Multicultural Career Counseling Competence: 5 Key Tips for Improving Practice

By Richard Orbé-Austin

The passage by NCDA of the Minimum Competencies for Multicultural Career Counseling and Development confirms the long known reality that the work of career counselors is impacted by the complexity of culture as much as psychotherapy and other forms of counseling. As career services professionals, the Competencies provide us with a useful framework for engaging our increasingly diverse client population. The Competencies challenge us to shift our counseling paradigms, improve our techniques, modify our theoretical approaches, and to be aware of our own cultural blind spots as we attempt to meet the unique needs of our clients and to better understand how culture impacts career development. While the Competencies provide basic guidance about the skills and knowledge needed to be a culturally competent career practitioner, it is still a challenge for career experts to understand how they can integrate multicultural competence into their everyday practice. This article seeks to examine some factors to consider when developing one's multicultural competence as it pertains to career counseling.

1) Cultural Career History- everyone comes from and is socialized by a particular cultural context.  While career coaching can be more directive than personal counseling, it is still critical to complete a comprehensive history with a client to understand a job seeker's cultural context and how it impacts his or her career choice, challenges, and development.  One tool which can facilitate this process is a career genogram. Although career counseling is typically viewed as an individualistic process, for those from some cultures, it is truly a collectivistic one. Utilizing a career genogram will enable you to explore the work history of not only the client but that of close family and even key friends. The career genogram allows the counselor to better comprehend the level of exposure to a variety of careers which the client has experienced and how it has influenced his or her career planning. Even if you do not wish to use a formal career genogram, it is essential to examine the client's previous academic and work histories, to understand familial expectations, and to explore past career goals in order to determine how to assist your client.  As career experts, due to our focus on outcomes, we can sometimes overlook cultural context, to the detriment of the client. The career action plan and coaching strategies will be improved by taking cultural context into consideration.

2) Outcome Expectations- the client's cultural context will also guide his or her outcome expectations.  A job seeker may have all the skills necessary for a particular career or job, but due to negative outcome expectations (e.g. dissatisfaction), he or she may not pursue the position or fail to persist in the career. For instance, women may be reluctant to enter a stereotypically male-dominated industry (e.g. engineering) because they anticipate isolation and hostility.  Thus, some of the career coaching with a client may involve helping the client imagine and plan for more positive outcomes, by identifying possible mentors and success stories.

3) Protected Careers and Self-Efficacy- similar to the previous issue of outcome expectations, protected careers refer to careers which are typically comprised of individuals from a particular background (e.g. race, gender, etc.).  For instance, construction has stereotypically been a protected career for males and nursing has been a protected career for women. Some of our clients may prefer to only pursue protected careers, usually ones which they were exposed to by family and friends, which may limit their options. This desire is also influenced by his or her self-efficacy, or the confidence one has in performing in a particular domain. If a client does not have a strong sense of self-efficacy for a specific domain (e.g. science), he or she will not consider it as a possibility. Therefore, a component of the career counseling plan may be to bolster a client's self-efficacy in specific career or in skill domains. By helping clients consider career interests and opportunities beyond protected careers, you may allow them to expand their career options and to pursue more satisfying careers.

4) Networking- one of the most important elements of job search and career advancement is networking.    However, while many already have well established networks of family and friends developed over generations, it is critical to assist those who must develop their own professional network.  Typically, those from lower socioeconomic statuses and immigrant communities may find it more difficult to connect to professionals in their fields of interest.  Therefore, as a career services professional, it is essential that you first explain the process and steps of networking to your clients, and then refer them to useful networking avenues (e.g. student clubs, professional associations, mentoring programs, LinkedIn and other social media) to create an effective network.  Encourage them to conduct informational interviews with professionals in their industries of choice as another strategy to expand their network. It is important not to take for granted that our clients understand how to appropriately network, and role playing may also be a useful tool for bolstering their confidence in this area.

5) Awareness of Our Own Cultural Biases- since we all are socialized within our own cultural context, we tend to have biases as career experts.  Therefore, our own biases may be reflected in the recommendations we make to our clients or our expectations for them.  For instance, we may believe that a client will not be successful in finance or medicine due to the client's cultural background, and may direct the client to more "realistic" options.  The goal is to be aware of our biases rather than to eliminate them, which is much more challenging. Such awareness will allow us to aid our clients more effectively and to not limit their possibilities based on our own biases. Seeking peer consultation may also be useful in illuminating possible blind spots and biases.

Multicultural career counseling competence is always a work in progress, and our goal as career experts should be to maintain a stance of openness to learning and enhancing our knowledge, skills and awareness to adjust to the changing demographics of our 21st century client population.


Richard Orbe-AustinRichard Orbé-Austin, Ph.D., is a psychologist and a founder/partner of Dynamic Transitions Psychological Consulting, LLP, a private practice specializing in career coaching and organizational consulting, especially in the area of leadership development. His research interests include multicultural career counseling competence, racial/ethnic identity and career development, and diversity issues in the workplace.  He can be reached at rorbeaustin@gmail.com



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