Building a Bridge to a Brighter Future for Unemployed Adults

By Michael F. Campbell, Lindsay M. Andrews, and Emily E. Bullock

Concerns of the Unemployed


Many uncertainties exist when an individual begins the job search process. Often uncertainties about the future arise, leading to impaired structure to an individual’s day as well as daily activities (Paul, Geithner, & Moser, 2009). Additionally, shaming experiences, such as being spoken to disparagingly, occur frequently for the unemployed. These experiences may lead to reduced social contact and impaired collective purpose (Paul et al., 2009). Unemployment has been linked to lower levels of well being and life satisfaction, as well as increased stress, psychological distress (Meeus, Dekovic, & Iedema, 1997), and depression (Paul et al., 2009). Especially for older adults, the effects of unemployment may lead to increased concerns due to familial and financial obligations (Meeus et al., 1997).


To deal with the presenting concerns, many unemployed individuals consider taking on temporary or multiple part-time jobs. However, uncertainty impacting one’s employability becomes a concern as both positive and negative perspectives are endorsed in regards to temporary employment by both workers and employers (e.g., need for training or retraining due to a steadily changing workforce, a continual development of skills, knowledge, and flexibility).


Barriers to Unemployed Individuals


When examining barriers to further career development in unemployed adults, age and education appear to affect an individual’s well-being and time unemployed. For example, individuals age 40 and older tended to remain unemployed twice as long as younger individuals (Mallinckrodt & Fretz, 1988). In terms of education, individuals with lower levels of academic accomplishments were found to be more likely to be long-term unemployed (Margit, Vondracek, Capaldi, & Porfeli, 2003). Additionally, several factors, including self-esteem, economic difficulties (Kokko & Pulkkinen, 1998), and perceived social support (Mallinckrodt & Fretz, 1988) influenced individuals’ psychological distress when unemployed. Specifically, psychological distress (e.g., depressive symptoms, anxiety, physical health complaints) was found to be greater in individuals who were long-term unemployed (Kokko & Pulkkinen, 1998).


Providing Assistance to Job Seekers


Researchers lack comprehensive understanding of unemployed adults’ career development. Research conducted by the co-authors, found unemployed individuals in our local community to be a demographically diverse group. These unemployed clients stated a much greater interest in Realistic interests (e.g., possessing mechanical and athletic abilities, working outdoors, interacting with things rather than people) than did college students. In terms of career thinking, unemployed individuals had more total negative career thoughts and decision-making confusion (i.e., inability to initiate or sustain decision making due to disabling emotions or a lack of understanding about decision making) than college students. Yet, college students and unemployed adults did not differ in their level of career decision self-efficacy (Bullock, Andrews, & Campbell, 2010). We must consider how we will counsel unemployed adults differently due to their diversity and differences from the well-understood career development of college students.


Intervention Ideas 

  • Tango and Kolodinsky (2004) found even one session with a career counselor can create benefits for unemployed individuals. Self-efficacy beliefs, which influence several career-related variables such as interests, values, goals, activities, and job performance, are important to target in career counseling. An additional source of support for these individuals is integration with others facing similar life situations, leading to a more positive outcome than other sources of social support (e.g., spouse, friend, family member; Mallinckrodt & Fretz, 1988). It has been suggested that a personal needs assessment be conducted with newly unemployed people to help focus services on immediate concerns (Parsons, Griffore, &LaMore, 1983).

  • Targeting the four sources of self-efficacy (i.e., performance accomplishments, vicarious learning, emotional arousal, verbal persuasion; Bandura, 1986) has shown to be an effective means of increasing one’s career decision self-efficacy as have career courses.

  • To address the high level of unemployed adults identifying as Realistic, career counselors should be well-versed in identifying and utilizing resources for identifying occupations suited for those with these interests. Awareness of resources and job opportunities targeted at Realistic individuals can better prepare career counselors to meet the needs of the job seeker.

  • Unemployed individuals, who possess problematic negative career thinking, would benefit from career counseling focused on identification and reframing of negative career thoughts. The Career Thoughts Inventory (Sampson, Peterson, Lenz, Reardon, & Saunders, 1996) is an excellent tool for identifying the level and types of negative thoughts one possesses and is accompanied by a workbook utilized to aid individuals in identifying, challenging, and altering negative career thoughts. Reducing negative career thinking increases the probability that an individual will obtain the necessary skills to solve career problems and make career decisions.



Individuals presenting for career assistance, especially those identifying as unemployed, possess several concerns and barriers to the process. The unemployed are a diverse group of individuals ranging vastly in demographic variables (e.g., age, gender, race). When working with unemployed individuals, negative career thinking should be assessed and challenged prior to progressing further in the job search process.



Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social-cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Bullock, E., Andrews, L., & Campbell, M. (accepted). Unemployed adults: Helping them build a bridge to a brighter future through career counseling skills and research. Presentation for the National Career Development Association Conference: San Francisco, CA.

Kokko, K., & Pulkkinen, L. (1998). Unemployment and psychological distress. Mediator effects. Journal of Adult Development, 5, 205-217.

Mallinckrodt, B. & Fretz, B. R., (1988). Social support and the impact of job loss on older professionals. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 35, 281-286.

Margit, W., Vondracek, F. W., Capaldi, D. M., & Porfeli, E., (2003). Childhood and adolescent predictors of early adult career pathways. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 63, 305-328.

Meeus, W., Dekovic, M., & Iedema, J., (1997). Unemployment and identify in adolescence: A social comparison perspective. The Career Development Quarterly, 45, 369-380.

Parsons, M., Griffore, R., & LaMore, R. (1983). Identifying the needs of newly unemployed workers. Journal of Employment Counseling, 20(3), 107-113. Retrieved from PsycINFO database.

Paul, K., Geithner, E., & Moser, K. (2009). Latent Deprivation among People who Are Employed, Unemployed, or Out of the Labor Force. Journal of Psychology, 143(5), 477-491. Retrieved from Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection database.

Sampson, J. P., Jr., Peterson, G. W., Lenz, J. G., Reardon, R. C., & Saunders, D. E. (1996). Career Thoughts Inventory: Professional manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Tango, R., & Kolodinsky, P. (2004). Investigation of placement outcomes 3 years after job skills training program for chronically unemployed adults. Journal of Employment Counseling, 41(2), 80-92.


Michael F. Campbell is a master's student in the Counseling Psychology program at the University of Southern Mississippi.  His research interests include vocational psychology and career counseling, and he is a part of the Vocational Psychology research team at USM. He can reached at element3112008@yahoo.com 

Lindsay Andrews is a doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program at The University of Southern Mississippi. Her research interests include career development of college students as well as diverse populations. Additionally, she has experience teaching career development to undergraduate students.

Emily Bullock Yowell, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of counseling psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi.  Her research, clinical training, and teaching focuses on vocational psychology and career counseling.  She can be contacted at Emily.Yowell@usm.edu or through her website, http://ocean.otr.usm.edu/~w313873/.

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