Posts Tagged ‘career guidance’

Mental Health and the Benefits System

Andrea sits down in front of her careers adviser, John, clearly very agitated.  She rushes to get her words out.  “I’ve just come from the Job Centre, and they say I’ve got to have a CV.  Can we get it done today?”

“Yes, we could work on a CV,” the adviser replies.  “But it sounds like it’s the Job Centre that wants this CV.  What do you want?”

Andrea insists that she must have the CV today, otherwise her benefit will be cut. It’s clear that this is the only reason for the CV, and the threat of having her money cut is uppermost on her mind.  She’s typical of many clients referred by the Job Centre.

John has met Andrea before, and when they met a month ago, Andrea had told him that she was on medication for depression and anxiety and had been on Incapacity Benefit for a few years, but had recently been switched back to Job Seekers Allowance, as a result of a medical assessment. Her GP, however, doesn’t think she is ready to work yet.

When they last met, they talked about Andrea’s ideas for the future.  She was once a Care Assistant, but she said “I can’t go back to that work.  Because I just don’t care and it’s not fair on the older people for me to be in that job.  I need to do something else.  Something practical with my hands, so I don’t have to talk to people all the time.”

John offers to ring up the Job Centre and negotiate a more sensible deadline for the CV, and Andrea immediately relaxes.  After some haggling on the phone, it is agreed that the Job Centre will give Andrea more time to create the CV, provided she spends time with the Careers Adviser on “preparation”.

With the immediate threat of being left without money tackled, Andrea is now able to tell John what has happened since they last met.  Her sister-in-law told her that there were jobs going in a local meat-packing factory.  “I really thought about it, ” says Andrea, “but then I got so worried, I had to take more medication, and just go off for a walk.  I was gone all day. My husband knows me, he knew I was getting worse and he wanted me to go back to the GP.  I don’t know why thinking about that job set me off, but it did.  I didn’t feel right for a couple of weeks.  I think my sister-in-law thinks I’m just lazy.”

They talk about the reasons she wants to work – to be busy, to have more money, to get back to a normal life, to be out of the house.  They also talk about the reasons that she doesn’t feel ready.  She can’t face crowds of people.  Some days, she can’t get out of bed in the morning.  She lacks energy.  She has panic attacks when things feel out of control.  “It seemed like a good job for me, just what I wanted, but it just felt like too big a step.”

Andrea and John spend some time thinking about “small steps”.  Andrea comes up with the idea of an exercise class, a craft class at the adult education centre and ringing her friend to go to a nearly town for a shopping trip on the bus.  John suggests voluntary work – maybe in a charity shop to get used to being around people and having a regularly place to be each week.  Eventually Andrea creates an action plan that includes calling into the adult education centre and a local charity shop.   They agree to meet again in a few weeks to review progress and do the dreaded CV.

Andrea looks anxious as soon as the CV is mentioned.  “A CV isn’t just for getting a job,” John reassures her.  “We can use it as a way to think about all your experiences and what you can do.”

This is real career guidance.  Professional careers advisers work from a Code of Ethics, and putting the client’s needs first is at the heart of this.  A professionally qualified careers adviser will explore the deeper issues that prevent people from achieving their goals, rather than focus immediately on job applications.

Professional career guidance, however, is being cut back all over the UK, and replaced by “job search advice” or “employment support”, offered by staff who are often trained only to a very basic level, and who often work in a very target-driven environment – if they don’t get clients into jobs quickly, their organisations won’t fulfil  the targets in their contract and they will be out of a job.  Some of them are on temporary contracts or have performance-related pay, so the can’t afford not to get their clients into work quickly.

You can’t really blame these advisers for pushing their clients to get back into work quickly, but it’s often a very inappropriate approach for clients with mental health problems, who may need to take many small steps towards being “job-ready”.  The process of getting back to work has to proceed at a pace appropriate to the client – it can’t be rushed. Many clients with mental health problems do want to get back to work, but they recognise that they need support (perhaps part-time or flexible hours, a reduced workload or social support), and many employers would rather just employ someone else.  A paid job is often a very the long-term goal.

Clients who are pushed back into work before they are ready, without appropriate support, may find that they can’t actually perform the job at the speed and standard expected, they may feel socially isolated and often find that their condition is exacerbated by the pressure to “keep up”.  Their attendance at work may be poor, especially if they don’t get appropriate support from their employer.  They are unlikely to hold down the job, so the cycle begins again – they are back in the benefit system with even lower levels of confidence.

