Constructing successful careers

How useful are your career constructs?

How useful are your career constructs?

A while ago I came across a fascinating article entitled ‘Graduates’ Construction Systems and Career Development’ by Valerie Fournier (Human Relations 50(4) 1997). The research used a technique from Personal Construct Psychology called the Repertory Grid to elicit the constructs (mental frameworks) through which graduates viewed themselves in the world of work. Fournier examined the graduates as they started their careers, after six months and then after four years.

She then compared the graduates whose careers had been successful with those who were less successful. She used objective measures of success (i.e. promotions) and subjective measures (i.e. reported career satisfaction).

What she found was that the successful and less successful groups started out their careers with different ideas about themselves and their interaction with the working world. Those who were less successful were more likely to construe themselves in terms of achievements and work competence. The successful graduates were more likely to use constructs related to social behaviour, adjustment and flexibility. Fournier tentatively concluded that career success may be more likely for those graduates who approach the world of work anticipating the importance of social relationships, understanding office politics and preparing to learn and adapt.

One problem with this research stems from the fact that the graduates that Fournier followed entered an organisation that subsequently went through a period of restructuring. This may have skewed the results. Although, it could make them even more relevant in the current economic climate.

I have made some attempts to track down any similar research without much success so far.

  • How are we preparing graduates to be successful in the world of work?
  • If we concentrate on a skills agenda linked to work competence in our employability education are we  reinforcing dangerous constructs?
  • Should we, instead, be focusing on looking at preparing students for the transition to work by helping them to think in terms of navigating the social structures in the workplace possibly using Emotional Intelligence?
  • Why don’t we use Personal Construct Psychology more in careers work?

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  1. #1 by John King on 9 October 2009 - 23:47

    Vaguely related to this – I read once that Marks & Spencer used to train staff in ‘How to run a meeting’. I’m not sure if they still do. I’ve worked in lots of different places, and never received this training – which, given that meetings are fundamental to the way we work, you would have thought would be as basic a part of training as ‘How to login’… No wonder people complain about meetings… no-one knows how they are supposed to behave!

    • #2 by David Winter on 11 October 2009 - 19:40

      Yes, I wonder if we do enough on transition to work. Do we assume that, because many students have to work part-time to finance their degrees, they have picked up all they need to know about adapting to a working environment?

      What intrigued me about this research was that it seemed to be saying a bit more than just the usual ‘people who are good at networking are more successful than those who are just good at their jobs’. It is saying that people who perceive their future career in terms of social interactions and flexibility are more likely to be successful than those who perceive their jobs in terms of performance alone.

      It is interesting that further into their careers the less successful graduates came round to the idea of seeing the world of work in terms of social interactions, but by then they were cynical about it. I have come across a number of mature clients who said, ‘I realised too late that it’s not about how good you are; it’s about who you know.’

  2. #3 by Aminder K Nijjar on 30 October 2009 - 19:53

    Hi,
    Agree with your comments David about the importance of transition/s, which is why I’ve never understood why we don’t do more on this topic with clients. Workplace cultures and politics play a massive part in clients’ actual experiences and successes (or otherwise).
    ‘Oh that’s common sense, everyone knows…’, can often be the reaction of people who understand and easily navigate these territories. I’m old enough to know that common sense is often not so common, (and yes, I speak from personal experience!).

    • #4 by David Winter on 30 October 2009 - 23:19

      I suppose because I work with career changers as well as career entrants I tend to see people after the transition and have had to deal with the consequences of people not settling into the working environment.

      Watch this space. I’m planning some more stuff on transitions soon.

    • #5 by Gill Frigerio on 4 December 2012 - 13:00

      interesting discussion. In the universal acceptance that work experience is a ‘good thing’, do we do enough to unpick what and how students are learning. Ideally its supported before and after, so students can consider the generalisations about the world they are making through that experience. The point about adaptability is interesting too – I’m doing some work on a career adaptability ‘measure’ and this is a useful article. Thanks, David!

      • #6 by David Winter on 4 December 2012 - 13:57

        Hi Gill
        Thanks for the comment. It is certainly my experience from working with mid-career professionals that many of the career development and employability issues derive as much from one’s ability to understand and navigate the social structures in the workplace as much as one’s development of ’employability skills’.

        If there are work experience schemes that direct learning towards this area of employability, I would be interested in hearing about them.

  3. #7 by Aminder K Nijjar on 31 October 2009 - 04:03

    I shall be watching!

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