Making Career Decisions in the Context of Relationships
By A. Mercedes Nalls, Ph.D.
Faculty member, School of Education at American Public University
We all face education and career decisions. When exploring possible solutions do you consider only your own ideas or do you ask others for their opinions? If so, who do you consult?
Focusing on using others’ support in making career decisions is a shift in thinking for many career development theorists and counselors. In the past, career counselors would have had individuals complete a series of inventories to determine the best fit between his or her characteristics and that of an occupation (Schultheiss, 2003). The emphasis was on an individual’s autonomous decision making.
Today, career theorists are arguing adults make decisions within a context of relationships (Blustein, Phillips, Jobin-Davis, Finkelberg, & Roarke, 1997; Schultheiss, Kress, Manzi, & Glasscock, 2001; Schultheiss, Palma, Predragovich, & Glasscock, 2002). Schultheiss (2003) argued that these connections are essential to an individual’s self-esteem and identity. These researchers and others have found that those who seek support fair better in their transition (e.g., Murphy, Blustein, Bohlig, & Platt, 2010).
My own research explored who college students consulted regarding long term goals and career plans (Nalls, 2011). I found that parents, peers, significant others, and siblings were most likely to be consulted. I also found that siblings, regardless of age difference and gender, were listed as a source of support for college students, which is similar to the findings of Blustein et al. (1997) and Schultheiss et al. (2001; 2002) who found that siblings are frequently listed as sources of support during times of career exploration and transition.
When the participants in my study were asked about the role their sibling played in how they make decisions about their future plans, they described their siblings as being a role model or mentor, a source of multidimensional support, and a best friend. Here are a few examples of comments made about siblings:
“She is my sounding board in most decisions I make. She is one of the people in my life who knows me best, so I value her perspective in my life. She does have somewhat of an influence on my future plans because we are so close. I’m sure she wants to give advice that would keep me close to her and I would want to do the same!”
“I see her playing a role of giving advise [sic], and helping me work through the pros and cons of different paths to take in my future.”
“They [siblings] are the supportive ones even when my parents and friends don’t seem to understand [sic]”
“She does not try to change my mind or talk me out of decisions that I make, like my parents might try to. If she does not agree with a decision she tells me and explains why, but always supports me no matter what.”
My research was specifically focused on the role of siblings as sources of support in the career goals and long term plans of college students. However, I also found that students were more likely to seek advice from significant others, family, and peers over professors, clergy, mentors, etc.
Similarly, Murphy and colleagues (2010) found that students did not list career counselors as sources of support. Therefore, guidance counselors, career counselors, and university advisors who mentor students should also acknowledge and help students utilize their support network when they face education or career decisions.
The bottom line for all of us who are facing a tough career or educational decisions: you are more likely to choose the best option if you turn to others for advice and support even if that simply means calling friends or family for their opinions.
Blustein, D. L., Phillips, S. D., Jobin-Davis, K., Finkelberg, S. L., & Roarke, A. E. (1997). A theory-building investigation of the school-to-work transition. The Counseling Psychologist. Special Issue: School-to-Work Transition, 25(3), 364-402. doi:10.1177/0011000097253002
Murphy, K. A., Blustein, D. L., Bohlig, A. J., & Platt, M. G. (2010). The college-to-career transition: An exploration of emerging adulthood. Journal of Counseling and Development, 88(2),174-181.
Nalls, A. M. (2011). The role of siblings in the identity formation process of emerging adults. Retrieved from http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3435&context=etd
Schultheiss, D. E. P. (2003). A relational approach to career counseling: Theoretical integration and practical application. Journal of Counseling and Development, 81(3), 301-310. doi: 10.1002/j.1556-6678.2003.tb00257.x
Schultheiss, D. E. P., Kress, H. M., Manzi, A. J., & Glasscock, J. M. J. (2001). Relational influences in career development: A qualitative inquiry. The Counseling Psychologist, 29(2), 214-239. doi:10.1177/0011000001292003
Schultheiss, D. E. P., Palma, T. V., Predragovich, K. S., & Glasscock, J. M. J. (2002). Relational influences on career paths: Siblings in context. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 49(3), 302-310. doi:10.1037/0022-0184.108.40.2062
About the Author
Dr. A. Mercedes Nalls is a part-time professor at American Public University and has been teaching online since 2007. She holds a BS in molecular biology and religious studies from Vanderbilt University, an MAR from Yale Divinity School, and an MS and PhD in Child Development from Florida State University.