Contributions of self-efficacy theory to career counseling: a personal perspective

Contributions of self-efficacy theory to career counseling: a personal perspective

Nancy E. Betz

The author provides a brief overview of A. Bandura’s (1977, 1997)

self-efficacy theory, followed by a discussion of the value of this

theory to career counselors, which includes particularly useful

features of the concept of self-efficacy and suggestions for its

application in career assessment and counseling, with a special focus

on group interventions.

My interest in Albert Bandura’s (1977, 1997) self-efficacy theory began in 1980. At that time, I had begun a research program examining barriers to women’s pursuit of careers in math and the sciences, and I had focused on the concept of math anxiety. Research had established that math anxiety was more prevalent among women (see Betz, 1978), representing, as it does, societal stereotypes of women’s inferiority in math and technical domains of study. However, when talking one day with my colleague Gail Hackett, who had been trained in the cognitive-behaviorist tradition, I was introduced to self-efficacy theory.

The concept of self-efficacy refers to one’s beliefs in one’s capabilities to successfully engage in a specific area of behavior. Higher levels of self-efficacy are postulated to lead to approach versus avoidance behavior, and I could immediately see the usefulness of conceptualizing women’s underrepresentation in math as a problem of low expectations of math efficacy as well as one of math anxiety. More important, the concept of self-efficacy had built within it both the theory of its etiology and the means to treat it using four sources of efficacy information. These sources of efficacy information, which lead to the initial development of efficacy expectations and can be used to increase them, are performance accomplishments, vicarious learning (modeling), emotional arousal (anxiety), and social persuasion and encouragement. Thus, although anxiety was a useful construct, self-efficacy was more comprehensive in building in, or including, the intervention for as well as the understanding of the problem. Because of this integration of the theory with the treatment, I have been an enthusiastic proponent of the uses of self-efficacy theory in career counseling. In the following pages, I provide a brief review of the central concepts of Bandura’s (1977, 1997) self-efficacy theory. I then highlight some of what I have found, after 25 years of applying the theory, to be particularly useful suggestions for its use in career counseling.

Self-Efficacy Theory

The applicability of self-efficacy theory to vocational behavior was first suggested by Hackett and Betz (1981; Betz & Hackett, 1981) and has now been investigated empirically in numerous studies. Briefly, as originally proposed by Bandura (1977), self-efficacy expectations refer to a person’s beliefs concerning his or her ability to successfully perform a given task or behavior. Because self-efficacy expectations are behaviorally specific rather than general, the concept must have a behavioral referent to be meaningful. One could refer to perceived self-efficacy with respect to mathematics, initiating social interactions, investing in stocks, or fixing a flat tire. Because each type of self-efficacy is discussed in reference to a specific behavioral domain, the number of different kinds of self-efficacy expectations is limited only by the possible number of behavioral domains that can be defined. For the present purposes, any behavioral domain important either for choosing a career (e.g., career decision-making skills) or to succeed in a specific career (e.g., quantitative skills, leadership skills) may be relevant for the counselor and client to consider in counseling.


The concept of self-efficacy expectations is particularly useful for both understanding and modifying career behavior because it is embedded within Bandura’s theory. As depicted in Figure 1, self-efficacy expectations are postulated by Bandura (1977, 1997) to have at least three behavioral consequences, shown on the right side of the figure. The behavioral consequences of perceived self-efficacy are (a) approach versus avoidance behavior, (b) quality of performance of behaviors in the target domain, and (c) persistence in the face of obstacles or disconfirming experiences. Thus, low self-efficacy expectations regarding a behavior or behavioral domain are postulated to lead to avoidance of those behaviors, poorer performance of those behaviors, and a tendency to “give up” when faced with discouragement or failure. As an example, low mathematics self-efficacy would be postulated to lead to avoidance of math course work, poor performance on math tests when such course work could not be avoided, and “giving up” at the first sign of poor performance or failure in math.

