Decision Making in Voluntary Career Change: An Other-Than-Rational Perspective

By Murtagh, Niamh; Lopes, N. et al. | Career Development Quarterly, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Decision Making in Voluntary Career Change: An Other-Than-Rational Perspective


Murtagh, Niamh, Lopes, N., Lyons, Evanthia, Career Development Quarterly


The authors present a qualitative study of voluntary career change, which highlighted the importance of positive emotions, unplanned action, and building certainty and perceiving continuity in the realization of change. Interpretative phenomenological analysis was used to broaden theoretical understanding of real-life career decision making. The accounts of 8 women who had changed careers were explored, and the analysis supported other-than-rational perspectives of career decision making. An action-affect-cognition framework of decision making is proposed. The framework adds the role of emotion and the importance of self-regulation to existing theory of career decision making. Implications for career counseling are discussed.

Throughout the career literature, models of rational decision making, based on Parsons 's (1909, p. 5) prescription of "true reasoning" from knowledge of self and of occupations, have been strongly influential. The models of theorists such as Gelatt (1962); Gati (1986); and Peterson, Sampson, Reardon, and Lenz (1996) incorporated career decision making as a logical, systematic, and objective process. In contrast, alternative theoretical perspectives on career decision making have emphasized uncertainty (Gelatt, 1989), happenstance (Bright, Pryor, & Harpham, 2004; Mitchell, Levin, & Krumboltz, 1999), and contexts (Arnundson, 1995). Such approaches, called "other-than-rational" by Phillips ( 1997, p. 285), offer the powerful argument that people do not apply strictly rational procedures in making career decisions. Other-than-rational perspecúves have contributed valuable insights and a broader view, but their empirical base is sparse. With the exception of Amundson's (1995) interactive model, alternative approaches have not proposed a model of the career decision-making process, and the interactive model is limited in the psychological processes it considers. There is a need, therefore, for further empirical investigation of the detailed processes involved in reallife decision making. The study reported herein aims to address this gap by exploring experiences of decision making in voluntary career change and by proposing an other-than-rational framework for career decision making. Rather than impose previous assumptions on the process, we chose a methodology, interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA; Smith & Osborn, 2003) that gives voice to the participants' experience, answering Phillips's (1997) call to investigate decision making from the perspective and experience of the person making the decisions.

Rational Models of Career Decision Making

Rational models of career decision making have emerged from expected utility (EU) models. Such models propose that individuals identify an optimal outcome by multiplying the probability and perceived value of different options, and selecting the option that yields the highest product. Extending the EU model to career decision making, Gelatt (1962) proposed a model of career decision making that was systematic, sequential, and "scientific." Katz (1966) and Pitz and Harren (1980) proposed a more rigorous EU approach to career decision making, with the requirement that all alternatives should be considered. Such models have been considered normative, that is, they state how decisions should be made (Gati & Asher, 2001).

However, problems were identified in the application of normative models to everyday decision making. Kahneman, Slovic, and Tversky (1982) demonstrated a range of ways in which people failed to follow the process prescribed by EU models, for example, by failing to consider all options or by incorrectly assessing the probabilities of events. Gati (1986) argued that, in career decision making, the requirement to quantify probability and valence, and then to calculate their product, for a potentially very large range of alternative careers, surpassed the cognitive capacity of individuals. Recognizing the bounded rationality of human cognition and the tendency to select satisficing, or "good enough," rather than optimizing choices (Janis & Mann, 1977; Simon, 1955), Gati proposed the Sequential Elimination Model. …

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