Posted by: Tom Ross | February 15, 2012

Visual Thinking Strategies for Career Coaching Presented by the Career Café: Expanding the Possibilities

In the final webinars in the series titled “Visual Thinking Strategies for Career Coaching,” hosted by the Career Cafe, Dr. Katharine Brooks–author of You Majored In What?–continues her demonstration of how visual techniques can be effective, inventive, often surprisingly informative, and very cost effective—all you need is pen and paper (and SmartArt Graphics from Word if you like—see below).

Many students come to career coaches without any idea of what their career goals are or what their next moves might be.  The first step toward academic and career success is to examine their skills, interests, and values. It’s about exploration.

Following the lessons on SWOT analyses and mapping, Dr. Brooks builds on these career exploration strategies using graphis elements such as circles, diamonds, and hexagons to organize and direct discussions and thought.

Circles and Clusters

Circles can be cut up like a pie as in the RIASEC chart of ‘occupational themes’ (or Holland Code) that help give students a general idea of the kinds of jobs that might appeal to them. (RIASEC stands for realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, or conventional.)

A student can think about how he sees himself: is he respectively a doer, a thinker, a creator, a helper, a persuader, or an organizer? Professions can be associated with each of these categories: a doer works with his hands/body or with tools, a thinker works with theories and information, a creator does something original, a helper could be interested in healing, a persuader would be good in sales, and an organizer could go toward finances or statistics. A career coach can provide a list of possible career paths for each slice of the pie, and the student sees the list of possibilities grow before him.

Let’s take a look at a sample student. This student sees himself as a Doer, a Creator,  a Persuader, or an Organizer, and he starts to list career paths that might interest him (with the help of the coach):

This inspires an exciting conversation about the possibilities that fit the student. And he can take the chart home with him to ponder. (As you can see, you can prepare these ahead using SmartArt and write in the labels and professions during the coaching session.)

Or a career coach could explore what kind of job might fit where the elements of this discussion overlap by applying Venn Diagrams:

Cycles of discovery are another visual strategy, providing the student a visual path to guide the conversation for each “dream”:

Expanding circles can show how to build on a concept. For example, networking: what kind of connections can I build on?

Clusters help students explore the options that seem possible or interesting to them and then find the themes.  For example, when asked “what careers would you consider?” a student provided the following:

Together the career coach and the student can ‘map’ the themes:

  • Health & fitness
  • Looking good
  • Problem solving (Dr. Brook said most students think they want to work in “CSI.”
  • Animal welfare
  • Teaching or acting, anything with an audience

It’s easy for a student to feel overwhelmed by all this. Notice where he runs out of steam and stop there. Then pick one or two themes and do a SWOT analysis. A career coach can also help a the student realize that he shouldn’t be discouraged if his path to a theme isn’t immediately apparent. If he loves opera and can’t sing, for example, he can explore other ways to get connected.

The same can be done in reverse, finding a job that matches the student’s strengths–with the arrows pointing in the opposite direction:

Once the student creates a list of jobs that match his strengths, this strategy can help him later, when he needs to write the cover letter when applying for a job position.

Triangles, diamonds, and hexagons lend themselves to these exercises by allowing the student and the career coach to arrange and rearrange them to fit together in any pattern that makes sense. Labels can include goals, skills, education, resume, cover letter, everything that flows from NOW to the Outcome(s) or vice versa.

And a career diamond can be used to explore career paths in this way:

Finally, for more information, Dr. Brooks shared with us this list of references:

I’d like to thank Dr. Katharine Brooks for these valuable webinars and lessons, and the staff at the Career Café: Susan Coleman, Project/Grant Director and Rita Jones, Grant Coordinator.

Remember to join the Ning at the Career Café to continue the conversation and share your visual techniques and creations.

And be sure to check out the Career Café’s Big Ideas for Career Professionals workshops—Get Started, Get a Pathway, and Get Help—as well as the Career Briefs site, which includes Quick Tips for Classroom Instructors and a Library of free resources for career professionals.

Good luck! And let us know if you use any of these techniques and how they worked out. We’d love to hear.


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  1. […] Visual Thinking Strategies for Career Coaching Presented by the Career Café: Expanding the Possibil… (ctecentral.wordpress.com) […]

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