What are your Career Influencers?

Several months back, a reader asked the following question (thanks Andrea!):

Are there any longitudinal studies being performed on different influences imposed on young children that affect career choice?

I had intended to answer this question right away, but it proved to be a bit more complicated than I had first thought. I had initially assumed that there would be tons of research out there on factors that influence career pathing and decision making for young people.

But surprisingly, I didn’t find much.  I did find a helpful review by Duffy and Dik (2009) Beyond the Self: External Influences in the Career Development Process. They grouped external career influences into 4 broad categories: family expectations and needs, life circumstances, spiritual and religious factors, and social service motivation.

For example, an individual’s career influencers could stem from sociocultural factors such as parents who have a pre-determined career plan for them, life circumstances such as an injury or job loss that affects the planned career course dramatically, spiritual and religious factors that can lead to a belief in a “calling”, or social service motivation reflecting a need to identify a career that can help them make a difference in society.

But this type of research wasn’t quite what I was looking for. So I tried to conceptualize the question in different ways and think about it from different angles. I thought of my own experience and influencers and looked at data from respondents to career interest assessments.

When looking at the data, something jumped out at me. Career interests with the highest mean score seemed to consistently point to teaching. In other words, the most common top job group for this career interest assessment, across all students who have taken the assessment, was teaching.

And I thought: could this be due to the fact that the respondents are high school and college students who are and have been exposed to the job role of a teacher for as long as they can remember?

For this reason, I became interested in studying this concept of job exposure and job familiarity in more depth, and hope to be able to share results from a study I’m working on with our research team later this year.

In the meantime, it might be helpful for us to think about our own career influencers to try to brainstorm and help me explore further to see if research can guide a better answer to Andrea’s initial question.

Perhaps one complication is that career influences are multiply determined, which could be difficult to study and pinpoint with any consistency, or absolute accuracy. We can probably all recall a “turning point” in our career plans and we would be remiss to think that we won’t continue to experience these “turning points” as our careers unfurl and blossom.

For me personally, I thought I always wanted to be a lawyer. When I was young, the prestige of the career, coupled with a good salary, the reliance on strong writing and researching skills, and of course its portrayal in the popular media were probably strong drivers for me. I always had an interest in English and writing, and didn’t find careers associated with these subjects to be very abundant or lucrative, so I naturally thought that law might be a good way to play out my interests in these areas.

My next set of influencers probably came in high school when I had a relatively engaging and somewhat scandalous teacher for law and sociology. He helped reinforce my interest in these two areas.

Next stage: university and a whole host of career influencers. This is arguably the most influential time of one’s life in that the educational decisions you make are irreversible. You can obviously add to your set of skills and build on your knowledge throughout the span of your life, but your accumulated educational knowledge or formal training certainly should have the potential to set you on a certain path.

While attending university, I first ruled out law due to a slightly disappointing mark in first year English and a good mark in first year psychology. That was it. No other factors really came into play in my decision, which is interesting since the point spread between marks was probably only 6 or so, which is really not that large in the grand scheme of things. I can confidently say that at this important junction, I should have sought out career counselling.

But instead I pursued psychology and let one piece of advice (?) or information guide my path. I placed a little too much weight in the words of my 2nd year clinical psych prof and placed too little faith in my own abilities at the time. My prof told her class that, among the group of 100 of us (give or take) only 4 of us would make it to grad school. I have to admit I don’t remember the exact number she threw at us, but it doesn’t really matter. This was what I took away from it, and it dissuaded me from entering the field. This was a regret for awhile but since then I’ve come to realize that this change of course was not a bad thing, and could have been the best thing for my career, in a sense.

I ultimately chose to pursue Industrial/Organizational psychology because it sounded like a practical application of the field that could lead to a career, and the rest is history (with a few wonderful mentors to guide me along the way).

I can summarize by highlighting my key influencers as teachers, with substantial support from my parents to pursue my areas of interest (not without some prodding from my dad to enter computer science)…

I’d like to open up the discussion to find out what influenced all of you. Please share your own career influencers!

Mental Health and Career Planning: Bridging the Gap

What can career development professionals do to improve service and outcomes for clients faced with struggles associated with mental health? This is a frequently underserved population and, unfortunately, job search and career planning services are no exception.

The Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling (CERIC) has funded a project report to attempt to better understand the stigma associated with mental illness in career counselling clients and has offered some recommendations that can help eliminate critical barriers and address this gaping need.

The report by Neasa Martin, of Neasa Martin & Associates, highlights the fact that a good number of counsellors do not feel prepared or equipped with the proper skills to properly serve, support, and improve access for this population. Further findings from the report indicate:

  •  91% of career practitioners are currently working with clients with mental health issues
  • 46% of career practitioners have personal experience with mental health problems
  • 96% of career practitioners feel that, in order to be effective, they  would need to adopt specific, tailored skills and practices in order to motivate this population
  • 50% of clients with mental health issues feel that their career practitioner does not have the resources or provide the amount of support needed to help them deal with their work-related challenges
  • Both clients and practitioners believe that employers hesitate to hire those with mental illness due to stigma and a lack of understanding of their needs

Clearly, this is big problem. Individuals who want to be employed, and could benefit in many ways from being employed, are being excluded from this social right by factors outside of their control.

Work is such a critical component of one’s identity. It gives us a sense of purpose and provides us with meaningful and motivating goals day in and day out. As much as people gripe and complain about the daily hassles of work, when that “privilege” is denied, their well-being, productivity, and self-esteem can suffer and the lack of routine and purpose can be downright harmful at both personal and societal levels.

The benefits of employment for those affected by mental illness are obvious. And it is clear that career practitioners play a critical role in helping those with mental illness participate productively within their communities.

So, what can we do to help?

  •  Ensure consistent collaboration and dialogue between career practitioners and mental health professionals and related services
  • Partner with researchers and private organizations who can investigate, research, and develop training tools for career practitioners
  • Tailor education and training programs to help budding practitioners better understand this population and learn specific strategies to accommodate them, as well as identify when to refer a client to a mental health professional
  • Distribute resources and tools to practitioners to help them understand the need, and ensure that their clients can access the proper supports and services
  • Advocate for better government policies and funding aimed at providing equal access to training and employment services for people with mental health issues
  • Educate, support, and provide the proper tools for employers to dispel the myths and combat the stigma, misunderstanding, and fear associated with hiring individuals with mental health issues
  • Learn more: read this report for further recommendations by the Mental Health Commission of Canada

For many of us, job hunting and career planning are difficult, stressful, and time consuming tasks, but for some, the challenges can be compounded by the complexities of mental illness.

For a personal perspective on this, read Alison’s story to better understand the struggles faced by those suffering from mental illness who are trying to enter and remain in the workplace.

Hopefully this CERIC report and other similar reports and research studies can help shed some light on this important issue and encourage more people to weigh in on how we can address this need and bridge this gap to improve service and equal employment rights for those suffering from a mental illness. Please share your own ideas and stories…