Careers in theory: An interview with David Winter

AiCD:  Introduce yourself

I’m David Winter. I’ve been a Careers Adviser with The Careers Group, University of London, since 1994. My professional life has a distinct multiple personality disorder. At the moment I split my time between Queen Mary Careers Service (where I do the usual HE careers stuff with students and work on a couple of employability projects) and our C2 Consultancy Division (where I do income-generating careers-related coaching and training with a variety of individuals and organisations).

 

 

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AiCD:  Tell us about your blog.

Careers – in Theory is a collection of musings on various bits of theory, research and thinking in relation to guidance and coaching practice. I like to describe myself as a conceptual Robin Hood, breaking and entering the dusty corridors of academia, stealing shiny treasures, and sharing them with the impoverished masses. (I’m also quite big on self-delusion.)

 

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ACiD:  What technology do you use?

I use WordPress.com for the blog; it has enough things I can tinker with to satisfy my geeky control freakery. I also over-use Twitter. I was encouraged to use it by Aminder Nijjar who thought it would be a good way to publicise my blog. I was very sceptical but have eventually found it to be quite useful in a number of ways. I inconsistently use CiteULike for storing academic references and have recently started using Delicious for remembering interesting links. I use Google Reader for browsing a ridiculous number of RSS feeds.

 

My current geek delight is an HTC Desire Android smartphone.

 

 

AiCD:  Why did you set it up?

There were a number of reasons:

 

  • I’ve always been interested in reading about new research and theories, especially as I run a fair amount of training on the subject. I would often come across stuff, get quite excited about it and then completely forget about it after a few days. The blog was an attempt to capture some of these interesting ideas and to get me to think about them in a slightly less superficial way.
  • I do think that part of being a competent guidance/coaching professional involves keeping up to date with new thinking and constant reflecting on what we think we know already. The blog helps me to do this for myself and I hope it works for other people too. I try to engage other people in the process by encouraging them to write about their own experiences of using career theory in practice. I like guest posts (hint, hint).
  • I think there is a bit of a divide between the academics who work on career-related research and the practitioners who work with people on a day-to-day basis. I think both disciplines would be enriched by more interaction with the other. This is my attempt to bridge that gap in some way.
  • Although I’ve occasionally been told I’m quite good at writing, it’s always a task I will put off because I find it a struggle – I think too much about what I’m writing. (As an example, I’ve edited this last sentence at least three times!) I thought that this would be a good experiment to see if I could be more disciplined and possibly more fluid in my writing. Still awaiting results on both of those!
  • If I’m being completely and utterly honest, there’s also an attempt at self-promotion
    in the blog too. I’d like to be known as someone who has interesting things to say about careers theory (slightly weird ambition, I admit). I’ve learned a few interesting things about using social media as a networking tool that I’m already feeding back into my sessions with clients.

 

AiCD: You are clearly very well read and also find the time to write and argue about careers. Most practitioners swear blind to me that this kind of professional development is just impossible given all of the other demands on their time. How do you make it work?

Partly, I’m such a geek that I use some of my own time for this.

 

Partly, I do a fair amount of travelling between consultancy engagements, so I get some time to read and think.

 

Partly, I just do a lot of juggling and fitting things in when I can

 

Partly, it’s because I can speed read and touch type

 

AiCD:  What sort of things do you write about? 

I try to mix it up a bit. I will cover:

  • classic career theories and models of practice (maybe with a bit of a twist),
  • new developments in career theory that many practitioners who haven’t looked at theory since their training may not have come across,
  • interesting research in psychology, sociology and economics that could impact on client work in some way
  • applying theory in practice,
  • reflective practice methods and theories,
  • my own bizarre approach to theories and models

 

Basically, anything I can get away with

 

AiCD:  How often do you update?

I started off doing two posts a week just to get the thing off the ground. That was too much. I now aim for one post a week but I don’t beat myself up if I miss a week. Another reason I like guest posts is that it gives me a week off!

 

AiCD: Who do you think reads it?

Mostly other career professionals, coaches, educationalists – that’s who it’s aimed at. I’d like to get more researchers in the field reading it and commenting/contributing.

 

AiCD: Given that most of your audience are other professionals (and not your normal clients) how do you convince your management that this is a good use of your time?

 

We take CPD quite seriously at The Careers Group and we do quite a lot of internal training, especially as we often recruit people without existing qualifications or experience in careers work.

