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Capturing the Lightbulb Moments: Narrative Case Studies in Career Development

Capturing the Lightbulb Moments: Narrative Case Studies in Career Development

Picture this: you’re sitting with a client and your favourite thing happens - the lightbulb moment. It’s like a flash goes off in their mind and they have a great idea, a gut-check realization, a truthbomb drop.

How are you capturing these moments as they happen? How are you helping your clients reflect on these flashes afterwards? When they’re anxious, or during an interview, or sitting in their car, upset that they didn’t get an offer?

Lost in Translation

It’s hard to admit, but before I started using the Online Storyteller, I was ineffective in this vital part of service delivery. Clients and I would both write notes during sessions. Theirs would sit stale in their notebooks and mine would get locked away in a filing cabinet. We’d touch on their main themes, needs and goals session to session, but some of the key nuances were lost. When we did assessments, the results were piecemeal and jumbled together. Without seeing the whole picture, in detail, it always felt to me like I was listening to these wonderful career stories, but the depth and meaning were getting lost in translation.

Stories are highly variable, in duration, quality and type of story (for example work or volunteer or education). They differ as well in how they’re told. In the language of narrative therapy, some stories are “thin,” without much detail or emotion: “I hated my boring summer job”. Others are “thick” with details, influences of other people and emotional content (White & Epston, 1990).

Career professionals are good at helping clients “thicken” their stories, but to what ends? Sometimes when I chat about using a narrative framework, colleagues feel like it’s fluffy since it’s qualitative, subjective and descriptive in nature.

How can we support clients to reflect on their stories in a systematic way, as a legitimate form of input into career counseling, advising or coaching, despite their variability? How can we use storylistening to help clients gain clarity, integrate results from other assessments, and then synthesize the resulting output into a useful format to help them navigate a lifetime of transitions?

Method in the Madness

Enter the Career Sketch, the backbone. This is the innovative mechanism at the heart of the narrative framework upon which the Online Storyteller tool is based.

As co-founders Mark Franklin and Rich Feller explain it: “Building our story listening skills, we began to see a pattern of elements, such as strengths, desires and personal qualities, that were easily extracted from client stories. Over time, we realized that a tool was needed to gather and organize these elements, thoughts and feelings. This is how the Career Sketch innovation emerged. A one-page marvellous mosaic that could reflect client awareness that emerged from witnessing their stories.” 

Once I adapted my service-delivery to operate within this framework, I noticed a significant shift in my clients feeling clear about what they wanted & going after it with intention and optimism. I noticed a shift in me too, because my clients were getting results they were happy with.

Mark adds: “Having a consistent approach to client work while still allowing for practitioners to apply professional judgment gives practitioners and clients alike a sense of relief that there is a ‘method in their madness’.”

Case Studies & Stories

In the career development field, there are so many 'tools of the trade'. It can be challenging to know what’s useful and still relevant. A great indication of what’s working, for me, are stories from clients about how they use the tools and why. Below are 3 brief case studies highlighting how my clients used the Career Sketch in diverse ways as they navigated their career management and exploration.

Case Study #1-Interview Power Up 

I’m a Millennials career coach and most of my clients pivot. This can be so exciting for them - pursuing a meaningful career choice - but it can also lead to a crisis of confidence. It’s typically easier to say “I did this before” and prove it with your job history then to showcase transferable skills when transitioning.

One client I worked with had the capabilities required for their dream field. They knew they could thrive in their new career of choice, even though they’d never been paid to, and they needed an extra boost of confidence to express this in interviews.

To prepare for two lucrative opportunities, this client turned to their Career Sketch to get that boost. They created a cheat sheet of their strengths, desires and insights - discoveries that were held within their Career Sketch - to bring with them to the interview. We had both invested time and effort to populate & prioritize the tool with the things that really mattered, through storytelling and storylistening.

They explained to me: “It was all already there for me, ready for me to grab when I needed it. I had great stories ready to tell in the interview, but I also felt better than I ever had going into it because all the things I wanted and am good at were so clear to me.”

In a few clicks, they had a summary of all the things we had worked on - all the lightbulb moments and goals we had identified. All the reasons why they knew this was the right step to take. The tool encourages deep reflection, but it’s also so powerful to glance at & see the big picture post-reflection. 

Case Study #2-No Offer, No Problem 

Sometimes we all need an antidote to treat the sting of today’s standard recruitment and job search process. It’s filled with loss, rejection and mostly broken systems.

A rockstar client of mine had everything going for them - stellar references, relevant work and volunteer experience, advanced education, proven soft skills and they were a dream to interview.

Armed with all of this, the client went for the big fish role at the big fish company. It wasn't just any job - it was the dream, the golden ticket, the big leap, THE job. They got the interview, but not the offer. After a very extensive and demanding hiring process, the news was delivered to them via an impersonal “dear John” form email. 

What can we advise as an antidote when this happens to our clients? I lean on reflection.

How did that client know in their gut that this was THE job? They had clarity. How did they find out about the role? They were exploring with intention. How did they get as far as they did in the interview process? They prioritized which of their strengths and assets they wanted to use day in & day out, and knew how to communicate that.

They did all this through narrative assessment and techniques, reflecting on their experiences and stories to gain clarity and to build a realistic but hopeful plan.

I’ll always remember this client telling me: “that night, I opened up my Career Sketch to reflect on the interview and I saw all my wins, all my achievements.”

Reflection builds resilience and increases hope. The tool offered them a goldmine of all the nuggets they had uncovered and offered a lifeline after a brutal rejection.

Case Study #3-Impostor Syndrome

I working with young professionals at the start of their careers. It can be challenging to help them identify strengths and generate possibilities. They undervalue their experiences and feel like impostors when applying for anything above entry-level.

Within the Online Storyteller tool, there’s a feature called Getting Feedback that allows clients to reach out to trusted allies to ask for feedback on their careers. It’s an effective way to learn more about themselves, clarify their strengths, generate new career ideas and get advice.

It’s can also be a form of reality-testing for their career ideas and personal brand. How accurately have they evaluated their strengths? How do other people see them? Others can pinpoint strengths and opportunities they may have under-estimated, and blind-spots they may have missed.

A client I had in her early twenties was incredibly introverted and a gifted writer. She had difficulty with traditional networking events and job search strategies. She knew that avenues like digital media and blogging were available to her as a writer, but she guarded and valued her privacy fiercely. 

She reached out for feedback through the Getting Feedback feature. She was able to do this online instead of having face-to-face coffee chats that made her anxious. Advice and options poured in from her allies and were populated and categorized into her Career Sketch by the technology in the tool.

“All of a sudden, I had all of these possibilities and strengths that I hadn’t thought of. I knew some of what they said was true about me, but I wasn’t able to say it outloud myself. When I saw their feedback, it really helped.”

Using the tool in this way, she was able to ask for feedback that was useful and targeted without the methods we typically ask our clients to do: network! reach out! get an informational interview! None of these options was authentic for her, but the tool helped her gain confidence and clarity while respecting her boundaries.

Sweetened Sketch

As my private practice grows, I am confident that I can effectively manage my client load and help people find meaningful work because I have the Online Storyteller in my toolbox. My favourite thing - that lightbulb moment - is even sweeter now that I know for certain that my clients can reflect on it again and as often as needed throughout their career development journey.

How do you help your clients reflect on their experiences? Let us know in the comments below. If you’d like to review the Career Sketch and try out the Online Storyteller tool for yourself, you can sign up for a free credit here, or schedule a 1:1 video chat with us.

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