Monday, 24 June 2019

Dunning-Kruger need not apply

Earlier this year I participated in a professional development workshop, providing feedback on a proposed professional development process for the Career Development Association of New Zealand (CDANZ).

One of the proposals was that members would continue to evaluate themselves through a self-reflection process, and although the aim is that the organisation will randomly audit self-reflection documentation, what our feelings were about the lack of external review. It was suggested that issues may arise around members underselling their abilities, or over-blowing them.

There are always a few who will rely on chutzpah over actual ability. However, these people are rare in the career development industry, not normally finding adequate reward, glory or fame in what is, after all, a helping field.

Then there is the Dunning-Kruger effect, where "people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it" (Kruger & Dunning, 1999, p. 1121). This too would be rare in career development. It would be rare because to be a professional member of the association requires on-going professional development, and has - and will continue to - require members to stay up-to-date with new developments in their specialty.

In my view it is underselling - humility - that is far more likely to be a problem in the career development field. Characteristics useful in counselling professions tend to be empathy, patience, good listening skills, perception, acceptance, and creativity. These are characteristics which develop emotional intelligence, not diminish it. Practitioners need to be client-centred, because any intervention, suggestion or knowledge sharing needs to be about the client - and possibly Whanau - not the practitioner. The spotlight goes on and remains on the client, with the career practitioner as a mirror, using career expertise to reflect the client back to themselves.

As we use reflection so much for our clients, self-reflection is a very normal tool for career practitioners. It allows us to finally see ourselves within the work. Formal training in the field relies heavily on self-reflection both for assessment and as a model of practice. It is embedded through peer supervision, professional supervision, and regular, structured learning.

We do need checks and balances though to ensure that we are seeing ourselves realistically, and that it to be sure that we are not being too hard on ourselves.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect need not apply.


  • Reference: Kruger, J., & Dunning, D. (1999). Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(6), 1121-1134.

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