Using Tools We May Not Know We Have: Career Agency as a Resiliency Factor

By Lucy Parker-Barnes, Suzanne Degges-White, David Walker, Scott Wickman, Jesse Linneman, Courtney Rowley, Robert Giansante, and Noel McKillip

Through educational research, scholars found that both career confidence and career agency are protective factors for new teachers (Cobb, 2022). Teachers who reported high career confidence, agency, and calling, also reported less burnout and attrition, even during and after impacts from the collective trauma of COVID-19. Despite career agency’s emphasis as a protective factor with current teachers, less is known about how career agency helps counselors and counselor educators. According to Rottinghaus et al. (2017), career agency is defined as “the ability for an individual to intentionally initiate, control, and manage career transitions for the career an individual intrinsically desires to pursue” (p. 65). Career agency is a relatively new construct and is oftentimes used synonymously with career self-efficacy. Despite synonymous usage with career self-efficacy, career agency is defined as more than simply “believing I can do a career” (Rottinghaus et al., 2017, p. 64); career agency describes “actually anticipating doing and then actually doing behaviors to try my desired career pursuit” (p. 64). It adds a person’s behaviors to their self-ascribed career confidence. In other words, career agency could be termed as career confidence in action.

The Importance of Studying Career Agency

Despite positive effects of career agency observed in the educational world, less is known about this construct in the counseling field. Additionally, current counselors may not be fully trained in competencies related to helping clients with career-related issues (Allan et al., 2021; Liu, 2013; Sturm, 2012). Counselor educators need to know about career agency to foster this protective construct within their own professional selves, as well as their students, clients, and supervisees. An understanding about career agency may also help to add to the knowledge base of career-informed approaches taught in counselor education. Counselor educators also need to know whether career agency could serve as a resiliency factor to barriers that both clients and students may face including varying -isms such as, classism, racism, and sexism (Hargons et al., 2022; Thompson, 2008).

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Career Agency as Resiliency for Students Facing Classism and Other -Isms

One study aimed to highlight the need to further understand career agency as a resiliency factor. In it, researchers examined both career agency and classism at a large, Midwestern university setting (Parker, 2018). To note, the -ism of classism is defined as experiencing discrimination because of one’s perceived social class status (Thompson, 2008). Downward classism is the most frequent form and involves stigmatizing a person (unintentionality or intentionally) based on their perceived lower social class status. This study utilized convenience sampling with 202 undergraduate students (i.e., 125 females, 76 males, and 1 non-binary student) who were asked to voluntarily complete the Career Futures Inventory—Revised (CFI-R;which assesses for career agency), and the Experiences with Classism Survey--Short Form (EWCS;which assesses for perceived classism). Descriptive data from this study showed that 85% of students did report experiencing some form of classism. Despite most students facing at least some form of classism, most students actually also reported still having high career agency. This study is one example that supports that argument that continued awareness about career agency and classism could also aid counselor educators and counseling students to better foster clients’ career-related and class-related issues. This study also substantiates why career agency should be further explored as a potential resiliency factor for clients and students.

Broad Recommendations for Counselor Educators and Counselors

Focusing on career agency as a strengths-based intervention is an important recommendation for counselors and counselor educators. Broad and practical recommendations to foster career agency include the following:

  • Counselor educators should teach about career-related interventions beyond just the required career counseling class
  • Counselors should include in clinical interviews and on intake paperwork questions that incorporate a client’s social class status, potential classism experienced, any other -ism experienced, and any reported career agency or other resiliency factors (Garriot et al., 2021; Juntunen, et al., 2020; Rottinghaus et al., 2017).
  • Undergraduate and graduate instructors should teach students how they may develop and maintain not only their career confidence but also career agency (Rottinghaus et al., 2017).

Fostering Career Agency Through Experiential Learning and Vignette Usage

A more concrete way to foster career agency in both clinical and academic work can be through vignette usage. Counselor educators’ usage of vignettes in which counseling students more frequently role play career related interventions for career concepts such as career agency, are needed (Parker, 2018). Usage of diverse, non-stereotyped vignettes in both class and the counseling session, are encouraged and may include a) the representation of clients of color in upper class statuses, b) vignettes of confident women in male-dominated careers, and c) vignettes of people who are poor without mental illness or addiction and who are employed. Inclusive vignettes may also be used in counseling to inspire hope, add representation, or foster relatability for clients when supplementing these type of vignettes in a therapeutic way.

Increasing Inclusivity in the Future

The National Career Development Association’s (2015) Code of Ethics promotes awareness that counselor educators and other career development practitioners must continue to help underrepresented people in research, education, and careers (NCDA, 2015). One way to help increase inclusivity is by bringing awareness to the prevalence of barriers, such as classism, that students and clients may face alongside resiliency factors such as career agency.


Allan, B. A., Garriott, P., Ko, S. J., Sterling, H. M., & Case, A. S. (2021; advanced online publication). Classism, work volition, life satisfaction, and academic satisfaction in college students: A longitudinal study. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. https://doi.org/10.1037/dhe0000221

Cobb, D. J. (2022). Metaphorically drawing the transition into teaching: What early career teachers reveal about identity, resilience and agency. Teaching and Teacher Education, 110. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2021.103598

Hargons, C. N., Malone, N., & Montique, C. (2022). Intersectionality in therapy for African American and Black women. In K. Shelton, M. K. Lyn, & M. Endale (Eds.), A handbook on counseling African American women: Psychological symptoms, treatments, and case studies (pp. 209-226). ABC-CLIO, LLC.

