emotional intelligence in career guidance

The concept of Emotional Intelligence first entered the public consciousness with Daniel Goleman’s journalistic account of the research that neuro-psychologists were doing to identify a new kind of “intelligence” that seemed to be a better predictor of success in life than the traditional IQ.  Emotional Intelligence can be broadly defined as the ability to be aware of emotions (both your own and other people’s) to control them so as to manage your relationships with others and your own emotional life well.

A little thought soon leads one to the conclusion that Emotional Intelligence is a key part of successfully navigating our career decisions and working life.  Emotional Intelligence gives us the skills to aim high, to put our plans into action and to be successful in education, training and the workplace.

The ability to regulate our own emotions is essential in the workplace.  Without some self-control, we would soon end up in conflict with others. Many Careers Advisers will have seen clients who cannot sustain a job or training place because they always end up having a row with the boss or with colleagues.  Those who have the ability to put themselves in a positive, cheerful mood are better team players and find it easier to stay motivated at work.

Many people suffer from “job interview nerves”  or worry about going into new and unfamiliar situations.  Being able to manage our own anxiety so that it does not prove an insurmountable barrier is another very useful skill.

Managing emotions is also key in managing larger transitions successfully – leaving school, redundancy, promotions and retirement.  Although these transitions inevitably trigger feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, those who are more emotionally skilled may move through these negative emotions more quickly and suffer less, managing the transition with greater ease.

The best career plan in the world isn’t much help if we don’t have the motivation to follow it through.  We can all think of people who are “stuck” in unfulfilling  jobs because they lack the motivation to do anything about it.  Motivation is also a key issue in working with many young people and unemployed adults who have lost the motivation to seek work or more fulfilling activities.

The ability to defer gratification (do something unpleasant now in order to achieve something better in the future) is necessary when we choose to study at a higher level or take on an apprenticeship, and delay the day when we can enjoy a higher standard of living.  Those who are able to delay gratification are also more likely to apply themselves to study rather than give in to the temptations of surfing the net!

Hope and resilience give people the ability to bounce back from the inevitable setbacks when things don’t work out the way we planned.  Those who are optimistic and hopeful tend to try harder and persist in the face of barriers and difficulties, rather than giving up at the first hurdle.

Self-efficacy (our belief in our ability to be successful in a given task) plays a key role in career decision-making.  We are more likely to set ourselves goals and apply ourselves to tasks that we have high self-efficacy beliefs for, which leads to a positive cycle of increasing skill and success, followed by growing interest.   We are all more likely to choose careers in areas where we feel more self-efficacious.  There is a potentially negative cycle here too, where someone may have poor self-efficacy beliefs for a particular task, and therefore does not set goals or develop themselves in that direction (for example, girls may get into this negative cycle if they lack confidence with maths and science, despite having high ability).

Emotional Intelligence is so key to career success, and the good news is that there is a lot Careers Advisers can do to help clients develop their emotional intelligence:

  • Tactics to manage anxiety about job interviews or new situations
  • Tactics to manage anger in the workplace
  • Challenging negative self-efficacy beliefs
  • Helping clients recognise the value of deferred gratification
  • Recognising the role of intuition in career decision-making
  • Giving support to clients to increase resilience, confidence and hope
  • Using role models to increase self-efficacy

I recently ran a workshop with Careers Advisers exploring these skills and tactics, and was really pleased to find that within days many of them could give examples of how they were already weaving these ideas into their guidance interviews.  Simply paying more attention to the role of emotions in making transitions immediately gives more depth to the work with the client and enables the adviser to give support and help the client build confidence and motivation.  The advisers also found it very useful to pay more attention to the sources of self-efficacy beliefs – relevant experiences, encouragement or lack of encouragement from others, role-models amongst friends and family (or lack of role-models) and to use this to challenge inaccurate beliefs about the client’s abilities.

The Advisers were particularly interested in the concept of differing intelligences – for example, most Careers Advisers are rather Word Smart (good at verbal and written communication), Self Smart (self-aware)  and People Smart (good at managing relationships), but a lot of our clients are more Body Smart (good with their hands), Picture Smart (good with images), Sound Smart (good with music and sound), Nature Smart (good with plants and animals) or Logic Smart (good at maths and logical problems).

The traditional careers interviews is very Word Smart (lots of talking and a written action plan at the end) and also People Smart (two people relating to each other).  It doesn’t necessarily suit every client’s preferred learning style.

Some of the best careers work caters to the client’s own learning style.  For example, taking young people out around the shops with their CVs is more Body Smart than writing CVs in the careers centre.  Using more diagrams and pictures is Picture Smart.  Helping young people write a rap song about their skills is Sound Smart.   A lot of Labour Market Information is Logic Smart (as are lists of Pros and Cons).  Once you start to use your imagination, the possibilities are endless.

If we want good outcomes for clients (as opposed to knocking out large numbers of interviews with good written plans), we need to be more creative and not be afraid to enter the world of the emotions, to help our clients develop the motivation and the emotional skills to put their plans into action.

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