What is best practice in careers education? An outline of the evidence.

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I recently published this article on LinkedIn. It’s an excerpt of some of the literature review work that I’ve been doing for my doctorate and formed the basis of my presentation at this year’s Career Development Association of Australia conference. 

An important pillar of the evidence base of careers education practice is formed by a series of meta-analyses of career intervention studies, published over the last 30 years. These studies have measured the impact of career interventions and explored the influence of different intervention methods and approaches (Baker & Taylor, 1998; Brown & Roche, 2016; Brown & Ryan Krane, 2000; Brown et al., 2003; Oliver & Spokane, 1988; Whiston, Brecheisen, & Stephens, 2003; Whiston et al., 2017; Whiston, Sexton, & Lasoff, 1998).

In these studies, what makes a “career intervention” is defined broadly, as any effort made to improve clients’ career development, which is most often measured as career maturity, career decision-making, vocational identity, or perceptions of environmental factors. Career interventions can be individual or group counselling, workshops, career development classes, the provision of career information and self-help resources, or computer-based or -assisted activities.

These meta-analyses have consistently found that career interventions do indeed help people, to a moderate but statistically significant degree. In the most recent study, Whiston et al. (2017) reported that on average, participants in a career intervention had a 60% chance of attaining a higher outcome measure than members of the control group who didn’t participate in the intervention, a finding consistent with those of previous studies. These studies have also found that repeated interventions are more effective than one-off interventions, group interventions are as effective as individual interventions, and interventions that are facilitated by an expert career development practitioner are more effective than those that are not.

Critical ingredients of career interventions

In a particularly influential study, Brown and Ryan Krane (2000) identified five critical ingredients that had a significant impact on the effectiveness of career interventions:

  • written exercises
  • individualised interpretations and feedback
  •  information on the world of work
  • modelling by more competent others
  •  support from social networks

They found that critical ingredients are most effective when combined, so that interventions that included three or more ingredients were much more effective than those that included only one or two.

Whiston et al. (2017) partially replicated Brown and Ryan Krane’s (2000) findings, supporting the importance of written workbooks, personalised feedback, and world of work information but adding three new critical ingredients that were found to have a greater impact than the original five:

  • counsellor support
  • values clarification
  • psychoeducation (exploring the process of making and working toward decisions).

It is impossible to compare the critical ingredients of Brown and Ryan Krane (2000) with those of Whiston et al. (2017) directly, because they focused on different outcome measures (career maturity and career decision-making self-efficacy, respectively) and Brown and Ryan Krane’s (2000) study did not report the effect sizes or statistical significance of each critical ingredient. This limited replication does not show that critical ingredients are not valid as signposts toward career intervention best practice. Rather, it enriches the value of critical ingredients as key approaches to career interventions, while also highlighting that practitioners and researchers need to treat them critical caution.

Career education best practices

These studies aggregate decades of research and hundreds of career intervention program evaluations. Taken together, they can be used to inform a model of evidence-based best practice in the provision of career education:

●    Repeated interventions are more effective than one-off interventions (Brown & Ryan Krane, 2000; Oliver & Spokane, 1988; Whiston et al., 2017).

●    Interventions facilitated by a career development expert are more effective than self-directed or computer-mediated interventions (Brown & Ryan Krane, 2000 ; Whiston et al., 2003; Whiston & James, 2013; Whiston et al., 2017).

●    Group interventions are at least as effective as individual interventions (Brown & Ryan Krane, 2000 ; Oliver & Spokane, 1988; Whiston et al., 2003; Whiston et al., 2017).

●    Structured group interventions, such as workshops, are more effective than unstructured group interventions, such as group counselling (Whiston et al., 2003).

●    Interventions that include critical ingredients (written exercises, individualised interpretations and feedback, labour market information, modelling from experts, and support from social networks (Brown & Ryan Krane, 2000); counsellor support, values clarification, and psychoeducation (Whiston et al., 2017)) are more effective, particularly in combination with each other, than those that do not.

●    Interventions should be targeted to the needs of specific client groups and incorporate relevant career development theories in full (Hughes, Mann, Barnes, Baldauf, & McKeown, 2016; Miller & Brown, 2004; Whiston & James, 2013).

