A Strength-Based Approach to Career Development Using Appreciative Inquiry

Book Review by Shawn Utecht

[Editor's Note: This book review originally appeared in Career Convergence Web Magazine in February 2009.  It is being reprinted as part of our Special Book Review issue now.]


D. A. Schutt, A Strength-Based Approach to Career Development Using Appreciative Inquiry, NCDA, 2007.

Focus on the positive.  This is a mantra often heard today from academia to pop psychology.  In his new NCDA monograph "A Strength-Based Approach to Career Development Using Appreciative Inquiry," Dr. Donald Schutt lays out an approach to focus on the positive strengths of clients.  He outlines a clear and conceptually sound synopsis of his strength-based approach to career development using the process of Appreciative Inquiry. 

The approach is grounded in the theories of positive psychology and focuses on building the strengths that clients already possess as a way to create positive change.  Schutt adds an additional element to this, an approach called Appreciative Inquiry (AI), which originated from the field of organizational change.  He successfully blends AI with a more traditional career development approach to deliver an intriguing if not unique approach that can be incorporated into many different theoretical outlooks.   

Schutt's underlying concepts of Appreciative Inquiry include the following:

  1. Every group does some things that work
  2. What we focus on will come into being
  3. We create our own realities
  4. Merely asking questions has an influence
  5. People are more comfortable moving forward in their lives when they can carry part of their present self with them.
  6. We should choose to carry the best parts of our self forward.
  7. Differences are important.
  8. Our reality is created by our words.

 AI works on the assumption that the mere process of positively exploring and engaging one's imagination can lead to individuals taking positive concrete actions.

Since, AI was originally developed as a systems approach used in the area of organizational change, it may seem an unlikely inspiration from which to draw in developing an approach to working with individuals.  By the end of the monograph, however, the author lays out a detailed explanation of how the original approach is easily transferable to the field of career development. 

While Schutt does take the time to lay out the history of the approach and carefully explain the underlying theoretical concepts, this is not a theory book.  One of its strengths is the clear, practitioner oriented manner in which it is written.  Chapter 4, the last chapter of the monograph, highlights a comprehensive example of how Appreciative Inquiry can be used in a career development setting.  A complete annotated slide show of a 2 day, 6 hour workshop titled "Building on Your Strengths" is presented.  In addition, there are 3 appendixes that have clear and concise instructions for handouts that can be quickly photocopied and used.

Some observers of the field talk of a need to bridge the gaps between career development and industrial/organizational psychology and vocational psychology.  Drawing on his background as a director of human resources, a certified counselor and a long time career development professional, Schutt presents a positive approach using Appreciative Inquiry that is valuable in a number of environments.  From retaining employees in a shrinking workforce to helping students explore their unbounded potential, his strength-based approach provides an affirmative scheme with the potential to help multiple populations.

While the explanation of Appreciative Inquiry is thoughtfully laid out, the book could have been even better if there had been a little less focus on AI origins in the field of organizational change.  While its organizational underpinnings and history are clearly explained in the context of career development, it would have been more succinct to acknowledge a debt to the field of organizational change and then focus on the exploration and application of AI more fully in the field of career development.  This also would have given room for a deeper exploration of other important ideas in the book, specifically a better explanation of its holistic philosophy. 

Though the author points out that this approach may not work with every client, he encourages the reader not to use the approach as a single tool or a narrow intervention but to begin a shift from focusing just on the problems to focusing on client's overall strengths.  He reminds us that "every individual has something that works well and that these strengths can be the starting point for creating positive change." 

Donald Schutt's book is part of the NCDA monograph series that looks to provide current career information relative to practice and professional development.  This book is well researched and rich in practical resources, and it is welcome reading for counselors who are looking for a straight forward and practical resource to help clients use their strengths to navigate a career development path.    

This book is available for purchase in NCDA's Career Resource Store in e-book format.

Shawn Utecht Shawn Utecht received a MS from Illinois State University in Political Science/Community Development and has worked internationally in both Asia and Africa.  Currently, a MS/EdS student studying Career Counseling at Florida State University, he also works as a Career Advisor and was instrumental in starting a new group counseling program for choosing a major at Florida State University.  He will be graduating in May 2009. 




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