From talking to other careers practitioners I often get the impression that practitioners feel stuck in a matching model of careers work without really having a viable alternative. I see this in myself I can wax lyrically about the limits of a matching paradigm and how it is bad tool to exclusively use with clients but yet I find my practice drifts towards this for lack of an alternative. Often I find practitioners are interested in happenstance models, in constructivist approaches or in approaches based around motivational interviewing or some other form of positive psychology but they lack a road map to do things differently. Particularly with constructivist paradigms you could well accuse them of being a theory in want of an application, people often agree with the ideas but struggle to see how to implement them.
This is my attempt to lay out what I see as an alternative to a matching model of careers interviewing/ guidance/ coaching. I don’t think it’s perfect or completely resolves all the issues, it is just my attempt to do things different which I am currently trying out in practice.
I don’t want to rehearse the arguments for a narrative approach to careers guidance as I’ve covered them before, you may be interested to read some things I’ve written before here, here, here and here.
I see the following as a set of stages that would be worked through in a one-to-one meeting.
- Clarifying Concepts
The point of this stage is to help clients understand what is going to happen and why they should buy into it. The basic discussion is how thinking about their narrative may help them. This will not have an exact formula but links to notions of development, the past informing the present and future, storytelling as a way to encapsulate employability may be cited. The key is to get the client to buy in to discussing their story as a productive way of resolving their developmental needs.
- Discussing The Present
This stage focuses on creating a starting point for discussing the clients narrative. Though it doesn’t occur first chronologically the present is the moment that clients have the most access to, clients normally present with a present focussed question, “can you tell me about…”, “can you help me apply for…”, “I don’t know what to do…”, “I am really struggling with…”. Clarifying the present situation gives you a foundation to discussing the past, it helps you and your client to work through where to start.
- Linking With The Past
This stage is where themes and key moments for the individual are uncovered. The past can be a labyrinth which is easy to get lost in, your discussion around the present should help you find a focus. This may be looking for a theme of trying to work out when something started. The main ways to discuss the past is through asking about turning points and key moment or themes and continuities. Questions may include “Can you remember when things changed?” “Was their a particular moment that clarified that, has that been a theme?” “Can you give examples of this?” Other useful perspectives can be created around prompts from various perspectives on careers development by asking about a clients social environment, chance events, the skills they enjoyed using, how they learnt about the world of work, who their role models have been etc. The point of looking at this is to see why things are the way they are in terms of a cause and effect train. But more than this their is a need to discuss how the client sees and understands these events and themes. This discussion should be supported by asking the client to draw some conclusions? What do you think the most important events are?
- Clarifying The Present
This stage is about understanding where a clients currently is. After initially exploring you start asking the client to make links about their present. Why are things the way they are? Why do they feel this way? Why has this occurred? It may be worth looking for what affect the discussion of the past has had on their view of the present. One of the main concepts at use here is that our lives have a sense of momentum of trajectory to them, they move themselves forward on the basis of a set of forces so understanding and appreciating these forces from our past helps us clarify our present. The counterpoint to this is that the present is text that could be read in different ways. What ways could their be of seeing things differently? Looking for multiple readings of the present can be helpful to open up possibilities and creative or divergent ways of seeing the problems the client faces.
- Projecting Into The Future
The next task is to draw links between the construct of the past/ present they have created and how they see their future. This links in with the idea of trajectory we discussed above and asks the client to consider what direction their life is going and how do they feel about this. Most of the time clients coming looking for help because their is a gap between their preferred and expected future narratives, understanding this narrative gap is vital for understanding what is motivating the client. This can also be vital for buying in to changing their future and taking action. The job at this point is to gain a conception of what their future could look like and to what they think it will look like if things are left “as is”. Here the focus should be on developing and understanding themes and patterns someone would want in their future, digging down to core concepts rather than describing exact situations. It is more helpful to say “I want a future where I could express my creativity” rather than “I want a career as a graphics designer.”
- Acting Into The Future
The final job is to discuss strategies that could be used to move towards the future they want and away from their “as is” situation. As with any story there is a sense of uncertainty when confronting the future, this should be acknowledged and used as a key tool rather than ignored. It is used as a key tool by considering what strategies they can use to develop themselves in the face of uncertainty rather than planning around it. The focus is on changing a trajectory, taking significant and fateful actions that open up a set of different (but still emergent) possibilities. The focus is more around changing their character and how they are developing themselves rather than imagining them moving off one train track and onto another. To give an example train tracks are moved between by “understanding what they need to know” while character is changed by becoming more curious and having means to develop their curiosity. Ultimately we are helping them to change and develop the character they are in their narrative rather than choose a different destination.
So this is my attempt at summarising a new approach I am looking to try out in practice. Please do comment away bellow, I would love to have people’s feedback. I hope to have a go at this with some clients in the field and may report back in a bit on how that goes.