The Value Of Career Guidance

I was out and about with another Careers Adviser recently, sitting in on some of her Year 11 interviews to see how they were going, as part of our quality assurance process.

The first client of the day was a smart young girl, who sat down confidently and greeted us both.  She was well spoken, and immediately said that she wanted to be a dentist, and she would be doing A-Levels in Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Physics in the school sixth form.

Although she was quite happy to see the adviser, it was clear that she didn’t really think she needed a careers interview.  However, she agreed to the adviser’s suggestion that we “check out her plans, just to make sure she hasn’t missed anything”. She agreed, although she said really wanted to stay focused on dentistry and not be distracted.

The adviser did indeed check out her plans, and they seemed pretty watertight.  She was expecting mainly A and A* grades.  She had done work experience in a dentist’s surgery and loved it.  This was her own idea – “the first idea I’ve had that’s been really mine” – but her parents were supportive.  She had been to a careers fair and picked up some careers information which she had read carefully.  She liked the idea of running her own practice, working with her hands, solving problems and of helping to make the world a better place.  She loved Maths and Physics but was equally good at Biology and Chemistry and knew these subjects were the most important.  She had even looked at the UCAS website and identified some universities she was interested in.

So far, so good.  This is what most people expect a Careers Adviser to check out, and many teachers and non-professionals, if supplied with the right information and enough time, could also check these things out.  Our adviser, however, knew from the research that many young people who are very focused at this age go on to be unhappy with their career choice, but feel it is too late to get off the treadmill and end up feeling stuck in the wrong career.  Over half of university graduates feel they did the wrong degree.

The Adviser congratulated her on her thorough research and agreed that she was a strong candidate for dentistry.  She gave a few figures about the level of competition, and offered to discuss a few ideas that could be a “back-up plan”.  Optometry and pharmacy were suggested as offering the same opportunity to run a practice and use science to help people.  The client was happy to consider these ideas and could see the importance of the back-up plan.

The adviser then went on to query whether she had ever thought of any jobs related to Maths, her favourite subject.  The client said only accountancy, which sounded boring: too repetitive, just making figures add up.

The adviser asked her to picture an engineer in her head.  What did she see?  A man in overalls, working with machines, she replied.  The adviser chatted about some other examples of engineering – using nanotechnology to design face creams, working on coastal defences in areas threatened by climate change and designing mobile phones.  The client pricked up her ears – “wow, that sounds really interesting.  I never would have thought of that.  Maybe I need to look into those ideas a bit more.  I mean, dentistry does sound good, but I guess I haven’t found out enough about the other things I could do.”

They went on to discuss websites that she could use to do further research into these new career ideas.  She seemed really keen, asking lots of questions, and saying at the end that she would start her research tonight.

This client was lucky to live in Wales, and be seen by a Careers Adviser, as every pupil in her school was.  But the practice is giving every year 11 pupil a careers interview with a professional adviser is being phased out.  Only those “most in need” will get career guidance.  This client, who, on the face of it, was academic, well focused and planning to stay in her own school sixth form, would not be a high priority.  The situation in England is even worse, with many schools having no access to a Careers Adviser.  Able Year 11 pupils are supposed to make do with using websites.

Websites are very useful – they contain occupational information, information about courses and entry requirements, helpful advice about jobsearch, applying to university and a  range of other issues relevant to young people.  But without this careers interview, today’s client would never have been motivated to research engineering careers on the website.  Providing websites isn’t enough, if the young people don’t see the point of using them and don’t know what to research.

Can Schools Really Provide Impartial Careers Advice?

I spent in the morning in a rather down-at-heel comprehensive school in a small ex-mining town.  Around the school are preserved relics from the industrial past: a winding wheel, a plough, some ancient trucks, presumably used to transport coal.  It’s always very cold up here, as the wind whips across the top of the valleys, and the view is rather desolate – council estates in one direction and bleak green hills in the other.

I wondered around looking for the school office – they don’t really have a proper reception (obviously don’t get many visitors!) and I was eventually directed down a maze of corridors to the careers office.  The pupils were polite and held the door open for me, and gave me directions with helpful smiles.

