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Social Cognitive Career Theory

Working is a crucial aspect of one’s life, it is not just a source of survival but something that gives identity and structure to individual’s life. An individual spends a substantial amount of time working and it impacts every domain of an individual’s life. Career development is a concept that helps individuals understand themselves as they relate to the world of work and their role in it. It is a continuous process that starts in the childhood and lasts through life time. Over a period of time number of career theories have been proposed each with its own strengths and limitations. It began with Frank Parson proposing a trait-factor approach in the early twentieth century (Betz, Fitzgerald, & Hill, 1989; Zunker, 2002), and slowly evolved to become a rather mature discipline today with a strong empirical and theoretical base.

Overview of Social Cognitive Career Theory

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Social cognitive career theory was developed by Robert W. Lent, Steven D. Brown, and Gail Hackett in 1994 and is based on Albert Bandura’s general social cognitive theory. Banduras theory stresses on the complexity of the ways in which individuals, environments and their behavior influence one another. The theory focuses on the ever-changing relationship among social cognitive variables (outcome expectations, goals, self-efficacy) and their relationship with environmental and personal influences (social supports, gender, family) to understand career success and vocational choices of people (Brown & Lent, 2005).

The authors of SCCT theorized that with confidence and self-efficacy people can successfully perform a task, and these two also have a mutual relationship with outcome expectations. Self-efficacy and outcome expectations than have an impact on the level or type of interest an individual has. An individual performs various activities through his educational career but only those activities or interest would persist in which individual anticipates positive outcome (Lent, 1994). The goals that an individual has and the behavior they would pursue depends upon their interests. Finally, self-efficacy and these behaviors predict performance. All these combined factors and individuals experience of success and failure determines future self-efficacy and cycle begins.

Theory assumes that individuals are agents who can exercise self-direction and in the process face barriers and environmental support which can impact them positively or negatively. The theory intends to explain three interrelated concepts :

  1. how basic academic and career interests develop,
  2. how educational and career choices are made, and
  3. how academic and career success is obtained. The emphasis is on three core variables, which are self-efficacy, outcome expectations, and personal goals.


Self-efficacy is an individual’s personal beliefs about his or her capabilities to attain designated types of performances. There is a tendency to confuse self-esteem and self-efficacy however self-efficacy beliefs are relatively dynamic (i.e., changeable) and are exclusive to particular activity domains. In simple words it is a person’s belief in their capacity to do a particular task. The question arises as to how self-efficacy is formed. These beliefs begin to form in early childhood and keep evolving based on the kind of experiences an individual has. These beliefs do not end during youth instead keep developing throughout life as people face new situations and form new understanding. According to Bandura (1992) there are four major sources of self-efficacy:

  1. personal performance accomplishments,
  2. vicarious learning,
  3. social persuasion, and
  4. physiological and affective states (Bandura, 1997).

He explained that when an individual performs a task successfully it strengthens his sense of self efficacy and failure to do so would undermine his self-efficacy. Modeling other people who have been successful or getting positive assertions, verbal encouragement from others can enhance self-efficacy. Finally, our emotional reactions and responses to situations also impact self-efficacy, minimizing stress and elevating mood aids in self-efficacy. People vary in their self-efficacy for example, one person might feel very confident in being able to accomplish tasks in, educational fields but feel much less confident about his or her abilities in social or marketing fields. SCCT assumes that strong self-efficacy beliefs in a certain field encourage them to become interested and pursue that profession. However, it is important that they also have necessary skills and environmental supports to pursue these activities.

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Outcome expectations

Outcome expectations is a reflection of individuals’ beliefs about the consequences if a particular behavior is performed. For example, a student might expect that if he gives a good speech everyone else would praise and cheer or him. These expectations are formed as a result of vicarious learning and individuals own experiences in the world. They play a crucial role in a person’s decision making, the tendency to perform a task is more when the outcome expectation associated with it is positive. Self-efficacy and outcome expectancies judgments differ because individuals might believe in positive outcome expectations of a task, but still take no action on that outcome belief because they question whether they can actually execute the necessary activity. For example, an individual feel that medical career with give him both money and fame but doubt of he or she has the capability to study difficult subjects like science.

Personal Goals. may be defined as one’s intention to engage in a particular activity or to produce a particular outcome (Bandura, 1986). By setting personal goals, people help to organize, direct, and sustain their own behavior, even over long intervals without external payoffs. Perceived perception of progress towards goals impacts the individuals sense of satisfaction or dissatisfaction.

The theory maintains that individual’s sense of self efficacy and outcome expectation has an impact on people’s choices and performance goals. Progress towards goals reciprocally influences self-efficacy and outcome expectations.