More specifically, the concept of approach versus avoidance behavior is one of the simplest, yet one of the most profound in its impact, in all of counseling. In the context of career development in particular, approach behavior describes what a person will try, whereas avoidance behavior refers to things he or she will not try. It thus encompasses both the content of career choice, that is, the types of educational majors and careers a person will attempt, and the process of career choice, that is, the career exploratory and decision-making behaviors essential to making good choices. Avoidance is a pernicious phenomenon because when individuals avoid something, they give themselves no chance to learn it or to master it. If I am “computer phobic,” for example, I avoid using computers as much as is possible and never become competent in or comfortable with their use. If I fear riding a bicycle, I will likely never learn to ride one unless forced–my fear will be justified as long as I fail to develop competence.

The effects of self-efficacy expectations on performance can refer to such situations as performance on the tests necessary to complete college course work or the requirements of a job training program. For example, low efficacy expectations may be accompanied by negative self-talk or anxiety responses, which interfere with focus on the task at hand and thus impair performance. Low self-efficacy may be, in effect, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Finally, the effects of self-efficacy on persistence are essential for long-term pursuit of one’s goals in the face of obstacles, occasional failures, and dissuading messages from the environment, for example, gender or race-based discrimination or harassment.

With even these few examples, the potential importance of career-related self-efficacy expectations is evident. Equally as important as the consequences of self-efficacy are its postulated causes, for these provide the basis for increasing and strengthening efficacy expectations. The left side of Figure 1 shows these causes, which are the four sources of background or experiential information postulated to explain the initial development of expectations of efficacy. These sources of efficacy information are not only important in its initial development but can also be used to guide the design of interventions capable of building or strengthening perceived self-efficacy. The sources of information are (a) performance accomplishments, that is, experiences of successfully performing the behaviors in question; (b) vicarious learning or modeling; (c) lower levels of emotional arousal, that is, less anxiety, in connection with the behavior; and (d) social persuasion, for example, encouragement and support from others.

Initially, these sources of efficacy information are thought to originate in one’s family of origin; background variables such as gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status (SES); and the nature and quality of educational opportunities. As mentioned previously, Hackett and Betz (1981) described how the typical socialization experiences of girls growing up might not provide the kinds of efficacy information needed to build strong expectations with respect to traditionally male-dominated career fields such as science and engineering. There is every reason to believe, as well, that ethnicity and SES may influence the nature and quality of background experiences relative to career pursuits. Wolfe and Betz (2004) have examined the postulate that the quality of parent and peer attachment bonds may positively affect career decision self-efficacy because secure attachment makes individuals more comfortable in exploring their environment.

Applications to Career Development

More than 20 years of research (see Betz, 2000; Betz & Hackett, 1981, 1997) have now indicated that self-efficacy expectations do in fact significantly influence career choices, performance, and persistence. The authors’ original application of the theory involved the hypothesis that women’s traditionally female socialization led to lower self-efficacy expectations with respect to male-dominated careers, especially those in math and the sciences (recall my original interest in this area). In their first study, Betz and Hackett (1981) asked college women and men to report whether or not they felt themselves capable of completing various educational majors. Even though the men and women, as a group, did not differ in their tested abilities, they differed significantly in their self-perceived abilities. These differences were especially striking regarding occupations involving mathematics: 59% of college men versus 41% of college women believed themselves able to complete a degree in that field. Seventy-four percent of men versus 59% of women believed they could be accountants. Most dramatically, 70% of college men but only 30% of comparably competent women believed themselves able to complete a degree in engineering.

Equally important was Betz and Hackett’s (1981) finding that this lower self-efficacy was related to the lower likelihood of considering a nontraditional (male-dominated) career. The authors have also found that self-efficacy for mathematics itself influences choice of a science career (Betz & Hackett, 1983; Hackett, 1985). Thus their research has supported Bandura’s approach/avoidance consequence, either perceived career options or actual educational or career choices. Other studies have shown that self-efficacy beliefs are related to performance and persistence. For example, Lent, Brown, and Larkin (1984, 1986) showed that efficacy beliefs regarding the educational requirements of scientific and technical occupations were related to both the performance and the persistence of students enrolled in engineering programs.

