Beyond Luck: A Planned Happenstance Approach to Supervision

By David Youhess

As someone keenly interested in theoretical perspectives, I’ve always found it uniquely rewarding to see those not-so-rare moments when textbook theories play outin reality. Since first learning of John Krumboltz’s Planned Happenstance Theory (PHT) I can’t help but take notice of how chance factors--paired with the right skills--can shape career aspirations and attainment. But beyond the appeal of its simplicity and readily applicable framework, PHT holds a special place in the canon of my theoretical orientation for the simple reason that its application is so visible in my experience. While PHT is demonstrated time and again to help students create and capitalize on career opportunities, the theory also holds unexplored potential to help supervisors design meaningful experiences to develop tomorrow’s career counselors.


Upon entering a graduate program in student affairs, I had no idea I would ultimately find myself in career services. Despite little exposure to the field of career counseling, I selected career services as my first choice graduate assistantship simply because of the connection I felt with the interviewers. This was the first risk I took when presented with happenstance. But over the course of the next three years, I continued to benefit from the interplay between chance and personal planning. After expressing interest in counseling, I switched supervisors to make those competencies a priority. I adopted a disposition of curiosity to the department’s new focus on enhancing outreach to sophomores. I said yes to new responsibilities when opportunities presented themselves, while always finding ways to stay focused on working one-on-one with students. I even participated in a grant writing process to fund a full-time counseling position. Though the grant wasn’t funded, I believe my persistence provided rationale for an eventual position, and equipped me with the knowledge and skills to be prepared when it appeared. I worked to create my position and establish my relevance through persistence, adaptability and connecting myself to an observable departmental priority. Presently, my position entails designing a targeted strategy to serving both first- and second-year students while also delivering career counseling to this population.


My experience would be easy to characterize as mere luck, as being in the right place at the right time; but that would downplay the steps my supervisor, mentors and I myself took to ensure that if and when a position opened up, I would be uniquely qualified to seize it. My story is relevant not just for graduate students, but for supervisors looking to ground their supervision in a theoretical framework of career development.

Just as career counselors engage clients to create, recognize and benefit from chance events by assisting them to develop the five essential skills outlined in PHT, supervisors can also adopt the five skills as a guiding framework to support the career development of graduate students.



Curiosity: exploring new learning opportunities
Persistence: exerting effort despite setbacks
Flexibility: changing attitudes and circumstances
Optimism: viewing new opportunities as possible and attainable
Risk-Taking: taking action in the face of uncertain outcomes (Mitchell, Levin & Krumboltz, 1999).


Implications For Supervisors

Although explicitly appearing in the title of the theory, the nuance of PHT’s application rests not simply in recognizing the role of chance factors, but rather the role purposeful planning plays in creating and capitalizing on opportunity. Just as Krumboltz and his colleagues remind us that we are never fully self-made, my experience reminds me that we are never fully products of chance either. In fact, though we often experience chance events as if they were wholly unplanned, supervisors and graduate students would do well to never lose sight of the “as-if” quality.

After all, my foray into career counseling was guided by supervisors who focused on my curiosities and fostered a relationship based on exploration, skill development, challenge and support. Further, I would hardly describe my role as one that relied on luck alone, but rather one that actively created and took advantage of beneficial chance events. And it’s this interplay that’s at the heart of the theory itself, and the lens with which I understand my own story. Therefore, I present the following suggestions to supervisors:

  1. Express genuine curiosity in your supervisee: Discuss what drew your supervisee to this career and what he or she hopes to accomplish within it. Tap into those interests when designing assignments. This is bound to lead to increased dedication and internal motivation.


  1. Require collaboration with a variety of professionals: By collaborating with professionals both within and outside your department your supervisee can develop new curiosities and skills, as well as new opportunities. Exposure to new learning through a variety of constituents is bound to result in innovation that better meets the needs of students on your campus.


  1. Make risk-taking an expectation: Generate tasks that may be viewed as risks and support them as they devise ways to implement. Reward risk-taking even when it may not play out as planned, focusing instead on what was gained. Discuss potential positive outcomes and encourage strategizing to overcome potential barriers.


  1. Involve your supervisee in departmental priorities: Connecting supervisees to departmental or industry priorities will better equip them to engage with current trends in future roles while also providing them with a sense of self-efficacy and optimism about their potential.


  1. Allow for failure: Oftentimes new professionals feel unsure of themselves and the norms that govern the workplace. Create environments where supervisees are safe to express failures, but be sure to help them brainstorm how to overcome challenges or how approaches may require change in light of setbacks or new circumstances.


  1. Invest resources in new supervisees: Not only does this breed confidence, it provides a means to explore new theories of interest or new competencies for future roles.


David YouhessDavid Youhess, M.Ed, is a recent graduate from the University at Buffalo, SUNY where he currently works as a career counselor within the University at Buffalo’s Career Services office. He can be contacted at:davidyou@buffalo.edu

Printer-Friendly Version

1 Comment

Jim Peacock   on Friday 08/24/2012 at 09:04 AM

Nice article David and so nice to hear that you are still embracing the Happenstance beliefs in all aspects of your life!

I like your implications for supervisors angle on this.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.