As we wait for the first client to arrive, the Careers Adviser tells me that the sixth form is earmarked for closure.  Parents and teachers are up in arms.  The young people will have to travel to nearby towns, using the patchy local bus service, to attend college or the new propsed sixth form centre.  Parents worry about the lack of supervision in college and wonder whether homework and attendance will be optional.  They worry that they won’t be kept informed about problems with attendance and that the teachers “won’t know them well”. Teachers reinforce this by saying that the pupils are not mature enough to cope.

The reality is different – most sixth form college provide very good pastoral care through the tutorial system and usually offer a much wider range of courses, social support and extra-curricular activities.  College can be a great half way house, between school and university.  They give young people the opportunity to mix with a wider range of people, make new friends and gain confidence in travelling outside their immediate local area.

Young people are sometimes nervous about making the break from school, and often want to study with their friends.  The peer group is often the biggest single influence on whether a young person stays in school or goes to college, given the choice.  Choosing the best course is often a lower priority.  School sixth forms recruit well mainly because so many sixteen year olds don’t want to make the break from their friendship group.

And so it’s been in this school.  The Careers Adviser comments that the young people in this school are much less confident than their peers in the other school she works in.  Many rarely travel outside the local area, becuase the transport links are poor.  They have low aspirations, thinking about jobs in retail, childcare, construction or maybe a factory or warehouse.  There are a few high achievers who are interested in the professions, but they are badly informed about the routes in and have few role models.

The school sixth form is struggling, with only 50 pupils in Year 13.  Of these 50, only 8 have applied for Higher Education.  The remaining 42 are unlikely to go university.  Some of them are worried about money.  Most of them will fail to get the grades they need for a good course. They are expecting perhaps a D and an E at best.  The school strongly encourages its pupils to stay on in sixth form, mainly on A-Level courses, even if they only have a few GCSEs at grade C.  It’s not surprising that so many fail to do well.

The Careers Adviser consistently makes Year 11 pupils aware of the alternatives to the sixth form – apprenticeships and college courses – and because of this, some do make the break and choose more appropriate options, but with so much pressure from  teachers and parents to stay in school, many opt for the safety and security of the school sixth form.

As public sector cuts bite in the careers guidance profession, the expectation is that schools will take much more responsibility for career guidance, and there will be a reduction in the number of guidance interviews that take place with Year 11 pupils.  But what school, desperate to keep its sixth form and protect teaching posts, is really going to provide its young people with impartial guidance about all the options?

I won’t be sorry to see more of these small school sixth forms close, as long as there are good sixth form centres or colleges in the area.  Consortiums of schools can work well as an alternative, but only in urban areas where the schools are physically close together and have good transport links.  Sixth form Colleges seem to be a better way foward in more rural areas.

Transport, however,  is a genuine issue, and without free bus passes, travelling to another town just not realistic for some young people.  In the past, 16 and 17 year olds on low incomes have benefitted from Education Maintenance Allowances and Hardship Funds, but this will no longer be the case.  A family on benefits simply cannot put aside £10 or more a week for bus tickets.  If sixth forms are going to close, then free bus passes must be provided to young people from low income families.

Meanwhile the erosion of impartial career guidance in Year 11 is a worry.  Many more young people will be encouraged onto inappropriate academic courses and will emerge at 18 with a couple of poor A-Levels and no vocational skills or work experience.  They will be poorly equipped to compete in jobs market, but, because they are 18, they will have missed out on the guarentee of a training place.  They run the risk of either becoming part of the increasinly large 18-24 unemployed young people or perhaps moving onto a college course or Modern Apprenticehsip that they could have started when they were 16, had they been given better guidance.

How To Make Yourself Lucky

Chance and luck play a huge part in the direction our lives take, not least when it comes to finding jobs and opportunities to work.

One friend of mine, who had been frustrated with her lack of progression at work, finally found her perfect job as the training manager for a group of Care Homes, by chatting to an acquaintance at the school gate.  Another friend, a university Careers Adviser who liked her job but had become rather fed up with the long commute, just happened to be chatting to a colleague in the canteen and he mentioned that one of his students was applying for a Careers Adviser post down the road from where she lived.  She applied – and got the job!

