Posts Tagged applying theory

Analysing your stakeholders

let's go a'slayin' by mugley

The CEO of Dracula Corp regretted calling a meeting of stakeholders

Here is another bit of management theory that could be usefully applied to careers work…

Many career theories address the influence of other people on an individual’s career choice. For example, Community Interaction theory looks at the mechanisms by which peers, parents, ethnic groups, etc., influence individual career decisions. Clients often have to take into account the views and needs of significant people in their lives. Does management theory have any light to shine on this?

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Bolster the jockey – being rational in a hard world

I would like to thank Karen DeCoster (@notchuraverage1), a career and technical education specialist at Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, for contributing this post — David
Christmas Photo by theirhistory

This jockey may not require bolstering

Several months ago, a series of discussions on the LinkedIn Group Careers Debate caused me to re-examine my counselling beliefs and methods, particularly as they apply to helping individuals  struggling with career indecision.  For the most part, I use a direct and sometimes confrontational approach in assisting individuals such as the panicked college junior who can’t seem to settle on a major,  the millennial who describes being miserably “stuck” in a job that she hates or the chronically unemployed 50 something professional who is resistant to change.  While no single methodology can guarantee success in counselling indecisive individuals there is one that seems to fit well with my direct approach.

In graduate school, one of my first classes was a course in which we examined various theories and procedures used in counselling.   Two theories particularly resonated with me:  Albert Ellis’s Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) and William Glasser’s Reality Therapy (now called Choice Theory) in that order.  Over the years, there were a few others but as the saying goes, you never forget your first.

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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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Keep it simple.

I would like to thank Vinny Potter from Queen Mary, University of London for contributing this post — David

What could be simpler?

This is a response to Katie Dallison’s post about metatheories. As has been said before in this blog, Metatheories can be very useful in careers advice, but generally only after the session. For me, that is all very well and good, but sometimes it’s nice to have a theory to hold onto during the session.

Unfortunately for me, a lot of theories are quite cerebral. They encompass a lot of abstract ideas and they can therefore be more difficult for me to remember.

Most people can only hold a few things in their head at any time. During Guidance you already have a lot to do. You need to listen intently to the client, analyse what they are saying, what they are not saying and their body language etc, then conjure up a response based on your interpretations of all of this, whilst sometimes reaching into your brain for other nuggets of pertinent information which could help the client.

This leaves little room for holding complex theories (particularly a metatheory!).

So I have come up with a new and simpler career theory.

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Dwindle, dwindle little STAR

Star in a web

Catch a falling STAR

The STAR model is ubiquitous. Almost every application form and interview presentation contains the acronym: Situation, Task,  Actions, Result. Some graduate recruiters even instruct candidates to follow this model in their application form answers.

It’s tried and tested…and I don’t like it.

Don’t get me wrong. I would rather that a candidate uses STAR than nothing. Any structure is better than no structure. But I’m not sure that STAR is the best possible structure.

Partly, I will admit, I am just being awkward and iconoclastic (I impressed myself with that word!). I have a default tendency to question and challenge anything that is well established and widely accepted without criticism.

However, I do have a couple of reasons, one pragmatic and one theoretical, why I think STAR isn’t the best possible model to be recommending.
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Non-stop action

Savage Chickens - Action MovieI came across the Contextual Action Theory (CAT) of careers and counselling quite a while ago. It was developed in the 1990s by Richard Young and Ladislav Valach.

When I first read about it, my immediate reaction was ‘I like this. It appeals to my penchant for simple, well-constructed, easy to remember theories’. But there was one problem. I couldn’t for the life of me think how it would be useful.

Actually, that’s not quite true. It was quite obvious that this was a useful theory and that it was already being used… by researchers.

Valach and Young have been using CAT as a framework for investigating individual’s career choices and the career counselling interaction for a number of years.

However, I couldn’t work out how it might be used by career practitioners in their work with clients. As usual, it was lack of imagination on my part, rather than lack of potential in the theory.

Now, I have come up with two ways in which thinking about this theory might enhance my practice.

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Applied Chaos

Using the Chaos Theory of Careers in Counselling

I would like to thank Dr Jim Bright of Bright and Associates for contributing this guest posting as a follow-up to an earlier post of mine on The Chaos Theory of Careers. — David.
Romanesca broccoli

A fractal cauliflower (or broccoli) – how applied can you get?

A bit of background

The Chaos Theory of Careers (CTC) characterises individuals as complex systems subject to the influence of complex influences and chance events. However, over time patterns emerge in our behaviour that are self-similar but also subject to change.  Career trajectories/histories/stories are examples of such complex fractal patterns.

Our careers are subject to chance events far more frequently than just about any theory other than CTC and Happenstance Learning Theory would suggest.