 

Also some of our clients are other career professionals; we open up our professional development training to careers staff in other organisations. We’ve been involved in helping organisations set up in-house careers services and provided training and consultancy to other careers-related organisations. The blog is one way of letting these people know that we think quite deeply about how to do our job well.

 

In addition, many of our ‘customers’ are actually the academics, whose support we have to win in order to get better access to the students. I think some academics see careers work as not theoretically grounded or rigorous. The blog is a way to say to them, ‘Look, we are just as serious about our field as you are about yours.’

 

AiCD: What is it about you that makes you think people should pay attention to what you blog about?

About me? Probably not much, except that I’m making an effort to ask some interesting questions and I’m enthusiastic. I think that people should pay attention because this stuff can be potentially useful for careers practitioners who want to continually improve what they deliver. Once you prize them from the clutches of often inaccessible academic writing, some of these ideas are fascinating.

 

AiCD: Did you qualify through the usual Qualification in Careers Guidance route?

 

I did the AGCAS/Reading (now AGCAS/Warwick) qualification which is specifically targeted at HE careers work. However, I started as a trainee (mumble mumble years ago) with no experience or qualification.

 

AiCD: What have been the best things about blogging so far?

My own learning has accelerated. I’ve been forced to think about things more deeply and to link ideas together. I’ve been able to use snippets of what I have discovered in my one-to-one and group work sessions with clients. It can add quite a bit of authoritative gravitas to quote from recent research to illustrate a point you’re making.

 

Another thing I love is when people comment. I enjoy discussing these things. I really don’t know everything, a lot of my knowledge is still quite superficial, and it’s great to learn from other people. Besides, I like a good argument now and again.

 

AiCD: What are the downsides?

As other bloggers have said, you look at the world differently. Everything you read or hear about goes through a ‘Could I blog about this?’ filter. It’s quite scary.

 

Also, it takes time and it’s still a struggle to write.

 

AiCD: Do you think blogging will ever replace conventional careers advice/education?

No, it fulfils a completely different function. I’ve tried various methods of delivering services over the years and, for me, none of them provide the depth of impact you can have being in the same room as an individual or group. It’s all about responding to the immediate and allowing creative solutions to emerge from the dynamics of an interaction (wow that sounded quite impressive didn’t it!). It’s about nuance, complexity and individuality, for which you need as many sensory inputs as you can get.

 

When I work live with people, I can see how they are responding as I interact with them, and so hone my approach as I go along to increase my effectiveness. Even the best social media is a bit too sequential for that to happen easily.

 

I think that cost cutting pressures may drive us in that direction, but we need to be aware of what we are losing if we go down that route.

 

AiCD: On the whole I agree with what you are saying, but I can’t get away from the idea that people will read something on the internet who would never show up for a careers interview. Are careers blogs actually a way to deliver careers type services or are they better seen as a
tool for the reflective practioner to develop their own practice?

Is that a question or a statement of faith?

 

I agree that there are people out there who would never come for a careers interview or a group workshop — I’m one of them. So, yes there should be stuff out there that could inspire them too, but it would have to be pretty hot to bring about the radical change in thinking that has sometimes happened in some of the face-to-face sessions with clients.

 

I suspect that blogs may be too haphazard to be effective, they rely on someone coming across the right article at the right time. Something a bit more structured where you’re not just relying on today’s thought and you forget what happened yesterday might be better, especially if it kept the interactivity of a blog. Maybe something like an updated version of our sort_it tools (http://www.careers.lon.ac.uk/sortit) with the ability to comment, discuss and share.

 

AiCD: As a follow up from that do any of your ordinary clients ever read your blog and say “actually that theory really fits where I am right now”?

Not from the blog so far. This has happened when I have included theory stuff in one-to-one or group sessions. This most commonly occurs with Planned Happenstance. It seems to chime with people’s real experiences – that’s one of the reasons I like it so much.

 

AiCD: What blogs do you read?

I subscribe to over 100 feeds in Google Reader, but I’m trying to be ruthless and cut that down. Linked to the careers world, the ones I look at most frequently are:

 

Non-careers blogs that I frequently peruse include:

 

AiCD: Any final words?

Yes, please edit this to make me look interesting.

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2 thoughts on “Careers in theory: An interview with David Winter

  1. David is one of the brightest and kindest people that I have the pleasure of knowing. He has helped me hugely over the years, and I am eternaly grateful for his help. Thanks for this interview, too. Excellent!

  2. I really enjoyed reading this interview. I only discovered David’s blog recently but it is great! It really gets me thinking and learning about careers theories (something I know very little about thus far) and how they can be applied in my (hopefully) future career!

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