Juntunen, C. L.,, Ali, S. R., & Pietrantonio, K. R. (2020). Social class and poverty: A renewed focus in career development. In S. D. Brown & R. W. Lent (Eds.), Career development and counseling: Putting theory and research to work (pp. 341-374). Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Liu, W. M. (2013). The Oxford handbook of social class in counseling. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195398250.001.0001

National Career Development Association. (2015). NCDA code of ethics. Author.

Parker, L. (2018). Examination of the relationship between classism and career agency (Doctoral dissertation, Northern Illinois University).

Rottinghaus, P. J., Eshelman, A., Gore, J. S., Keller, K. J., Schneider, M., & Harris, K. L. (2017). Measuring change in career counseling: Validation of the Career Futures Inventory-Revised. International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance, 17(1), 61-75. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10775-016-9329-7

Thompson, M. N. (2008). Relations of supports and barriers to social status and vocational behavior (Doctoral dissertation, University of Akron).



Lucy Parker BarnesLucy Parker-Barnes, PhD, LPC, CCMHC, NCC is an Assistant Professor at Gannon University, Clinical Lecturer at Northwestern University, and practicing Licensed Professional Counselor. Dr. Parker-Barnes has worked with various clients, specifically in various crisis settings. Dr. Parker-Barnes has also recently worked with a variety of clients who are also counselors through her current telehealth private practice. Dr. Parker-Barnes has also taught a variety of counseling courses to counselors and counselors-in-training, including Appraisal in Counseling, Professional Identity in Counseling, Helping Relationships, Crisis Counseling, Advanced Trauma Skills with Children in Counseling, Multicultural Counseling, Theories in Counseling, and varying workshops for licensed counselors in Erie, Pennsylvania. Dr. Parker-Barnes also enjoys using creative counseling approaches with clients, including clients who are counselors, in her sessions. She is also a member of the American Counseling Association, the Pennsylvania Counseling Association, the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision, the Association of Humanistic Counseling, the Association for Creativity in Counseling, Counselors for Social Justice, and others. She can be reached at parkerba001@gannon.edu


Suzanne Degges WhiteSuzanne Degges-White, PhD, LCPC, NCC, is a professor and chair of the Department of Counseling and Higher Education at Northern Illinois University.




David WalkerDavid Walker is an Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Northern Illinois University and a Professor of Educational Research. His research interests include statistics and quantitative methods.




Scott WickmanScott A. Wickman, PhD, is a professor emeritus of the Department of Counseling and Higher Education at Northern Illinois University. He hosts the podcast Mental Illness in Pop Culture and is a former president of the North Central Association of Counselor Education and Supervision; Illinois Counseling Association; Illinois School Counselor Association; and Illinois Association for Spiritual, Ethical, and Religious Values in Counseling


Jesse Linneman is a graduate student and counselor-in-training at La Salle University


Courtney RowleyCourtney Rowley graduated from Keuka College with a bachelor's in forensic psychology and a minor in criminology/criminal justice. Currently enrolled in Gannon University's Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program. Employed as a graduate assistant for the CMHC department at Gannon University. Member of PSI CHI and CSI. 


Robert GiansanteRob Giansante is from Mississauga, Ontario.  Growing up, Rob played hockey competitively and enjoyed theater and drama.  He studied Applied Psychology during his undergraduate career at Mercyhurst University, and is now completing his Masters of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.  Rob has experience working with individuals on the autism spectrum, as well as college students. Rob is the current President of Gannon University’s Chi Sigma Iota chapter.  He currently works as a Student Support Services advisor at Gannon University.  Upon graduation, Rob hopes to work with military veterans and/or substance abusers.


Noel MckillipNoel McKillip graduated with a Master of Arts degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Northwestern University (2021) with a specialization in child and adolescent treatment. Noel is a member of a Stress and Cognition Lab and a Neuroscience Integration Lab and is active in her role as a clinician and researcher. Presently, Noel operates as a contracted therapist at Building Warriors, a non profit providing culturally competent treatment for first-responders and their families, and as a developing neurofeedback provider at NeuroBloom Counseling, where she evaluates qEEG data to improve brain function, strengthen cognitive ability, and decrease anxiety among adults and children with learning and stress-related disorders. Noel’s interests include the impact of trauma across the lifespan and integrating treatment for children and adolescents across education and mental health systems.


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Nedra Klee Hartzell   on Sunday 05/01/2022 at 04:03 PM

Hello all. Good work. Classism is rarely addressed. I applaud your work and hope that you will research/write more. Thank you.

Lucy Parker-Barnes   on Monday 05/02/2022 at 09:35 PM

Dear Nedra, Thank you so much for your encouraging review! I am very passionate to continue studying classism and would love to collaborate in the future, if you would like, on any future projects! Sincerely, Lucy

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.