Friday, 11 September 2020

Career practice philosophies

Teaching career development to students is certainly an interesting role for a practitioner to have. I get so many very interesting questions from students, which spark fascinating discussions.

Recently I had a student who was tackling a textbook exercise where they were being asked about their client's career philosophy (Osborn & Zunker, 2016). The student responded with worry that they were not really clear as to what their own career philosophy was, let alone their client's one.

My response was that I felt that the student would already have a preferred way of working with their clients: that they would more than likely have a particular theory, set of theories or range of approaches which resonated with them... even though they may not have deliberately put a name to them yet.

It made me think about the fact that when we get a new client in our practice, we will note what language they use, what markers they give us, what behaviours they display, and what cues they provide. We will - cautiously - start to form a picture about how this new client may like to work, and therefore what tools and approaches that client will resonate with. As our experience grows as practitioners, we realise that some clients will want a quick fix, to be task focused: others will want to build an on-going, relationship-oriented conversation.

I then related a story to the student about an academic in Australia who was leading CEOs through an MBA programme. The colleague was trying to shift the student/CEO mindset, and decided to put the CEOs at the edge of their comfort zone by using a guided practice of meditation and yoga in order to create discussion (Sinclair, 2007).

What was very interesting was that this one act effectively lit the fuse on what became a bi-partisan rebellion and almost derailed the entire course. One group of students wanted facts, quantitative methods, to stay private, and to keep exploration superficial. They wanted THE answer, not enlightenment. The other group of students wanted to reflect, to be open to new experiences, wanted to explore their own views deeply. They wanted to be investigative, and ask many questions: they sought personal enlightenment. 

All that had happened was a clash of philosophical approaches: but the clash was so powerful, so potentially derailing, that it sparked the academic to write a paper about the event. The approaches may be thought of as quantitative or qualitative; or we may think of these philosophies as being deconstructivist/ Socratic or constructivist; but I am not sure that initially we need the labels. What our way is is the useful thing to determine: who we are when we work with our clients.

Although initially we may not have names for what those client approaches are, by adding to our theory knowledge, we can learn to identify the grounding philosophies, and understand how that changes the way we approach our clients.

Getting familiar with the underpinning career theories helps us to improve our service by being more responsive. It should not narrow our approaches so much that we pigeonhole, and forget to be open to clearly hearing our client.

...and what was even more interesting - and utterly off topic - is that in the case above, the task-oriented group were men; the relationship-oriented group were women (Sinclair, 2007). 



  • Sinclair, A. (2007). Teaching Leadership Critically to MBAs: Experiences From Heaven and Hell. Management Learning, 38(4), 548-472.
  • Osborn, D. S., & Zunker, V. G. (2016). Using Assessment Results for Career Development (9th ed.). Cengage Learning. 

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