Are career interventions effective? The question is age old. Policy-makers want to know outcomes. Users of career services have the right to know the usefulness of the services. Counselors and career practitioners have the ethical responsibility to use effective approaches/techniques in their practices. However, career interventions are not a homogeneous group producing a homogeneous effect. It would be more meaningful to summarize research that tells which treatment modality is effective with which type of clients. A more appropriate question is “what work”, “with whom”, and under “what condition”...?
Over the last two decades, several research studies have examined these effectiveness questions (e.g., Brown & Ryan Krane, 2000; Oliver & Spokane, 1988; Whiston, Sexton, & Lasoff, 1998), concluding that that career interventions, in general are effective. For example, a meta-analysis (i.e., Brown & Ryan Krane, 2000) of career choice intervention literature has identified five critical ingredients involving any effective career intervention, including:
(1) Workbooks and written exercises that require participants to write their goals and future plans, etc.
(2) Individualized interpretations and feedback that provide individualized feedback regarding test results, goals, etc.
(3) In-session occupational information exploration
(4) Modeling through counselor self-disclosure, guest speakers and interaction with appropriate models, and
(5) Support-building that facilitates participants to gain support from their social network.
So which intervention is the most effective and cost-effective? Individual career counseling is the most effective, whereas computer interventions is the most cost-effective (Whiston et al., 1998), with intensity increasing the impact of the treatment. In a more recent study, Whiston, Brecheisen, and Stephens (2003) found that workshop or structured groups tended to be more effective than non-structured. Furthermore, computer intervention with a counselor had better outcomes than counselor-free computer career intervention.
What about career interventions with school-aged students? Mau, Sudarijanto, and Wine (2006) identified 40 studies in relation to the revised National Career Development Guidelines (NCDG), with 18 assessing students’ Career Management outcomes, 16 assessing Personal-Social outcomes, and only 6 assessing students’ Educational Achievement outcomes. Career interventions are most effective with career management outcomes and least effective with educational achievement outcomes. Three career interventions (Polansky, Horan, & Hanish, 1993; Smith, 1994; Sullivan & Mahalik, 2000) were found to have great impact (an effect size > 1.0) on NCDG domains.
The National Career Development Guidelines describe the personal competencies individuals should have in order to successfully manage their careers throughout their lives. The Guidelines represented consensus among the government and leading career counseling organizations as to what is necessary to foster excellence in career development. The Department of Education has recently revised the National Career Development Guidelines in order to bring them into alignment with the goals of the No Child Left Behind legislation. The newly proposed guidelines consist of three domains: Personal Social Development (PS), Educational Achievement and Lifelong Learning (ED) and Career Management (CM). The three domains organize content that is further described by eleven goals. The goals define broad areas of career development competency can be found at the America's Career Resource Network (ACRN).
NCDG Personal-Social Outcome.
In my review of studies conducted between 1990-2005, one study (Smith, 1994) stands out as the most effective career interventions on the NCDG’s Personal-Social domain. In this study, a parent-child behavior contract was used by a counselor to address specific school-related behaviors. The weekly contract stated the target behavior and predetermined reward or privilege. During a 6-week period, parents received a weekly evaluation chart from student’s teacher detailing children’s daily progress, earned rewards, explanations for failure to meet target goals and additional comment. Award certificates and rewards were given by the parents each week for successful goal completion. Results showed participants in the treatment group had a significant goal completion rate (65%) as compared to those in the control group (19%). Results also suggested improvement in children’s self-esteem, confidence, attitude, and constructive parent-child communication.
NCDG Educational Achievement and Lifelong Learning Outcome.
A career intervention determined to be most effective on the NCDG Educational Achievement and Lifelong Learning domain is described by Polansky, Horan, and Hanish (1993). They investigated the separate and combined effects of study skills and career counseling on retention and academic achievement of college students. Both interventions involved our 90-minute counseling sessions, with the study skill intervention focusing on time management, goal setting, learning styles, and relaxation, and the career counseling intervention focusing on Holland’s interest assessment and vocational exploration. Results suggest study skill intervention have a significant impact on GPA and retention. Career counseling had some impact on retention but had no significant impact on GPA.
NCDG Career Management Outcome.
One of the most effective career interventions on NCDG’s Career Management domain is evident in a study conducted by Sullivan and Mahalik (2000). The counseling intervention was designed to increase career self-efficacy and commitment to career choice of female college students. The intervention consisted of six 90-minute group counseling sessions that incorporated Betz’s (1992) four informational and experiential sources through which career related self-efficacy is acquired and modified. These four sources include:
(a) focusing on successful performance accomplishments
(b) participating in vicarious/observational learning
(c) attending to emotional arousal, and
(d) experiencing verbal persuasion and encouragement.
Group sessions also included semi-structured discussion and activities focusing on self-esteem, influence of role models, family/peer/institutional messages that particularly influence the career development process for women. The results suggested that the career intervention incorporated the four sources for modifying self-efficacy has increased female students career decision-making self-efficacy and vocational exploration and commitment.
The three studies that produced largest effect in each of the NCDG have some common characteristics:
Experimentally-controlled studies that are well designed are often difficult to conduct in school settings, largely due to random assignment of students to experimental group and control group. So far, we know more about the impact of career intervention on high school and college students than younger students in the elementary and middle school level. More empirical research on young children is needed for a more confident evaluation of effectiveness of career interventions on school-aged students. Nevertheless, what we know so far about career intervention should provide some guidance for counselors in their counseling practice, and inform clients and administrators in their counseling choices and policy making.
Brown, S.D., & Ryan Krane, N.E. (2000). Four (or five) sessions and a cloud of dust: Old assumptions and new observations about career counseling. In S.D. Brown, & R.W. Lent (Eds.), Handbook of Counseling Psychology (3rd ed. Pp 740-766). New York: Wiley.
Mau, W.C., Sudjanto, R, Wine, T. (2006). Effectiveness of career interventions in college/university settings. Paper presented at the annual meeting of National Career Development Association, Chicago, July 6-9.
Oliver, L.W., & Spokane, A.R. (1988). Career-intervention outcome: What contributes to client gain? Journal of Counseling Psychology, 35, 447-462.
Polansky, J., Horan, J., & Hanish, C. (1993). Experimental Construct validity of outcomes of study skills training and career counseling as treatments for the retention of at-risk students. Journal of Counseling and Development, 71, 488-492.
Smith, S.E. (1994). Parent-initiated contracts: an intervention for school-related behaviors. Elementary School Guidance & Counseling, 28, 182-187.
Sullivan, K.R., & Mahalik, J.R. (2000). Increasing career self-efficacy for women: Evaluating a group intervention. Journal of Counseling and Development, 78, 54-78.
Whiston, S.C. Brecheisen, B.K. & Stephens, J. (2003). Does treatment modality affect career counseling effectiveness? Journal of Vocational Behavior, 62, 390-410.
Whiston, S.C., Sexton, T.L., & Lasoff, D.L. (1998). Career-intervention outcome: A replication and extension of Oliver and Spokane. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 45, 150-165.
Wei-Cheng J. Mau, Ph.D. NCC, is a professor of Counselor Education at Wichita State University where he has been teaching career development and other counseling courses since 1991. His research interests include cultural influence in educational/vocational aspirations and career planning, academic achievement, help-seeking attitudes and behaviors, and computer-based career interventions. Dr. Mau has authored more than 40 journal articles and book chapters. He has served on the editorial board of the Journal of Vocational Behavior, the Career Development Quarterly, and Measurement & Evaluation in Counseling and Development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.