Career Advising: What Academic Advisers Need to Know

Susan D. Bates, Tidewater Tech Online

Professionals come to academic advising from many different backgrounds and with varying competencies and comfort levels in career advising. While many academic advisers are familiar with career advising, some are not. Having at least a basic knowledge of career advising is essential in order to effectively advise students academically. Because many students equate decisions about college majors to career choices (Gordon, 2005), they expect their academic advisers to have adequate career knowledge to assist them in their career decision-making process. Academic advisers who have enough knowledge to answer basic career-related questions will instill confidence in their advisees.

In addition, academic advisers with sufficient knowledge of career advising know when to refer students to a career counselor and understand what the counselor will be able to do for the student. According to Gordon (1995), “Referring too quickly or too broadly can add to the student's confusion. Students should have an understanding of what areas of study they are considering before a referral is made” (p. 115).

A novice adviser with insufficient career-advising experience must take steps to become comfortable with career advising. This paper is intended to familiarize new advisers with basic career-advising information and tools. In addition, academic advisers should become familiar with the career counselors and services provided at their campuses. This will ensure that advisers are knowledgeable about the services offered at their campuses and can determine when referrals will be most effective.

Essentials of Career Theory

There are many theories about career development and career selection. Below is a brief explanation of a few relevant career theories, though a more in-depth look at these and other theories is recommended.

Super's Developmental Theory

Donald Super theorized that career development takes place throughout an individual's lifespan on a continual, and often irreversible, course. According to his theory, individuals select occupations that are consistent with their self-concepts. The individual's self-concept is developed over time through past experiences. Super explained that career development takes place in five stages: growth, exploratory, establishment, maintenance, and decline (Herr & Cramer, 1996).

Holland's Classification System

John Holland theorized that a fit between a person's interests and his or her occupation will bring about job satisfaction and success. He theorized that both people and work environments can be classified into categories using the top three of the following characteristics: realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional. Realistic tasks are ones that involve manual and mechanical activities. Investigative tasks are analytical or intellectual. Artistic tasks focus on creative work. Social tasks involve working with and helping others, and enterprising tasks involve leading and motivating others. Conventional tasks include work with numbers and objects (The Self-Directed Search, n.d.).

Betz and Hackett's Career Decision-Making Self-Efficacy Theory

Nancy Betz and Gail Hackett applied Bandura's Self-Efficacy Theory to career decision making. This theory states that individuals are more likely to select, begin, and persist in occupations in which they are confident of their ability to succeed. According to the theory, confidence in one's ability to perform tasks associated with various occupations develops through accomplishments, encouragement from others, the presence of role models similar to themselves, and low anxiety related to occupational tasks (Betz, 2004; Gainor, 2006; Taylor & Betz, 1983).

Marcia's Identity Development Theory

James Marcia expanded upon Erik Erikson's work on adolescent development. Marcia theorized that during late adolescence, individuals reach one of four career identities: achievement, moratorium, foreclosure, or diffusion. Individuals who have reached the achievement stage have made a firm commitment to a career field after thorough exploration. Individuals who are in moratorium are still in the exploration stage of their career-identity searches. Foreclosed individuals have made an unquestioned, firm commitment to a career field, typically adopting the desires of their parents. Identity-diffused individuals either have not entered the exploratory stage or have abandoned it (Raskin, 1989).

Types of Undecided Students

Students who have not yet decided on majors or careers have unique needs. These needs, in part, vary according to the reasons behind their indecision. It is important to understand these reasons, in order to best help the student. Although there are many different reasons for career indecision, some common possibilities include: Psychometric Resources

There is a vast array of psychometric tools designed to help students narrow down possible career choices. In many cases, it is a career counselor who administers the career tests; however, it also can be helpful if the academic adviser is familiar with the psychometric tools used by the career center. While testing can give students information about themselves and the world of work, it will not select a major or career for them. Since students often believe the tests will make decisions for them, it is important to explain that testing is only one tool they can use to assist them along their decision-making journey (Gordon, 1995).

A few psychometric career tools include: Activities to Assist Exploratory Students

Academic advisers can engage in a variety of activities with their advisees to assist them in beginning their career-exploration journey.

Asking Questions

Questions that advisers can ask students to start them thinking about majors and careers include: Typical-Day-at-Work Fantasy

Ask the students to close their eyes, and then guide them through a typical day at work. Along the way, ask them to picture important details, including the time of day they begin work, the type of clothes they are wearing, and the type of interactions (if any) they have with others during the day. After the fantasy, ask the students to describe what they envisioned. This will provide important clues for assisting the student.

The Holland Party Game

The party game is based on Holland's theory. The adviser must first familiarize the students with Holland's codes. Once the advisee understands the codes, the adviser explains that the students go to a party and want to be with people there like themselves. There are groups of people in different areas of the party that correspond to each of Holland's codes. The adviser asks the students which group of people they first approach. This group represents the first letter in each student's three-letter code. The students are then told that the first group of people leaves the party, and they must decide who they will approach next. This continues until the students have completed three-letter codes for themselves. They can then look at occupations associated with their three-letter codes and create more manageable lists of occupations to research.

List Elimination

The adviser begins by giving students a list of possible majors. The students immediately cross out every major that does not interest them. If a major on the list is unfamiliar to the students, they do not cross it out. They next look at course descriptions for the remaining majors and cross off any that they can definitely eliminate at that point. This yields more manageable lists of majors for the students to research. They then explore the remaining majors by using resources from the career library and online resources and by talking with faculty members in each of the remaining majors.

Resources Online

A few online resources are listed below to help advisers and advisees research career-related information: References

Betz, N. E. (2004). Contributions of self-efficacy theory to career counseling: A personal perspective [Electronic version]. The Career Development Quarterly, 52(4), 340–353.

Gainor, K. A. (2006). Twenty-five years of self-efficacy in career assessment and practice [Electronic version]. Journal of Career Assessment, 14(1), 161–178.

Gordon, V. N. (1995). The undecided college student: An academic and career advising challenge (2nd ed.). Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.

Gordon, V. N. (2005, December). What is your career advising IQ? Academic Advising Today, 28(4). Retrieved June 19, 2007, from

Herr, E. L., & Cramer, S. H. (1996). Career guidance and counseling through the lifespan (5th ed.) New York: Harper Collins.

Raskin, P. M. (1989). Identity status research: Implications for career counseling. [Electronic version]. Journal of Adolescence, 12, 375–388.

Taylor, K. M., & Betz, N. E. (1983). Applications of self-efficacy theory to the understanding and treatment of career indecision. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 22, 63–81.

The Self-Directed Search (n.d.). Retrieved June 19, 2007, from

About the Author

Susan D. Bates is career services adviser at Tidewater Tech Online in Virginia Beach, VA. She can be reached at or 757-233-6567, ext. 263.

Published in The Mentor on July 25, 2007, by Penn State's Division of Undergraduate Studies
Available online at
Privacy and Legal Statements | Copyright | © The Pennsylvania State University | All rights reserved