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Prescreening, In-Depth Exploration, and Choice: From Decision Theory to Career Counseling Practice. (Effective Techniques).

The authors present a 3-stage model--Prescreening, In-depth exploration, and Choice (PIG)--aimed at increasing the quality of the career decision-making process and its outcome. PIG provides a framework for a dynamic and interactive process that emphasizes the role of career counselors as decision counselors, whose aim is to facilitate an active decision-making process. The proposed model offers the advantages of systematic, analytical processing, while remaining compatible with individuals' natural way of thinking. The authors outline the implementation of PIG, discuss the role of intuition in decision making, and compare the PIC with the person-environment fit approach.

This article presents a general model based on decision theory (e.g., Bell, Raiffa, & Tversky, 1988; Raiffa, 1968) that can be used as a practical framework for conceptualizing and improving career decision-making processes. We rely on decision theory because, as in other decision situations, there is an individual who must make a decision, there are several alternatives to choose from, and the individual has many considerations for comparing and evaluating the alternatives. Therefore, making a career decision involves collecting and processing information. Indeed, decision theory was long ago proposed as a frame of reference for career guidance and counseling (Gelatt, 1962; Jepsen & Dilley, 1974; Katz, 1966; Pitz & Harren, 1980).

There are different types of career decisions, and the proposed three-stage model is most relevant when the client is trying to decide what to study (e.g., choosing a college major) or which occupation to choose, that is, when the number of potential alternatives is relatively large. However, even when the number of options is small, the second and the third stages of the proposed model may be carried out to guide the client. The proposed procedure provides specific guidelines aimed at facilitating career decision making and increasing the quality of the process and its outcomes, while taking into consideration the limited cognitive and material resources of the individual who is deliberating the options. Adapting concepts from decision theory to the context of career decisions provides a framework for a dynamic, interactive process.

The process-oriented approach presented in this article emphasizes the role of career counselors as decision counselors, whose aim is to facilitate an active decision-making process. The proposed model provides a general framework for the stages of the career decision-making process. We suggest that career counselors have three roles in this framework. The first role is to discover what stage of the career decision-making process the individual is in currently. Next, the counselor should review the individual's previous career decision-making stage or stages and, if needed, repeat one or more of them. Third, the counselor should guide the client through the remaining stages. In light of this framework, we believe that the suggested model need not be confined to a specific type of client and that the counselor can adopt some of the model's components for each particular client and adapt the components according to the client's style and needs and the counselor's judgment. Finally, although we are focusing on c areer decision making, readers may recognize methods that they have used intuitively in the past to resolve common dilemmas such as selecting college courses, renting an apartment, or buying a car. Indeed, our goal is to present a working model that offers the advantages of systematic, analytical processing, while remaining compatible with individuals' natural way of thinking.

We begin by providing the Prescreening, In-depth exploration, Choice (PIG) model's theoretical background and rationale; a more detailed discussion of the theoretical issues presented here can be found in Gati and Asher (2001). Next, we present the model itself. The description of each stage is accompanied by guidelines for the stages' practical implementation in the counseling process. Then, we explore the potential contribution of relevant software and Internet sites to career counseling. Finally, we draw a comparison between the PIG model and the traditional person-environment fit approach and discuss the role of intuition in career decisions.

Theoretical Background

One of the important aims of the career decision-making process is finding the alternative or alternatives most compatible with the individual's preferences and capabilities. In many cases, however, it is impractical to explore extensively all potential career alternatives. First, the number of alternatives is often very large (Osipow, Walsh, & Tosi, 1980). Second, the amount of information to consider is vast: A large number of criteria or attributes are required to adequately characterize the potential alternatives and the individual's preferences in a detailed and meaningful way (Gati, 1986, 1998; Gati, Garty, & Fassa, 1996; Katz, 1993; Lofquist & Dawis, 1978; Matarazzo, 1986; Meir &Yaari, 1988).

Considering the complexity of career decisions, on one hand, and individuals' limited cognitive information processing capability and limited time and material resources, on the other hand, the challenge faced by any prescriptive career decision-making model is to reduce the amount of information that must be processed, with as little loss as possible in the quality of the decision made (i.e., the chosen alternative's degree of fit with the individual's preferences). One way to achieve this goal is by separating the decision process into distinct stages-specifically, distinguishing between screening and choice (Beach, 1993; Beach & Potter, 1992).

Gati and Asher (2001) proposed dividing the career decision-making process into three major stages, each featuring different goals, processes, and outcomes.