The domains researchers have studied can be divided into content domains and process domains using the content-process distinction in Crites’s (1978) theory of career maturity. Career choice content refers to the what of career choice–specific vocational activity areas with respect to which people can feel higher versus lower expectation of efficacy. These include, for example, mathematics, the six Holland themes, and the 17 activity dimensions of the Expanded Skills Confidence Inventory (ESCI; Betz et al., 2003). Researchers have strong evidence that low self-efficacy expectations lead to avoidance of majors and careers in those areas. For example, Betz and Hackett (1981) showed that range of career options was significantly associated with efficacy expectations related to those options.

Process domains refer to confidence with respect to the process of career decision making. The first measure of a process domain was Taylor and Betz’s (1983) Career Decision Self-Efficacy Scale, and it has been followed by the Career Search Efficacy Scale (Solberg, Good, Fischer, Brown, & Nord, 1995). Low self-efficacy with respect to the process of making career decisions is associated with career indecision, problems in developing a clear vocational identity, and floundering as indicated by the number of changes of college major (Betz & Luzzo, 1996). Thus, self-efficacy with respect to both content and process domains is relevant to the process of career counseling. The study of Paulsen and Betz (2004) has also demonstrated that self-efficacy regarding content domains is itself related to career decision self-efficacy. In their study, Paulsen and Betz have shown that college students’ confidence in several desirable competence outcomes of a liberal arts education (i.e., mathematics, science, writing, leadership, using technology, and cultural sensitivity), account for from 44% to 79% of the variance in career decision self-efficacy.

In terms of populations, our application of Bandura’s theory originally focused on women, but it is now viewed as a key concept in understanding the career development of people of color (Byars & Hackett, 1998; Flores & O’Brien, 2002; Gloria & Hird, 1999; Hackett & Byars, 1996; Tang, Fouad, & Smith, 1999). It has also been used with older adults (Cousins, 1997), people with disabilities (Luzzo, Hitchings, Retish, & Shoemaker, 1999), and female offenders (Chartrand & Rose, 1996). It is safe to say that nearly all individuals have some behavioral areas where they lack confidence in their abilities. In many cases, these areas of perceived inadequacy may limit the range of career options or the success with which desired career options are achieved.

Use of Self-Efficacy Theory in Counseling

Thus, 20 years of research clearly indicates the importance of self-efficacy to career decision making, performance, and persistence, and therefore counselors should include it in conceptualizations of and discussion with clients. In many instances, self-efficacy will also become a focus of treatment interventions.

Step 1: Initial Discussion and Assessment

The first task for the counselor is to include the concept of self-efficacy in initial discussions with the client. This entails, in general, questions regarding the client’s beliefs in his or her competence in domains relevant to career decision making, performance, or advancement. The following are examples of such questions: “What would you ideally like to do for a career?” “What is holding you back from your ideal?” “What career fantasies have you had, and what keeps you from pursuing them?” “What careers would you pursue if you thought you could do ANYTHING!!” The idea here is to determine clients’ self-imposed limits on what they can do. It may be that these are realistic limits if the individual does not actually have the aptitude for a given area, but the real contribution of self-efficacy is that it focuses attention on people who are unrealistically underestimating their capabilities. Research indicates that women are particularly prone to underestimating their capabilities and must, accordingly, have these beliefs challenged. But race/ethnicity, lower SES, family attitudes, and quality of educational experiences may also have led a young person to underestimate his or her capabilities.

When a client reports, during a counseling session, that he or she is unable to master a specific domain of behavior, the counselor should focus on the causes of these perceptions in the client’s background experiences. For example, if a client relates that she dropped out of math in 10th grade because she perceived that “math was for boys,” then it is no wonder she currently lacks confidence in math and is not very competent in it. If, for example, a client is uncertain about his interpersonal skills, maybe it is because he was taught that boys must be the “strong and silent type.” Because it leads to avoidance, self-efficacy can become a self-fulfilling prophecy: As humans, we avoid the domain we fear, so we do not learn it, and therefore we do not become good at it, verifying our perceptions of ourselves as incompetent. Someone needs to break this vicious circle–it may be the counselor who can help the client do this. The counselor should refuse to accept “I can’t” for an answer unless and until the client has made a serious attempt to learn it, to master it.

