Career Style Interview: a contextualized approach to career counseling.

Author:Taber, Brian J.

Clarification of a client's self-concept and its implementation in the world of work remain an overarching goal of career counseling. To date, counselors have largely used objective measures of interests, values, needs, and abilities in their efforts to accomplish this goal. Objective assessments alone offer decontextualized views of the self, often disregarding nuances in individual differences. To address this problem, counselors can use the Career Style Interview (CSI), which forms the assessment as a method for attaining a more comprehensive and personally meaningful representation of the self. A description of the CSI and a case study are presented to promote counselor understanding of this method. Choosing and entering an occupation essentially involves a process of clarifying and implementing a work self-concept (Super, 1951, 1953). This proposition remains a mainstay of career counseling, dating to the inception of the field (Parsons, 1909). Consistent with this premise, a variety of psychometric inventories and scales have been developed and used by career counselors to facilitate and expedite the process of self-understanding. Objective appraisal of vocational interests, needs, values, and abilities through test interpretation has indeed become common practice in career counseling (Crites, 1981; Crites & Taber, 2002; Swanson & D'Achiardi, 2005; Watkins, Campbell, & Nieberding, 1994). Measuring individual differences is the central component of trait and factor models of career counseling.

Assessing broad, decontextualized dispositional traits, such as interests, needs, values, and abilities, reflects basic tendencies in behavior. These behavioral tendencies can be conceptualized as the structural basis of individual differences (Cantor, 1990; McAdams & Pals, 2006). Results from objective measures merely provide career counselors with a general outline of a person's individuality and self-concept. For example, Holland's (1997) Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, Conventional (RIASEC) typology is widely incorporated in many vocational interest inventories. Typically, career counselors examine the three highest scores on operationally defined RIASEC scales to determine a client's vocational personality. However, although two clients may both resemble SAE types, it is unlikely that both have the same motives, goals, strivings, adaptive strategies, or self-images (Savickas, 1995b). Indeed, people are more than, the sum of their scored responses on inventories and tests. Therefore, understanding specific contextualized features of the self-concept elucidates the client's lifestyle and everyday behavior. Therefore, to effectively assist clients with clarifying their self-concept and its implementation in the world of work, career counselors need to understand the uniqueness of the individual and identify specific behaviors that stem from dispositional traits. By adding a contextualized approach to career counseling, a more complete picture of the client develops, thereby becoming more useful and producing a better outcome (Savickas, 1996).

To understand the nuances of individuals and the context in which they construct their lives, we recommend the Career Style Interview (CSI) as a means of facilitating greater self-knowledge. The CSI is a technique that has its roots in Adler's individual psychology (see Savickas, 1989) and is a key component in identifying life themes from a career construction theory perspective (Savickas, 2005). Capitalizing on its Adlerian heritage and its interface with constructivism (Hartung, 2008; Jones, 1995; Savickas, 1995a; Watts & Shulman, 2003), the CSI elicits a co-constructed client narrative that gives meaning to the client's identity and a foundation for purposeful action (McIlveen & Patton, 2007).

The CSI has been refined during the last 20 years (Savickas, 1989, 1998, 2002, 2005) and has been demonstrated in an audiovisual recording (Savickas, 2006). In the current article, we describe the most recent version of the CSI, elaborate on its essential elements, and present a case study to demonstrate its use.


The CSI (Savickas, 1989, 1998) is used to gather data in the form of self-defining stories from the client about life structure (roles), adaptability strategies, motivations, strivings, and personality style. In the initial interview, the counselor listens carefully for clues about the importance of work relative to life roles in other areas (e.g., study, home and family, community, and leisure). Ascertaining the client's level of work-role salience allows the counselor to determine whether further career assessment and counseling will be meaningful (high career salience) or not (low career salience). Clients who are high in career salience show readiness to benefit from more career assessment. Clients who are low in career salience may, depending on their unique life status, need help either (a) orienting to the world-of-work before further assessment or (b) exploring and preparing for other life roles.

The CSI itself comprises an introductory question that elicits clients' goals for counseling and six primary domains of questions that are used to elicit narratives from clients for comprehending and constructing their life stories. In addition to the opening question, Table 1 lists the seven core questions counselors use to frame a CSI. These core questions deal with role models, preferred social environments, manifest interests, preferred work environments, life story designations, and central preoccupations. Table 2 explains what the elicited responses in each domain of questions reveal about the client. As the client relates self-defining stories in the form of responses to the questions in the CSI, the counselor listens intently, asks clarifying questions, makes reflective statements, and records the responses for use in interpretation and as a summary for the client to retain. Questions about role models reveal the client's ego ideals, indicate a central life goal, and provide viable solutions to the client's core life problem. Magazines and television shows indicate preferred environments that fit the client's style. Books reveal a major character who faces the same problem as the client and shows how that character dealt successfully with the problem. Leisure activities deal with self-expression and reveal manifest interests. A favorite saying provides a title to the life story. School subjects indicate preferred work environments. Early recollections reveal central interests or preoccupations that guide personal strivings. Next, we discuss each of these elements.


Career Style Interview Questions

Opening Question

How can I be useful to you in constructing your career?

  1. Whom did you admire when you were growing up? Whom would you like to pattern your life after? List three heroes/role models.

    1. What do you admire about each of these role models?

    2. How are you like each of these persons?

    3. How are you different from them?

  2. What magazines do you read regularly? What do you like about them? What TV shows do you really enjoy? Why?

  3. Tell me about your favorite book/movie.

  4. What do you like to do with your free time? What are your hobbies? What do you enjoy about these hobbies?

  5. Do you have a favorite saying or motto? Tell me a saying you remember hearing.

  6. What were your favorite subjects in junior high and high school? Why? What subjects did you hate? Why?

  7. What are your earliest recollections? I am interested in hearing three stories about things you recall happening to you when you were between 3 and 6 years old.

    TABLE 2 Career Style Interview Domains Domain Explanation Role models Represent ego ideals. The focus of inquiry is on what is admired rather than who is admired. Magazines/TV shows Favorite Indicate preferred environments that fit books/movies the individual's style. Reveal a major character that faces the same problem as the individual and show how that character dealt with the problem. Leisure and hobbies Deal with self-expression and reveal manifest interests. Favorite saying Provides a title to the life story. School subjects Indicate preferred job tasks and work environments. Early recollections Reveal preoccupations that guide personal strivings. Role Models

    Individuals enter the world with no instruction manual about how life should be lived. Thus, children look to others to provide them with a way of finding solutions to problems they encounter as they grow up. Individuals whom children admire become role models. In many respects, role models provide a template for designing a life (Erikson, 1968). The models selected represent someone who shares a dilemma that is similar to one's own and who has figured out a way to resolve the issue. By imitating role models, people develop and rehearse relevant coping attitudes and form values and interests for certain activities. Consequently, skills develop through engagement in these activities. Understanding why individuals choose particular role models provides a window into their view of an ideal self and their central life goal. Indeed, as people talk about their role models, they are really talking about themselves (Savickas, 1989, 1998).

    Frequently, people turn to more than one role model as they construct their identity. Typically, individuals incorporate personally salient aspects from different role models with respect to such features as interests, attitudes, capabilities, and values and then synthesize those aspects into a meaningful whole Flum, 2001; Gibson, 2004). Therefore, the initial question in the CSI is focused on eliciting three role models whom the client admired as a child, preferably before the age of 10 years, a time when children are curious about life and how it should be lived...

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