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Tuesday, July 27, 2021
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Research & Trends

Can we control chance in our careers?

Co-authored by Selen Demirtas-Zorbaz and Seval Kizildag-Sahin

Can we control chance? The work of John Krumboltz, an established career theorist, suggests the answer is yes. Let’s consider the role of chance in career choice through the lens of Alan’s story.

Alan worked as a sales manager in a store in the United States. He met a woman while working there and they got married. Later, Alan had to move to a different country due to his wife’s job. Alan wondered what he would do in that county and talked to people he knew about the situation. Then, a friend told Alan he had seen a job offer. Alan investigated, thought it could be a good opportunity and applied for the job. Alan is now living in a completely different culture with his wife and has a job.

Was Alan’s career purely driven by chance or by choice? Alan, when faced with having to move to another country, researched possibilities and observed the environment to transform an unplanned event into opportunity. In this way, he controlled chance.

What it means to control chance

John Krumboltz, performing important studies in the career counselling field, said we can control chance events. Additionally, recent research has emphasized how uncontrollable chance events can also affect career choices and how we can transform such events into opportunity. While you may not have control over which events happen to you, you have control over your own actions (Krumboltz, & Levin, 2007).

So, how we do control chance events? The Planned Chance Concept suggests that we can transform unexpected events into opportunities using five skills: curiosity, persistence, flexibility, optimism and risk-taking (Mitchell, Levin, & Krumboltz, 1999). Stated differently, being aware and discovering new experiences, maintaining persistence in spite of all obstacles, being flexible when faced with variable events and situations, having a positive attitude to new possibilities and taking risks when faced with uncertain outcomes are important skills to respond effectively to the unplanned.

This blog will explore our research into the events that Turkish university students perceive as unplanned events in their career development stories. This research is further explored in an article in the latest issue of Canadian Journal of Career Development titled “University Students’ Perceptions of Unplanned Events as a Factor in the Process of Career Choice.”

Perception of chance in Turkey

The concept of chance in Turkish culture mostly refers to situations obtained outside of knowledge and effort and it is defined in various forms. For instance, statements such as “being on a lucky streak,” “I would not be in this condition if I were lucky” and “I was born lucky” are often used. The individual may feel the need to use these words to describe situations that they feel they cannot give meaning to or control. If a person is able to evaluate the situation positively and turn it into an opportunity, the chance factor can be protective and supportive. Otherwise, when an individual acts with fatalistic beliefs (ie, that all events are predetermined), they may not fulfill their responsibilities or give up their efforts in the face of negativities.

What can our research say about it?

The findings obtained in our study indicated that chance events in university students’ career choices had three themes: social factors (the effect of a colleague; immediate environment; demographics and family characteristics; urban characteristics), individual factors (knowing oneself; professional experiences; personal experiences; irrational career decision strategy), and political/legal factors (test system; legal changes; education opportunities). While most of the participants noticed chance events in their career development (n = 69), it was observed that some of them did not (n=33). As the legal and educational process has changed frequently in developing countries such as Turkey, it was surprising that 33 of the participants did not indicate that chance events affected their career development. From this result of the study, it can be said that some participants were less conscious of unplanned events and they may be need help because the more conscious one becomes of unplanned events, the more one can be attentive to potential opportunities.

How can career counsellors\practitioners interpret our results?

Based on our findings, career counsellors\practitioners can take the following steps:

  • Support clients in interpreting chance events and learning how to transform these events into opportunities.
  • Consider that individuals raised in Eastern cultures, especially, may have fatalistic beliefs. Career histories can be used as a tool for practitioners to help clients distinguish between what situations are the result of chance and which are controllable. This can help enhance the client’s coping skills.
  • When clients consider information/advice from family members, teachers, counsellors and others to be “chance,” direct them to resources where they can obtain accurate information about career choices.
  • Career services starting from early childhood should help individuals gain awareness that they can influence some of their individual’s factors such as self-esteem or irrational career decision strategy and suggest ways to develop these factors.
  • Based on the fact that changing policies or exam systems are situations an individual cannot control, when determining the career targets of clients, it is recommended that alternative routes to the target and/or alternative career targets be determined.
  • Planning some preventive (awareness of individuals and social factors) and rehabilitative interventions (developing curiosity, persistence, flexibility, optimism and risk-taking) is recommended during childhood in order to develop competencies required to transform unplanned events into opportunities.

In our research, a majority of university students claimed that they encounter unplanned events at least once in their career stories. In addition, they viewed social factors, individual factors and political/legal factors as unplanned events and thought they have no control over these events. Most of them were lacking skills to turn these events into opportunities. Career counsellors should be aware of this lack of skills and try to develop these during their career counselling. Also, they should also consider cultural values ​​and perspectives and work on non-functional career beliefs.

Selen Demirtas-Zorbaz is an associate professor in the Counselling Department, Ankara University. Her main interest areas are school counselling, and career counselling. She and her colleagues developed Career Sailboat Model, which is a post-modern career counselling approach, and are still doing research on the career development of university students. She also wrote some articles, book chapters and made oral presentations worldwide.

Seval Kizildag Sahin is an academic in the Counselling Department, Adıyaman University. She has career experiences in orphanage, school and university as a counsellor. Her interest areas are couple burnout, romantic relationships and career burnout with adults. She has some articles and book chapters about these areas. Also, she teaches Marriage and Family Counselling, Family Relations and Communication, Counseling Theories and Group Counselling at Adıyaman University.


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Ozlem Ulas-Kilic is an assistant professor at Counselling Department. She has spent her entire career in the field of career counselling. She wrote a lot of articles, book chapters, lectured and presented presentations in the field of career counselling. Trained as a career counsellor and school counsellor, she has experience in research and practicum. Her interest areas are career decision making self-efficacy, career transitions and post-modern career theories. Presently she is a post-doc researcher at Colorado State University Counselling and Career Development Program.
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Ozlem Ulas-Kilic is an assistant professor at Counselling Department. She has spent her entire career in the field of career counselling. She wrote a lot of articles, book chapters, lectured and presented presentations in the field of career counselling. Trained as a career counsellor and school counsellor, she has experience in research and practicum. Her interest areas are career decision making self-efficacy, career transitions and post-modern career theories. Presently she is a post-doc researcher at Colorado State University Counselling and Career Development Program.
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