Understanding and Facilitating Self-Efficacy (Career Professionals)

Through studies of human behavior, psychologists have learned that one of most powerful predictors of success is self-efficacy.

What is self-efficacy?

Psychologist Albert Bandura defined self-efficacy as a person’s belief in his or her capability to successfully perform a specific task. Self-efficacy perceptions can be developed or strengthened through accomplishment, or through learning and persuasion from others. They can also be positively or negatively affected by emotions such as stress and anxiety.

Bandura’s theory says the three outcomes of high perceptions of self-efficacy are 1) persistence, 2) performance and 3) approach versus avoidance of tasks.

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It’s important to note that self-efficacy is task-based, not generalized. For example, you might have high self-efficacy in the specific task of driving a car from home to work because you know how to get to your job site, understand the rules of the road, and are capable of driving in differing weather conditions, etc. At the same time, you could have low self-efficacy in the specific task of parallel parking.

What’s the difference between self-efficacy and self-confidence?

Self-confidence is more general than self-efficacy. You might consider self-confidence as a personality trait or something that grows and develops as a result of personal successes or being highly self-efficacious in many tasks associated with an activity.

Using the driving example again, you might be a self-confident driver overall, because you’ve developed high self-efficacy in most of the tasks associated with the broad activity of driving, such as driving from home to work, parallel parking, and many others.

Why is self-efficacy important?

Bandura also says that how strong or weak a person’s self-efficacy is can actually determine willingness to try a new behavior or task, the amount of effort that will be put into the task, and the determination, duration or perseverance that will be exerted when obstacles arise. People with high levels of self-efficacy eagerly approach problems as challenges and expect to succeed. People with low levels of self-efficacy may be more negative and give up after small failures – assuming that they try at all.

Evidence shows that self-efficacy is at the core of much of what we do and how we function in our lives. When we don’t believe we can do something, we feel less motivation or incentive to do it because we might not see a positive outcome at the end of our efforts. This affects both our ability to perform the task and the quality with which we perform it. When we have high levels of self-efficacy, on the other hand, we feel positive about our ability to perform a task. Studies have also shown that when we believe we can do something, and we have the skills to do it, we WILL do it, even if it is difficult. For this reason there is a strong correlation between self-efficacy and successful performance.

Thus, there are three basic outcomes, or ways that higher self-efficacy contributes to successful performance:

  1. Persistence: more effort is exerted and resilience developed in the face of challenges or obstacles
  2. Performance: higher levels of performance are associated with higher self-efficacy
  3. Approach versus Avoidance: approaching tasks with engagement and enthusiasm, not anxiety

Let’s go back to the driving example again. If you have high self-efficacy about your ability to drive from home to work, then you will most likely drive to work and back successfully, even in challenging weather conditions. Because your perception of self-efficacy is high, when you encounter rain or snow on your drive, you adjust your driving style and continue with the task of driving to and from work. On the other hand, if you have low self-efficacy in driving from home to work, you may not even try to drive unless the weather is perfect, avoiding bad weather altogether and staying home rather than trying to get through it.

Self-efficacy is often a better predictor than what might be objectively true! What this means is that people with lower skill levels, but higher self-efficacy, will apply their skills more effectively than people with stronger skills and lower self-efficacy. A newer driver with strong self-efficacy, for example, will be more likely to successfully drive in the snow without having done so before than the more experienced driver who lacks self-efficacy.

How is self-efficacy developed?

In Albert Bandura’s model, there are four sources of self-efficacy, or four ways that perceptions of self-efficacy can be developed or strengthened:

  1. Performance Accomplishment, or mastery, is the most powerful way to strengthen perceptions of self-efficacy. Successfully completing a task improves the belief that it can be successfully accomplished again. Progressive mastery of related tasks can help to expand self-efficacy in a domain.

  2. Vicarious Learning, also called observational or social learning, is learning from others. This is yet another way job seekers can build their own confidence. Learning from others what has been successful and what might work for them helps job seekers to develop the belief that they too can succeed. This is most effective when the job seeker learns from someone he or she perceives to be similar or in a similar situation to his or her own.

  3. Social Persuasion such as feedback, encouragement or other external reinforcement can positively strengthen the job seeker’s self-confidence. This should be related specifically to the task to be most effective.

  4. Emotional Arousal, or emotional reactions, can positively or negatively impact perceptions of self-efficacy. When an individual is anxious and feels a high level of stress about a task, self-doubt and poor performance can result. When stress and anxiety are well-managed, on the other hand, they can actually improve performance. Using stress management and anxiety coping techniques can strengthen self-efficacy perceptions in these situations.

How can I apply these principles in my work with job seekers?

As a facilitator and counselor, your role is to help job seekers learn new behaviors that will enable them to develop confidence in a given job search or employment-related skill area, and also to become self-regulating. What this means is that through a combination of constant self-reflection and continuous learning, job seekers can, over time, become adept at building their self-efficacy and successfully searching for and maintaining employment.

Interested in learning more? Download our FREE tips sheet of techniques that can be used to help develop job seekers’ self-efficacy and employment confidence.

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