Academic journal article Journal of Employment Counseling

Putting Action Back into Action Planning: Experiences of Career Clients

Academic journal article Journal of Employment Counseling

Putting Action Back into Action Planning: Experiences of Career Clients

Article excerpt

This study used the critical incident technique to investigate what helped and hindered unemployed and career-changing people in implementing the action plans they developed while participating in career or employment counseling. Information from interviews with 23 women and 16 men generated 9 categories of helping incidents and 9 categories of hindering incidents. These categories increase understanding of the nature of action planning and reveal implications for preparing clients to engage in action planning activities.


The purpose of this study was to determine what helped and hindered unemployed people and those changing careers in implementing the action plans that they had developed while participating in career or employment counseling. We focused on the latter part of the employment transition process, which is linked to action plans reflecting attempts to reconnect with changing labor market opportunities.


Career and employment decision-making interventions are used to help people make decisions about occupations or appropriate career paths. Client action planning represents the outcome of most of these career interventions. The ways in which action plans are developed depend on the theoretical frameworks underlying the selected approaches.

Traditional career decision-making theories focus on individuals and their possible matches with the labor market. These theories present a particular perspective of what is required of individuals seeking satisfying employment. One of the earliest theories was trait and factor (Herr, Cramer, & Niles, 2004; Parsons, 1909), which posited that vocational choice is a static, systematic, and rational activity that reveals the single correct employment choice for the given individual.

A second theoretical orientation uses a developmental approach or one that emphasizes the growth and change of values, attitudes, interests, and personality. Developmental theories suggest that occupational choice reflects the particular life stages that individuals are experiencing and, rather than being one-time-only events, may need to be performed repeatedly (Super, 1990).

A third career decision-making technique reflects a more dynamic approach. Changes must be recognized not only within individuals but also within their environments (Bloch, 2005; Gelatt, 1989; Mitchell & Krumboltz, 1996; Pryor & Bright, 2004). In many instances, the nature of these changes is unknown when conducting job searches and making career decisions. This approach reflects the recognition that although the need to gain information about the world of work is still important, individuals may find the information they gathered is insufficient, obsolete, or incorrect by the time they attempt to put their plans into action. Individuals must learn to live with positive uncertainty, an approach that asks them to recognize that the future is unknown, to make decisions based on the acceptance of uncertainty, and to remain optimistic about their future (Gelatt, 1989). Thus, this approach incorporates the principle that people making and acting on occupational or career decisions are challenged to meet the needs arising from their experiences of employment transitions and the issues presented by changing labor market environments.

Life transitions, including transitions into and out of employment, can engender growth, new concepts of self, or crisis and deterioration (Schlossberg, 1984). Bridges (1988); Schlossberg (1984); and Schlossberg, Waters, and Goodman (1995) considered movement through transitions to encompass three phases: an initial phase of leaving the past behind, a middle phase between worlds, and a third phase in which new life structures are established. Whether occurring through job loss or as the next phase after schooling, unemployment represents a life event that moves individuals into periods of transition in which the old worlds end and new ones begin (Borgen, 1996, 1997). …

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