The counselor should help adults considering career change or advancement to explore areas of behavior where they feel their lack of skills is holding them back or preventing them from pursuing desired options. In many fields, technical expertise is necessary but not sufficient to pursue managerial or supervisory roles in those areas. If a client wishes to make such a move, self-efficacy beliefs regarding managerial/leadership skills may be highly relevant to this client’s perceived options. Other assessment questions might be, “What new skills would really increase your options or satisfaction, and what is stopping you from developing these new skills?” In many cases, the counselor will hear perceived self-efficacy–self-doubts about competence and ability to move in a new direction–as the psychological culprit.

In addition to using self-efficacy interventions with college students and adults, more attention is now being paid to their use with younger individuals–those in middle school and high school, for example. Fouad (1995) developed an intervention to increase math and science self-efficacy in middle school students, most of them representing ethnic minority groups. Dawes, Horan, and Hackett (2000) used a technology education program providing several of Bandura’s sources of efficacy information for seventh-and eighth-grade students. Recently, Betz and Wolfe (2003) developed and evaluated a high school version of the ESCI designed to be used jointly with basic interest dimensions of the Strong Interest Inventory (SII; Harmon, Hansen, Borgen, & Hammer, 1994) or the recently developed Strong Interest Explorer (Morris, Chartrand, & Donnay, 2002). Betz and Wolfe validated the measure with a sample of predominantly ethnic minority students from an inner city high school and hope to use it to identify areas where confidence interventions may increase career options.

Although informal discussion and assessment may prove useful with clients, there are now many excellent measures of self-efficacy for many domains of career-related behavior. Counselors may wish to take advantage of these measures to do a more focused, structured assessment. These measures include the process measures of career decision-making and career search self-efficacy. The Career Decision Self-Efficacy Scale (CDMSE; Betz, Klein, & Taylor, 1996; Betz & Luzzo, 1996) can be used to assess a person’s beliefs concerning her or his capabilities to take the steps in career decision making, in this case, Self-Appraisal, Occupational Information, Goal Selection, Planning, and Problem Solving. Because scores on the CDMSE are highly (negatively) correlated with career indecision and floundering, use of this scale may be a first diagnostic step with a client who is having problems with career indecision. The Career Search Self-Efficacy Scale (Solberg et al., 1995) was developed to assess the career search self-efficacy of people interested in finding or changing jobs or careers or reentering the job market. O’Brien (2003) has provided an excellent review of a number of measures of career-related self-efficacy.

In addition, there are now many measures of self-efficacy for career-related content. Many of these measures are designed to accompany parallel measures of vocational interests, so that the conjoint interpretation of interests and self-efficacy can occur (see Betz & Borgen, 2000). As an example, The Skills Confidence Inventory (Betz, Harmon, & Borgen, 1996) was developed to measure self-efficacy or confidence with respect to the six Holland (1997) themes, and it is to be used jointly with measures of interests in the Holland themes, for example, the six General Occupational (Holland interest) themes from the SII (Harmon et al., 1994).

More recently, the ESCI (Betz et al., 2003) was developed to measure self-efficacy or confidence with respect to 17 basic domains of vocational activity. These domains were selected to parallel many of the Strong Basic Interest Scales and to reflect domains of behavior important across occupations (e.g., leadership, public speaking, writing, mathematics, helping, and creative production). Other confidence scales reflecting new emphases within many organizations on high technology and on fostering cooperation and diversity were included; thus the ESCI includes confidence scales for Using Technology, Cultural Sensitivity, and Teamwork. This issue of The Career Development Quarterly also includes the study of Paulsen and Betz (2004): Six of the Basic Confidence Scales from the ESCI–Mathematics, Science, Writing, Using Technology, Leadership, and Cultural Sensitivity–predicted 49% of the variance in career decision self-efficacy in college students. Other scales may be especially important for organizational counseling and interventions. For example, we have found that in the factor analyses of the ESCI (Betz et al., 2003), Leadership self-efficacy constitutes a large higher order factor in combination with self-efficacy for Public Speaking, Teaching/Training, Teamwork, and Organizational Management. Thus, training in leadership might include these as components areas for skill and self-efficacy development.