In the last month, I’ve come across:

  • a sixteen year old client who was offered an apprenticeship with his uncle who happened to be building a house (he’d never thought of construction as a career before)
  • an adult client who set up a wedding planning business after having been asked by two friends to plan their weddings,
  • a young woman who happened to be shopping in the local corner shop when she noticed a sign saying they needed a part-time assistant.  It just happend to fit perfectly around her family responsibilities!
  • a computer programmer who was under notice of redundancy, and happened to mention this to a client who then offered him a job in their IT department, doing more practical work that he thoroughly enjoyed

Ask a random group of people how they got their current job, and the chances are, many of them will have got their job through a friend or acquaintance.  In fact, the CIPD estimate that 70% of jobs are found through informal means – through friends and family, proactive networking, speculative applications and cold calling.  There is always a huge element of chance involved in this – whether we happen to meet that random stranger, make the right phone call at the right time (just when gap in the organisation has appeared) or  get chatting to the right person at the school gate. Of course, the more approaches you make, they better your chances of succeeding.

Even in more formal job search methods, there is still an element of chance – whether we happen to buy the right paper, visit the right agency or look on the right internet site on the right day.  These chance encounters can lead not just to a new job, but to a whole new occupation that we might never have considered if we hadn’t happened to see a particular advert or meet a particular person.  Like it or not, most of us are not particularly rational when we choose an occupation.  We don’t research the full range of occupations; we stick to what we know about.  We don’t carefully match our likes and dislikes against the demands of the job; we take what happens to be available and looks vaguely suitable.  Chance plays a very big part in this.

So, if luck and chance play such a big part in career choice, is there anything we can do to make ourselves luckier?  I came across some descriptions of psychological experiments designed to find out just this.  In the first, some volunteers were given a newspaper and asked to go through it counting the photographs.  Unbeknownst to them, the researcher (Howard Wiseman) had inserted an ad which said “Win a £100 by telling the researcher you found this”.  People who rated themselves as lucky before the experiment were more likely to see the advertisement – perhaps because they tended to have their eyes on the bigger picture and spot opportunities that the unlucky people missed.

In another experiment, he asked people to help him get a letter to a random person – say Kate, an events manager, in Cheltenham – by passing it on to someone they knew by name, who might be able to pass it onto someone else who could get it to her.  Amazingly, many people around the UK could get it to her through just 4 contacts.  Some people who had volunteered for the experiment, however, didn’t pass the letter to anyone at all.  When questioned about this, they said it was because they didn’t know anyone who they thought could help.  These people also tended to be those people who rated themselves as unlucky before the experiment began.

He concluded that lucky people tend to have a wider social network and to see that network as being full of people who could help them.  Lucky people are living in a “smaller world” and are more socially connected to other people around the country.  When they need a plumber in a hurry, a new client, some good advice or a new job, they are more likely to know someone who can help them.  Happy coincidences are a frequent occurence, because of their wide social network.

So, if we want to improve our luck, the key seems to be in widening our social networks – taking the trouble to talk to people, being friendly and interested in the random strangers we meet, smiling at the neighbours we recognise, starting conversations with people around the coffee station, using social networking sites and getting out and about in our communities.

This is not a new conclusion.  There is a whole approach to career planning known as Planned Happenstance, which suggests that rather than setting ourselves an end goal, we should keep an open mind, and develop the skills and attitudes necessary to generate positive chance encounters and be prepared to make the most of them when they present themselves. The “Happenstance” refers to the luck element in this approach, while the “Planned” refers to planning to maximise lucky events and our ability to make the most of them.

Attitudes such as curiosity, enthusiasm for learning and willingness to take risks are a key part of this approach, as are networking skills.  Advocates of Planned Happenstance suggest taking part in lots of activities that interest us, developing new skills and trying out many new experience (work, travel and leisure), which will generate many chance encounters, and thus increase our chances of something really lucky happening to us.

Being too focused on an end goal can actually blind us to seeing opportunities when they do present themselves.  Two people might read the same newspaper, but one person will pass right over the job adverts, on the grounds that they aren’t looking for work, while another will, just out of curiousity, scan them and their eye might be caught by something, even though they hadn’t thought they wanted a new job.

So, if you really do want to improve your luck and improve your career prospects at the same time:

  • Be curious and look at the bigger picture
  • Chat to people everywhere you go, including random strangers
  • Do the things you enjoy doing, particularly when it involves meeting others
  • Seek out new experiences
  • Develop your skills – you never know when they might come in handy!
  • Expect the unexpected – you never know when good luck will strike, so be ready to recognise it!

