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propositions in search of professionalism - part two

Cloud created by:

Bill Law
20 October 2011

this is part two of a five-part keynote presentation to the 2011 annual conference of the ICG
the series starts at

a pdf version of the entire five-part text...

2.  winning credibility - earning trust

The proposition is that credibility cannot be claimed, it must be earned.  And that means being open to challenge from the very people whose trust we seek.  It is not how we see them that matters, it is how they see us.

culture and its enclaves:  We are not our clients’ and students’ only sources of learning for career management - they learn in other ways.  That means that they do not come to us empty-handed - they come with beliefs, values and expectations, which they gather from their experience of culture and its enclaves.  

Those sources of learning are massively expanding through globalisation and its technologies.  Everyone has plenty of informal ways of finding out what is going on, and working out what they can do about it.  And they find those sources in both friends-and-family, and on-line.  But this is learning in enclaves - it increasingly belongs to post-coded attitudes reflected in googled urls.  Those geographically located cultural backgrounds are becoming better markers for work-related attitudes than any twentieth-century definition of social class can any longer show us.  Different groups, in different positions, with different experiences, learn different things about career. 

contested claims:  And, so, there is always more than one way of thinking about working life.  Ideas about career are constantly reorganising how we understand what people do.  Words like ‘skill’, ‘employability’, ‘confidence’, ‘experience’, ‘allegiance’ and ‘motivation’ crop up differently in different accounts.  They express contested claims: whatever anybody says about career, somebody else can say it differently.  If you’ve ever compiled a career-management essay or case study, you may well have wondered how to be sure that you have covered the ground.  

But my reading of the evidence is that there is something like a consensus about the value of careers work.  However much they may vary in other ways, in certain conditions students and clients agree about us.  They approve of us when...: they know what they want to do; they are facing short-term action; and they are looking for hard information.  We shouldn’t be too surprised by the modesty of these accolades.  In work as complex and dynamic as ours, the best we could ever reasonably have hoped for is that we help some people, on some issues for some of the time.  And that is pretty-well what the evidence shows.

enlarged expertise:  The evidence shows something else: when it comes to reflecting on why to move on in one direction rather than another, that’s when people go to other people for informal help - not to us.  They turn to people they know, and who know them - people they feel they can trust.  And it is on that ‘why’ question that they look elsewhere.  We increase our credibility by working with people, not just on how to do things, but on why to bother.  It means being strong both on career and on the causes of career.  And it’s not that we don’t have that understanding: we are expanding our career studies continually - drawing on psychology, economics, and sociology. 

The term ‘career studies’ is useful, because it speaks less of some wholly-owned careers-work discipline, more of an examination of rigorous disciplines which expand our understanding.  The history of careers work is a history of that kind of intellectual exploration and importation.  It brings us an enlarged expertise: constantly taking us into unfamiliar pathways, collecting from emerging sources, and discovering new ways of understanding what is going on.  A recent example is how culture and neurology interact.  It expands our scope for evoking possible selves in possible futures.  And that offers people a deeper and wider hold on working life.  We will know that it has earned credibility when more people, from more backgrounds, want to discuss more of their lives, with more of us, for more of the time.

Practical questions for winning that kind of credibility include..

‘who collates our understanding of career - and the causes of career?’
‘how do we best connect that expertise to client and student experience?’
‘how do they know us - and become known by us - enough to trust us?’

part three of the presentation is at



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