What should people new to career guidance as an academic field read?

We are about to start a few new people at iCeGS. They are all excellent researchers, but not all of them necessarily have a background in career guidance. So what should I tell them to read to get their heads into career guidance?

I’m going to brain dump a load of stuff into this post, but I’d appreciate it if anyone else could chip in with any good ideas of books/articles/papers that they have found particularly interesting or useful.

The problem with career guidance is that it is by its nature a boundary crossing activity. This means that it draws on a range of different academic fields, probably most clearly education, psychology and sociology (particularly the sociology of work and education). However, we could also add into this a whole host of other fields that would be relevant, notably economics, business and management, history, literature, politics and so on. This boundary crossing makes career guidance a very interesting place to work for those of us who don’t like to be tied down, but it can make a survey of the field difficult.

Because I’m fairly historically minded, I’ll start at the beginning. Frank Parson’s Choosing a Vocation kicked the whole thing off and is worth a read despite the matching paradigm he is associated with being much derided.  Donald Super and  John Holland are also important early figures who anyone moving into the field should have an awareness of. David Peck’s Careers Services provided me with a post war history of the field in the UK.

When I started engaging with the field I found Jenny Kidd’s Understanding Career Counselling to be good guide to the psychological end of the field. I also found that it was useful to read some sociology like Milltown Boys Revisited and Learning to Labour. I also found some of Bill Law’s work on career learning to be very useful in helping me to think through these issues from an educational perspective. David Winters’ Careers in Theory blog was also hugely useful and it is a real shame that he hasn’t written much on it recently.

Much of iCeGS work explores the intersection between policy and practice in career guidance. We draw very heavily on the work on Tony Watts (who remains as a Visiting Professor to iCeGS to this day). Tony is amazingly prolific, but his inaugural lecture at iCeGS offers a good starting point for understanding career guidance and public policy. Tony was also involved in the OECD review of career guidance and in the production of a policymakers handbook based on this review. Both of these documents remain important touchstones for the field with much subsequent research looking back to them. Tony was also one of the editors of Rethinking Careers Education and Guidance which is now rather out of date, but was one of the best summaries of the field that had been produced when it was first published. It still contains a number of absolutely key papers including Tony’s own chapter on the politics of guidance.

Other key scholars who are worth reading include: Jim Sampson, Jim Bright, Jenny Bimrose, Mark Savickas, Mary McMahon, Scott Solberg, Hazel Reid, Bill Law, Deirdre Hughes and probably about a hundred other people who I’ll be offending by not including in this list. Each of these people will give you a different take on the field, with some focusing on system design, other on theory, practice or politics.

At iCeGS we’ve produced a vast number of publications that might be useful in giving someone an idea about the field. Probably the most useful ones would be Beacon for Guidance (which gives a history of the Centre); How the internet changed career (which summarises research on career and technology); Careers 2020 (which talks about career education and guidance in schools); All things being equal (which talks about equality and careers); and of course loads of others which can all be viewed on the iCeGS website.

The key journals that are worth reading in the field include the British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, the NICEC Journal, Career Development Quarterly, the International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance and the Journal of Vocational Behavior each with its own take on the field.

Gosh, that is enough for now. What have I missed? What should I read? Please tell me!



Bordieu’s concept of “field” in about five minutes

I’ve found that people who research career employ the ideas of Bordieu alot. The following film gives an introduction to a key concept in Bordieu’s thinking known as “field”. I thought that it provided a useful summary with the ideas of “field”, “habitus” and “doxa” having some clear implications for the way in which individual’s think about career and career development.

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).






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.)




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.

Career theory 102

I’m running a seminar on career theory again this week. This time I’m attempting to give a broad overview of twentieth century intellectual traditions (some ambition eh!) and then to explore the ideas of the boundaryless career and planned happenstance in some further detail. The PowerPoint is attached. All ideas, criticisms etc appreciated.

Boundaries and boundaryless careers

I’ve just been reading Michael B Arthur’s New Careers, New Relationships: Understanding and Supporting the Contemporary Worker. He originally gave this paper as one of the iCeGS lectures and it covers a lot of similar ground to The Boundaryless Career: A New Employment Principle for a New Organizational Era (follow hyperlink to an extensive review). I’ve also been reading this book so I’m getting fairly steeped in Arthur. Much of it reminds me of the kind of argument that Barry Hopson made when he spoke about portfolio careers at this years iCeGS lecture.