How The People You Hang Out With Can Make You Happy (Or Not)

There is a theory which I have heard more than one life coach put forward that goes like this: you should hang out with people who are richer and more successful than you are, so that the attitudes and habits that have made them rich and/or successful will rub off on you.   Hanging out with these people will create a healthy amount of dissatisfaction with your life and therefore motivate you to set goals and achieve great things.  Mixing with people who have achieved the things that you want to achieve will motivate you to achieve more.

On the other hand, psychologists researching the field of “happiness” are finding that the more we compare ourselves to others (particularly others who are richer, more successful or “better” in some way), the less likely we are to be happy.  The more we read about the rich and famous, the more advertising we watch that shows us all the things we could have, the more we mix with people who have more material wealth than we have, the less content we feel with our lot.

When I worked in South London, the majority of my clients were either on benefits or were asylum seekers.  Many couldn’t even afford to pay the bus fare to college or to buy a sandwich in the canteen at lunchtime.  I talked to them every day about their lives, and when I went home in my old car to my small flat, I felt rich.  I had plenty.  But when I took a year off on maternity leave, I started spending my days with a group of new mums I had met in antenatal classes.  They all seemed to be investment bankers, lawyers or media types, and they worried about parking their smart cars outside my flat.  I suddenly started to feel that what I had wasn’t good enough, and I didn’t like the feeling.  I can’t say it inspired me to be more ambitious – it just introduced a low level of discontent into my life.  It made me realise that, pleasant as they were, they weren’t the people I wanted to hang out with every day.

Now I’ve done what most people do, and surrounded myself with friends on a similar level of income.  I feel quite content again, and rich in the things that matter – health, family, job satisfaction and friendships.  People like to have friends with a similar income level because it’s comfortable.  You don’t have to be embarrassed about not being able to afford an expensive night out and you don’t have to hide your wealth for fear of embarrassing your friends.

We have also got rid of the television in our house.  We still watch programmes on DVDs and on the iPlayer, but we no longer have advertising pumped daily into our house.  And what a difference it makes!  It’s subtle, but I find myself wanting much less.  My children, when asked, couldn’t even think of things they wanted for Christmas (apart from an invisibility potion that really works – not easy to procure!)

I try not to make comparasions with others at all, because thinking about who has the better house, car, holiday, job or children doesn’t lead to warm and friendly feelings.  It just leads into a way of thinking that marks out some people as better or worse than others (and there will always be others better than you).  If I catch myself making comparisons, I will stop myself.  But I can’t say I never do it at all.  Maybe a few Buddhist monks manage it, but most of us make comparasions, whether we are aware of them or not.  And it’s the subconscious comparasions that are very hard to challenge because we don’t even notice we are making them.

Societies where there is greater inequality tend to be less happy, because people are comparing themselves to the very rich.  And the interesting thing is that even the richer people in unequal societies are less happy – after all, there is always someone richer than you, and the values in unequal societies promote the acquisition of wealth rather than the sharing of it.

So if we really do want to be happy, maybe we should be choosing jobs and activities that bring us into contact with people who have less than we do.  Voluntary work is one way of doing this.  Interestingly, the research on happiness also shows that altruistic acts increase our happiness levels too.  We should also be avoiding careers that will have us mixing with with those who are richer and more successful than we are (unless we can develop the strength of character to avoid getting into negative thought patterns and comparasions).

Of course, if we think that wealth and success are more important than happiness, then we should do the opposite!  Bring on the social climbers, and let them get on with it.

There is a pervasive narrative in society that we should all achieve and succeed to the best of our ability, and in the process earn as much money as we can, but really, it’s time to think a bit harder about what we value.  Most of us say we want to be happy, but we don’t always choose things that will make us happy.  Many people will choose a job that pays more money rather than a jobs that offers flexitime or shorter hours.  Many people relentlessly chase promotions without thinking about whether it will actually bring happiness.

I’ve had a few clients who have given up (or thought about giving up) well paid jobs, to do something they enjoy more but pays less.  They worry about whether they are doing the right thing.  They probably are.  But they still worry that they won’t be happy with less money than they are used to or less money than their friends have.   It’s a brave decision to make.

Having made that decision, they may find that they are really enjoying the new job, but struggling to get used to the new income level (although this often isn’t as difficult as they anticipate).  If it is a struggle, they could help themselves by cultivating friendships with people on a similar income level, making time to meet and talk to people with much less money than they have and limiting the time they spend with those who have more money than they do.

