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Is career counseling a bunch of hooey?
Readers are familiar with my skepticism about career counseling. Not with the concept, but with the way the business has been taken over and dominated by racketeers who prey on the frustrations and fear of desperate job hunters. The legitimate counselors who know what they're doing and who deliver value are few and far between -- and you're only going to find them through credible referrals and careful reference checks. But now, even basic career counseling methodology is coming under scrutiny -- not for its legitimacy, but for its effectiveness.

A provocative new book written by a researcher who doesn't work in the employment industry says the counselors have got it all wrong and ought to modify their methods. Ex-Harvard Biz School professor Herminia Ibarra (now at Insead) spent three years investigating approaches to career change -- and how well these work (or don't). Her main conclusion: traditional career counseling methods actually distract more than they help career changers, because they emphasize planning, introspection, and careful implementation of new career plans. Ibarra says that discovering what you want to do before you act is a mistake. It's far more effective to act first. She calls it "test and learn".

Ibarra's bold assertion: "The only thing that can help you figure out your next career is bumping into it." Your challenge, she says, is creating situtations that promote "bumping". (If you're familiar with The Library Vacation, you already know what she's talking about.)

It will be interesting to see how the good counselors out there incorporate Ibarra's findings into their work. My guess is that you'll know a good counselor from a lousy one if she can discuss Ibarra's work openly and forthrightly with you -- whether or not she chooses to apply it in her work.

To learn more about Ibarra's work, check out Identity Shift in Fast Company, or you can dive right into her book, Working Identity: Unconventional strategies for reinventing your career.

Nick Corcodilos
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