SCCT models

SCCT currently consists of four conceptually distinct yet overlapping models focusing on:

  1. the development of interests,
  2. the making of choices,
  3. the influences on and results of performance, and
  4. the experience of satisfaction, or well-being, in educational and occupational spheres.

The model of triadic reciprocity, which was originally used in SCT theory is also utilized in SCCT theory which helps in providing a structure for the relationships among people, the environment in which they function and their behaviors (Brown & Lent, 1996). In SCCT, the concept of triadic reciprocality is further expanded to describe three distinct, yet overlapping models: the Interest model, the Performance model, and the Choice model (Lent et al., 1994).

Interest model

Self-efficacy and outcome expectations regarding particular activities influence the career interests of people. Interest would be more when individual perceives that they are competent and the activity would lead to positive outcome. The Interest model focuses on the relationships among emergent interests, outcome expectations, and self-efficacy and together their combined effects on sustainment of personal goals and development. Development of interest increases the likelihood of goal development and practice. Whether these interest would change or solidify would depend upon whether the person was exposed to learning experiences and how they had an impact on self-efficacy and outcome expectations.

This model also stresses on the importance of abilities and values in interest formation. Values are individual’s personal preferences in a work environment or reinforcers e.g. money, power etc. Self-efficacy works as an intervening link between interest and abilities. Objective ability (test scores, trophies) has an impact on self-efficacy beliefs which ultimately impacts an individuals interest. Self-efficacy and outcome expectations do not exist in vacuum rather they function in the context of other aspects of persons and their environments, such as socioeconomic conditions, gender, disability status etc.

Choice model

Making a career choice is not a single step which exists in isolation, instead it is a part of a larger set of dynamic processes. This is a complex model which explains interaction of various factors that influence career choices over time and includes self-efficacy, outcome expectations, interests, learning experiences, and past performance accomplishments. Based on self-efficacy, outcome expectations, interests, and skills in different performance domains an individual makes certain career choices. Some career paths seem more attractive and viable as compared to others. However, individuals keep revisiting and revising their chosen paths as they keep experiencing new situations and circumstances. New opportunities might open up, values and interest could change and individual could experience unique barriers. All these together make career choice an unfolding and dynamic process. Environment plays a significant role in these career choices, it is a bilateral process where the environment also has to be receptive to individual’s choices. A person’s vocational interest might steer him to certain career choices and right environment and support would enable him to fulfill his career choices. However, a suppressive and non-supportive environment like parental pressure, gender bias, discrimination, might have an adverse impact. Therefore, interest alone would not be a decisive factor in making a career choice and this theory takes into consideration other such factors. SCCT theory divides these influences into two distinct categories: proximal environmental influences and distal background influences (gender, culture etc.).

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Performance model. This model focus on the importance of persistence in career paths or choices when met with obstacles. However, it stresses that persistence alone cannot be a benchmark to determine success as there are various other factors that impact a decision to make change in career path.

Review of Literature

There is sufficient evidence which suggests that social cognitive variables aid in understanding of educational and career behavior before, during, and after work entry. This theory has enhanced our understanding of Holland’s six RIASEC interest themes (artistic, realistic, social investigative, conventional and enterprising) (Nauta, Kahn, Angell, & Cantarelli, 2002).Hackett and Betz (1981) were the pioneers who studied the relationship between self-efficacy expectations and vocational achievement and it was seen that achievements, career decisions, behaviors and achievements, were influenced by self-efficacy beliefs in both young women and men (Hackett & Betz, 1981; Taylor & Betz, 1983). The research further confirmed the authors’ hypotheses: wherein there were significant sex differences in reported self-efficacy in gender-traditional and non-traditional careers. However, women reported lower self-efficacy for non-traditional (vs. traditional) occupations and males had overall equivalent self-efficacy in traditional and non-traditional occupations, despite the fact that the men and women had equivalent abilities. In a study conducted on Korean agriculture students it was seen that self-efficacy belief, gender and outcome expectation explain 45% of the role of students’ career intention variable (Esters and Knobloch 2007). Over the last 2 decades, research on college sample has consistently shown that there are positive relationships among self-efficacy, career decision-making and many career-related constructs.

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Social Cognitive Career Theory
Working is a crucial aspect of one’s life, it is not just a source of survival but something that gives identity and structure to individual’s life. An individual spends a substantial amount of time working and it impacts every domain of an individual’s life. Career development is a concept that helps individuals understand themselves as they relate to the world of work and their role in it. It is a continuous process that starts in the childhood and lasts through life time. Over a period
2021-08-26 04:57:32
Social Cognitive Career Theory
$ 13.900 2018-12-31
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