1. Prescreening of the universe of potentially relevant career alternatives, based on the individual's preferences, to locate a small and thus manageable set of promising alternatives that deserve further exploration

2. In-depth exploration of the promising alternatives (including an examination of the possibility of actualizing them), to locate a few suitable alternatives

3. Choice of the most suitable alternative, based on a comparison between the suitable alternatives

In the next sections, we describe this three-stage model and outline suggestions for integrating it into the counseling process. The proposed stages and the steps within each stage are summarized in the Appendix. We have not tried to capture the entire counseling process but rather to provide a general framework for career decision making. Although each stage has its unique features, all three stages have the similar underlying structure of a dynamic counselor-client dialogue with three elements. First, the counselor presents the goal of the stage and the client's expected role in it. Second, the client actively participates by providing answers to questions presented by the counselor (or by a computer-assisted career guidance system). The counselor uses his or her expertise and impression of the client's unique personality, abilities, and other characteristics to actively accompany the client through this phase and to monitor the adequacy of the client's responses. Third, the counselor discusses with the cli ent what occurred in the second, questions-and-answers, phase. Discrepancies between the counselor's perceptions and the client's responses, if any, should be discussed during the feedback phase of each stage.

The PIG Model for the Career Decision-Making Process

Basic Concepts

Before describing the PIG model's three stages and the steps in each of the stages, we introduce a few basic concepts necessary for understanding the model.

Career-related aspects. Career-related aspects are all the relevant variables and attributes that can be used to describe either individuals' preferences and resources or career alternatives' characteristics (Gati, 1998; Prior, 1982). These include, for example, an individual's vocational Interests (e.g., Holland, 1997), work values (e.g., income, status, helping others), abilities and competencies, and personality, on the one hand, and an occupation's typical income level, working conditions (e.g., indoors-outdoors, working in shifts), and required training period, on the other hand.

Core aspects. Although many aspects are required to describe any career option, usually only a few of them are crucial for characterizing the essence of a particular occupation. For example, "unconventional working hours" and "using verbal abilities intensively" are among the salient attributes of a newspaper reporter. Thus, the aspects "working hours" and "using verbal abilities" may be considered as core aspects of this occupation (whereas "finger dexterity," for example, may not be). The importance of core aspects stems from their significant contribution to the prediction of occupational-choice satisfaction (Gati, Garty, et al., 1996).

The relative importance of aspects. For each individual and in each decision situation, some aspects are more important than others.

Within-aspect levels. The variations within each aspect can be divided into a number of distinct qualitative or quantitative levels (e.g., "prestige" can include the following levels: very high prestige, above average, average, below average, and low prestige).

Within-aspect preferences. An individual's preferred level is labeled the optimal level. Additional levels, which are less desirable than the optimal one but still acceptable, are labeled acceptable levels. The acceptable compromise range includes the optimal and the acceptable levels.

Unfortunately, an aspect's relative importance and within-aspect preferences are often confounded in everyday speech, as well as in certain questionnaires for the assessment of personal needs or values. For example, the question "How important is prestige to you?" assumes that "high prestige" is the individual's preferred level, whereas he or she may actually prefer an occupation with "moderate prestige" over one with "high prestige." The distinction between the two is particularly important in aspects whose assigned relative importance does not indicate the most preferred level. The source of "high importance" assigned to the aspect "length of training," for example, may stem from a preference for an intermediate (e.g., a 2-year-long) length of training, rather than a very short or a very long one.

Before Beginning the Decision-Making Process: Assessing and Increasing the Client's Readiness

Initial assessment. Assessing the client's career decision-making readiness and beliefs (Crites, 1978; Super, 1953) may include (a) evaluating the client's general level of career indecision (e.g., with the Career Decision Scale; Osipow, Carney, & Barak, 1976), (b) examining his or her specific difficulties in reaching a decision (e.g., with the Career Decision-making Difficulties Questionnaire [CDDQ]; Gati, Krausz, & Osipow, 1996), (c) assessing career choice anxiety (e.g., using the Career Factors Inventory; Chartrand, Robbins, Morrill, & Boggs, 1990), (d) discovering dysfunctional thinking patterns in career problem solving and decision making (e.g., with the Career Thoughts Inventory [CTI]; Sampson, Peterson, Lenz, Reardon, & Saunders, 1998), and (e) identifying dysfunctional beliefs (e.g., with the Career Beliefs Inventory [CBI]; Krumboltz, 1994). Such evaluation may include a self-report by the client (using one of the questionnaires already mentioned), followed by a discussion with the counselor. A mor e detailed discussion of the difficulties associated with lack of readiness can be found in Gati, Krausz, et al. (1996). When necessary, the counselor can help raise the client's level of readiness for the career decision-making process in the following three ways, according to the individual's specific needs.

