Positive Impact of Career Planning Courses: Applying Narrative Strategies to Empower Teaching and Practice

By Michael J. Stebleton and Mark Franklin

“We are each a story seeking out more stories”
~ Richard Bolles, What Color is Your Parachute?


Evidence for Career Classes
Career management skills, including career decision-making competencies, are needed for university students to find relevant jobs and proactively manage their careers for the future. The onus of preparing college students for “life after graduation” inevitably falls upon career practitioners and instructors located within institutions of higher education. One such strategy aimed to prepare graduating students is for-credit career-life planning courses (Fouad et al, 2016; Hansen, Jackson, & Peterson, 2016).

Career planning courses are offered at many universities across the United States (approximately 36%) and some in Canada. The literature on the effectiveness of these courses is overwhelmingly consistent and positive. Participating in a career planning course contributes to students’ occupational engagement, positive career beliefs, self-efficacy, and positively impacts retention and graduation rates (Cox et al, 2006; Fouad et al, 2016; Reardon & Fiore, 2014; Reardon et al, 2015; Thompson & Feldman, 2010).

The Role of Narrative
Narrative approaches serve as an effective strategy to engage students in career planning classes. An emerging framework to teach these valuable career management skills focuses on narrative approaches, or constructivist career approaches (Busacca & Rehfuss, 2017; Savickas, 2012; Stebleton, 2006). The merit of using a narrative based approach to career counseling and management is well-documented (Brott, 2005; Franklin, Yanar, & Feller, 2015; Grier-Reed, Skaar, & Conkel-Ziebell, 2009; Stebleton, 2010).

In this article, we will discuss two career planning courses (one taught by each author), including learning outcomes and objectives. Franklin offered his course at the University of Toronto: Engineering Careers – Theories and Strategies to Manage your Career for the Future (see APS1030), primarily designed for graduate students in engineering. Stebleton is involved in a career course, Career Planning (see ID3201)  for undergraduate students offered in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, USA.

Overview of Two Specific Classes
In Franklin’s course, students are asked to categorize their career stories into a holistic “career sketch”, distill into a succinct and positive “career statement” and then create and execute “exploration plans” for each possibility. Additionally, they are asked to create meaningful links between knowledge gained in the class and practical career tools including resume, LinkedIn, interview skills, and networking. They engage in a storytelling exercise using a peer-to-peer career intervention in the form of a game, called, Who You Are Matters!, from OneLifeTools. Between meetings, students use the OneLifeTools’ Online Storyteller web-application which operationalizes the narrative assessment method (Franklin & Feller, 2017). Intended outcomes include increasing students’ scores related to hope, efficacy (confidence), resilience, and optimism, collectively known as psychological capital (Luthans, Youssef, & Rawski, 2011).

Stebleton has been involved with exploring the effectiveness of a new effort in a career course designed for third and fourth year liberal arts students. One of the objectives for the class is to develop students’ abilities to articulate the unique values of a liberal arts education to employers. From this perspective, students are developing stories and the language around personal and professional experiences that embody core career competencies (Anders, 2017; DuRose & Stebleton, 2016). The course is part of an initiative in the college titled, Pathways to Career Readiness.

Throughout the semester, students learn and practice articulating 10 different core competencies that comprise readiness. Examples include: digital literacy, career management, applied problem solving, analytical and critical thinking, among others. Next, students are asked to complete a reflective tool (called RATE) where they write short narratives about how they used a specific core competency. There are four steps to the RATE tool:

  • Reflect: students recall a specific experience where they used the targeted competency;
  • Articulate: students explain how the experience contributed to the development of the competency;
  • Translate: students apply the competency to another setting; and
  • Evaluate: students self-assess their level of proficiency in the competency.

At the end of the semester, students reported that they had the language to better describe what they can offer to prospective employers.

Suggestions for Counselor Educators
Counselor educators and other career development practitioners may consider embedding storytelling and narrative approaches into their own classes, or possibly initiating a new course on campus. We offer several strategies.

