5 Things I Learnt From Front Line Careers Work


This week I move from my role as a Careers Consultant at the University of Derby to being a Lecturer in Careers Development based at iCeGS, still here at the university of Derby. This means I will no longer have a front line role delivering careers guidance and instead will be mostly training trainee advisers as well as getting involved in research projects through the centre.

I thought I would take this as an opportunity to set out some rough thoughts about what I learnt from being a careers adviser that I wish I had known before. So here we go with some words of wisdom…

1) Engagement is king

As a bright eyes new careers adviser you walk in with a whole host of ideas about how you can help your students. The problem is very few of them actually want to be helped and those that do come and see you rarely want the help you are offering. Nothing beats being able to get people interested and engaged in careers and seeing how you can help beyond just telling them what to do. If you can get people to listen and engage then you have won most of the battle.

2) Eureka moments don’t happen

Somewhere in the back of your mind ass an adviser is the hope some student is going to walk into your appointment/ workshop confused and stressed and on coming into contact with your skillful session be empowered to see the world completely differently, but paradigm shifts and eureka moments rarely, if ever happen. Most of the time you are nudging people in the right direction or sowing seeds that grow very slowly. And, you will rarely, if ever, find out about if there are long term benefit.

3) Keep it simple

One of the big things I learnt is the power of saying one thing well. Career can seem so complicated and that there is so much to cover that you never have enough time. I feel (particularly in light of the second point) that nudging people along is best achieved by saying one (or a few) things well that engages someone and gives them a way forward. You don’t have to deal withe everything and often it is more practical and more effective to not try.

4) Theory is the key to creativity

This will not surprise anyone who has worked with me but my belief in the centrality of theory to practice. Good practice is reliant on finding new ways to approach old problems, to think differently and to try something new.  Having theory allows you to shift your position, to think through common problems and to shift your attack. It is vital.

5) Wars are won by foot soldiers

Wars are won by foot soldiers by generals, that is to say it is not ultimately strategy or resources or leadership that wins the day (though those things are important) but wars are won by foot soldiers standing on enemy territory. In others words careers work is ultimately effective not because of big strategies, new ideas or new resources but because of the ability of advisers to get the job done face-to-face with the people they’re trying to help. 5 years has definitely tempered by belief in top level strategy and increased by confidence in engaging those you’re trying to help in the moment and using your skills to make a difference.


Agree? Disagree? What lessons have you learnt from your practice recently?

4 thoughts on “5 Things I Learnt From Front Line Careers Work

  1. Really interesting Tom. And I love that idea that you start off thinking you’ll help someone with a ‘Eureka’ moment but then realise that this doesn’t (often) happen. I guess when you’re thinking of making little ‘nudges’ this might be something that is particularly supported by coaching approaches to guidance? I hope you enjoy your new role. Certainly in terms of your point 4 bringing theory and practice together it seems like an excellent opportunity for you.

  2. how much impact are we having ? the ever present conundrum in the life of a careers professional/service … but engagement is definitely the starting point. Best of luck exploring this further in research or via the workforce of the future.

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