Monday, 7 September 2020

Some qualitative career assessments

Most career practitioners I know in New Zealand use a lot of 'non-standardised' assessments methods, which are more commonly known in this neck of the woods as qualitative assessment methods. I recently compiled a list of a few of these for my students, and thought it might be useful to share the list.

The items I included are:
Cognitive map: After completing a card sort, the practitioner creates a mind map from the clients process of deciding, and final placement of the cards, adding the title the client assigned to each group. The number of card groups is important. "According to Peterson and Lenz (1992), the median is between five and seven piles, which they state is a picture of occupational maturity. A person with [fewer] than five piles might need more specific information on the world of work, whereas a person with more than seven might need help integrating [their] knowledge" (Osborn & Zunker, 2016, p. 168).
Genogram or Vocational Family Tree: "the purpose is to gain a graphic picture of the client's career heritage [...]. What have family members done in the past? What themes are evident among gender, or other, factors? The counselor would work with the client to create a genogram, in the same way a genogram is normally created (start with either self or relative, indicating marriages, children, divorces, etc.). What gives a genogram a career emphasis is going back through the genogram and identifying each person's career. Many other options exist. For example, it might be interesting to note highest level of education achieved, career paths each took, any dominant values, stress-related illnesses, and so forth" (Osborn & Zunker, 2016, p. 178).
Career Collage: This activity uses client-chosen images from any source - this can be done by clipping and saving to a file on a device, or using hard copy magazines and pasting the chosen images onto a large sheet. It would be normal to start with a theme, such as "focus on a career decision we were considering at that point, [or] to create a picture of our present or future selves, our values", or to "think about [a] life in retrospect, and to find symbols that represented a life well lived" (Osborn & Zunker, 2016, p. 177). "By supplementing discussion with action and creative energy, you can help to get clients out of their heads and into the core constructs that make them who they are" (p. 178).
Five Lives: This activity is useful for starting career conversations, where the practitioner asks "If you were able to live five completely different lives, what would they be?" (Osborn & Zunker, 2016, p. 175). This should start a conversation about potential, "versus 'getting down to business' and staying focused in reality. This is important because [some clients may] dismiss aspirations that are actually quite within the realm of possibilities. This happens because of real or perceived barriers" (p. 175).
Ideal Day: For this activity the client has to be open to relaxation techniques, and to personal creativity. This is similar to the Five Lives activity, but with the practitioner taking a counselling approach and helping the client to relax and to imagine an an ideal day. The practitioner uses a scenario script to help the client to place themselves within and walk them through the day, with questions which prompts the client's imagination. A debrief takes place after the activity, where the client relates what this day was like for them (Osborn & Zunker, 2016, p. 176).
Life Role Analysis: "Gysbers (2006) designed this assessment to help clients explore their expectations towards the different life roles they have played, are playing currently, and expect to play in the future" (Osborn & Zunker, 2016, p. 179). "Clients are instructed to draw three separate circles, to identify roles 5 years back, currently, and projecting 5 years into the future. Within each of those circles, clients draw smaller circles to represent the roles they are playing during those time periods, arranging the smaller circles to show relationships among the roles and importance as compared to the other roles" (p. 179).
My Career Chapter: "Mcilveen (2008) developed this writing tool as a narrative approach to use with clients, with an emphasis on self-reflection. Consisting of seven steps, clients are asked to respond to different prompts. Steps may include completing a matrix of personal influences versus environmental/societal influences, writing a manuscript in response to sentence completion stems, 'channeling' a self that is five years younger to act as an editor of the manuscript, and reviewing themes" (Osborn & Zunker, 2016, p. 179).
20 Things: This activity works where people are stuck in identifying skills or interests. "Clients are instructed to write down 20 things they like to do. They can list activities done at work; leisure activities, such as movies, parties, reading; or taking classes" (Osborn & Zunker, 2016, p. 180). Once the list is complete, clarifier codes are noted against to each item: T for additional training; R for risky; PL for planning; A for solo participation; P for being a group or partnership activity; a date for the last engagement in the item. Then the client stars their top five (Osborn & Zunker, 2016, p. 180). 
Other ideas: There is a superb book by Mary McMahon and Wendy Patton (2015) called "Ideas for Career Practitioners" which contains 48 chapters full of qualitative or constructivist career ideas. I strongly suggest that you obtain a copy as it is (a) context-rich for Oceania, (b) contains clear instructions from each of the practitioners who developed the exercises, and (c) details the time, the resources, and some suggested alternatives. This is a great piece of kit.
I hope some of these ideas assist :-)



  • McMahon, M. & Patton, W. (2015). Ideas for Career Practitioners: Celebrating excellence in career practice (2nd ed.). Australian Academic Press.
  • Osborn, D. S., & Zunker, V. G. (2016). Using Assessment Results for Career Development (9th ed.). Cengage Learning.


  1. Thanks Sam a good summary and a timely reminder to mix up how we do things :)


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