field of vocational counselling would accept that for a given vocational role (an occupation or career path), there is an optimal combination of traits of personality or intellect or character, such that possession of those traits is associated with increased satisfaction and performance in the role. This is the congruence hypothesis (Holland. 1985). It also seems reasonable to expect the individuals occupying the role to display this combination of traits more frequently than the population at large (this follows from the assumption that there is some job mobility; and that individuals are more likely to stay in a job, once they find one which is matched to their skills and character). In other words, round pegs tend to seek out round holes. One sometimes finds the expectation justified by a 'birds of a feather' argument, as follows: if a particular personality or character is common in an occupational niche. then the happiness and productivity of a prospective employee who displays the same traits will be enhanced by the like-minded company. "Congruent environments provide job satisfaction for the subjects because they are among people with similar tastes and values to their own, and where they can perform tasks which they enjoy and are able to do" (Furnham, 1992, p. 101). (1)

In consequence, a vital component of any comprehensive system for vocational counselling is a database of occupations, profiled in terms of optimal traits and interests. A first example out of many is the software package Kudos (CASCAid, 2006), which includes the core 'aspects' and more peripheral activities associated with 1700 kinds of work, and can match these to a jobseeker's preferences among the entire inventory of activities. Second, the Dictionary of Holland Occupational Codes (Gottfredson & Holland, 1996) assigns a primary, secondary and tertiary category to each of 12.860 occupations. Categories come from a six-fold system (Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, Conventional), so a typical code might be the acronym R-I-E. The same system underlies the ACT interest inventory (Swaney, 1995) and the US Department of Labor's O*NET database (2003).

But profiling even one occupational niche is not trivial: it requires in-depth knowledge, and a fine-grained analysis of the duties associated with the niche. For instance, Sackett, Cornelius and Carron (1981) used 237 task statements to break down the role of "Chemical processing-plant foreman". Difficulties stand in the path of directly questioning "Subject matter experts" who work in the occupation in question (Harvey. 1991: Morgenson & Campion, 1997). Moreover, new jobs and careers are continually emerging as economies evolve (even as old ones fade into obsolescence), and one can understand why whole bureaucracies are required simply to categorize and profile them. …

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