Dealing with general indecisiveness. Indecisiveness is a generalized inability to make decisions. A client who has no such problem will probably benefit from the guided framework offered by the PIG model, and the outlined process may suffice for reaching a decision. If the client's degree of indecisiveness seems to require a more intense and longer intervention, the counselor must decide whether dealing with this difficulty is in the scope of the counselor's expertise and interest or exceeds it; in the latter case, the client should be referred to relevant clinical counseling. Although time-consuming, such intervention has the added potential of helping the client in the other areas of life that also require decision making.

Dismantling dysfunctional beliefs and thoughts. It is important to locate and deal with dysfunctional beliefs and thoughts (Krumboltz, 1994; Sampson et al., 1998) and irrational expectations (e.g., Nevo, 1987) concerning the career decision-making and the career counseling processes. The counselor can use the CDDQ (Gati, Krausz, et al., 1996), the CBI (Krumboltz, 1994), or the CTI (Sampson et al., 1998) to locate such difficulties. Beliefs such as "There is a perfect occupation for me" or "The counselor will find me the right occupation" may impede the decision-making process and lead to career counseling outcomes that are less than optimal. It is therefore important to elicit and locate the client's dysfunctional beliefs and to dismantle them as part of the preparation phase (Krumboltz, 1994; Nevo, 1987; Sampson et al., 1998).

Explaining the steps of the decision-making process to the client. This includes explaining the basic rationale behind the systematic procedure and its advantages over a haphazard choice; explicating relevant terms underlying the PIC model; describing the three stages of the PIC model; and discussing each stage's goal, process, and expected outcome.

The Three Stages of the PIC Model

Prescreening the Potential Alternatives

The goal of the first stage of PIC, prescreening, is to locate a small set of "promising" alternatives that deserve further, in-depth exploration. The prescreening is based on a sequential elimination of alternatives, which is carried out by within-aspect, across-alternatives comparisons. This search process permits the individual to proceed easily, yet systematically, even if the initial set of potential alternatives is quite large. For more detailed information on carrying out sequential elimination, see Gati, Fassa, and Houminer (1995) and Sharf(1997).

Preparation. The prescreening stage consists of three "substages." The first substage is preparation, which involves initial focusing and consists of two steps. The first step involves locating the career-related aspects that are most important to the client. Because of cognitive and material limitations, it is impractical to consider all possible aspects; hence, the client must focus on a subset of the aspects. Prescreening potential alternatives is based on the client's objective constraints (for example, color blindness) and his or her preferences in career-related aspects (e.g., work values, type of relationship with people). The client also takes into account preferences regarding personal competencies: An individual may choose not to include all the skills he or she possesses in the constructed list (e.g., a client may be very adept at refined motor activity, yet may choose not to include this aspect in the list). This initial sifting is a critical step, because the set of alternatives found to be compa tible with the client's preferences at the end of the search depends on the set of aspects used during the search (Gati, 1994; Katz, 1993). Clients can construct a list of relevant aspects themselves, based on their life experience and aspirations. Furthermore, the client's more important aspects can be elicited using Kelly's repertory grid (e.g., Gati & Winer, 1987; Neimeyer, 1989) or using Tyler's Vocational Card Sort (Dolliver, 1967; Goldman, 1983; Slaney, 1978). Finally, counselors can also facilitate this step by presenting the client with a list of the potentially relevant aspects (e.g., Gati, Fassa, & Mayer, 1998; Janis & Mann, 1977, Table 4; Katz, 1993; Lofquist & Dawis, 1991).

The second step in the preparation substage complements the first step and involves ranking the selected aspects by importance. Sequential elimination, the core of the prescreening stage, is based on comparing the characteristics of the alternatives with the individual's rank-ordered list of preferred aspects and then eliminating the alternatives that do not fit the individual's preferences. This comparison is carried out one aspect at a time--beginning with the most important aspect, continuing with the second in importance, and so on, until the number of remaining alternatives is small enough to be managed. It is important to try to elicit the client's ranking of the aspects' importance from the client before the elimination begins: Without such a ranking, the search may stop before the most important aspects have been considered. To help the client create a ranking of aspects, the counselor might ask guiding questions, such as, "You said that 'independence' is the most important aspect for you. What aspect would you regard as second in importance?"