Our careers are subject to non linear change — sometimes small steps have profound outcomes, and sometimes changing everything changes nothing.

Our careers are unpredictable, with most people expressing a degree of surprise/delight or disappointment at where they ended up.

Our careers are subject to continual change. Sometimes we experience slow shift (Bright, 2008) that results in us drifting off course without realising it, and sometimes our careers have dramatic (fast shift) changes which completely turn our world upside down.

We (and therefore our careers) take shape and exhibit self-similar patterns, trajectories, traits, narratives, preoccupations over time.

We (and therefore our careers) are too complex to be easily captured and put into simple boxes, interest or personality codes. Even much vaunted narrative is an over-simplification.

Constructivism proposes that we are pattern makers; we can find connections and structure in almost any stimuli. CTC has at it’s heart the idea of emergent patterns.  In seeking to understand these exceedingly complex and ever changing patterns we all will construct meaning from our experiences of these patterns and the constructions that we place on our experience of reality (Pryor & Bright, 2003). In contrast with several recent theories, we contend that there is more to reality than just constructions of it (See Pryor & Bright, 2007).

In summary, CTC and any counselling process based upon it will have to take into account the following concepts:

  • Change — e.g. Bright (2008), Jepson & Chouduri (2001)
  • Chance — e.g. Chen (2005), Krumboltz & Levin (2006); Bright et al (2005), Bright, Pryor & Harpham (2005)
  • Complexity — Patton & McMahon (2006); Lent, Brown & Hacket (1996); Bright et al (2005)
  • Fractal patterns — Bright & Pryor (2010); Bright & Pryor (2005); Bloch (2005); Savickas et al (2009)
  • Emergence —  Pryor & Bright (2004); Bright & Pryor (2010); Morrowitz (2003)
  • Attractors — Pryor & Bright (2007); Bright & Pryor (2005)
  • Constructivism — Savickas (1997); Savickas et al (2009)

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Solution-focused peer support

I would like to thank Rebecca Valentine from Edinburgh University for contributing this guest posting. — David.
Rubik Cube - What's the solution?

What's the solution?

Here at the University of Edinburgh Careers Service we have regular guidance issues forums where the careers advisers get together to look at new developments and to discuss client case studies.  A while ago I was asked to facilitate a case-study forum using a solution-focused team model.

The model comes from solution focused brief therapy (SFBT), an approach I first came across during my time as a Connexions Adviser South of the border. Instead of concentrating on problems and looking to the past to see how they have come about, SFBT seeks to focus on preferred futures and how they might be realised.

One of the key principles of SFBT is that the client and helper develop a collaborative partnership in which the helper encourages their client to find their own resources and solutions to tackle the problem. Central to SFBT is the belief that the client already has the solutions; they just need help to discover them. It’s also about identifying small steps that can be taken; big problems do not always need a big solution. SFBT often involves the client making small changes in their lives that can have big consequences.

Since being introduced to SFBT, I have continued to use some of the core techniques in my one-to-one practice and I find it to be a particularly useful approach with clients who present as overly negative, or when the discussion gets bogged down in “problem talk”.

A few years ago Bristol Solutions Group developed a reflective practice team model based on the principles of SFBT (see O’Connell & Palmer 2003 for details). It’s this model that I encountered during my time at Connexions. I saw it used very effectively on a number of occasions in multi-agency forums where professionals would come together to discuss difficult cases. I discussed the format with my colleague here at Edinburgh and we decided to give it a go in one of our guidance issues forums.

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Trust your audience

I wanted to share with you a eureka moment I had recently while running a workshop with a group of speech and drama PhD researchers.  It was a full day workshop on career planning and we were reaching the dreaded dead zone (after lunch but before afternoon coffee) and moving into the discussion on networking.

Networking seems to invoke fear in the hearts of many, the idea of self-promotion really does go against all things English (and most other English-based cultures).  I got the conversation going by running the following clip:

This clip always leads to great conversations (and usually a lot of laughing) about awkward networking situations that people have experienced.

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A qualified success?

A few concepts that I blogged about have been floating round in my head for a while. A recent discussion with a client made them come together.

She was talking about how her educational background in Africa had given her a particular mindset about career success. She explained that in her home country, passing a relevant professional examination pretty much guaranteed an appropriate job. When she came to the UK, it was a great shock to her that just having good qualifications was not enough. She had been surprised at the emphasis placed on demonstrating acceptable personal qualities and the importance of networking. It had taken her quite a while to overcome this mindset, and even now her initial reaction when faced with a career challenge was to think about what training she could obtain.

She was quite surprised when I told her that it wasn’t just people from outside the UK that suffered from this blinkered attitude to employability and career success.

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