Contemporary career theories


contemporary career theoryToday I’m building on yesterday’s lecture by looking at some contemporary career theories. In particular I’m going to focus on life design/career construction theory and on emancipatory or political theories. I think that in the Norwegian/European context these are the two most prominent career theories.

This is what I thought that I’d cover.

contemporary career theory


The Power

I suspect that a lot of people will have read The Power this summer. It is an ideal summer read. Easy and quick to read on the beach, but thought provoking enough to give you something to talk about over drinks in the evening. Our holiday group was a bit divided on it. I thought that it was pretty good, while others bemoaned poor writing and a lack of political subtlety. I thought that the writing was fine for the most part and its political message needs to be understood within the genre of dystopian satire (ie it is deliberately extreme to make a point).

For those of you who haven’t read it – I’ll try not to give away any huge #spoilers but, if you are worried about that sort of thing don’t read on. The Power asks the question what would happen to our world if women suddenly became universally physically stronger than men. In this case their strength takes the form of being able to shoot out painful electronic charges which bring about agony in men and which potentially allow women to control men in a range of direct and indirect ways.

The point of the book is essentially to argue that patriarchy is founded on physical violence. If you take the capacity for physical violence away then patriarchy collapses (and based on the book, collapses quickly). I thought that this was thought provoking stuff. While I see a lot of patriarchal power dynamics, they often seem to be quite a few steps away from actual physical violence. Patriarchy operates in both subtle (e.g. domestic assumptions and negotiations about who does the washing up) and less subtle (#everydaysexism) ways, but it is not always apparent (to me at least) that all of this is underpinned by the capacity for physical violence. Some of the women I’ve talked to were less surprised by this insight – which I suppose goes someway to proving the point.

However, The Power makes a pretty convincing case. If you suddenly offer a group of people (especially people who have been disempowered in some way) a new power then you can’t be surprised if they use it to try and even up the score. I’m sure that this offers some useful lessons for international relations as well as gender relations, but I’ll leave others to comment on that.

One of the things that is disappointing (but not necessarily unrealistic) about the way in which the story is told in The Power is that there are almost no women who stand out against the use of violence. Patriarchy is turned on its head but no lessons are learnt. Nobody behave better because they have been oppressed. Everyone is happy to either take up the mantle of oppression or stand by while others lead the charge. It is a thoroughly depressing book that offers little hope for humanity.

Sigh… these are the times that we live in I suppose. Hate has become the leitmotif of politics and policy and optimism is in short supply.

So, to turn to my usual theme – what does all of this have to do with careers. I’m reminded of Zizek’s work on violence. As with The Power he argues that we need to see violence as a key aspect of the political economy. The ability to inflict and cause violence (of various types – economic, symbolic and of course physical) is the critical underpinning of power. I think that this has a lot of relevance to the way in which we think about work and industrial relations. Power within education and employment offers some groups the opportunity to make or break people’s lives. If I give a student a failing mark I can render their investment in higher education void and dramatically reduce their earning power – literally taking the food off of their table. Is this not a kind of violence? Employers power (and capacity for violence) is even more direct. I guess this is why so many unions have campaigns on bullying which is essentially just another word for violence.

So I think that there is some interesting work and thinking to do on the subject of work, career, power and violence. I’m not sure when I’ll get round to this but it seems worth doing. Perhaps someone else has got some more to add to this…

Hillbilly Elegy


Over the summer I read JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. On one level the book is a fairly conventional rags to riches autobiographical story of the American dream. Despite humble ‘hillbilly’ beginnings JD manages to go to university and end up with a postgraduate law degree from Harvard. However, the book has been hailed as offering insights into Trump’s America (something that it does not overtly claim to do) and so merits a closer read.

As a career narrative the book functions as a fairly subtle discussion of the relationship between career and environment. The argument is made that growing up poor and white in a deindustrialising community in USA creates a significant barrier to the realisation of the American dream of upward mobility. However, the author is also fiercely critical of structuralist interpretations that shift blame entirely onto economic and labour market changes. The hillbilly diaspora of poor white working-class people has undoubtedly experienced some bad economic breaks, but the book argues that they have responded to these changes badly, taking refuge in drink, drugs and the blaming of others. While he has a number of policy ideas about how this situation could be addressed he is also arguing for some cultural changes within his community.