Sequential elimination. Once the preparation has been completed, the second substage of the prescreening process begins. This substage consists of two steps carried out in accordance with the aspects' order of importance; only one aspect is considered each time. The two steps are repeated over and over in a loop, until the list of promising alternatives contains a small enough number of alternatives (e.g., seven or fewer, which is based on individuals' short-term memory capacity; Miller, 1956; a list of seven items is also regarded as best by career clients; Gati & Kleiman, 2001). The first step is defining the compromise range for each of the selected aspects. The client considers one aspect at a time and indicates the level that he or she regards as optimal in that aspect (e.g., 2 years of studies in the aspect "length of training"), and then additional less desirable, but still acceptable, level or levels are located (e.g., 1 year of training beyond high school). The counselor is expected to encourage the client to find and report his or her optimal preferences yet also to consider compromising on within-aspect levels. For example, "You said that for the aspect 'length of training' your optimal level would be a 2year college program. Would you be willing to compromise and regard a 4-year college program as acceptable as well?"

The second step is comparing the individual's preferences with the alternatives' characteristics. The elimination begins by examining and comparing the client's preferences in his or her most important aspect with the respective characteristic of all of the potential alternatives. Alternatives whose characteristic levels in that aspect are incompatible with the client's preferences are eliminated. This process is repeated in the same way for the remaining aspects (in descending order of importance); it stops when the number of remaining "promising" alternatives (i.e., whose characteristics are compatible with the individual's preferences) is regarded as manageable.

It is advisable to provide the client with feedback, including examples of the eliminated options in each aspect. For example, "With respect to the aspect 'length of training,' the following occupations are incompatible with your preference for a 2-year or 4-year college program: medicine, psychology, law. . ." Using computerized systems such as CHOICES (Careerware, 1994), SIGI (+) (Katz, 1993), and Making Better Career Decisions (see; Gati, 1996) can help provide such feedback.

Testing the sensitivity of the results to possible changes in preferences. The goal of the third substage of prescreening is to reexamine the preceding steps and their outcome (i.e., a manageable set of promising alternatives) to reduce the chances of missing a potentially suitable alternative. The purpose of this substage is to ensure that slight and, hence, reasonable changes in preferences do not lead to significantly different conclusions and that "almost-promising" alternatives are not discarded without good reason. This reevaluation may involve returning to previous steps and includes the following points:

* Checking whether the reported preferences (e.g., the compromise range in a particular aspect) still seem acceptable or whether it might be better to change them. For example, "Are you certain that you are not willing to consider graduate studies?"

* Understanding why certain alternatives, which were considered intuitively appealing by the client before the systematic search, were eliminated during the sequential elimination process. For example, "High school teaching was eliminated from your list because it is incompatible with your preferences for a very high income, high flexibility in working hours, and short training."

* Locating alternatives that are "almost promising" (i.e., alternatives that were discarded because of only a small discrepancy in a single aspect). For each such alternative, the counselor and the client need to examine the validity of the information about the critical aspect (i.e., the aspect that was the only reason for eliminating the alternative) and consider the possibility of compromising in that aspect (i.e., increasing the range of acceptable levels). For example, "Your wish to use only 'high artistic ability' at work led to the elimination of several occupations that are compatible with your preferences in all the other important aspects. Would you like to also consider occupations requiring moderate artistic ability, while expressing your artistic skills in avocational activities?"

If at any point during the prescreening stage the client has difficulties in ranking aspects or explicating his or her preferences, the counselor can help by directing the client to relevant past experiences and the client's emotional reactions to those experiences. For example, if the client is unsure whether "teamwork" is an important aspect for her or how willing she is to compromise on this aspect, the counselor may help elicit memories of participation on school committees or in youth organizations and the emotions associated with them.

In-Depth Exploration of the Promising Alternatives

After the initial screening, the individual is expected to continue exploring the promising alternatives. The goal of the in-depth exploration stage is to locate alternatives that are not only promising but indeed suitable for the individual. This stage is typically carried out by focusing on one alternative at a time. Specifically, during this stage, the client is expected to collect additional information on each of the promising alternatives that can complement the information that was considered during the prescreening stage. This information, frequently obtained from individuals who work in the occupation under consideration, is crucial for a better understanding of the essence of each promising alternative. The additional information is often "soft" (i.e., information that cannot be transformed into well-defined, within-aspect levels): for example, a brief video of a social worker's typical day. Such unstructured information about the alternatives can be obtained from occupational libraries (e.g., using the Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2001), computerized career information systems (Hinkelman, 1997; Sampson et al., 1990), and the Internet (Carson & Cartwright, 1997; Sampson, Kolodinsky, & Greeno, 1997). Using this information, the deliberating individual can "zoom in" on each alternative and examine its suitability. The in-depth exploration stage is also the right time for additional self-exploration (Blustein, 1989, 1992; Blustein & Phillips, 1988) in light of the detailed information already obtained (e.g., "Am I really willing to work night shifts?"). This stage consists of two substages: first, testing four suitability conditions and, second, verifying that suitable alternatives were not eliminated unjustifiably.

