“Career is the individual’s journey through life, learning and work.”
— Tristram Hooley
Career planning is about comprehensive future orientation and working on your own identity, with the key elements being agency and meaningfulness. The role of the career counsellors and career services of universities is to support the students in their own career planning processes during their studies and guide them towards things that are meaningful to them. These processes are continuous and very personal in nature.
Our identities, life stories and personalities engage in a continuous dialogue with our environment. When we consider our future, various questions may become meaningful at different times. Furthermore, what we in general consider to be possible for ourselves may be affected by things such as where we are from, what types of decisions we have previously made, who we have in our immediate circle, what types of needs and hopes these people have, or what is going on in our household, and other factors in our lives. Global trends are also reflected in our lives. Because of this, we all have different types of questions and contemplations about the future.
Nevertheless, it is certain that the careers of all of us are built in the here and now. Future orientation, i.e. career planning, has already started before your studies and will also continue after them. Every time we decide on a direction in life, it involves future orientation, regardless of whether it is more strategic or random in nature. Every decision made about your studies is also a decision about your career. Therefore, career planning requires active thinking and work, and it will not happen by itself.
What are career planning and guidance about?
1) A “career” is not an island separate from other aspects of life; instead, it is a journey through work, learning and the other aspects of life. It is deciding on a direction in transition phases, and it often focuses on things that are meaningful to you. Your career already started before your studies and will continue after them.
2) Career planning involves future orientation, searching for answers to questions that are on your mind, and adapting these questions as you accumulate experiences. Questions about the future become topical in different situations and at different times for different people. In other words, career planning is different for different people.
3) The objective of career guidance is to support the counselee’s own agency in their career planning processes and guide them towards things that are meaningful to them.
Career planning supports well-being and motivation
Career planning is also about study motivation and well-being. By actively observing and examining the links between your studies, other experiences and contemplations about the future, as well as their impact on your questions about the future, you are not only planning your career but also ensuring your ability to better stay on top of what is meaningful to you in your studies and what role your studies play in the other aspects of your life and future amidst the pitfalls of life.
According to some studies, young adults today are particularly liable to be somewhat lost about their identity: the growing uncertainty of the outside world and increasing problem talk turn into internal uncertainty that may cause strain, anxiety, depression or stress and prevent future orientation. It is at this time when questions related to the meaningfulness and role of your education and evolving expertise in relation to your future tend to easily come to mind.
Meetings and experiences build identity
Studies often include working life or expertise studies, study guidance and other course content that support the student’s career planning. The same objective is also supported by personal career guidance provided by a career counsellor or events held by career services, for example. However, it is important to note how many other measures and opportunities at higher education institutions are also aimed at supporting your career planning and career skills:
- Studies usually include practising, in which theory and practice engage in a dialogue. Another essential aspect of practising is testing your ideas related to your industry and getting to know the industry’s culture and operators.
- Things such as mentoring also offer similar windows into your own industry, operators and working life.
- The ultimate purpose of working life fairs, simulations, various meetings with employers or things such as job and internship portals is also to support student employment.
- Additionally, things such as international exchange, activities of student organisations and all activities outside studies can offer you places to reflect and contemplate who you are becoming and where you are going.
These are represented by the green ellipses in the graph below. Some of them are deep at the core of studies, while others are content related to working life, your own industry and networking that is recognised as studies.
The graph illustrates how our contemplations about the future and identity as an expert evolve through experiences gained in studies (and other aspects of life). This is a continuous and hermeneutic process: new experiences affect our thinking and perception of ourselves and what types of new experiences we next seek out, etc.
What do career counsellors do and how?
University career counsellors work from many different theoretical perspectives, using a great variety of methods, and there is no one correct way of providing career guidance.
However, the common thing in the work of career counsellors is that the counselee’s own process is always placed at the centre. In career guidance, the counselee is always seen as the primary expert in their own life and situation.
The career theoretical thinking of the career counsellor is not necessarily all that visible to the student, and the counsellor’s own theory-in-use may – and often does – consist of input and ideas from different theories. Career counsellors also favour various approaches, methods and tools that may include solution orientation, resource orientation, a narrative approach or career design, for example.
However, the core of career theory and research is examining what career planning is actually about. Career theories approach this question in slightly different ways:
- Matching theories seek compatibility between the individual and the environment (e.g. workplace).
- The premise of developmental psychology theories is that our lives consist of different phases in which we make decisions concerning our future, but our biological age also determines how ready we are to make these decisions at any given time.
- Career planning can also be seen as a very cognitive process in which the focus is on how we make decisions.
The currently prevailing post-modern career theories take the significance of the environment more strongly into account. The commonality between them is supporting participation in an uncertain world by emphasising:
- identifying and working on the themes of your own life;
- adaptability based on experiences of resilience and capability; and
- continuity based on long-term identity processes.
- They may also take a stance on coincidence or chaos.
A career counsellor is not a teacher who pours information into the counselee’s head; instead, they are a safe support person, listener and conversation partner who walks side-by-side with the counselee and supports them on their journey forwards on their own path.