If you are a professional in the field of career counselling, I wonder if you’ve ever been so enthusiastic and eager to help someone find career direction that you neglected to first find out where they are coming from, before helping them figure out where to go. Sometimes it happens.
You might be in a situation where you get to work with people over a long period of time, and so you can afford to take the time to explore a person’s past. What have then done work or volunteer-wise? What’s their education level? How well do they comprehend what they are told or what they read? What’s their capacity to remember and implement concepts necessary to taking future steps?
Conversely, you might find yourself dealing with people on a more casual basis; a one-shot 20 or 30 minute conversation; the length of which you have no real idea of when you initially are approached.
Now by career advice or career direction, I don’t mean what some people might presume; a full-blown master plan which if the person would only listen and follow through on will ultimately lead them to their goal. Who does that anyhow? No Career Advisor or Counsellor should ever in my opinion lay out such a master plan and realistically expect the person to do exactly what the plan dictates. Whose life is it?
A real pro in the Career Counselling field has to obtain some basic background information from the person or people they are working with first in order to quickly assess where they are at present. When you do this crucial first step, you find the critical starting point and can then move forward together. Miss this critical step and you could be making assumptions about the person which only later could make any settled upon plan of action impossible.
Supposing for example you walked in a room and just starting talking to the group, introducing yourself, going over an agenda of yours and then asking for some kind of commitment on their behalf. Then you realize that 3 of your participants don’t even speak or understand your language. It’s at that moment you might realize there’s a problem, and the assumption you made right from the beginning means everything you’ve done for that 15 minutes has been lost on them.
In a less obvious but equally valid situation, you may make an assumption that this unemployed person before you who is seeking your counsel has a great resume because they were formally in an upper management position. However, while they may have outstanding managerial skills, they may in fact have a disaster of a resume or CV because one doesn’t necessarily preclude the other.
Taking the time to have people share what they have done in the past, what achievements they have realized both professionally and personally is a good way to get to know the whole person. Equally valuable are their struggles, self-perceived barriers, values, limitations, expectations, hopes, etc. This needn’t be done over weeks because we don’t often have weeks to go into that extent of a person’s past, nor would that entirely be useful. It is useful however to give people a chance to share their past that has brought them to the present.
Think of this one essential piece; the unemployed or underemployed as the case may be, are no strangers to rejection, self-doubt and failure. This may have them present as having low self-esteem. By getting a chance to share their past accomplishments, achievements, even perhaps their failures and barriers, they benefit in two ways. First they feel good as they verbalize, share and remind themselves that they have been successful in the past and have things to be proud of. Second, this sharing exercise can in the right setting, show them that by being honest and vulnerable, they help those around them to know them better and give them what they really need to move forward instead of having everyone else make guesses.
Then it would seem what we must do whether it’s in a group or 1:1 setting, to create an atmosphere of trust and respect, where honest sharing of feelings is encouraged rather than suppressed. If someone is feeling frustrated with not only their situation by perhaps your ability to help them, they will disengage from the process either mentally or physically. The may become resistant, cease to participate, shut down. A good group Facilitator or Career Counsellor will always be alert to this, and always try to create a climate of acceptance.
Now to you who are seeking the career counselling or advice. It’s always a good idea to do two things simultaneously; know what you’re getting into when seeking help, and be open as much as you possibly can to both sharing openly and the feedback you’ll get. The more you expose your self to the process and commit to it, the more meaningful the experience will be. It’s unrealistic to expect that by being overly cautious and closed to others that they will succeed in helping you help yourself. Leave them to guess how best to help you and the odds of real success drop.
Reminding ourselves from time to time that each of us has interesting stories and experiences from our past which have shaped our present circumstances is a good tool to better understanding how we can assist people in reaching fulfilling futures.