Planned happenstance: Constructing unexpected career opportunities - Mitchell, Levin, & Krumboltz - 1999 - Article

How many career choices are made because of chance?

Traditionally, career counselors do not take chance into account when advising clients. The goal of this research is to find out how chance events play a role in everyone's career. Career counselors can learn their client how to act to generate more chances to capitalize. A lot of events happened, in which a client plays an important role, like the friends he/she made, the study he/she chose. 


How many career choices are made because of chance?

Traditionally, career counselors do not take chance into account when advising clients. The goal of this research is to find out how chance events play a role in everyone's career. Career counselors can learn their client how to act to generate more chances to capitalize. A lot of events happened, in which a client plays an important role, like the friends he/she made, the study he/she chose. 

What is the role of chance in career counseling? 

Chance plays an important role in everyone’s career, the future can not be predicted. Unpredictable events almost always have an influence in career directions. Yet career counselors rarely take unexpected events in account with their client. However, literature have recognized that chance does effect career exploration.   

Some people believe that it is complex and hard to create a model, where the chance events are incorporated. However, Cabral and Salomone (1990) said that a counselor should help the client to recognize the effects of unexpected events and to help them cope and anticipate to those events. Scott and Hatalla (1990) concluded that chance contributes to the choices people make, but that they do not have a predictable relation. The most important chance factor they found was the unexpected personal events. Miller (1983) stated that counselors would benefit when they would see chance as a normal aspect of career planning. Cabral and Salomone called for a model of career planning which combines planning and chance. Rational planning only works when the career would follow a simple, straight path, but with future technology it doesn't.  

Frank Parson is credited as the father of career counseling, he created a theory in a largely agricultural society. He tried to match a client to the appropriate job. Chance was not included in this theory, he used true reasoning as basis of matching. The traditional approach tries to minimise the role of chance by matching interests, skills and values to the matching career. Counselors need to admit that we are not only the result of rational planning. 

What is the Planned Happenstance Theory? 

The Planned Happenstance theory expanded the social learning theory of career decision making. The basics are the same. People are born with different characteristics at a certain time and place, not of their own decision. In their environment while growing up, they experience all kinds of unpredictable events from which they will learn, both positive and negative. People can maximize their learning process by profiting from these events. The planned happenstance theory is the conceptual framework which allows to incorporate the chance events into a career development. Clients should plan and create opportunities and be open to the changes. People have to learn to take action, to generate the changes to learn and they should not only be passively waiting for events to happen. 

How can you reframe indecision as open-mindedness?

In the Planned Happenstance Theory, the term indecision is replaced by open-minded. Blustein (1997) suggested counselors to help clients to explore and to accept ambiguity. Exploring is an open way of relating to the world. The chances make individuals grow and help them to self-define. Blustein makes a difference between passive people who rely on luck and people who actively search for new and unexpected opportunities. A counselor needs to help a client create positive events, which can help a client to end up where they want to be, even though it may not be what they requested. 

What are the advantages of open-mindedness? 

Counselors have not been trained to be comfortable with an indecisive client. They try to treat any form of uncertainty. Sometimes this may work, but sometimes they do not need a quick fix. Krumboltz (1992) argued that indecision is more sensible then making commitments when the future is uncertain. An open-minded person is in the middle of what was and what will be and is able to ask questions, without needing to know the answer. He can be curious.  

How can you generate, recognize and encourage beneficial chance events? 

Gelatt (1989) proposed that being uncertain about goals and wants, leads to new discoveries. Betsworth and Hansen (1996) found in a study that two thirds believed that their careers were significantly influenced by chance events. They identified 11 categories of serendipitous events that participants reported as significant to their career development. “Professional or personal connections,” “unexpected advancement,” and “right place/right time” were cited most frequently. Participants overlooked the steps they took to get to know important people and the actions they undertook to get a promotion at the right time.

The Planned Happenstance theory includes two concepts: Exploration generates chance opportunities for increasing quality of life and skills enable people to seize opportunities. Blustein (1997) concluded that people explore to express their natural curiosity and that the benefits of career exploration, can cross over into other life domains. Austin (1978) perceived that responses to chance opportunities depend on one’s preparedness and receptivity to possibilities. Salomone and Slaney (1981) added that for career possibilities to be realized, people must take action.

The Planned Happenstance theory proposes that career counselors assist clients to develop five skills

  1. Curiosity: exploring new learning opportunities

  2. Persistence: exerting effort despite setbacks

  3. Flexibility: changing attitudes and circumstances

  4. Optimism: viewing new opportunities as possible and attainable

  5. Risk Taking: taking action in the face of uncertain outcomes

Bandura (1982) recommended teaching entry skills as a way of influencing or controlling chance to one’s advantage. Entry skills are interpersonal communications, networking, and social support building. Planned happenstance can also be facilitated by using assessment instruments to generate chance events. The Planned Happenstance Model has a interest test interpretation, which consists of questions that invite discussion between client and counselor. Engaging a client in discussing both prior and potential interests can reveal vital values and liberate client exploration.

How can we encourage a client? 

We learn the skill of self-encouragement from someone who has encouraged us to take action on our own behalf. Significant factors that enable people to integrate talents and traits in their life, are the role of witness (Young and Rodgers, 1997) and persistence and risk taking (Scott Adams, 1997). A witness is a person who observes a talent and encourages to develop that talent. Scott Adams is the creator of the popular cartoon Dilbert. Adams was persistent and optimistic even though he had been rejected. He took a risk and submitted his work again even though he had no guarantee that his cartoon strip would be accepted.