Top Ten CV Blunders

When I say, “My Top Ten CV Blunders”, I don’t mean the obvious blunders – the phone number missing, the spelling mistake, the dates that just don’t add up.

I mean those blunders that make your CV OK – OK enough for your friends to say it looks good, OK enough for you to feel confident as you put hndreds of them in the post, OK enough to make it into a that big pile of CVs that are the long-list for the job of your dreams.  But the problem is, it’s just OK. And it is going to end up in a pile of a 100 CVs, which are all mostly OK.

It’s so totally just OK that the bored HR Assistant will drift off as he reads it, get to the end, remember nothing about it, put it in the “no” pile and move on.   HE will go on reading that long-list, that pile of over 100 CVs that are mostly just OK.  And most of those OK CVs will end up in the bin.

Because if you are applying for advertised jobs, you are competing against 100s of other applicants.  Your CV needs to be more than OK, it needs to be stand-out fantastic!  And these are the hidden blunders that you might not even know you are committing:

1. Failing to link the CV to the job description. If the job description asks for experience with spreadsheets, experience of interviewing people, experience of managing a diary and experience of report writing, then this is what should be in the first half page of your CV – all these skills, with examples of how you have used them.

2. Writing about your employers and your job description, rather than what you actually brought to the job role and your  achievements in the job. Anybody can work for an interesting employer with an interesting job description, but describing what was in the job description doesn’t tell the reader if you were any good at it.  Most people fail to extract the maximum impact from their achievements when they write their CV.  Graduates, for example, often fail to make the links between the skills they developed (maybe through writing a dissertation or carrying out practical work) and the jobs they are applying for.  And many people describe themselves using really weak action words like “assisted with, helped, sorted out, reviewed, completed, collated, inputted, talked to” when surely they should be using more dynamic words like “responsible for, organised, re-designed, led, managed, co-ordinated, marketed, researched, analysed, interviewed, consulted” instead (don’t be afraid to use these words – everyone else will be!)

3. Hiding the best bits on the back page of the CV. The employer will read the first half page of your CV with full attention, but if the first half page doesn’t grab them, they may never make it to the second page.  Use a CV format that allows you to put your best achievements in the first half page.  This might be a profile (a few lines about what you have to offer), an Achievements section or a Skills section.

4. Not putting your name and the page number as a footer on every page of the CV. It’s really easy for pages of a CV to get mixed up, and having a footer means that if this happens, the hapless work experience student doing the photocopying will be able to reunite the pages of your CV rather than hide them in the recycling box.

5. CVs that are too long. Remember that poor HR Assistant with 100 CVs to read…  A CV should not be more than 2 pages long (unless you are an academic or techie geek with a lot of research/projects to list).  Anything that happened more than ten years ago can be summarised.  You don’t need to repeat your skills when describing each job you have done – once you are back a few years, only list skills that are relevant and that you haven’t used in more recent jobs.

6. CVs that are full of tiny font and dense text – it’s not very inviting to read, especially if you are that bored HR Assistant. Use headings, font size 12, Arial, and leave plenty of white space between the sections and columns.

7. Writing Curriculum Vitae at the top of the CV, and then emailing your CV with the file titled “CV”. What if everyone else did this too?  That HR Assistant would have a folder full of files titled CV.  Use your name and the job title as the file name, and put your name at the top of the CV.

8. Putting lots of irrelevant personal information on the CV. You don’t need to put your date of birth, your ethnic origin, your photo (unless you are an actor), your marital status, your health problems, your age, your sexuality, the number of children you have, where you were born, your wedding date or when you plan to have children.  All of these things are potential reasons why an employer might discriminate against you, so don’t give them the opportunity.  However, if you have spent time outside the UK, you should state that you are a British Citizen or that you have the right to work in the UK.

9. Failing to use key words in an electronic CV. If you have been asked to send your CV electronically, the company may well do an initial search electronically, with the computer simply looking for key words from the job description or person specification.  If you don’t use these key words, you won’t make it past the first sift.  Some naughty jobhunters even type loads of potential key words in white text in all the blank bits of the CV just to increase their chances (although I wouldn’t recommend this strategy, as an employer may not feel kindly disposed towards you if they spot it).

10.  Dodgy email addresses, like CeriLovesSex@virgin.net or VampireVanessa@btinternet.net  Keep it professional!  And while you are at it, keep your answer machine message professional too.  And google your name to see what comes up (25% of employers will do this, you know!)

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.