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Diagram of the cognitive information processing pyramid.

Cognitive Information Processsing Pyramid


Making career decisions can sometimes be overwhelming. Unfortunately, there is no “test” that will magically unveil perfect solutions to your career concerns. Career decision-making requires a willingness on your part to undergo painstaking research and honest reflection when committing to a career decision. Since 1909, career counselors have advocated a systematic approach to helping people find answers to their own career concerns. Over the years, this approach has been modified and fine-tuned by a number of career guidance professionals.

The Cognitive Information Processing Pyramid, or CIP, is one approach to career decision-making. Developed in 1992 by Gary Peterson, James Sampson, Robert Reardon, and Janet Lenz, this pyramid represents the steps one should take in making a career choice.

We have adapted the basic concept and added additional steps. 

Step One: Knowing About Myself / Self Awareness
Gather information and clarify what you know about yourself. Consider these four components:

  • Your skills /abilities – What you do well. Your abilities and strengths.
  • Your interests – What you enjoy doing.
  • Your work values – What is most important to you? What motivates you to work?
  • Your personality Your inborn preferences and inner core.

Step Two: Knowing About My Options / Career Exploration
Identify potential occupations and majors that match your skills, interests, personality, and values. Research job descriptions, education and training requirements, and what skills and personal characteristics are required for specific occupations.

Step Three: Knowing How I Make Decisions
Once you have a clear understanding of your self-knowledge and your options, the next step is to make a decision. One thing you may want to consider is how you usually make important decisions. If you have been successfully able to make decisions in the past, then the method you used for making those decisions will apply to your career decision-making and you should stick with it.

Step Four: Thinking About My Decision Making
Identifying and addressing any barriers to your career decision-making is essential to the entire decision-making process. It is most difficult to think and make decisions when you are bombarded with negative thoughts. To overcome this barrier you must pay attention to your self-talk, become self-aware, and then control your self-talk. Once all barriers are removed, you can make a plan and carry out your decision.

Step Five: Carrying Out My Plan
Take practical steps to implement your career decisions. If you do not have it already, get the education and training you need. Speak with your academic advisor or faculty about the appropriate curriculum. Begin the coursework. Identify opportunities that can get you the experience relevant to your career goal (e.g. internships, service learning, volunteering). Get involved in professional associations and/or campus student organizations. When you are ready to job hunt, prepare a quality resume and cover letter and prepare for interviews by practicing alone or with a friend.

To access our resources and/or get assistance with choosing a major, visit the Career and Transfer Resource Center and speak to a Career Counselor.