Testing the four suitability conditions. An alternative is considered suitable only if it meets all of the four following conditions. The first two suitability conditions are aimed at checking whether the alternative indeed suits the individual. This is done by inspecting each promising alternative with greater scrutiny and specificity, using more (and mainly unstructured) information about the occupation and taking a more detailed look at the individual's preferences.

1. The client is expected to verify the compatibility of the alternative with his or her preferences in the most important aspects. Soft data may contain information on within-aspect variations that the individual may not have even considered in advance. For example, a person who works in one of the considered occupations may mention that she is given much independence in choosing both "what to do" and "how to do it." In light of this, the deliberating individual may realize that he or she prefers an occupation that allows for "how to do it" independence, but not for "what to do" independence. This refined distinction had probably not arisen when the client marked "independence" as a subjectively important aspect.

2. The client should consider the compatibility of the alternative with his or her preferences in the less important aspects as well. Although these aspects were not necessarily taken into account during the prescreening stage, they should be considered in the more detailed and refined evaluation of the alternative during the in-depth exploration stage. At this time, the individual's preferences may be adjusted in terms of both optimal levels and acceptable compromises, in light of the additional detailed information collected. In cases in which such adjustments are actually made, the client may consider, based on these revised preferences, going through the prescreening process again.

The next two suitability conditions are aimed at checking whether the individual fits the alternative. The in-depth exploration stage is also the time for further exploration of one's cognitive and personality traits, as well as material resources. Core aspects of a certain promising alternative (e.g., working under stress is a core aspect of an air-traffic controller's job) may raise important questions regarding the individual's fit with the demands of the alternative on a personal level (e.g., "How well can I perform under highly stressful conditions?") or a formal one ("What are the chances of my getting accepted to the necessary training program?"). The following are the third and fourth suitability conditions:

3. The client is expected to use the information that has been collected to identify the core aspects of each promising alternative and to see whether he or she meets, or is willing to meet, the requirements specified by those core aspects (e.g., whether he or she is willing to work in shifts--a core aspect of paramedics). Indeed, people often do not realize how important an abstract aspect (e.g., regularity of working hours) is for them, until they "zoom in" on the core characteristics of career alternatives.

4. Finally, the client is expected to examine the probability of actualizing the alternative, considering his or her previous studies, grades, and achievements (as well as other possible constraints, such as time and money), on the one hand, and the alternative's prerequisites (e.g., minimal SAT or ACT score), on the other hand. It is sometimes advisable to explore ways of increasing the probability of actualizing certain promising alternatives (e.g., taking a coaching course before repeating the SAT or the ACT), when actualization is not certain.

Reexamination of eliminated promising alternatives. Testing the alternatives against the four suitability conditions should result in further elimination of alternatives, because alternatives that are found incompatible with any of the conditions are regarded as unsatisfying and are discarded from further consideration. Once a promising alternative is labeled unsuitable (for whatever reason), the information that led to eliminating it should be verified, and compromising in the critical aspect should be considered. Such a compromise may prevent eliminating an alternative that has many advantages to compensate for its disadvantage(s). We speculate that many clients, intentionally or unintentionally, try to end the second stage with a single suitable alternative and gather information accordingly (e.g., by focusing on favorable features of a preferred alternative and disregarding unfavorable information about it). This reexamination (labeled sensitivity analysis in decision theory; Raiffa, 1968) therefore serve s to remind the client that the purpose of the in-depth exploration stage is not to remain with one suitable alternative, because the "final" sifting takes place during the next stage, when choosing takes place.

Choosing the Most Suitable Alternative

The goal of the third stage is to choose the most suitable alternative, considering the client's preferences and capabilities, and, if necessary, to select additional, second best alternatives. This stage involves further processing of the information gathered during the previous stages. The small number of suitable alternatives facilitates the overall evaluation of each one and the necessary detailed comparisons between them. The suggested procedure for the choice stage depends on the number of suitable alternatives and the degree of uncertainty about whether the most suitable one can be actualized.

