Out with the Old, In with the New: Career Development for the 21st Century

By Jacqueline Dernek

Necessary Change

We live in uncertain times. As a result, I have noticed that my clients are increasingly concerned about their career and life direction. As a responsible career development professional, I have helped them follow through on all necessary career development steps. They created LinkedIn accounts, had resumes reviewed, went to networking events, applied to hundreds of jobs, perfected their elevator pitch, and conducted practice interviews for hours with no results. I was baffled. Being relatively new to the career development field, I wanted to find out why. If it wasn’t the clients that were failing, what could be causing their lack of job search success?


To answer this question I launched myself into theory, research and self-reflection. The reality I discovered is that the world is changing at an alarming rate, which is creating quite a dilemma in the world of work. On one side we have many employers still trying to hire people as if the times have not changed, “using” new technology to sort through resumes and “streamline” the hiring process, which affects their ability to evaluate a potential employee’s character and fit. On the other side, we have capable workers that are still hearing that the best way to get ahead is to utilize traditional methods. Unfortunately, “traditional” methods are not as effective anymore; rather they are leaving people feeling hopeless and frustrated. Both sides the problem are essentially the same--a lack of positive results. It is therefore obvious that we need to change the way we recruit and hire.


“The Old Ways”—Just not Enough

Career development services began after World War II in response to unemployment issues experienced by veterans returning from war (Peavy, 1991). Historically, career counseling was the foundation for what we know today as the counseling field. Unfortunately, as the field progressed, career counseling became stereotyped and limited. According to Gysbers, Heppner & Johnston (2010), our field was devoid of any emotion and creativity--rather it was focused on outcomes and methods, as much of the modern era had been marked by numbers-driven linear thinking. In the modern era, it was appropriate to think logically and linearly. Objectivity and efficiency were important in a largely manufacturing and production based economy. Even though we have moved from the modern era into the post-modern era, some career development services still only offer elements that are linear, objective, and numbers driven.


Although it seems rather obvious that the world is changing rapidly, what may not seem so obvious is that we are not adapting the way we think. Specifically, before we can change the way we hire, we need to change the way we think about “career”. A total shift in career development is essential. It is important for counselors to bring a new awareness to our sessions with clients. We need to emphasize and cultivate in our clients the skills of creative problem solving and adaptability, and help our clients to embrace the reality of uncertainty.


A New Mindset for the 21st Century

As we move into the conceptual age we need to help shift the way people think about their careers, specifically the process of career development. Stability and job security are a thing of the past. Robert Pryor and Jim Bright (2011) argue that there is a definite place for our more traditional methods of career development. In addition, however, we need to take career development to the next level by fostering opportunities for our clients to develop creativity, exploration, flexibility, curiosity, persistence, and self-efficacy.


Recently I was volunteering at a local urban high school for a career development workshop and one of the students asked, “How can you prepare us for jobs that do not even exist yet”? Great question I thought, and responded like this…”We do live in uncertain times. The best we can do is prepare you for the world by giving you the ability to be critical thinkers, creative, flexible and adaptable so that you can be ready for whatever the world offers you. Failure is always a possibility, so being able to cope with life’s curve balls means being able to adapt and implement back-up plans”.


The career-related realities of the 21st century are speed of communication, reshaping of organizations, need for lifelong learning, globalization, increasing contractual nature of work, and rapidity of technological innovation. Therefore it is imperative that we adapt to these changes in order to adequately assist our clients in developing these essential skills (Pryor and Bright, 2011). What is needed is a shift in “mindset” more than technique—we must change our way of approaching our work with clients. Many of us are already working to foster 21st century skills in our clients…the key is simply to bring this awareness to light in our sessions. A shift in mindset begins by talking about the realities and challenges of an uncertain world of work with our clients; bringing these challenges to the surface in order to embrace them, name them, and develop a plan to overcome them.


Making the Shift

Traditionally, left-brain skills such as organization, logic and rationality have been emphasized in the workplace. Daniel Pink (2005) suggests that we must actually change the way our brains work in order to be successful today. If we access our right-brain capabilities however, such as creativity, curiosity and meaning-making skills, we are in a much better position to ensure long-term career success. As career development professionals, we must also make this shift in our own practice. Using constructivist and chaos theories as guides, along with a more mindful use of traditional approaches, will allow for a more holistic philosophy that will better prepare our clients for success in the 21st century. While we may have little control over how employers implement hiring strategies, we do possess the knowledge and ability to shift our own practices to better prepare our clients for life in an uncertain world.



Gyspers, N. C., Heppner, M. J., & Johnston, J. A. (2009). Career counseling: Contexts, processes, and techniques (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.


Peavy, R. V. (1992). A constructivist model of training for career counsellors. Journal of Career Development, 18, 215-228.


Pink, D. H. (2006). A whole new mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future. New York, NY: Penguin Group.


Pryor, R., & Bright, J. (2011). The chaos theory of careers: A new perspective on working in the twenty-first century. New York, NY: Routledge.



Jacqueline Dernek

Jacqueline Dernek, M.A. is a certified Career Development Facilitator and is currently concluding her M.S. in community counseling at Mount Mary University. She is an intern in the Advising and Career Center at the University of Wisconsin Parkside. You can contact her at jdernek14@yahoo.com or visit her website jdernek.edublogs.org


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Akintunde Akinmolayan   on Tuesday 09/03/2013 at 02:24 AM

This is a straight-to-the-point write up! I really connect to what you have said.

As I read, I pondered on your lines '..... theory, research and self-reflection' and couldn't agree less with you!

Thank you Jacqueline for sharing.

Gerald Kageff   on Tuesday 09/03/2013 at 10:47 AM

As a long term practicing career counselor I can appreciate the importance of adapting to paradigm shifts within the career development process. I attempt to discover the new clients view and understanding of their own personal beliefs and expectations (self-efficacy) which can significantly impact our actions,and performance outcomes. As you indicated in your article, we live in uncertain times,with unpredictable outcomes. For me ,by elaborating on the clients past successful accomplishments and skill sets,I attempt to create a mindset that they are their own self-enterprise, or corporation that can withstand rejection,sustain temporary loss and regroup /reengineer themselves. Entrepreneurs view changes as opportunities,initiate change, or take advantage of change, and create value through solutions.

Kirby Logan, MA, MCC, CDFI, Retired   on Thursday 09/05/2013 at 07:41 AM

You go girl... You are on track! Most of my inspiration came from women who were out there on the trend setting front lines, rubbing a few men men the wrong way.

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