Book by Donald A. Schutt
Review by Jamie M. Thomas
Director of Pre-Law Advising Services
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Personnel within the University of Illinois Campus Center for Advising and Academic Services embrace a strength-based approach for teaching and advising our undergraduate students. This monograph describes an integration of traditional career theory and strengths-based models to produce an interactive career development experience for the advisee. This allows the advisee to design a career path that encourages the student to identify and maximize strengths while managing weaknesses, rather than identifying weaknesses as barriers and choosing a career path to avoid them.  

This monograph combines three traditional career development questions (who am I?, where am I going?, and how do I get there?) with a 4-D cycle of discovery, dream, design, and destiny (illustrated on p.13). An appreciative inquiry interview is the suggested format for guiding students through this process. The interview is designed to elicit focused reflection by the student who ponders previous work and life experiences to determine the elements (referred to in the book as “life giving forces”) that lead to feeling happy and energized. Those elements, once identified, are used as the basis for exploring careers. Then a plan can be made to determine how those positive forces can be not only attained but sustained. (This process is described in detail on pages 10-13, and also in the Interview Guide in Appendix B.)

The monograph is very detailed and provides clear explanations of the suggested appreciative interview process, including specific examples and guiding questions. While a significant portion of the monograph explains the history and origins of appreciative inquiry, it also contains practical, ready-to-use applications like an annotated slide show for a two-day workshop. The appendices also contain helpful activities and a participant guide with focused prompts and suggestions to utilize for various audience sizes.

Students would respond positively to the philosophy presented in this book, because it respects their experiences and creates a focus on strengths and positive outcomes. As a student affairs professional, elements of the appreciative inquiry process could also be integrated into programming and workshops aimed at encouraging self-reflection as a life skill with many applications. 

As a practical matter, however, the appreciative interview method described in the book would need to be modified significantly for an undergraduate student population. The first question in the discovery phase of this process asks participants to describe a career situation that made them feel energized or happy, and the interview asks the participants to consider priorities such as work-life balance (p.27 and Appendix B). Many traditional-age college students lack the work and life experience or the developmental maturity required for such assessments. These students do not have work experience, or have worked in jobs that are far afield from career aspirations. Because life and work experience appear to be central to the “discovery” phase, and the discovery phase drives the remainder of the process, it is hard to predict the learning outcomes for undergraduates with little work experience. 

The monograph would be particularly helpful for advisors seeking to learn practical applications of strengths-based assessments. Expect to modify the suggested methods (particularly with regard to the guided interview) as necessary for undergraduate audiences who may lack significant career experience.

A strengths-based approach to career development using appreciative inquiry. (2008). Book by Donald A. Schutt, Jr.Ph.D. Review by Jamie Thomas. Broken Arrow, OK: National Career Development Association, 88pp. Price $25.00. ISBN # 978-1-885333-18-6

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