Comparing and evaluating the suitable alternatives. When carried out as already outlined, in most cases the in-depth exploration stage yields at least two suitable alternatives. In such cases, the client must compare the suitable alternatives in order to choose the most suitable one. In the choice stage, the focus is on the features that distinguish between alternatives, and we propose that a compensatory approach should serve as the basis for this type of comparison. According to the formal compensatory model (e.g., Katz, 1966; Pitz & Harren, 1980; Zakay & Barak, 1984), quantitative trade-offs between the aspects are considered. Specifically, each alternative's advantages are contrasted with its disadvantages to see if the disadvantages are compensated for by the advantages. There are, however, three problems in using formal compensatory models at the choice stage. First, many individuals may consider normative decision-theory-based models to be too rational, too abstract, or too quantitative. Second, formal compensatory models seem to be too complex for many people because of the cognitive load involved. Third, such models are based on several assumptions (e.g., that the attributes or aspects are independent of each other), which typically do not hold in real-life situations (e.g., income and prestige are positively correlated). Hence, the resulting numerical values, reflecting the utilities of the alternatives, can be regarded as no more than rough approximations. Because the suitable alternatives are already fairly good choices, it seems unjustified to base the final decision on minor differences in their overall utility or value (especially when such differences are partially the result of invalid assumptions and concurrent biases). Janis and Mann (1977) proposed using a "decisional balance sheet" to compare the alternatives; this approach also relies on considering compensation, although less explicitly than the formal compensatory model.

A different qualitative, yet systematic, compensatory model can be used, based on Montgomery's (1989) search for dominance structure. Montgomery suggested that, because choice is typically easier in cases in which one alternative dominates the others (i.e., it is as good as the others in some aspects and better than the others in at least one aspect), people attempt to compare alternatives in a way that will lead to dominance. Specifically, clients can make approximate, "local" comparisons of the various alternatives' advantages by combining some characteristics of one alternative that are equivalent to some combination of characteristics of the other. For example, the advantage of alternative x over alternative y in terms of expected higher income may be roughly equivalent to the advantage of alternative y in terms of better work environment and greater variety. At the end of this process, the client remains with the net advantage of one of the alternatives over the other(s). Other, more complex strategies f or systematic comparisons are reviewed in Gati and Asher (2001).

Selecting additional suitable alternatives. Career decisions are usually made under conditions of uncertainty, when the actualization of a preferred alternative is not assured. For example, the probability of getting a job depends not only on fulfilling minimum requirements but also on the number and quality of the other applicants. Thus, choosing only a single alternative in such an important decision may turn out to be a gamble. In light of this uncertainty, the client, having chosen the preferred, "most suitable" alternative, must then use the previously gathered information to assess the probability of actualizing that alternative.

If no uncertainty is involved in the actualization (e.g., the client meets the admission requirements for a training course that places no limitation on the number of participants), there is no need to select a second best alternative. However, if it seems that uncertainty may be involved, it is highly recommended that the client go back and search for additional suitable alternatives that may be regarded as "second best." In cases in which the probabilities of actualization of both the best and the second best alternatives are rather low, selecting a "third best," and even a "fourth best," alternative is advisable.

Furthermore, even in the case in which only one alternative was found to be suitable, but its actualization is uncertain, the client may need to reexamine the suitability of the promising alternatives that were regarded as "unsuitable" during the in-depth exploration stage. This reexamination may involve the willingness to compromise more in certain aspects or the willingness to invest more resources to increase the chances of actualizing a particular alternative.

Reflecting on the decision-making process. Completing the choice stage ends the systematic career decision-making process: The client has arrived at the most suitable alternative and, in many cases, additional, second best alternatives. The implementation of the decision, which is discussed next, is liable to be delayed, impeded, or avoided if the client does not truly feel that he or she has made the right decision. Therefore, clients should be encouraged to review their decision process to enhance their certainty that they have made the best possible decision and have chosen the alternative that is indeed best for them. Counselors can help clients locate the source of their lack of confidence and then either confirm their decision or reach a different one, with which the clients will feel more confident.

Completing the Decision-Making Process: Implementing the Decision

The implementation of the decision involves steps that need to be planned and carried out to actualize the client's chosen alternative (e.g., getting application forms, applying for scholarships). In cases involving uncertainty, these steps may include taking actions aimed at increasing the chances of actualizing the most suitable alternative. For example, the client may decide to complete his or her high school studies, because this is a prerequisite for a particular training course leading to the chosen occupation. Sometimes, when it is not known whether the alternatives can be actualized, it is better to try, if possible, to implement a few of them simultaneously (e.g., apply to more than one college). If simultaneous implementation is impossible, the client should first try to actualize the most suitable alternative and, if this attempt fails, should proceed according to the order of the second best or third best alternatives (Gati, 1990). For a discussion of possible problems or delays in the implementat ion of the decision, see Gati, Krausz, et al. (1996).


