Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences

Living Edition
| Editors: Virgil Zeigler-Hill, Todd K. Shackelford

Vocational Selection

  • Utteeyo DasguptaEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_802-1


Labor Market Condition Wage Elasticity Vocational Guidance Vocational Training Program Vocational Choice 
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Vocational selection involves issues related to guidance toward, and principles of, vocation selection. It can also include discussions and methods of choosing and placing workers in particular job positions.


The term Vocational selection has multiple meanings depending on the context (Kornhauser 1922). A broader interpretation involves topics related to vocational guidance, research on education selection as well as guidance principles toward such selections. A narrower interpretation focuses on ways to choose workers to fill particular jobs. We primarily focus on the broader context in this entry.

Theories of Vocational Selection

Selecting a vocation is a multidimensional and complicated decision, driven by many different issues. While it is typically determined during the formative years, often workers at a later stage of their lives choose, change, and pursue different vocations as well. The theories of vocational selection can primarily be explained using two different sets of variables that are discipline specific. In economics, it is assumed to be a function of the current labor market conditions, along with expected wages in the chosen vocation. In psychology, it is typically explained in terms of the personality traits and how that influences choice of vocation. However, the two need not be exclusive to each other. In fact personality traits can plausibly influence how a decision maker evaluates current and future labor market conditions when choosing to invest toward a vocation. Ideally, the decision-maker (sometimes with the help of family or counselors, especially if in formative years) takes into account their intrinsic abilities and preferences when deciding to invest in human capital (or a vocation) while being mindful of future labor market conditions that include wages and job opening among other things.

Selected Applications and Findings

A considerable work on the issue of vocation selection was developed in the early to mid-1900s in psychology. Most prominent and influential is Holland’s (1959) work that developed a theory of vocational choice aimed at matching workers with work environments. Holland (1997) observed that individuals search and choose work environments that can allow them to “exercise their skills and abilities, express their attitudes and values, and take on agreeable problems and roles” (p. 4). Accordingly, Holland’s theory of RIASEC types proposes that the majority of people can be classified by a combination of six personality types: (1) Realistic, (2) Investigative, (3) Artistic, (4) Social, (5) Enterprising, and (6) Conventional. Each type is characterized by a combination of the person’s interests, preferred activities, beliefs, abilities, values, and characteristics. In a similar vein, work environments can be categorized by their resemblance to a combination of the RIASEC types. This allows searching for a degree of fit between the personality type of the seeker of the vocational education and the work environment types (using the RIASEC codes). Congruence between the two is of primary importance since the degree of fit is theorized to be a critical determinant of several important outcomes including job satisfaction, stability, and performance. This basic idea has influenced career counseling research and practice over the years.

Researchers have also included measures of five-factor models (FFM) and personality to evaluate how they influence vocational choices. Researchers have used bivariate and canonical correlation analyses to relate big-five personality and RIASEC interest variables to study different samples of decision-makers such as navy recruits (Gottfredson et al. 1993), adult workers (Schinka et al. 1997), and college students (Tokar et al. 1995). Results generally indicated moderate overlap between personality and interests. The primary link that seems to stand out independent of gender is the positive associations of openness with artistic and investigative interests, and of extraversion with enterprising and social interests.

To evaluate worker preferences and choices in predicting job-seeking behavior and reemployment outcomes in a temporal framework, Wanberg et al. (1996) surveyed unemployed workers over a three-month period. Results indicated that after a month of job search, conscientiousness relates positively to job-seeking frequency, intention, as well as the unemployed job seeker’s belief in reaching a positive outcome (self-efficacy) and a sense of reassurance of one’s self-worth despite being unemployed. At later periods (2, or 3 months later), conscientiousness was a significant predictor of employment status although in an intuitively opposite direction; i.e., the authors found that more conscientious job seekers were more likely to remain unemployed at the later time periods – possibly due to being more choosy about specific jobs. Schmit et al. (1993) proposed an Assertive Job Hunting Scale and used it to find that the Assertive Job Hunting scores correlated negatively with neuroticism and positively with extraversion, conscientiousness, and openness for college students and lowly educated job applicants. In addition, agreeableness correlated positively with more assertive jobseekers. These findings are noteworthy as Schmit et al. using a different sample of unemployed persons found that greater assertiveness scores predicted shorter periods of unemployment and greater likelihood of employment. Additionally, when it comes to taking up/participating in vocational training programs, the choice of take-up is found to depend on intrinsic behavioral characteristics. Dasgupta et al. (2015) found that individuals with a higher tolerance for risk, and those who are more competitive are more likely to apply to vocational training programs.

Vocational selection has also been studied in relation to social class and socioeconomic characteristics. Using the Kuder Preference Record as a measure of vocational preference, Moser (1952) found that students in high school preferred vocations that ranked high in typically accepted cultural status if their parents had been to college, and if they had been exposed to higher number of books and magazines at home. Galler (1951) studied school children in Chicago to find that boys from middle class households more often wanted to choose their father’s occupation as their chosen vocation.

Current and future labor market conditions are presumed to be critical determinants of vocational selection as well, especially in the economics literature. However, it is a difficult exercise to form clear and adequate expectations about future labor market developments, particularly if one is looking at a longer time horizon (Rosen 1987; Borghans et al. 1996). Consequently, people seem to evaluate their decisions in a more immediate and medium run timespan when deciding on different types of education (Freeman 1971). There is considerable literature that tries to measure students’ responses to labor market conditions – wage elasticity in particular, to enrollment in academic institutions using time series data within countries, at the individual level as well as cross-country (Freeman 1975; Leffler and Lindsay 1981; Matilla 1982; Siow 1984; Zarkin 1985; Paulsen and Pogue 1988; Whitfield and Wilson 1991. The wage elasticity of enrollment in these studies was found to be between 0.5 and 2.0. Researchers have also looked at the impact of expected earnings on choice of major in postsecondary education as well as the choice of the level of education (Keane and Wolpin 1997; Eckstein and Wolpin 1999; Belzil and Hansen 2002), although with mixed results. For example, Willis and Rosen (1979) found that expected flow of posteducation earnings are significant determinants of college attendance. Berger (1988) found that students are more influenced by the expected flow of future earnings than their initial earnings when choosing a major. In contrast to the above, Beffy et al. (2012) and Carneiro et al. (2003) found that the elasticity of major choices to expected earnings is very low and seem to be driven largely by nonpecuniary factors. They found that the choice of major when entering college depends on the consumption value of schooling, determined largely by schooling preferences and abilities, and less by its investment value.


While there is a long history of academic work on vocational selection, its determinants, and its impacts, it has assumed critical importance in light of the current global climate. Frequent and continued bouts of unemployment worldwide, along with structural changes in job opportunities, have thrown open a debate on the usefulness of education (traditional vs. training programs, public vs. private, online vs. in class), and ways to halt the increasing dropouts in secondary as well postsecondary levels. More work is needed with a focus on interdisciplinary approaches to inform policy about the determinants of vocational choice and how it is impacted in the current economic climate.



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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsWagner College, Center for International Policy Studies, Fordham UniversityNYUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Julie Schermer
    • 1
  1. 1.The University of Western OntarioLondonCanada