College Student Journal

An Investigation Of Career Decidedness In Relation To “Big Five” Personality Constructs And Life Satisfaction

An Investigation Of Career Decidedness In Relation To “Big Five” Personality Constructs And Life Satisfaction

John W. Lounsbury

Drawing on research on careers, career indecision, and personality, this study examined career decidedness in relation to life satisfaction and the “Big Five” personality constructs of neuroticism, extroversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Both general and work-based Big Five measures were studied. Participants were 249 undergraduates at a large southeastern U.S. university with representation from all four years. For both general and work-based Big Five measures, results showed that career decidedness was positively and significantly related to life satisfaction, agreeableness, and conscientiousness as well as negatively related to neuroticism. Findings were discussed in relation to construct validation for career decidedness, as well as career planning and future research directions.

This paper is concerned with personality correlates of career decidedness among college students. The general topic of careers has become increasingly differentiated in recent research and theorizing on college students as can be seen in such diverse topics as career counseling (Coker, 1994), gender differences (Schroeder, Blood, & Maluso, 1993), career expectations (Heckert & Wallis, 1998), non-traditional student career trajectories (Kinsella, 1998), career choice determinants (Keller, Piotrowski, & Rabold, 1990), vocational identity (Zagora & Cramer, 1994), and career needs of students with disabilities (Aune & Kroeger, 1997).

A more focused line of inquiry concerns the issue of vocational indecision (Callis, 1965) and, more recently, its counterpart–career decidedness–which is conceptualized as “a continuous variable ranging from a self-perception of completely decided to completely undecided” (Jones & Chenery, 1980). As noted by Super (1988), deciding on a career to pursue is a fundamental task of early adulthood. Not surprisingly, there has been extensive research on career decidedness (cf. the review by Gordon 1998). Moreover, a number of studies have examined personality correlates of career decidedness, including such constructs as state-trait anxiety (Fuqua, Blum, & Hartman, 1988), self-efficacy (Larson, Hepner, Ham, & Dugan, 1988), and self-esteem (Chartrand, Martin, Robbins, McAuliffe, Pickering, & Calliotte, 1994). However, we could not identify any research that has investigated career-decidedness in relation to the “Big Five” personality constructs.

Increasingly, personality psychologists are beginning to accept that there are five major dimensions of personality derived from factor-analytic studies over the past 40 years (Costa & McCrae, 1985; Digman, 1990; John, 1990). The five factors, often referred to as the “Big Five”, represent the hierarchical organization of personality traits and consist of Neuroticism, Extroversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. During the last decade, the “Big Five” model of personality has become widely accepted as the most parsimonious and well-validated model of traits among personality researchers. The Big Five have been described as ” … a universal descriptive framework … for the comprehensive assessment of individuals” (McCrae, 1989, p. 243). These five robust factors of personality have been consistently observed in both children and adults, have strong relationships to actual behavior, and have been found to remain relatively stable throughout the life span (Costa & McCrae, 1994). Goldberg (1992) has referred to the five factor model as a “quiet revolution occurring in personality psychology” (p. 26).

To further explore the construct validity and nomological network (Messick, 1989)for career decidedness, we examined career decidedness in relation to the Big Five constructs as measured by the short form of Costa and McCrae’s NEO-PI-R, the NEO Five-Factor Inventory (Costa & McCrae, 1989). In accordance with the suggestion by Schmit, Ryan, Stierwalt, and Powell (1995) that the validity of personality measures used for the realm of work (and careers) can be enhanced by using work-related phrasing in scale items, we also investigated career-decidedness in relation to a work-based Big 5 personality inventory developed by Lounsbury and Gibson (1998). In addition, in view of research which suggests that career-decided students have higher levels of life satisfaction (Arnold, 1989), a measure of general life satisfaction was also included in this study.

The purpose of the present study was to examine career-decidedness in relation to the Big Five personality constructs, measured in terms of general Big Five dimensions and work-related Big Five dimensions. Specifically, we investigated whether career-decidedness in college students is significantly related to Neuroticism, Extroversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. Also, we examined the relationship between career decidedness and life satisfaction.



Students enrolled in psychology courses at a large southeastern state university were recruited to participate in a study about career decision-making and personality. Data were collected from 249 undergraduate students (33% male, 67% female). Students were offered extra credit in their respective courses for participation. Thirty-seven percent of the participants were Freshmen; 25%, Sophomores; 22%, Juniors; and 16%, Seniors.


