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Consultation in Career Practice

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Career consultation can be conducted by professionals from either outside or within the organization or work unit. In either case, the consultant is seen as an "independent outsider" (Schein, 1987) who offers some special expertise. The goal of many consultations is to influence organizational processes or events to move toward stated goals (Schein, 1987). Schein argued that a good consultant, like a good manager, must help subordinates, peers, and managers to achieve set goals and accomplish tasks. Gallesich (1982) suggested five basic models of consultations, many of which are employed in career consultations in schools, organizations, and groups:

Education and Training Consultations: These approaches, which are largely cognitive or skill based, include lectures, media presentations, structured laboratory experiences, measurement and behavior feedback, and small group discussions. Career education employed these models almost exclusively by infusing career material into school curricula. The most common vehicle for an education and training consultation is the workshop technique.

Clinical and Mental Health Consultations: These approaches, called doctor-patient consultations by Schein (1987), are derived from the pioneering work of psychiatrist Gerald Caplan (1964) who classified consultations as either problem focused or target focused. Mental health approaches sometimes involve crisis intervention, and frequently include intensive interactions with key individuals or those with serious problems under the assumption that beneficial effects would spread to others in the organization. Individual career counseling is now common in many large organizations, and the overlap between career problems and mental health concerns is one of the most active topics in career psychology.

Behavioral Consultations: Typically these approaches use principles of behavior modification to intervene in organizations by identifying a problem through a needs assessment and base-line data collection, establishing concrete performance goals, and using reinforcement to increase desired behaviors. The classic but controversial Hawthorne study at Western Electric (Roethlisberger & Dickson, 1939), in which alterations in plant lighting resulted in unintended improvements in industrial output even among control groups, is a good example of an organizational intervention that involved learning. As G. D. Gottfredson (personal communication, 1989) noted, in the Hawthorne case, productivity was a function of clearly specified goals and group norms for behavior and output. Numerous studies of ward behavior in psychiatric hospitals have also used behavioral intervention models.

Organizational Consultations: These sociopsychological approaches have a rich history in the work of Warren Bennis, Chris Argyris, and Edgar Schein.

Schein (1987) described three consultation models: purchase of expertise, doctor-patient, and process. In the purchase-of-expertise model, the client organization appears to know what the problem is, what help is needed and where to find that assistance. The success of this model depends on whether the organization has correctly diagnosed the problem, has identified an appropriate consultant, and has fully communicated the nature of the problem to the consultant. The doctor-patient consultation is based on the notion that although the client organization is experiencing some distress or dysfunction, it is unable to diagnose the problem with any confidence. A consultant is engaged to assess the problem and locate "sick" areas. A prescription is then offered, which in many cases is left to the client to administer after the consultant leaves. By contrast, process consultation is an ongoing pattern of diagnosis and intervention. The client participates in the diagnostic process, and the goals are shared by the client and the consultant. Conditions are arranged to facilitate the accurate perception of an organizational problem and the development of a solution that depends heavily on input by the client and follow-through by both the client and the consultant.

Because of emotional and interpersonal impact of an organizational consultation, a consultant must learn how to intervene while still "saving face" for the client. Schein described a three-stage model of the change a process consultation should elicit. In the first stage, there is an unfreezing of attitudes and the creation of motivation for change. In the second stage, cognitive restructuring helps the client to see circumstances more productively, and in the third stage, a "refreezing," occurs as the new view of the organization is integrated fully into existing schemas. The process consultant, according to Schein, employs ten types of interventions:
  1. Listening actively and with interest
  2. Forcing historical restructuring
  3. Forcing concretization
  4. Forcing process emphasis
  5. Asking diagnostic questions and probing
  6. Engaging in process management and agenda setting
  7. Providing feedback
  8. Making content suggestions and recommendations
  9. Supplying structure management
  10. Offering conceptual inputs
Program Consultations: In these approaches internal programs are designed and evaluated. An unusually clear and comprehensive presentation of the content and process of program development was offered by Herr and Cramer (1988), who outlined and gave examples of a five-stage model of career program development.

The Nature of Career Consultation

Although there is a substantial literature on what career consultation programs should include (APGA, undated), there is very little data on current career development practice in organizations and schools. Empirical studies of programmatic and curricular career interventions have been very slow to accumulate, as Baker and Popwicz (1983) observed. The design and outcome measurement problems in such studies are legion (Brickell, 1976). One exception is the study of forty companies by Gutteridge and Otte (1983), which revealed that thirty-one of the companies conducted career planning seminars and that twenty-eight provided individual career counseling. A variety of other career interventions were employed, including job posting, workbooks and inventories, a career resource center, and discussions with supervisors. Such programs were started because of pressure from top management, a desire to promote employees from within, employee interest, or EEO pressure. Gutteridge and Otte concluded that career intervention programs in industry were proceeding at a remarkable rate. They also made a number of very clear recommendations that make this brief book one of the most useful resources for corporate career programming.

Generally, career consultations are of the purchase-of-expertise model detailed by Schein (1987), the program development model, or the organizational development model described by Gallesich (1982). Leibowitz, Farren and Kaye (1988) recently provided a generalized model for the implementation of career programs in government, corporate, and industrial settings, and some of the material would be useful in educational settings as well. The first step in their model is to assess the present system in the organization. The second step is to formulate the philosophy and objectives of the program. The important third step, during which an action plan is developed, is to establish an advisory board of key employees whose investment and involvement in the program will provide valuable feedback to the consultant as well as credibility in the eyes of the other employees and management. Finally, the fourth step is to maintain and evaluate the ongoing program.

Consultative approaches to career intervention represent a useful and exciting addition to the counselor's skill base. The overlap between career consultation and industrial-organization consultation may sometimes be problematic, even though the goals, assumptions, and content of the two approaches are different. The success of both, however, depends on the degree to which organizational changes are made to support the consultation (Goldstein, 1980). A great many consultations have a short-lived effect or none at all due to the lack of such organizational support and follow-through.


Prevention and consultation are emerging areas of career practice that require divergent views about the causes and remediation of career difficulties, and somewhat different skills from the counselor. The promotion of career competence is the principal organizing construct of prevention, and parental interactions are seen as crucial in promoting this competence.
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