Career Transition: My Personal Career Theory

Bruce HazenBruce Hazen, MS
Three Questions Consulting  |  503-280-0151

My Personal Career Theory

John Holland, a pioneer in the understanding of career management and career decision-making, wrote about the idea of a Personal Career Theory (PCT).  We all have one. Yours is running in your head on both a conscious and subconscious level right now. Didn’t know you were a theorist, did you?

Personal career theory is the story or picture we have going on in “the movie theater of our mind”, depicting what we think our career is supposed to be about, now or in the future. According to narrative psychology theory, we are all storytellers and listeners. We come to understand the world around us, through the stories we are told by others and ones that we create and re-create as we live. Some are more reality based than others.  And some stories work better than others as descriptions of what actually happens in our world. But some of these stories are fantasy-based, about things that happen – only in our heads.  This daydreaming, if you will, is a power to be cultivated and worked with

The re-crafting of one’s story can be particularly challenging for any one who is currently shifting their working identity to a new career, and not just a new job. This re-crafting of one’s story is where a career coach can help by adding depth, speed and focus to the creation of new, interesting and more relevant stories.

To expedite information gathering and catch an emerging story, career coaches frequently administer and interpret various assessments that highlight personality preferences, values, skills and interests.  Coaches and their clients use this data from exercises (thought experiments) to scout out occupations with compatible interests. The goal is to look at these other occupations and settings not as a prescription for what they “should become”, but rather to see them as clues about potential “clients, customers and colleagues” in an imagined or perceived future worklife. This process is like looking for your “lost tribe”; the people that share your values, expectations and ways of seeing the world of work.

History Teacher Envisions New Work Team Members and Finds Career Direction

Consider a coachee who is a history teacher and 20-year veteran of the classroom, whose Strong Interest Inventory indicates similar interest patterns with occupations such as marketing executive, graphic artist, teacher and technical writer.  He/she reacts negatively to the notion of becoming a marketing executive but the coach invites them to transform that reaction by thinking of the marketing executive not as a career goal, but as a possible teammate. “Suppose you’re a member of an organization where you and a marketing executive occasionally work together in meetings or on projects. The person being coached re-narrates his/her story as:  “Maybe I work for a textbook publisher and I’m on a team with a marketing executive, a graphic artist and a technical writer, working together to design a textbook cover that will get students interested in learning history.”

When people complete these exercises, they create the possibility of a new beginning and an alternative life story for their working identity. By starting with assessment-based data (as well as their coach’s insights and observations) they project some of who they are (or who they could be) into stories about the future, laying the ground work for intriguing personal and professional exploration.


One Comment on “Career Transition: My Personal Career Theory”

  1. Anne Bryant Says:

    Bruce – I really like the concepts here about changing the story. I especially like using the interpretation of assessments to help clients imagine themselves as future team mates with others with similar interests and related skills. Nicely done!


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