Participants were administered a set of questionnaires in the laboratory. The following measures were included:

Career-Decidedness Inventory. This is a 14-item scale developed in a pilot study by the authors to reflect the degree to which individuals feel decided about their career choice (following the conceptual definitions of Gordon, 1998 and Jones & Chenery, 1980). Examples of item wording for the career decidedness scale are: “I have made a definite decision about a career for myself”, “I’m still thinking about the kind of job I want in the future” (reverse-scored), and “I am sure about what I eventually want to do for a living.” Responses are recorded on a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 5 (Strongly Agree) with Neutral/Undecided midpoint. Coefficient alpha for this scale in the present study = .95. [A copy of this scale is available from the Senior Author.]

NEO Five-Factor Inventory. The NEO-FFI (Costa & McCrae, 1989) is a 60-item, shortened form of the NEO-PI-R (Costa & McCrae, 1992). The NEO-FFI consists of the 12 items on each factor of the NEO-PI-R that have the highest positive or negative loading. Responses are reported on a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 5 (Strongly Agree). Costa & McCrae (1992) have reported coefficient alphas for each of the 12-item scales as .86 (Neuroticism), .77 (Extroversion), .73 (Openness to Experience), .68 (Agreeableness), and .81 (Conscientiousness). Coefficient alphas in this study for the five scales were: Neuroticism–.88; Extroversion–.80; Openness–.73; Agreeableness–.73; and Conscientiousness–.85.

Personal Style Inventory. This is a 78-item inventory developed to measure the Big Five constructs in the context of work (Lounsbury & Gibson, 1998). Each item is placed on a five-point Likert scale with bipolar verbal anchors. For example, in the following work-based conscientiousness item, participants are asked to choose the point on the scale most reflective of them.

I like to keep my work neat and organized, but not if it means getting

behind schedule.

Coefficient alphas in this study for the five scales were .81 (Neuroticism), .86 (Extroversion), .79 (Openness to Experience), .79 (Agreeableness), and .79 (Conscientiousness).

Life Satisfaction Scale A 21-item scale was constructed based on life satisfaction measures presented by Campbell, Converse, and Rodgers (1976) and Andrews and Withey (1976). Items measured satisfaction with such domains as friends, social life, free-time, health, major, fun, and one’s life as a whole. Each item was measured on a seven-point scale ranging from 1 (“Very Dissatisfied”) to 7 (“Very Satisfied”) with a midpoint of 4 (“Neutral”). Coefficient alpha for this scale in the present study was .88.


Table 1 represents the descriptive statistics and the correlation matrix for career decidedness, NEO-FFI and Personal Style Inventory. The pattern of significant correlations between the career decidedness and Big Five constructs was very similar for both types of measures. Career decidedness was negatively correlated with the NEO measure of neuroticism (r = -.30, p [is less than] .01) and positively correlated with the NEO measures of agreeableness (r=.18, p [is less than] .05) and conscientiousness (r=.25, p [is less than] .01). For the work-related Big Five measures, career decidedness was also negatively correlated with neuroticism (r=.29, p [is less than] .01)and positively correlated with agreeableness (r=.14, p [is less than] .05) and conscientiousness (r=.17, p [is less than] .05). In addition, career-decidedness was positively and significantly correlated with life satisfaction (r=.42; p [is less than] .01).

Table 1 Descriptive Statistics and Intercorrelations for Study Variables

(1) (2) (3)

Career-Decidedness (1) — .30(*) .10


Neuroticism (2) — .34(**) -.17(*)

Extroversion (3) —

Openness (4)

Agreeableness (5)

Conscientiousness (6)

Personal Style Inventory:

Neuroticism (7)

Extroversion (8)

Openness (9)

Agreeableness (10)

Conscientiousness (11)

Life Satisfaction (12)

Mean 3.49 2.87 3.67

Standard Deviation .59 .74 52.00

(4) (5) (6) (7)

Career-Decidedness .11 .18(*) .25(**) -.29(**)


Neuroticism -.25(**) -.32(**) .70(**) -.19(*)

Extroversion .11 .33(**) .09 -.38(**)

Openness — .10 .16(*) -.13(*)

Agreeableness — .32(**) -.37(**)