Learning as the Purpose of Career Counseling

Career counselors should be educators/—facilitators of the learning process (Krumboltz, 1996). Clients often expect counselors to match them up with ideal jobs, counselors fail to challenge the assumption that career counselors can meet that request. Instead of striving to help clients identify their one “ideal job,” career counselors may be of far more value to clients by teaching them how to enhance the quality of their lives. Counselors must equip clients with new attitudes and skills to embrace the twenty-first century. Savickas (1997) called that adaptability”; “the readiness to cope with the predictable tasks of preparing for and participating in the work role and with the unpredictable adjustments prompted by changes in work and working conditions.

How can we reconseptualise informational interviews? 

Informational interviews are traditionally to facilitate information gathering. The client has to ask prepared questions to someone involved in an area the client is interested in. Informational interviews can also be used to generate unexpected events. The planning part of the informational interview is identifying the field of interest, finding a person to interview, and preparing pertinent questions. The happenstance part of the informational interview can occur at any time before, during, or after the interview. The career counselor can prepare the client for unanticipated events. Cognitive restructuring is a counseling technique for helping clients interpret events in an alternative way, by practicing on past and current events and anticipating for possible future events.

How can we overcome obstacles?

Counseling by itself is of little value unless it leads to constructive action. A counselor needs to concentrate on enabling clients to take the necessary actions. The Career Beliefs Inventory (Krumboltz, 1991) provides one tool for assessing blocking beliefs and initiating discussions of ways to examine them. A counselor can help a client to reframe a goal in such way that the progress toward the goal becomes possible. An example: Stated Goal: I want to change jobs; I am going to start sending out résumés. Reframe: I am getting more and more dissatisfied with my job. What are the steps I can take to begin to look at other options?

What does the counselor need to do according to the Planned Happenstance Theory?  

A. Watts (1996) said that at each of these points where we make a decision, a counselor should be available, to prevent decisions from beïng reactive instead of proactive. People have to be encouraged to plan their careers and review and correct plans in the changing context. The core concept of the Planned Happenstance Counseling needs to be oxymorons. By discussing your curiosity, how you can profit from unexpected events and how you can create useful unplanned events, the goal is to make the learning process easier. A career path is a lifelong learning process. The learning process should consists of a number of steps: 

  1. Normally planned coïncidence in the history of the client: asking questions about the background of the client and to create a working relationship. By asking about the history, client become aware that their own actions can contribute to opportunities. A counselor asks a client about happenstances in their life and what happened before the happenstances that made the event happen. 

  2. Help a client to transform their curiosity into opportunities. Clients need to learn to see unexpected events as opportunities they want to explore. In the Planned Happenstance Model career counselors do not identify one perfect career, but they help a client to identify opportunities to learn.

  3. Learn clients to create desirable chance events. Stovall and Teddlie (1993) developed a student guide to analyse career opportunities. A section of this guide is about how people benefit from chance; students should never leave their future passively to chance. Students constantly need to learn new things an actively look foor chance opportunities. Unplanned events will occur and clients can initiatie constructive action to generate desirable events, for example by counduct in informational interviews, sending letters or taking classes. 

  4. Learn a client how to overcome a block to action. Counselors need to help clients to actually engage in constructive actions. Clients may be resistant to constructing opportunities, because they lack curiosity, persistence, flexibility or the skill of risk taking or they can have beliefs that block their willingness. A problematic career belief is commonly related to seeing problems as being overwhelming, being scared of other peoples reactions. 

Suggestions for further research

In previous research, almost everyone focused solely on measurement, matching, prediction and reducing indecision. From one point of view, it could be said that unplanned events affect 100% of career choices, because no one chooses their parents, place of birth etc, but these events do affect the career path. But, at the other hand, people do plan and implement actions that affect their careers. Prior research indicates that the majority of those studied attribute major responsibility to unplanned events. A lot depends on the way the sample group is recruited and the exact way questions are asked. There are five skills hypothesized (and identified by Williams et al., 1997) as aiding people to benefit from chance events: curiosity, persistence, flexibility, optimism and risk taking. Williams also identified other characteristics, such as low tolerance for boredom and being unconventional, hard working, motivated, self-confident, alert, and stable. Not all chance events are positive, like accidents or illnesses. Some people react to negative events with discouragement and inaction, others show even greater effort. Williams identified outcomes not only in career direction but also in altered self-concept. 

What did they conclude? 

Career counseling worked with a theory that was too simple, which disrupted the way people actually made their career choices. The basis theory with three steps may have worked in 1895, but is insufficient nowadays. Career choices are influenced by unpredictable circumstances. Counselors have to take these circumstances in account, which chances the advice for counselors:

  1. Acknowledge that it is normal, inevitable and desirable that unplanned events have an influence. 

  2. Indecision is a state of planful open-mindedness, which helps clients to profit from unforeseen circumstances

  3. Learn a client to profit from unforeseen events, to try something new and create new interests. 

  4. Learn a client to maximize the chance at a usefull unforeseen event. 

  5. Continue the support of a client during their entire career. 

Career counseling isn't an easy process that ends when a client finds a career. It is a complex, fascinating process, which is both personal and work related. 

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