One particularly useful application of self-efficacy measures is the conjoint use of measures of interest and self-efficacy in suggesting and expanding clients’ career options (see also Betz, 1999). The simplest paradigm for this uses a two by two classification of interests and confidence for a given domain of behavior. For example, measures of both interests and confidence with respect to the six Holland theme areas would, it is hoped, yield one or more areas characterized by both high interests and high confidence. Majors or careers in these areas would be good options for the client to consider. Theme areas characterized by low interests and low efficacy would probably be worth avoiding. However, areas where there was interest but low confidence could become options if self-efficacy could be increased through a targeted intervention, to be described as follows.

Step 2: Counseling Interventions

After the counselor and client decide on domains of behavior where an increase in self-efficacy might be beneficial to the client’s future career development, a plan for the intervention(s) should be made. Interventions are based on Bandura’s four sources of efficacy information and should therefore ideally include (a) performance accomplishments, (b) vicarious learning or modeling, (c) managing anxiety, and (d) providing support and encouragement. Performance accomplishments have been found to be the most powerful type of intervention, but encouragement and support are things that most counselors already integrate into their counseling, thus focusing on at least these two could be a first step in designing the intervention.

In planning new successful performance accomplishments, opportunities should first be sought where success is virtually ensured. Only after there have been some success experiences should the client face more difficult challenges. Community or technical colleges offering entry-level or remedial courses, adult education programs, and programmed learning materials may be good sources for such learning. Within organizations, confidence can be built by breaking down large areas of behavior into smaller, more easily learned or mastered segments. Those who are instructing must expect and ensure success rather than failure; thus, mastery-oriented education rather than evaluations based on comparing one person with others is ideal.

In using modeling, the counselor must locate people who have succeeded in the area in which the client lacks efficacy. It is helpful, although not essential, if these models are the same race and gender as the client. This may be especially true if the domain of behavior is considered nontraditional for the client’s gender. For example, a woman teaching automobile maintenance and repair or carpentry to other women will provide helpful modeling effects, because these have been regarded as traditionally male domains. Similarly, a man teaching parenting to young men would provide the additional benefit of modeling a nontraditional competency. Models can be present in person, appear in film or on television, or can be found in books or other media. For example, a book on the life of a female astronaut or scientist could be a useful model for a young girl considering these fields.

Another source of efficacy information for use in an intervention is anxiety management. Learning new behaviors may be associated with anxiety, particularly if these are gender nontraditional domains. If a domain like math has been associated with males, and if a female client has internalized a message of “girls can’t do math,” anxiety will likely accompany new efforts to learn. Thus, anxiety management work may also be appropriate for such a client. Relaxation training and learning to consciously focus self-talk on the task rather than on the self can be helpful.

Finally, counselors can serve as their clients’ cheerleader as they try new things. This role includes general encouragement that clients CAN do it and, more specifically, reinforcing their efforts as they try new things. Helping clients set goals, reinforcing them when they achieve their goals, and helping them to try again when they have temporarily faltered are all important. Finally, the counselor can counter beliefs (such as “girls can’t do math”) that are getting in the way.

These components of an efficacy intervention can be effectively applied in groups, because the group members can then work together on anxiety management and serve as additional cheerleaders for each other. Groups also function to provide vicarious learning and modeling when group members see others within the group, who had also expressed feeling incompetent, succeed in the previously feared area.

Examples of Successful Interventions

Betz, Borgen, and Harmon (1996) have described in detail a successful intervention in individual career counseling with a client named Richard, a college student who was floundering because he did not have a major. Assessment using interests and self-efficacy as related to the six Holland theme areas (the SII and the Skills Confidence Inventory) indicated that Richard had only one area of high interest, that of Enterprising, which would suggest careers in business management or sales or those involving leadership activity of some type. But Richard was very low in self-efficacy with regard to this area–he was socially unskilled and unassertive. He had no Holland theme areas where he reported both high interest and high confidence, so his perceived career options were very limited.