His own story of social mobility is carefully handled. Although JD is clearly a pretty outstanding student, soldier (he spends a few years in the Marines) and now lawyer, he argues that it is not his ability, drive or ambition that accounts for his ability to transcend his background and outperform the expectations of those around him. One of the most interesting themes in the book is what it is he feels can enable (or disable) social mobility. He doesn’t offer simplistic answers, but broadly he argues that there is a need for supportive extended families and communities in geographical proximity with each other which can pick up the slack when parents fail to cope. The book largely operates on this meso level, arguing that we need to look beyond the individual but that the direct involvement of the state often creates more problems than it solves.

I’m not sure that I agree with JD’s analysis, his (moderate) Republican politics come through fairly clearly and I think leave him overly negative about the role of the state. Personally, I think that there needs to be some balance between family, community and professionalised state structures in the raising, educating and career developing of young people. But, I can see how he comes to that conclusion out of his own story and recognise that sometimes the tensions between these different sources of support aren’t well resolved.

Perhaps more importantly many of the social ills that JD Vance attributes to both the white working class and to the state are exactly the sort of things that Donald Trump made his political capital out of. Vance is a considerably more thoughtful, consistent and even-handed commentator than Trump, but the feeling that there are large areas and communities in the USA that aren’t working for anyone is a powerful one.

Vance’s book gives us some insights into this world and helps us to understand, empathise and consider the complexity of solving some of these issues. It is well worth a read.

Digital guidance – how to career online

digital guidance - how to career online

Tomorrow I’m giving a webinar for the CDAA in Australia on all things internet and career. There is still time to sign up if you are interested.

As usual I’m sharing my slide from the presentation – so feel free to use and abuse them however you see fit.

digital guidance – how to career online

The presentation builds on the book that I did last year called You’re Hired! Job Hunting Online. So grab yourself a copy of that book if you haven’t got one yet.

Free downloadable guide for HE staff to use with You’re Hired! Graduate Career Handbook


I wrote yesterday about our new book You’re Hired! Graduate Career Handbook. This book is going to be released the start of next week, but you can of course pre-order now.

In the meantime I’d like to share with you the free guide that we’ve made for HE staff. If you follow this blog you are probably more likely to be a careers person or an academic than a current student (although I welcome all readers). We wrote the actual book for students, but we thought that it would be useful to think about how academics and careers educators might make use of it as part of their delivery of careers and employability modules and programmes.

The guide covers how to use the Graduate Career Handbook in the following situations.

  • To support career conversations and as part of careers advice and guidance
  • To support students when they are networking with employers and undertaking placements and other kinds of extra-curricular experiences.
  • To run employability workshops.
  • To design employability modules and programmes.

We ‘ve included a load of workshop plans, draft module specifications with learning outcomes and an extensive reading list to support modules.

Hopefully you will find it useful.

Publication of You’re Hired! Graduate Career Handbook brought forwards!


I’ve got a new book coming out next week called You’re Hired! Graduate Career Handbook. The book was originally supposed to be released at the start of next term, but there has been a lot of interest in it and so we managed to persuade the publishers to push it out a bit quicker to allow people to get hold of a copy over the summer.

The book offers a comprehensive guide to career planning and job hunting for students and graduates. I think that what is different about this book in comparison to some of the other volumes out there is that we take a holistic view of career rather than just talking about how to beat your way through recruitment processes.

The book covers thinking about what to do with your life, how to make the most of your time at university, building up experience and networks, making the transition to further learning and work and perhaps most importantly being prepared to make a plan B and deal with setbacks. So we think that it should be essential reading for everyone from those who are about to start at university to those who are currently a couple of years into their graduate career and wondering where it all went wrong. Your career is something that you build everyday and it is never too late (or too early) to take action.

So (pre-)order your copy today!