“We can always shape that story into something more empowering”
Author: Kristian Lees-Bell (Business Psychologist & Hypnotherapist)
Making the transition from postgraduate to securing your first role in Business Psychology is a unique challenge. The career opportunities inherent in such a flexible and diverse field of work are clearly a draw for many aspiring psychologists. However, this diversity can prove overwhelming especially for those not already coming from related careers like HR or L&D.
The fact that the path to working in Business Psychology is less defined compared to that of other fields poses further challenges. There may be a gap in technical skills and a considerable psychological hurdle to overcome. Any career transition involves disruption, occasional doubts, and temporary dips in confidence, but how do you make the identity shift from student (with all the theories and ideas still not quite forgotten) to psychologist? How can we keep rebounding and remaining resilient after countless rejections or a lack of local professional support?
One way to navigate the transition (and stay sane through the process) is through an understanding of our career narratives – the story we tell ourselves about our past and present career experiences.
The concept of narrative is central to the Career Construction Theory (Savickas, 2005) which takes into account an individual’s subjective experience and how they use language and personal meaning to construct their own self-narrative.
Our self-narratives are important as we depend on our self-knowledge or identity to make informed career decisions. As Del Corso & Rehfuss (2011) suggest, a solid sense of self through a cohesive story is critical since it is the only consistent and stable structure throughout our lives.
This article outlines three ways to sustain a healthy self-narrative that helps us adapt and recover from setbacks, build confidence and improve our career prospects. Of course, much of the identity work happens under the surface, without conscious awareness. However, we can always shape that story into something more empowering.
Career story telling
Getting clear on your career ‘story’ by drawing together the related events and professional experiences throughout your professional life has a number of potential benefits. First, it creates a sense of coherence and greater clarity which boosts self-efficacy – a key element in successful career adaption and transition.
Second, this increased clarity helps others understand your motivations, purpose and future direction. This is critical for the new psychology graduate interviewing for a first job. The interviewer needs to understand how your prior experiences and life events fit together and relate to the job on offer. A coherent self-narrative provides the structure to create a compelling case they can’t ignore.
Clinical Psychologist Jordan Peterson has co-developed a tool called Self-Authoring which involves a similar process of writing in detail about our past, present and future. Based on narrative therapy, the greater coherence which arises through reflecting and writing, has been shown to have a positive impact on student success through increased retention rates and first-term GMA (Finnie, Poirier, Bozkurt, Peterson, Fricker, Pratt, 2017)
We all ‘talk’ to ourselves on a daily basis and the content and manner in which we do this can also have a positive or negative impact on our self-narrative. Negative beliefs and thoughts about a previous career set-back, can influence our internal dialogue, and this dialogue can either support or damage our confidence.
One way to re-interpret and bounce back stronger from career setbacks, is through the process of cognitive reframing. A common process in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a reframing session, might involve first exploring relevant negative or unhelpful beliefs and associated self-talk.
A series of interview rejections might for instance have caused someone to say to themselves that they can’t be at their best in interviews. By reframing this, they can come up with a more balanced and helpful statement such as: ‘Even though I’ve had some disappointing interviews, I’m learning more about what companies are looking for’. Another helpful question might be to ask – ‘what went well’?
Being more aware of the concept of interpretation bias, usually defined as a thinking error that occurs when processing large amounts of information, can also help us to construct a more positive self-narrative.
Peak-End Theory (Kahnemann & Tversky, 1999) is relevant here – suggesting that we recall life’s critical moments as a series of highlights, rather than a thorough record of the facts. These highlights consist of ‘peaks’ (the best or worst moment) and endings (the lasting feeling). By consciously creating more positive peaks and endings in our day to day lives, we can remember events more positively. Next time you deliver a talk or attend an interview, one idea would be to remember the good things about the process, and end it with a smile, handshake, or victory dance (outside the building).
Consciously creating a coherent self-narrative through the power of reframing, positive self-talk and knowledge of biases such as Peak-End-theory can be particularly helpful to those of us who are undergoing career changes. Finding that first job can require bullet-proof resilience and a belief that you are on the right track despite the setbacks that might occur. A positive and compelling life story is critical as we constantly draw on it to derive meaning, greater clarity, and set expectations for the future.
Have you tried any of the three suggestions mentioned? Did you find them helpful with career related challenges? What would you suggest to help overcome career setbacks or make a successful transition from student to first role as a Business Psychologist? Get in Touch and share your thoughts.