Role model influence on the career decidedness of college students

Role model influence on the career decidedness of college students

Kristin M. Perrone

The purpose of this study was to examine role-model influence on the career decidedness of college students within the context of the Social Learning Theory of Career Decision-Making (SLTCDM; Krumboltz, 1981). Participants (N=405) completed questionnaires regarding demographic information, identification of a role model, role-model supportiveness, role-model relationship quality, and career decidedness. Results of Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) indicated that role-model supportiveness and role-model relationship quality contributed significantly to the career decidedness of participants. Implications for career counselors were discussed.


The college years are a crucial time for career-related decision-making. College students are faced with the need to choose an academic major as well as to develop career goals for the future (Guerra & Braungart-Rieker, 1999). Career indecision is often thought of as a developmental phase through which college students pass on the road to making a career choice (Gordon, 1998). Career indecision is negatively related to adjustment and well-being for college students (Kenny & Rice, 1995).

The Social Learning Theory of Career Decision-Making (SLTCDM; Krumboltz, 1981) provides a useful framework for organizing and explaining findings related to career decidedness. The SLTCDM applies social learning theory to the career realm, and emphasizes the importance of role models in career decision-making. Krumboltz asserts that career indecision is a consequence of unsatisfactory or insufficient opportunities for learning, including vicarious learning through role models (Krumboltz, 1981). The choice of role model involves factors such as similarity (e.g., same gender) and positive attributes of the model. Individuals are most likely to benefit from a supportive, high quality role model relationship. Benefits include greater readiness to make career decisions.

Research has shown an association between career decidedness and the influence of role models (Anderson, 1995; Ragins, 1997). Betz (1989) discussed the “null environment” in which career development is neither actively hindered nor promoted. She noted the importance of role models and mentors in facilitating positive career development, particularly for women (Betz, 1989). Mere exposure to role models is not always sufficient. Role model supportiveness and relationship quality are key characteristics of role model influence on career factors (Nauta, Epperson, & Kahn, 1998).

The purpose of this study is to extend the existing understanding of the influence of role models on college students’ career decidedness. Specifically, the authors will investigate the role-model characteristics that help decrease career indecision among college men and women. It is hypothesized that role-model supportiveness and relationship quality will contribute to career decidedness.



Participants were 405 (280 female, 125 male) volunteers from undergraduate psychology classes at a large southeastern university. Participants were between 18 and 25 years old. This age represents a crucial period of career and identity development, when students are likely to be making career decisions (Super, 1984). Of the 405 participants, 238 were Caucasian; 101 were African-American; 44 were Asian-American; and 22 were Native American or Latino/Latina.


Demographic information. Gender, age, race, and other demographic information was collected with a general demographic questionnaire.

Career Decidedness. Career Decidedness was assessed using the Career Factors Inventory (CFI; Chartrand, Robbins, Morrill, & Boggs, 1990). The CFI is a 21-item scale that measures career indecision. Two-week test-retest reliability estimates for ranged from .79 to .84. Internal consistency estimates ranged from .87 to .91 (Chartrand & Nutter, 1996). The CFI exhibits substantial validity against several criteria (see Chartrand & Nutter, 1996).

Role-model supportiveness. Two items were used to measure role-model supportiveness (informational and instrumental). Items were: “please rate how supportive your role model was/is to you in terms of providing information support (e.g., extra help with academic subjects or career exploration)” and “please rate how supportive your role model was/is to you in terms of providing instrumental support (e.g., `hands on’ help with academic or career-related tasks).” Participants were asked to rate supportiveness on a 5-point Likert-type scale (1=very unsupportive, 5= very supportive). Examination of coefficient alpha (.79) indicated adequate internal consistency for the two-item scale.

Quality of relationship between participant and role model. A 5-point Likert-type item measured the quality of the relationship between the participant and role model. The item stated “please rate the overall quality of your relationship with your role model.” Participants rated relationship quality (1= very low quality, 5=very high quality).


Participants were recruited from undergraduate psychology classes and were given extra credit for participation in the study. Participants read and signed informed consent forms before completing questionnaires. After completing the questionnaires, participants were given a debriefing form that explained the purpose and hypotheses of the investigation.


The mean career decidedness score was 60.8 (SD = 13.9, range= 21-105), indicating a moderate level of decidedness. The mean for role-model supportiveness was 8.37 (SD=1.5, range=1-10), and the mean for quality of the role-model relationship was 4.26 (range= 1-5), indicating that participants generally felt supported by and had a high-quality relationship with their role models. Correlations between career decidedness and role model supportiveness (pearson r = .13), and between career decidedness and relationship quality (pearson r = .17) were significant at the .01 level.

Chi-square analyses were conducted to examine whether gender was a factor in role-model selection. Out of 280 female participants, 205 chose female role models (73%), and out of 125 male participants, 85 chose male role models (68%); Chi Square = 63.69, (p > .01). The most commonly cited role models were parents, especially the same-gender parent.

Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) was used to address our hypothesis that role-model supportiveness and relationship quality would significantly predict level of career decidedness. Results supported this hypothesis, indicating that role model supportiveness (F = 8.45, p < .01) and role-model relationship quality (F = 7.83,12 < .01) contributed significantly to the career decidedness of college students in the present sample.


This study focused on the mechanisms of role-model influence for college student career decidedness. The majority of participants selected same-gender role models, which is consistent with past research (Anderson, 1995). The finding that role model supportiveness and relationship quality contributed to the career decidedness of college students lends support to the SLTCDM (Krumboltz, 1981) and builds on previous research by Nauta and colleagues (1998) who found that positivity of role models predicted career aspirations of women in sciences and mathematics. Based on findings from the present study, it seems that a supportive, high-quality role model relationship can benefit both male and female college students as they make career decisions.

Implications for Career Counselors

Role models can influence career indecision in a variety of ways. First, the individual must identify with a role model. Second, individuals must seek to build a high quality relationship with the role model. Role models may influence modelees’ career indecision, not only by direct modeling and imitation, but also by offering support and fostering a healthy relationship with the modelee.

Career counselors can help clients identify potential role models with whom they might develop supportive, high-quality relationships. Career counselors may also serve as role models themselves, through the use of self-disclosure or by demonstrating appropriate career exploration and decision-making behaviors. Since the same-gender parent is often an important role model, counselors may focus on parent-child relationships as well. Such secure relationships may decrease career indecision for college students or other career counseling clients.


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