The Social Cognitive Theory of Career Development (TSCDC), postulated by Lent et al. (1994), based on Bandura (1977), and Hackett and Betz (1981), provides an explanatory model of three independent, yet interconnected, processes on career-related decisions. The first one is the development of professional interests. This variable defined by Lent et al. (1994) as standards of preference, indifference or aversion to professional activities, would be the result of a series of life experiences since childhood, tending to stabilize in late adolescence, while socio-cultural, educational, biological and personality aspects would be auxiliary in such process.
The second process described by Lent et al. (1994) regards academic and career choices. People tend to develop a sense of competence to perform in certain fields based on their preferences and to expect certain consequences, respectively named self-efficacy beliefs and outcome expectations. Based on the influences of environmental and contextual conditions, a person develops their goals and has effective behaviors of choice, engaging in information search tasks and task-planning future actions.
Finally, the third process seeks to explain the engagement in academic and professional activities in a continuum from previous processes. It is noteworthy that by going through new experiences, a feedback loop of the model may occur, since changes in academic and work conditions may favor the development of new interests, self-efficacy beliefs and outcome expectations.
Especially in relation to self-efficacy, Bandura (1986) defined it as a person’s own beliefs regarding his or her own ability to plan and perform courses of action related to specific areas. Thus, the construct has been applied to the career development context and has been mainly related to the type of interest of Holland (Nunes and Noronha 2008, 2011; Turner et al. 2010; among others) and with career decisions (examples: Taylor and Betz 1983; Betz and Taylor 2012; Miguel et al. 2013; Isik 2012; Choi et al. 2012).
Self-efficacy for career-related decisions refers to people's beliefs in their own capabilities to engage in tasks related to their choice and professional decisions. The evaluation of the construct can be accomplished, for example, through the Career Decision Self- Efficacy Scale (CDSE - Betz and Taylor 2012), both in their complete form (50 items) and the reduced version (25 items). Despite a series of controversies regarding its internal structure (Chaney et al. 2007; Creed et al. 2002; Hampton, 2006; Luzzo 1993; Peterson and Delmas 1998; Ramírez and Canto 2007; Taylor and Betz 1983; Watson et al. 2001), CDSE assessment is based on five subscales, named Accurate Self-Appraisal, Gathering Occupational Information, Goal Selection, Future Planning and Problem Solving. The concurrent use of such subscales generates a total score. In literature references can be found on the use of CDSE to evaluate counseling processes (Reese and Miller 2006) and correlational studies with indecision (Gati et al. 2013), sociodemographic variables (Stacy 2003), vocational interests (Srsic and Walsh 2001; Breeding 2008) and personality (Hartman and Betz 2007; Jin et al. 2009; Page et al. 2008).
In Brazil, Ambiel and Noronha (2012) built the Professional Choice Self-efficacy Scale (EAE-EP, from Portuguese acronym), based on the literature on CDSE, whose results showed psychometric adequacy for evaluation of four factors, namely, Self Appraisal, Gathering Occupational Information, Practical Professional Information Search and Future Planning (Ambiel et al. 2015). The structure of EAE-EP was considered partially similar to CDSE since it does not rely on factors related to the selection Goals and Problem Solving, and one of EAE-EP of factors, Practical Professional Information Search, is not present in the CDSE independently, composed by items related to the ability of interpersonal contacts (ie, visits, conversations) to get information about the professions or courses, establishing itself as a specificity of the Brazilian instrument.
As far as personality is concerned, it has been one of the most researched variables in the career development context, with results pointing to its predictive capacity of both the choice as well as the involvement and performance at work (Cupani and Pérez 2006; Rogers and Creed 2010; Nauta 2007; Wille and De Fruyt 2014; Woods et al. 2013; Zacher, 2014). Based on the theories about personality Wille and De Fruyt 2014; point out that the Big Five model has remained as the most researched one in the vocational and career counseling field.
This theoretical model has been investigated since the 1930s, accumulating a considerable amount of studies around the world in such a way that authors have hypothesized on the universality of the model (Pulver et al. 1995; Soto et al. 2011). In Brazil, two instruments based on Big Five are more frequent in research, namely, the Brazilian version of the NEO-PI (Costa and McCrae 1992), which has predominantly been studied in clinical settings (Silva and Maia 2013; Carvalho et al. 2014) and the Personality Factor Battery (BFP, from Portuguese acronym; Nunes et al. 2010), which includes studies with adolescents in professional choice processes (Ambiel et al. 2012; Nunes and Noronha 2009). In BFP, one of the instruments used in this study, the factors have been denominated Neuroticism, Conscientiousness, Openness to Experience, Extraversion and Agreeableness, and they evaluate, respectively, the level of adjustment and emotional instability; organization, persistence, motivation and responsibility to achieve objectives; exploratory behavior and appreciation of new experiences; level of social interaction in terms of quantity and intensity; and type of social interaction that varies in a continuum of compassion to antagonism.
In the context of TSCDC, Larson and Borgen (2006) argue that personality is inserted as a personal factor that precedes the development of self-efficacy. The authors mention that, despite the secondary role that was given to personality in TSCDC, several studies have found relationships between traits and self-efficacy, suggesting the role of personality as a mediator of career choices and the development of interests (Cupani and Pérez 2006). As for self-efficacy, relationships with negative Neuroticism and positive Extraversion and mainly with Conscientiousness seem to be empirically well-founded (Hartman and Betz 2007; Page et al. 2008; Rogers and Creed 2010), while positive correlations are also found, albeit low, with Agreeableness (Jin et al. 2009; Ourique and Teixeira 2012).
Literature on TSCDC, particularly on self-efficacy for career decisions, has been limited to the study of personality characteristics as predictors of self-efficacy, but it is still not known properly which traits differentiate people with different levels of beliefs in ability to engage in tasks related to professional choice. In this sense, the present study, in addition to seeking to expand the knowledge on the profiles of people with different levels of self-efficacy, is justified by the fact that there are few studies in the literature relating self-efficacy with personality for teenagers in the context of professional decisions. Particularly in Brazil, the only research found studying this relationship took place with higher education students (Ourique and Teixeira 2012) and, therefore, this study may help in the aquisition of knowledge on the diagnosis in career guidance processes.
Thus, this research has the primary objective to test the Big Five factors as predictors of self-efficacy for professional choice in a sample of Brazilian students in high school. It also seeks to verify the differentiation of personality profile taking into account the level of self-efficacy of the participants. As a hypothesis, based on the findings in the literature previously mentioned, it is expected that Conscientiousness (+), Extraversion (+), Agreeableness (+) and Neuroticism (-) are significant predictors of self-efficacy for professional choice. On the other hand, no significant result is expected regarding Openness. Similarly, it is expected that the same factors account for the differences in the groups with low, medium and high-efficacy. These assumptions are based on the findings in Hartman and Betz (2007), Page et al. (2008) and Rogers and Creed (2010). It is worth noting that, although the evidences of the association of Agreeableness with self-efficacy in the context of career choices is controversial, it has been decided to have them included in the hypothesis in order to test them in the context of this research, since the work of Ourique and Teixeira (2012), also conducted in Brazil, indicated certain relevance of the factor.