Archive for December, 2009

Interesting shorts – recession and resilience

Impact of a recession on beliefs

My! Those are interesting shorts!

How will the recession affect the world-view beliefs of those young people living through it?

A discussion paper from the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in Germany, analyses certain beliefs held by United States citizens and tries to link these beliefs with an individual’s exposure to recessions. They found that people who experienced a recession during a key impressionable age range (18-25 years old) were more likely to believe that success in life was down to luck rather than hard work. They also found that this belief tended to persist throughout the person’s life.

This belief that success in life is beyond your control can lead someone to make less effort, which then makes the belief a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Giuliano, P. & Spilimbergo, A. (2009) Growing Up in a Recession: Beliefs and the Macroeconomy. Institute for the Study of Labour IZA Discussion Paper No. 4365.
  • Should we be working with the students currently at university in order to encourage a belief in the benefits of effort and hard work?
  • Do you think it would be useful to let students know about this research directly?
  • What do you attribute success to?

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Rudolph – a case study

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer

Rudolph careering through the snow

In his book, Understanding Careers: The metaphors of working lives, Kerr Inkson uses the stories of a number of celebrities to illustrate particular career theories. I thought I would follow suit.

The career of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer provides a clear illustration of many of the theory ideas we have talked about in this blog. The vocational choices available to a reindeer in Lapland provide a very limited opportunity structure. You very rarely hear of reindeer becoming accountants, doctors or weather presenters. In fact, aside from sleigh pulling, the only other accessible destinations would appear to be venison burgers and fur coats. It is easy to imagine Rudolph circumscribing these options fairly quickly.

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The fun theory

A while ago I was running a workshop on career choice. After we had explored all the various things that one should be doing to increase one’s chances of making a good decision, one of the participants looked at me with a rather glum expression and said ‘That sounds like too much hard work! Even though I know I should do it, I’m not sure I will. It’s not much fun.’

I had to agree with her. The way I was presenting it made it sound really onerous, responsible and worthy. Surely, there must be another way!

OK, The Fun Theory isn’t a career theory, it’s not really a theory at all. It’s a competition and marketing initiative by Volkswagen which involves coming up with ideas to encourage people to do responsible things (such as recycling and doing more exercise) by making them more fun. See the video below for a way to get people to take the stairs rather than the escalator.

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Classics – Community Interaction Theory

Bill Law

Bill - a Law unto himself

Bill Law is a bit of a guru when it comes to careers theory — he developed the DOTS framework which is used frequently in careers education. He even has his own website and twitter following.   He constantly argues for a more radical, activist perspective on careers guidance and education, embracing complexity and reforming careers to also consider life-role related learning.  More recently he’s done some work on storyboarding as David has mentioned in his earlier post.

But going back to the classics — in 1981, Law introduced his Community Interaction Theory.  He suggested that some of the most influential factors in career choice relate to events which occur in the context of ‘community interaction’ between the individual and the social groups of which she or he is a member. If theories such as Circumscription and Compromise talk about the impact of society pressures on our decision making process, Community Interaction focuses on some of the mechanisms by which this takes place.

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Can you be positive about uncertainty?

Tunnel in the fog

What's around the corner? Can you cope with not knowing for certain?

As an antidote to some of the recent posts which have examined ways of overcoming irrationality in decision making, it is time to highlight a celebration of the intuitive and the acceptance of ambiguity.

The concept of Positive Uncertainty has had a strong influence on some of the modern theories of career choice — especially those which emphasise chance and complexity, such as planned happenstance or the chaos theory of careers. The idea was introduced in 1989 by H.B. Gelatt (who appears to call himself H.B. — possibly to induce uncertainty in those he meets) and it was a complete turnaround from an earlier article he wrote advocating a totally rational approach to decision making.

Gelatt, H.B. (1989) Positive uncertainty: A new decision-making framework for counseling. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 36(2), 252-6.