Previous research supported the rationale and the assumptions underlying the PIC model, as well as its descriptive validity (Gati & Asher, 2001). Specifically, as the number of alternatives increases, there is a tendency to eliminate first the alternatives that are based on limited information, using a noncompensatory strategy, and only then to continue to collect further information (Beach, 1993; Paquette & Kida, 1988; Payne, 1976). This pattern was also observed with career decisions (Gati & Tikotzki, 1989). Informal reports of career counselors suggest that counselors often, implicitly and intuitively, use a PIC-like, three-stage approach in relevant career counseling cases. We hope that the systematic presentation of the PIC model, and its adoption in relevant cases of face-to-face counseling (with adaptations according to each counselor's own style), will also be accompanied by future research to directly test the model's validity and utility in various career-counseling cases.

The Potential Contribution of Computer-Assisted Career Guidance Systems to the PIC Model

More and more career counselors incorporate the use of one or more computer-assisted career guidance systems (CACGS), or an Internet version of such systems, into the face-to-face career counseling process and use such systems as an integral part of their interaction with their clients. CACGSs can indeed be extremely helpful during prescreening and can aid in locating promising alternatives out of the large number included in the database of CACGSs. CACGSs can also be used for the in-depth exploration of these promising alternatives. For example, the information contained in CACGSs can be used to locate the core characteristics and requirements of the alternatives, as well as information concerning the client's chances of actualizing the alternative. CACGSs can also guide the deliberating client to additional sources of information. We believe, however, that the currently available CACGSs, because of their reliance on a formal model, do not offer much help when the client reaches the choice stage, because of the problems associated with formal compensatory models, as already discussed (i.e., arbitrariness, complexity, and violation of assumptions underlying the model). Thus, we suggest that the process of choosing should not involve the use of a computer at this stage; the client may benefit more from face-to-face career counseling.

The counselor's awareness of the unique advantages and disadvantages of the particular CACGS used is crucial in preparing the client for the dialogue with the system and incorporating the dialogue's outcomes into the counseling process. Of course, no computer can replace the human qualities of a counselor. The face-to-face personalized contact and human support provided by counselors are needed to help clients resolve internal conflicts between incompatible preferences, as well as external conflicts with significant others. The dialogue with the counselor can also help clients acknowledge and accept their own weaknesses and disadvantages. In addition, personal counseling may be needed for providing refined judgments and sensitive evaluations, restructuring the decision, and refraining the compromises involved to reduce their unfavorable consequences (Gati, Houminer, & Aviram, 1998; Gati, Houminer, & Fassa, 1997). Finally, counselors can make a unique contribution in helping their clients explore ways of incre asing the prospects of actualizing the chosen alternative.

Comparing the Person--Environment Fit Approach and the PIC Model

The basic assumption underlying the person--environment (P-E) fit approach, which has dominated vocational psychology and career counseling for many years, is that congruence between an individual's characteristics and the characteristics of his or her chosen occupation results in higher indexes of well-being, such as satisfaction, stability, and achievement (e.g., Holland, 1997; Lofquist & Dawis, 1991; Osipow, 1987). However, the use of vocational interests for screening the world of work and locating promising alternatives does not seem to be sufficiently refined. For example, several hundred occupations bear a Holland IRE (Investigative, Realistic, Enterprising) code and have a Level 4 general educational listing in the Dictionary of Holland Occupational Codes (Gottfredson & Holland, 1989). Such a long list is not very helpful as an outcome of the prescreening stage.

Furthermore, prescreening based on aspects, rather than solely on interests or needs, makes it possible to take into account a larger and a more flexible set of considerations. Whereas the P-E fit approach implies a single-step prescreening process, without detailing the additional steps required to locate the "best" alternative, PIC prescribes a multistep, systematic and dynamic process, focusing on assuring compatibility. Finally, whereas the focus of the P-E fit approach is on the outcome, for which the goal is the best fit (typically using interests or needs), the focus of PIC is the process used for arriving at the decision. Specifically, overemphasis on the concept of congruence has sometimes led to a rigid attempt to match individuals' interests or needs with their environment, instead of encouraging individuals to be active players in their career decision-making process (Barak, 2001).

