Archive for category Classic theories

Career theory starter kit

Beam Engine Kit by Phil_Parker

James Watt wasn't really into career theory

Multi-theoretical rather than meta-theoretical

I am highly wary of people who take only one theoretical perspective.

No matter how rich and multi-dimensional your theory is, no matter how many other theories it incorporates and subsumes, it’s still only a theory. It will never account for all of the variety, complexity and general messiness of real live people in real live environments.

The real problem with only taking one theoretical perspective is that you become subject to the Law of the Instrument (or Maslow’s hammer).

Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding. (Abraham Kaplan)

It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail. (Abraham Maslow)

If you only have one theoretical perspective, you only have one set of concepts by which you interpret a client’s situation. Because of confirmation bias, you will tend to look for things that fit in with those concepts and you may fail to notice things which don’t fit.

It is tempting to force the facts to fit the concepts and limit what you notice to things that you can describe easily in your frame of reference.

That’s why I shy away from big theories which seek to do everything and try to collect lots of simpler theories that look at career decisions from very different angles. Phil McCash from Warwick University has described this as ‘theoretical triangulation‘.

So, if you’re just venturing out into the world of career theory, which theories should you start with? Here are my suggestions, with no sound scientific basis, just my personal preferences.

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Social mobility needs more than paid internships

It's not just about providing the right footholds...

The UK Government recently released Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers: A Strategy for Social Mobility.

The report quotes some depressing statistics about social mobility in the UK.

  • Only one in five young people from the poorest families achieve five good GCSEs, including English and maths, compared with three quarters from the richest families.
  • 25% of children from poor backgrounds fail to meet the expected attainment level at the end of primary school, compared to 3% from affluent backgrounds.
  • Almost one in five children receive free school meals, yet this group accounts for fewer than one in a hundred Oxbridge students.
  • Only a quarter of boys from working-class backgrounds get middle-class (professional or managerial) jobs.
  • Just one in nine of those with parents from low income backgrounds reach the top income quartile, whereas almost half of those with parents in the top income quartile stay there.
  • Only 7% of the population attend independent schools, but the privately educated account for more than half of the top level of most professions, including 70% of high court judges, 54% of top journalists and 54% of chief executive officers of FTSE 100 companies.
  • The influence of parental income on the income of children in Britain is among the strongest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. Parental income has over one and a half times the impact on male incomes in Britain compared with Canada, Germany and Sweden.

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Identity crisis

My Identity

Finding your identity

One of the most influential thinkers in the field of developmental psychology was Erik Erikson. Originally a pupil of Freud, he made a name for himself with his work on the development of human social identity.

I read about Erikson’s theories when studying for my professional qualification, but most emphasis on developmental theory in careers is dominated by the work of Donald Super. However, Erikson’s ideas of identity formation in adolescence has provided the basis for much thought and exploration around the transition from childhood to adulthood.

A couple of recent posts (Playing a role and Non-stop action) have jogged my memory about this, so I thought I would blog briefly about this classic theory and some recent developments related to it.

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RIASEC hats

Hats

Which one of these is realistic?

In The Careers Group hold regular guidance forums. These are informal learning meetings for careers advisers to discuss any guidance related issues. The last forum was run by a couple of colleagues, Jeff and Tracy, who have some experience of different forms of coaching. During the meeting, Jeff demonstrated a technique to help people address a difficult situation they may be facing. This involved getting the ‘client’ to look at their situation from a number of different angles (literally by moving around) and different perspectives.

In this particular example, the ‘client’ had to perceive the situation from the viewpoint of their colourful stripey shirt, the window, the clock, their cat, etc. Each viewpoint really represented a different aspect of the client’s personality. The stripey shirt represented their fun-loving side. The clock represented their meticulous, slightly obsessive side. The window represented their forward thinking side. Etc.

All of these perspectives were generated by the client with spontaneous, intuitive guidance from Jeff. It was fascinating to watch and I could see how useful it might be to help a client break out of habitual ways of viewing their situation.

I have also observed an adviser experiment with a similar technique in which she got the client to look at her situation from the perspective of a hero or role model. Again, this was an inspiring bit of risk taking which worked really well.

However, in both cases I was left wondering how many clients or advisers would be comfortable with that level of improvisation and whether there might be some more structured way of approaching it.

Career theory to the rescue! Read the rest of this entry »

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Classics – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Do you get sick of the succession of students falling over themselves to obtain a career in ‘The City’? Even the credibility-destroying events that led to the worst recession in decades don’t seem to have deterred the lemming charge of undergraduates towards this particular high cliff. And when you ask them why they are interested in this type of career, there is one word which falls from their lips with depressing predictability — money.

Are these young people hopelessly materialistic? Is their only notion of value linked to the size of their potential bonus? If you look at the Fred Goodwins of this world you might say yes. But are bankers only greedy because they are stuck at a more rudimentary stage of psychological development?

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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 www.hihohiho.com 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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Classics – Theory of Work Adjustment

Adjust button

If only it were that easy!

You may have noticed the theme of compromise that I have been developing over the latest few posts. Given the economic conditions, it is very likely that people will be forced to make more compromises in their careers. So it seems to make sense to explore the notion of compromise and examine how to do it well.

I’ve decided to continue this theme by introducing another classic theory. This one is primarily a matching theory, but with a bit more to it.

I have included a brief summary of the Theory of Work Adjustment (TWA) in the resources section and you might want to read that first if you are unfamiliar with it. Here I will concentrate on why I think it is interesting.

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Classics – Gottfredson

Linda Gottfredson - does she feel circumscribed or compromised?

Linda Gottfredson - is she circumscribed or compromised? I don't think so.

In 1981, Linda Gottfredson first put forward the theory of Circumscription and Compromise. It sits on the border between matching theories and developmental theories of career choice because it looks at how people’s career matching processes develop over time. It also explores the interaction of sociological factors and psychological factors that determine career decisions.

In a later article Gottfredson talks about how the theory can be applied to career guidance and counselling (‘Using Gottfredson’s theory of circumscription and compromise in career guidance and counseling’ in Career Development and Counseling: Putting Theory and Research to Workan alternative version). She recommends several different activities to foster good development of career decision making. Although the recommendations are aimed at children (and are a bit jargon-filled), they can provide a useful model for thinking about careers provision at any age.
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