Essentially his argument is that the labour market has changed. Whereas people used to be employed by a single employer for most of their lives and follow an occupation, increasingly their careers are boundaryless. Boundarylessness is defined by careers that move across organisational, occupational and geographical boundaries.  Some might start their working life as an apprentice toolmaker, move to become a supervisor in retain, retrain and take up a professional job and then move to care for a loved one and find a new role as a carer. Arthur argues that this is both common and a positive development. Where people recognise what they are learning and transferring from one context to another they are happier than simply grinding their way up the corporate ladder.


For careers workers Arthur argues that the implications of this are a significant change in practice. Careers work should

  • Affirm the value of the boundaryless experience of career
  • Promote engagement in learning and knowledge accumulation
  • Encourage people to seek out career communities and access social capital
  • Better understand the changing nature of work in order to help others to understand it better


This is a compelling picture of how workers experience the labour market. My only concern is that this kind of “everything is changing” analysis is challenged in a variety of places. Although it is rather out of date now, John Killeen’s article “The Social Context of Guidance” in Rethinking Careers Education and Guidance: Theory, Policy and Practice urges caution about the idea of a radical transformation in the labour market. I don’t know if there is anything more up to date that makes any similar points.


My other concern with Arthur’s work is that it creates a theoretical underpinning for a highly flexible labour market without counting up who is paying the price for this flexibility. It seems to me that the idea of flexibility (for employers) needs to be balanced to some extent with the idea of security (for workers). This has lead to the development of the European flexicurity discourse which tries to find some kind of formal balance between the two. Arthur’s work provides some pointers as to how this idea could be realised from the perspective of the worker through the development of career management skills. However there is also a value in considering how changes in state support and employer responsibility could also support this idea.

Trashy literature, history and the value of career theory


 I sometimes joke that since finishing a PhD in English Literature I haven’t read a work of fiction. This isn’t quiet true, but I generally find non-fiction to be a more reliable way to access ideas (kind of like drinking ethanol rather than a fine wine I know, but it works for me). I studied literature for so long that it robbed it of a lot of its charm. As I read I find myself naming the parts and noting techniques like “framed narrative”, “metaphor” and so on. Sometimes this mental voice begins to remind me too much of trying to extract analysis from bored first years in seminars ten years ago and I have to abandon fiction altogether for a while.


So I pretty much confine myself to reading the kinds of things that I review on this blog. However, occasionally a holiday or a long journey will tempt me back into the reading of fiction. Although usually the kind of fiction I choose wouldn’t have much chance of getting onto a Literature syllabus. I read stuff that either sweetens the pill of reading non-fiction by spicing it up with a bit of novelisation or that is frankly trashy. Thankfully Simon Scarrow manages to tick both of these categories and so I rarely miss one of his books.


For those of you uninitiated with the world of Scarrow he writes boys own adventure, military fiction set against the backdrop of a historical period. His “Eagle” books were based on the Roman invasion of Britain and he has now moved on to a new series based on Wellington and Napoleon. To be fair the Napoleonic novels (Young Bloods and The Generals) are rather more serious than the Eagle books, but all still work across the ideal mix of macho adventure and nerdish attention to historical detail.


So why am I reviewing a novelised history of Wellington and Napoleon on a blog that is theoretically about career development. Well, one reason is that I reserve the right to do what I want here, but the second is that this series is based around a career history (see where I’m going) of the two historical figures it examines.  The biographies of the two men are novelised  and placed side by side.


Reading these career stories at the same time as thinking and writing about career made me think about what the study of career might have to offer the study of history and literature and conversely what they might have to offer that might inform the study of career.


The books develop the story of Napoleon and Wellington in ways that highlight the differences in their career. To put it in career theory terms Wellington pursues advancement within a fairly stable institution (the British army and state). His movement up through the ranks is one of steady (if sometimes frustratingly slow) progress through an organisational hierarchy. Conversely Napoleon is pursuing his career against the backdrop of revolutionary turmoil in France. His career is characterised by lucky accidents which he managed to transform into opportunities for himself.


Wellington’s career is linear while Napoleon’s is very much planned happenstance. His personal abilities, connections and political instincts enable him to react to situations in ways that others are not able. While Wellington’s progress relies heavily on resilience and patience to enable him to navigate the structures within which he finds himself.


The point I’m trying to make here is that our understanding of historical actors can be enriched through reference to thinking about how careers work. Similarly applying our theories to historical situations tests the universality of the theory and throws up questions about what is really new about the post-industrial labour market.


Just a thought, but I’d be interested to hear from any historians wanted to pursue this further…