After obtaining the results of this assessment, the counselor wondered whether it might be possible to increase Richard’s self-efficacy with regard to Enterprising skills, in particular, and social skills, more generally. The first step was training in communication skills and public speaking skills. The counseling center offered a social skills group for college students, and the community adult education program offered a course titled Practically Painless Public Speaking. Richard’s counselor convinced him to enroll in both and provided constant support and “cheerleading” for him as he went through these courses. She taught him how to do progressive muscle relaxation and to use this technique whenever he felt threatened or frightened by new experiences. Richard met other “kindred” students and adults who were fearful and thus learned that he was not alone in experiencing feelings of incompetence. The cumulative effects of this intervention were that Richard was able to declare a major in business and feel reasonably confident that he could succeed there. The intervention also greatly improved Richard’s social skills with his peer group.

An example of a group intervention is one designed by Betz and Schifano (2000) to increase self-efficacy in college women regarding Holland’s Realistic theme. The Realistic theme, important along with the Investigative theme in diverse engineering and technical fields, is that theme in which gender differences remain most persistent. The authors were interested in whether they could design a group intervention to increase Realistic self-efficacy in women that would also have the potential to increase their willingness to consider occupations in areas related to the Realistic theme.

For their intervention, Betz and Schifano (2000) selected college women with low levels of Realistic self-efficacy but moderate levels of Realistic interests. The group intervention for these women included all four of Bandura’s sources of efficacy information and focused on the following content areas: hand tool identification and usage; building and repairing useful objects such as bookcases, lamps, and sink drain pipes; and architectural design and engineering. During the instruction, members of the group took periodic breaks for structured relaxation exercises, positive self-talk, and group support. To meet the modeling component, the chief university architect, who was a woman, led the young women on a “hard hat” tour of major construction sites on campus, teaching them about the process of designing and constructing large buildings. The intervention ended with a “test” wherein each young woman was given a broken lamp to repair. As each one accomplished the task, she was given a brand new light bulb to serve as a test of her success (or failure). The light-turned-on was a literal as well as figurative symbol of each young woman’s success, which fortunately occurred in all cases.

The intervention, unlike the control condition, led to significant increases in Realistic self-efficacy for group members. As an example of the effectiveness of the treatment, no pretest treatment group participant had high Realistic confidence, but 62% of individuals in the posttest treatment group did. Realistic theme areas could now be included among their career options.

One of the reasons I am so interested in Realistic self-efficacy is that it is one of the areas where I myself was seriously lacking. I grew up in apartment buildings where landlords fixed things and took care of the grass, so I never really observed anyone doing those things. I grew up in a society where women cooked things and men fixed things, so I learned that “girls weren’t good with their hands.” As a high school student, I asked if I could take shop rather than home economics (I was not good at that either and hated it!!) but was told that “shop was only for boys.” So when I later became a homeowner, I was terrified to try any of the inevitable “fix-it” tasks required and instead called whatever repairman the job seemed to call for. In Bandura’s terms, I avoided even the simplest of behaviors. This situation became very expensive very quickly, and the moment of reckoning came when I called an electrician to change a fuse. When I greeted the two men at the door and told them what I needed, they snickered loudly and visibly. They also charged me the standard fee for a house call, which was an impressive hourly rate given that it took them only 30 seconds to change the fuse.

I was shamed into making a change in myself, and by that time I was aware of self-efficacy theory. So I designed a self-intervention. I asked friends to call me when they were doing home repairs so that I could come and watch and, as they performed their task, they could tell me the names of the tools or hardware that they were using. (I have discovered that knowing the names of things gives you a sense of control that you might not have had before.) I registered for a community education class in Simple Home Repairs. When I did call repairmen, I watched them to see what I could learn. I used self-talk and relaxation to combat gender stereo-typing–to remind myself that there was no reason that being a woman should prevent me from learning to distinguish a screw from a nail or to use a hammer without causing myself bodily harm. I asked my friends to support my efforts to become more efficacious in these endeavors.