  • Become familiar with the literature on storytelling and post-modern approaches to career development. Mark Savickas has been a leader in this field, along with Pamela Brott, Rich Feller, and others. A new resource worth exploring is: “Postmodern Career Counseling – A Handbook of Culture, Context, and Cases” edited by Busacca and Rehfuss (2017).
  • Think about the practical factors for starting a career course and embedding narrative approaches into the curriculum (Osborn, 2017). Steps should including thinking about potential stakeholders, funding and budget, the course schedule, and structure (Lenz & Reardon, 2017). Educators will want to consider activities and reading choices, including a text.
  • Embed active learning into the curriculum using narrative approaches. One such activity is the OneLifeTools game and the CareerCycles Narrative Method of Practice (Zikic & Franklin, 2010). My Career Chapter is another tool based on the systems framework theory by Patton and McMahon (2015). There is a wide range of assessment tools grounded in narrative approaches. Students often learn best by storying and re-storying their experiences through active discussion with other students.
  • Engage in regular assessment and evaluation of courses. We are in the process of evaluating both of the courses described above. We conducted qualitative interviews with students from both classes, and we intend to share the outcomes with others - and make adjustments to future offerings of the classes. It is important to build a culture of evidence if career management classes are to be sustainable long-term.


We are defined and re-defined by our stories. Career management courses, with a strong foundation in narrative approaches, can support both undergraduate and graduate students in developing the skills, language, and core competencies to progress successfully from college to the world of work, and to navigate a lifetime of transitions.


References and Resources

Anders, G. (2017). You can do anything: The surprising power of a "useless" liberal arts education. New York, NY: Little, Brown, & Co.

Brott, P. E. (2005). A constructivist look at life roles. Career Development Quarterly, 54(2), 138-149. 

Busacca, L. A., & Rehfuss, M. C. (Eds.). (2017). Postmodern career counseling: A handbook of culture, content, and cases. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. 

Cox, D. W., Rasmussen, K. L., Jacobson, J. D., Wells, K. J., Rettew, J. G., & Sirridge, K. (2006). Effects of an intervention to increase students’ level of occupational engagement. Poster presented at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, San Francisco, CA.

DuRose, L., & Stebleton, M. J. (2016). Lost in translation: Preparing students to articulate the meaning of a college degree. Journal of College and Character, 17(4), 271-277. doi: 10.1080/2194587X.2016.1230759. 

Fouad, N.A., Ghosh, A., Chang, W.-h., Figueiredo, C., & Bachhuber, T. (2016). Career exploration among college students. Journal of College Student Development, 57(4), 460-464. 

Franklin, M., & Feller, R. (2017). Using the one life tools framework: From clarification to intentional exploration with East Asian female. In L. Busacca & M. Rehfuss (Eds.), Postmodern career counseling: A handbook of culture, context and cases (pp. 273-284). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Franklin, M., Yanar, B., & Feller, R. (2015). Narrative method of practice increases curiosity and exploration, psychological capital, and personal growth leading to career clarity: A retrospective outcome study. The Canadian Journal of Career Development, 14(2), 12-23.

Grier-Reed, T. L., Skaar, N. R., & Conkel-Ziebell, J. L. (2009). Constructivist career development as a paradigm of empowerment for at-risk culturally diverse college students. Journal of Career Development, 35, 290-305. 

Hansen, J. M., Jackson, A. P., & Pedersen, T. R. (2017). Career development courses and educational outcomes. Journal of Career Development, 44(3), 209-223. doi: doi:10.1177/0894845316644984. 

Lenz, J. G., & Reardon, R. C. (2017). Strategies for developing, managing, and evaluating a successful career course for 45 years. Session presented at National Career Development conference, Orlando, FL. 

Luthans, F., Youssef, C. M., & Rawski, S. L. (2011). A tale of two paradigms: The impact of psychological capital and reinforcing feedback on problem solving and innovation. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 31(4), 333-350. doi: 10.1080/01608061.2011.619421. 

Osborn, D. S. (2016). Teaching career development: A primer for instructors and presenters (2nd ed.). Broken Arrow, OK: National Career Development Association. 

Patton, W., & McMahon, M. (2015). The systems theory framework of career development: 20 years of contribution to theory and practice. Australian Journal of Career Development, 24(3), 141-147. doi: doi:10.1177/1038416215579944. 

Reardon, R., & Fiore, E. (2014, June 5). College career courses and learner outputs and outcomes, 1976–2014: Technical report No. 55. Tallahassee, FL.