Intuition in Career Decision Making

Intuition plays an important role in career decisions, as it does in many other decisions, although it is affected by many uncontrolled factors (e.g., prejudice and stereotypes). We believe that most career counselors would agree with the claim that although intuition cannot suffice for making good career decisions, it should not be ignored either. The challenge is how to combine intuition with the outcome of a systematic process. A possible way to incorporate intuition into the career decision-making process would be to compare the outcome of an intuitive decision-making process with that of a thorough, systematic one. If the intuitively favored alternative also emerges as the most suitable one in the systematic decisionmaking process, then the individual's confidence in choosing that alternative should increase. If, however, the intuitive and the systematic processes yield different outcomes (i.e., a different occupational alternative), it is important to see where these processes diverged and why their out comes are different. One possibility is that there is a gap between the individual's explicit preferences, which are considered during the systematic process, and the implicit preferences that underlie his or her intuitions. Another possibility is that certain intuitively considered aspects (e.g., emotional ones) were assigned different weights during the systematic comparison. Finally, the source of the difference may be the individual's inaccurate perception of his or her intuitively favored career alternative. The possibilities for discrepancies between intuition and systematic processing are manifold, and part of the career counselor's role is to help locate and clarifiy these discrepancies and their possible sources in order to increase the individual's confidence that he or she has made the right decision.


In this article, we have outlined a systematic approach to the career decision-making process in which the deliberating client plays not only an active role but a leading one. The PIC model, as presented here, seems to be most appropriate for career-choice situations in which there are a relatively large number of potential alternatives, as when selecting a college or a university, a major, a job, or an advanced training course. In the new realities of the world of work, such career decisions will probably need to be made more often. However, the PIG model may be adopted (and adapted), with slight changes, for other decision situations that have a large number of potential alternatives (e.g., purchasing a car or a house, selecting a vacation site).

The flexibility of the suggested procedure allows counselors not merely to adopt the model but also to adapt it to the specific counselor-client situations that they encounter. The PIC model constitutes a framework for a dynamic decision-making process that allows clients to enter the process at different stages. For example, a client who has already formulated a small list of promising alternatives (and wishes to skip systematic prescreening, which could help verify the adequacy of this list) could start immediately with the in-depth exploration stage. Moreover, the PIG model allows clients to move back and forth in the decision-making process. If clients discover during the in-depth exploration stage that a particular aspect is more important to them than previously judged, they can return to the prescreening stage and carry out the sequential elimination process again, according to their revised preferences.

Finally, it is important to acknowledge that the PIC model deals with career choice from a cognitive point of view, without much elaboration of the affective facets of career decision making and career counseling. We claim, however, that some of the emotional problems and indecisiveness associated with the need to choose a career or a field of study may be attributed to the lack of a framework for approaching career decision making, and we believe that the PIC model can provide such a guiding framework. Uncovering the relations between affective and cognitive factors in career decision making is one of the main challenges for further research.

Itamar Gati is a professor in the departments of Psychology and Education, and Itay Asher is a graduate student in the Department of Psychology, both at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. The ideas expressed in this article benefited from valuable discussions with Samuel H. Osipow, Liat Barkai-Goodman, and Noa Saka. The authors thank Tali Ever-Hadani, Edna Inbal, Leah Israelovich, Tali Kleiman, Eleana Meyers, and Rachel Gali Zinamon for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this article. Correspondence regarding this article should be sent to Itamar Gati, Department of Psychology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem 91905, ISRAEL (e-mail:


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Assessing Readiness

Initial assessment

Dealing with general indecisiveness

Dismantling dysfunctional beliefs and thoughts

Explaining the steps of the decision-making process to the client


Preparing for sequential elimination

* Locating relevant aspects

* Ranking aspects by importance

Sequential elimination (aspect after aspect, until elimination halts)

* Locating the range of compromise in the aspect

* Comparing preferences with alternatives' characteristics, eliminating incompatible ones

Testing sensitivity to changes

* Verifying reported preferences

* Verifying elimination of previously appealing alternatives

* Locating "almost promising" alternatives

In-Depth Exploration

Testing the four suitability conditions

* Verifying compatibility of alternatives with preferences

* Considering compatibility in less important aspects

* Examining fit in core aspects

* Examining probability of actualization

Reexamination of eliminated promising alternatives


Comparing and evaluating the suitable alternatives

Selecting additional suitable alternatives

Reflecting on the decision-making process

Implementing the Decision
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Author:Asher, Itay
Publication:Career Development Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2001
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