Putting it to work

Obviously, this evidence base should be used by reflexive career education practitioners as they design, implement, and evaluate their own projects. It can contribute to a “curricular vision” (Bransford, Darling-Hammond, & LePage, 2005, p. 35) of career education which guides decisions about what kinds of transformative career learning outcomes we want for our students and how we can best facilitate them.

But just as importantly, this evidence-base should also be used by career educators to advocate for our profession and support efforts to assert our expertise in our collaborative and consultative roles. It can be used to justify the space we need to take in the curriculum, to have repeated exposure to students, and the time we need to develop relationships with students, promote social learning, and give effective feedback.

Careers and employability educators owe it to their students and themselves to base their work on, and evaluate it against, evidence such as this, and to let their institutional colleagues and communities know all about it.


Bransford, J., Darling-Hammond, L., & LePage, P. (2012). Introduction. In L. Darling-Hammond & J. Bransford (Eds.), Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do (pp. 1–39). Somerset, England: Wiley.

Brown, S. D., & Roche, M. (2016). The Outcomes of Vocational Interventions: Thirty (Some) Years Later. Journal of Career Assessment24(1), 26–41. doi:10.1177/106907271557966

Brown, S. D., & Ryan Krane, N. E. (2000). Four (or five) sessions and a cloud of dust: Old assumptions and new observations about career counseling. In S. D. Brown & R. W. Lent (Eds.), Handbook of counseling psychology (pp. 740–766). New York, NY: Wiley.

Brown, S. D., Ryan Krane, N. E., Brecheisen, J., Castelino, P., Budisin, I., Miller, M., & Edens, L. (2003). Critical ingredients of career choice interventions: More analyses and new hypotheses. Journal of Vocational Behavior62(3), 411–428. doi:10.1016/S0001-8791(02)00052-0

Hughes, D., Mann, A., Barnes, S.-A., Baldauf, B., & McKeown, R. (2016). Careers education: International literature review. Warwick, England: Warwick Institute for Employment Research. Retrieved from http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/80474/

Miller, M. J., & Brown, S. D. (2004). Counseling for career choice: Implications for improving interventions and working with diverse populations. In S. D. Brown & R. W. Lent (Eds.), Career development and counseling: Putting theory and research to work (1st ed., pp. 441–465). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Oliver, L. W., & Spokane, A. R. (1988). Career-intervention outcome: What contributes to client gain? Journal of Counseling Psychology35(4), 447. Retrieved from http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/cou/35/4/447/

Whiston, S. C., & James, B. N. (2013). Promotion of career choices. In S. D. Brown & R. W. Lent (Eds.), Career development and counseling: Putting theory and research to work (2nd ed., pp. 565–594). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Whiston, S. C., Brecheisen, B. K., & Stephens, J. (2003). Does treatment modality affect career counseling effectiveness? Journal of Vocational Behavior62(3), 390–410. doi:10.1016/S0001-8791(02)00050-7

Whiston, S. C., Li, Y., Goodrich Mitts, N., & Wright, L. (2017). Effectiveness of career choice interventions: A meta-analytic replication and extension. Journal of Vocational Behavior100, 175–184. doi:10.1016/j.jvb.2017.03.010

Whiston, S. C., Sexton, T. L., & Lasoff, D. L. (1998). Career-intervention outcome: A replication and extension of Oliver and Spokane (1988). Journal of Counseling Psychology45(2), 150–165. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.45.2.150

Congratulations on not graduating, Nguyễn Võ Trọng Trí

My Little Un-Graduation Speech, by Nguyễn Võ Trọng Trí

One of the things that I treasure most of my five years at RMIT Vietnam is how I was able to follow my students through their university journeys. I taught hundreds first as an English teacher and then again years later as their career educator in RMIT’s Career Passport programs. Later still, I met them again when they joined career centre events as alumni guests.

Each year, my Facebook feed is filled with graduation photos. My former students are often kind enough to tag me or thank me in the captions. In 2014, I was honoured to be thanked by Nguyen Thao Vy, the RMIT President’s Award winner, in her acceptance speech. I’m always proud to have played a part, however small, in these students’ academic and career development.

This year, one Facebook graduation post, in particular, stood out from the rest.