Reardon, R. C., Melvin, B., McClain, M.-C., Peterson, G.W., & Bowman, W.J. (2015). The career course as a factor in college graduation. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 17(3), 336-350. doi: 10.1177/1521025115575913.

Savickas, M. L. (2012). Life design: A paradigm for career intervention in the 21st century. Journal of Counseling & Development, 90(1), 13-19. 

Stebleton, M. J. (2006). Are we really listening? Helping career practitioners develop narrative skills. Career Convergence. Retrieved from: https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/5231/_self/CC_layout_details/false

Stebleton, M. J. (2010). Narrative-based career counseling perspectives in times of change: An analysis of strengths and limitations. Journal of Employment Counseling, 47(2), 64-78. 

Thompson, E., & Feldman, D. B. (2010). Let your life speak: Assessing the effectiveness of a program to explore meaning, purpose, and calling with college students. Journal of Employment Counseling, 47(1), 12-19. 

University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. CLA Career Readiness Project. Retrieved from https://cla.umn.edu/academics-experience/signature-cla-experiences/career-readiness/core-career-competencies

Zikic, J., & Franklin, M. (2010). Enriching careers and lives: Introducing a positive, holistic, and narrative career counseling method that bridges theory and practice. Journal of Employment Counseling, 47(4), 180-189.


Mike StebletonMichael J. Stebleton, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Higher Education, located in the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. His teaching and research interests focus on: career development, multicultural student development, college student success, and retention issues of historically marginalized student populations. Current studies focus on understanding the experiences of first-generation and immigrant college students, including factors that influence career decision-making. Stebleton teaches in the First Year Experience and at the graduate level. His publications appear in a variety of academic journals and publications, including the Career Development Quarterly, Journal of Employment Counseling, Career Convergence, and the Journal of Career Development. Stebleton is a 2017 NCDA Merit award recipient. He can be reached at steb0004@umn.edu



Mark FranklinMark Franklin, MEd, PEng, CMF, is practice leader of CareerCycles.com, co-founder of OneLifeTools.com and sessional lecturer at University of Toronto. Mark was the recipient of the 2015 Stu Conger Leadership Award for Career Development in Canada, and presents and trains worldwide. He developed the OneLifeTools/CareerCycles narrative method of practice, and co-authored the Who You Are Matters! game and related peer-reviewed articles, drawing on transferable systems-thinking and design skills from his first career in engineering. He can be reached at mark@careercycles.com


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Howard Splete   on Sunday 09/03/2017 at 12:53 PM

Career Planning has an important place in any educational setting ! More power !

Mark Franklin   on Sunday 09/03/2017 at 01:06 PM

Thanks for your comment, Howard. For sure, getting more for-credit career management courses approved in post secondary institutions is a worthwhile goal for us in the career field. Great to see this moving in the right direction especially in the US - we're slowly catching up in Canada.

Kristy Magee   on Tuesday 09/05/2017 at 09:15 AM

Great article. Giving those students the language needed to articulate their skills and become more confident in their path = priceless. Thanks for sharing!

Cynthia Marco Scanlon   on Tuesday 09/05/2017 at 01:05 PM

Excellent article and info. Some universities are doing away with these courses to not only save money, but also to focus on "outcomes" only work. Seems funny when these courses would lead to better "outcomes"!

Mark Franklin   on Wednesday 09/06/2017 at 09:09 PM

So true, Cynthia, thanks for your comment. I wonder if the investment in creating a for-credit career course is easier if tied to 'leadership development.' This was the case at U of Toronto through the Inst for Leadership Education in Eng'g (http://ilead.engineering.utoronto.ca/) which houses the course I teach.

Mike Stebleton   on Thursday 09/07/2017 at 09:49 AM

My department is interested in developing a 3-credit course that would combine career planning, plus a strong academic component around leadership development, human resource development, and/or workplace issues. Anyone have any examples of courses that might exist? Thanks. M.

Paul Timmins   on Tuesday 09/19/2017 at 11:21 PM

Thanks for the work on this article, Mark and Mike! It's so important that students are ready to translate their experiences into language that employers understand. That's why I'm so proud of the work that our team at the University of Minnesota's College of Liberal Arts has done on this class... and all of our Career Readiness Initiative. We believe (know!) that students are building the competencies that employers desire -- but we need to prepare them to articulate those skills when they are looking for jobs.

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