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Raise the right barriers

As the employment market continues to be difficult with more graduates going for fewer jobs, employers are seeking ways to handle the increase in applicants.

I was struck by the contrast between the approaches of two retail graduate recruiters reported in the news recently. In one case, in order to reduce the number of applications they have to sift, the recruiter is said to have raised their minimum acceptable degree classification from a 2:2 to a 2:1. In the other case, they have introduced an on-line pre-screening test of situational judgement based on common work situations.

I don’t know of any research that links degree classification to one’s ability to perform as a retail manager, but there is quite a bit of research that links degree classification to socio-economic background. On the other hand, I can imagine that testing  one’s ability to think clearly about certain common work situations could correlate to job effectiveness.

I can completely understand the desire of graduate recruiters to reduce their workload when faced with a flood of applications, but I wonder if they think through all the possible unintended consequences of arbitrary grade requirement inflation. It may mean in the future that it won’t just be the professions that are disproportionately populated by the socially advantaged.

  • When visiting employers, how often do you question them about their awareness of the unintentional unfairness of their recruitment practices?

Related post: Poor students!


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Toolbox or artbox?

I am guilty.

I have committed this sin several times without thinking.

I am not the only one to have done it.

I have used the ‘T’ word.

I have used it on numerous occastions.

I have been known…

…when talking about the value of exploring theories and models…

…to use the phrase…

…’more tools in your toolbox’.

Art brushes

A brush with destiny

However, the more I think about it, the more I am annoyed by the limitations of the toolbox metaphor.

If you want to tighten a nut, you use a spanner. If you want to unscrew something, you use a screwdriver. Each tool has a specific, limited purpose. OK, if you need to bash in a nail and you don’t have a hammer, you could use a heavy spanner, but you wouldn’t be able to use the spanner to cut pieces of wood.

Giving career help to people is much more complicated. You don’t usually face a simple task for which one tool or approach is the best and only answer. Career problems are multifaceted and we often have to deal with a number of different issues simultaneously. This calls for something more sophisticated and creative than a mechanical ‘fix it’ approach and the toolbox metaphor that goes with it. Perhaps it’s time to swap the toolbox for the artbox.

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Mine! All mine!

Having recently run a workshop on differences in cultural communication, my eye was caught by a fascinating study just published in the Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology. The authors were looking into the explanations people from different countries gave for their career changes. The reasons given were divided into internal factors (e.g. desire for a change, wanting to develop) and external factors (e.g. organisational restructuring, luck). So far, so standard attribution theory.


But who or what is responsible for the change?

The interesting bit was when they looked at country differences. The career changers from the USA exclusively gave internal reasons for change, whereas those in China gave mostly external reasons. Career changers in Europe tended to offer a mixture.

Chudzikowski, K., et al. (2009) Career transitions and their causes: A country-comparative perspective. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 82(4), 825-49.

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Dialectical bootstrapping


Are they dialectical?

How could I resist writing about a technique with such a delightfully preposterous name! It has the same ridiculous elegance as ‘planned happenstance‘ and ‘positive compromise‘.

In an earlier post I wrote about how people can be induced to disagree with their own decisions. This wonderfully over-the-top phrase describes a technique which involves getting people to disagree with themselves on purpose in order to increase the accuracy of their predictions without reference to external opinions. See! Dialectical bootstrapping is a much more elegant way of saying all that!

[Herzog, S.M. & Hertwig, R. (2009) The wisdom of many in one mind: Improving individual judgments with dialectical bootstrapping. Psychological Science, 20(2), 231-7.]

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Questions about guidance

Question mark

Any questions?

Tristram Hooley who writes the blog Adventures in career development (and who also happens to be the Head of the International Centre for Guidance Studies (iCeGS) at the University of Derby) recently posted about a symposium that he was hosting. He wanted to develop a number of questions to get the discussion going. I liked his questions about guidance so much that I’m just quoting them here:

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