I first met Nguyễn Võ Trọng Trí as one of 16  students in an English class that I taught in 2011. Over the years, I would often see him volunteering with the Student Ambassador Team during university open days, orientations, and other events, leading a group of high school students, parents, or RMIT first-years around on their campus tours.

Trí’s post on Facebook was titled “My Little Un-Graduation Speech”. Trí wasn’t graduating with his cohort, for various reasons, but he clearly had something he needed to say, and he said it remarkably well.

Today, some of my friends
who entered this university at the same time
as I did are going to attend their graduation

Trí wasn’t to be there with them. He is frank and honest about why. Poor decisions he made, family issues, new starts. But Trí learned a lesson that many of his graduating classmates did not. He learned that university is about the experiences you have as much as the degree that you earn. For Trí, the Student Ambassadors Team taught him as much as or more than his classes did.

Who am I today? At this very moment,
while many of my fellows become
university graduates, I am no one with no
college degree, no work, no nothing.

I was moved by Trí’s post. I identified with Trí, as his words describe the way I felt in 2000 when I dropped out of university with a couple of semesters worth of lacklustre grades. I was proud that one of my students would have the courage and honesty to make such a post public, especially in the strongly collectivist culture of Vietnam.

But Trí’s post was not about self-pity. He showed great maturity, a level of optimism, and most importantly, pride in what he had done and learned during his time at RMIT.

It shall be a very tough career path for me
since most of this society does not always
appreciate one’s ability yet his or her
degree. However, I know that as an RMIT
student and a Student Ambassador, I can
prove them wrong looking down on
neglected people who are disoriented or
lack of luck at some points of life.

“Calculated luck” and Chaos Theory

My favourite part of Trí’s post is his conclusion, where he unwittingly references two important career development theories: Krumboltz’s planned happenstance and Pryor and Bright’s Chaos Theory of Careers. Trí has never studied career development theory, but he clearly has the wisdom and reflective maturity to articulate the key points based on his experience.

And finally, to my fellow graduates, good
luck on your career path. When I say luck, I
mean a calculated luck. Be passionate
about what you do, have good
experiences and knowledge. Magnificent
ideas will surprise you and when they do,
experiment or take action immediately
then shall come the luck.

My Little Un-Graduation Speech, by Nguyễn Võ Trọng Trí

Trí’s calling is to be a designer, so it’s fitting that he put together a visual document to present his speech. With his permission, I can share it here for you to read in full.

Download (PDF, 6.28MB)

from “My Little Un-Graduation Speech” by Nguyễn Võ Trọng Trí


My career in career development education

Cuong Le and Michael Healy, part of the 2014 RMIT Vietnam career development education team
Cuong Le and Michael Healy, part of the 2014 RMIT Vietnam career development education team

I had never considered career development education as a possible pathway. I barely even knew it existed. But when I took an opportunity to become a career development educator, I immediately knew it was the right decision.

Making the jump to career development education

My discovery happened a couple of years ago at RMIT in Vietnam. I used my experience as an English teacher to land a job as a career development educator in the RMIT career centre. This was mostly out of a desire to get out of English language teaching, which was getting stale for me.

I wasn’t certain that taking the job was the right decision. I’d never been interested in the corporate world. I assumed I had to have a degree of business experience and a corporate mindset to do the job well. I was unsure  what I had to offer students who were studying to become accountants, analysts, managers, or marketers.

Like a fish to water

But as soon as I started working with students, I knew that I’d be a great career development educator. I discovered that the job entailed teaching some fundamental skills. I taught students the value of concise writing, by helping them edit their resumes down to one or two powerful pages. I gave them confidence, by showing them how to drive the conversation in a job interview. I helped them articulate their goals and their values and make sound decisions, by asking them a few key questions. My experience as an English teacher was invaluable as I distilled complex ideas into engaging lessons and resources.

Full steam ahead

In helping students choose their career paths, I found mine. I have decided to commit myself to the profession of career development education. I have consolidated my career change, securing my second position as a university career consultant, at La Trobe University in Melbourne.  I’m also studying RMIT’s Graduate Certificate in Career Education and Development to gain a formal credential.

I have plans for the future, of course. Hopefully, you’ll see them play out on the pages of this blog as I record some of my personal and professional learning as a career development educator.