Conscientiousness — .35(**)

Personal Style


Neuroticism —





Life Satisfaction

Mean 3.45 3.64 3.47 2.87

Standard Deviation .53 .45 .57 .59

(8) (9) (10)

Career-Decidedness .01 .09 .14(*)


Neuroticism -.20(**) -.26(**) .06

Extroversion .72(**) .24(**) .26(**)

Openness .11 .60(**) .08

Agreeableness .24 .16 .67(**)

Conscientiousness .02 .08 .30(**)

Personal Style Inventory:

Neuroticism -.30(**) -.25(**) -.17(*)

Extroversion — .24(**) .38(**)

Openness — .07

Agreeableness —


Life Satisfaction

Mean 3.64 3.92 3.05

Standard Deviation .66 .55 .58

(11) (12)

Career-Decidedness 17(*) .425(**)


Neuroticism -.51(**)

Extroversion .06 .47(**)

Openness .05 .04

Agreeableness .11 .35(**)

Conscientiousness .60(**) .31(**)

Personal Style Inventory:

Neuroticism -.38(**) -.58(**)

Extroversion .20(*) .34(**)

Openness .15(*) .07

Agreeableness .26(*) .34(**)

Conscientiousness — .17(*)

Life Satisfaction —

Mean 3.00 5.22

Standard Deviation .61 .83

(**) p<.01

(*) p<.05


The present study suggests that, while career decidedness is a relatively new construct which measures a specific stage of career development, it is significantly related to three core personality constructs, measured both in terms of general personality dispositions and as work-based personality traits. That career decidedness is significantly negatively related to neuroticism is not surprising. College students who are having difficulty choosing a career and subsequent vocational path would be more likely to experience worry, distress, tension, anxiety, and other features inherent in the Big 5 definition of neurotic, ism (Costa & McCrae, 1985). Indeed, Fuqua, Blum, and Hartman (1988) described college students who are chronically undecided as showing “excessive anxiety.” However, the question of the direction of this relationship still remains. That is, does neuroticism cause career indecision, or vice-versa, do these variables interact, do they reflect reciprocal causation?

In a somewhat similar vein, the Big Five definition of conscientiousness emphasizes such pro-social attributes as orderliness, self-discipline, deliberation, dependability, and competence (Hogan & Ones, 1997; Costa & McCrae, 1985). Career decidedness is a logically related correlate, if not an outcome, of such characteristics. Students who are organized, disciplined, and structured in their approach to career choice can be expected to display higher levels of career decidedness.

Less clear is the positive relationship between career decidedness and agreeableness. Agreeableness comprises such attributes as being kind, trusting, considerate, and cooperative (Graziano & Eisenberg, 1997; Costa & McCrae, 1985). Low scores on agreeableness are often associated with people being more distrusting, argumentative, selfish, and hostile (ibid). One can speculate on a variety of factors which could explain the career decidedness-agreeableness linkage, it may be that agreeable students are more willing to engage in career planning, more likely to trust information about career choices, and more inclined to seek out and listen to the advice of others. In contrast, disagreeable students may be less likely to have others offer help, advice, and encouragement about career planning and decision-making. An interesting question is whether reaching a career decision affects subsequent agreeableness. Future research in this area could try to clarify the dynamics of the career decidedness-agreeableness relationship.

The present study is also consistent with the notion that higher levels of career decidedness are associated with higher levels of life satisfaction (Arnold, 1989). This is an important finding for the construct validation of career decidedness as life satisfaction is a key outcome variable which has been found to be related to many different aspects of life experience and psychological functioning (Campbell et al., 1976; Andrews & Withey, 1976).

Professionals involved in the career planning and development process for college students may want to recognize that career decidedness is related to these three core personality characteristics and tailor their approaches accordingly. For example, administration of a Big Five personality measure prior to a career guidance, counseling, or planning program or service (see Zunker, 1990, Chapter 5, for a more comprehensive listing of such activities), could help inform the service provider and allow more differentiated approach to service delivery. Students who are engaging in the career planning and choice process would also surely find such information useful.

In conclusion, the present study extends the nomological network for career decidedness to include empirically verified relationships with the Big Five personality constructs of neuroticism, conscientiousness, and agreeableness as well as life satisfaction. Future research could attempt to replicate such results in other settings as well as begin to unravel the causal dynamics of such relationships.


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