Now, I will read a home-repair book to try to find out what is wrong. I will take a broken object apart to see if I can find the faulty piece. Or, most brilliantly, I will take the whatever off wherever it is and take it to the hardware store where they will sell me a new one. All of these activities qualify as approach behavior and signify that even if I eventually have to call the repairperson, I at least gave it a good old “college try” first. My self-intervention worked!

Finally, one of the rapidly increasing segments of the population needing both individual and group interventions involves older adults. The advanced years are a time of life when many people have the time to learn new interests and skills, but in many cases, low self-efficacy beliefs may prevent them from taking advantage of learning opportunities. For example, in a retirement community with which I am affiliated, all the older adults are invited to take computer classes that are offered in the building, yet some have such anxiety that they never go near the computer room. This is clearly an instance where avoidance ensures continued incompetence and low self-efficacy, and where a self-efficacy based intervention could be very useful. Another area of low self-efficacy among older adults is that of physical activity and exercise (Cousins, 1997). Becoming physically active has been shown to increase both physical and psychological health and longevity in older adults, yet many of them have never developed habits or skills in these areas prior to retirement and must be taught new skills.

More Comprehensive Social Cognitive Models

Although I have focused on the concept of self-efficacy expectations, this focus is not meant to suggest that other variables are not also important. Self-efficacy is part of the more comprehensive social cognitive model of career choice (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994, 2000), which includes a number of other variables. One of those originally postulated as important by Bandura (1977) is outcome expectations. Bandura (1997) defined outcome expectations as follows: “Perceived self-efficacy is a judgement of one’s ability to organize and execute given types of performance, whereas an outcome expectation is a judgement of the likely consequences such performances will produce” (p. 21). For example, a counselor could have high self-efficacy expectations about her or his ability to provide unconditional caring and regard to a client, yet be unable to guarantee that that behavior will lead to a successful client outcome. Career researchers have noted that outcome expectations may be especially important for members of traditionally underrepresented groups such as racial/ethnic or sexual orientation minorities, for whom barriers to their goals may be very real (see Fouad & Smith, 1996). For more information about outcome expectations and the broader social cognitive framework, the reader may wish to consult Lent et al. (1994, 2000).


Thus, I believe that self-efficacy theory and efficacy-based interventions can and should be added to the repertoire of career counselors. Self-efficacy theory and theory-based counseling have particular utility as a means of increasing perceived career options and for increasing success and the possibilities for advancement and enrichment in chosen or new careers. Counselors uncertain of how to begin to design an intervention based on self-efficacy theory might begin by noting where client self-perceived inadequacies are limiting their career options and achievements. Taking one behavioral domain at a time, a first step for intervention would be for the counselor to identify local resources that provide opportunities for achieving performance accomplishments. These may be community colleges or technical schools, adult education programs, and programmed learning systems. To assist the client to develop social confidence, the counselor could consult books on social skills training or work with the client in developing a graded series of social tasks that the client could use to practice his or her developing competencies. This is a situation in which groups, such as those involving assertiveness training, communication and inter-personal skills, and public speaking, can be very helpful, because others in the group are also self-identified as lacking in confidence. The counselor should be standing by with support and encouragement as the client tries these new activities and should be ready to provide extra doses of support if failure occurs. Although these will be the bases of the intervention, providing vicarious learning and modeling can be helpful when the counselor knows of, or can develop examples of, people who have succeeded in this activity. Finally, most counselors know some basic anxiety management techniques, including progressive muscle relaxation and positive self-talk, that the client can learn to associate with practice or performance of the previously feared behaviors. As with any new skill, the counselor will develop a broader repertoire of components for self-efficacy interventions as time goes on and as he or she makes it a point to address and treat problems of low self-efficacy in clients.


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Nancy E. Betz, Department of Psychology, The Ohio State University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Nancy E. Betz, Department of Psychology, 137 Townshend Hall, 1885 Neil Avenue, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210 (e-mail:

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