Career Style Interview

Career Style InterviewThe career style interview (CSI) consists of six questions and is the primary means of assessment for those interested in applying the theory of career construction as developed by Mark L. Savickas. This theory helps individuals to find meaning in the nonlinear careers of today and is an expansion and clarification of Donald Super’s life-span life-space approach to careers. An individual’s career style is often an unspoken means of viewing and interacting with the world and especially with the world of work. The CSI, therefore, is a qualitative interview that serves to draw out the narratives that are active and present in a person’s life while also providing objective feedback to foster clarification and delineation of one’s themes. The measure often provides the crucial link needed for individuals to recognize their active life themes, tie them to their vocational behavior, and make their vocational decisions more effectively.

The counselor and the client collaborate through the CSI to identify, interpret, and construct what the person prefers, how the person copes, and why the person pursues what he or she does through work. In the terms of vocational psychology, the CSI provides a means of determining and then linking an individual’s vocational personality, career adaptability, and life theme into an organized whole. This understanding allows the individual to see the unity of his or her motivations and the consistencies of the individual’s past, present, and future career paths. The CSI is ultimately a tool designed to empower individuals through clarifying how their work can make personal meaning and matter to others.

Career Style Interview History

The CSI was initially developed by Savickas in 1989 as a measure to clarify life stories’ relation to career choices and decisions. The instrument draws from several historical models of assessment including Adlerian and constructivist approaches. The model, however, values and uses narrative or self-stories to tie the career components together for the individual. Narrative story in this context is not an attempt to determine the future from the past, but is the process of actively making meaning and providing direction for the present and future. The assessment process reveals and then unifies the subjective and objective influences upon individuals’ career trajectories and concerns, facilitating a link between their life motivations and passions and their career motivations and choices. Although the CSI was initially used with individuals uncertain of career choices, its ability to bring to light a broad spectrum of career concepts has encouraged its use with a variety of career counseling issues.

Career Style Interview Process

The CSI measure is a qualitative interview that consists of six basic questions related to family, interests, role-models, and recollections. The questions examine the goal for career counseling, past and present nonfamily role models, reading and television preferences, hobbies, favorite sayings, preferred school subjects, and several early recollections. Responses to these questions are written down by the counselor in the client’s own words. Upon completion of the questions, the interviewer then uses the written notes to highlight the client’s consistent themes. Consistent themes are identified through repeated verbs, words, phrases, and concepts expressed during the interview. The notes serve as a concrete reference point for the counselor and client to begin reflection and discussion about the content of the interview. The CSI process is a collaborative event where the counselor and client validate, construct, and refine the themes noted as a result of the questioning process.


The process of validation often begins with reflection upon the vocational personality or the interest preferences of the client. Vocational personality relates to what an individual prefers to do and where his or her personal preferences may fit with the world of work. A typical framework used to conceptualize the individual’s responses is according to John Holland a differential theory of vocational personality. Counselors often rely upon formal structured assessments to measure these preferences, but the CSI questions can provide the individual’s primary Holland codes in an indirect manner. Using the Holland RIASEC (Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional) model as a framework, the counselor can often identify the two or three primary codes of the client from his or her narrative stories. The codes are often clearly expressed in the client’s responses to the questions about school subjects, hobbies, and role models. The counselor usually overviews the Holland framework with the client and then discusses how the various preferences have been suggested in the responses to the CSI. This information is processed with the client in an open discussion focused on delineating the primary codes and what the preferences may mean for the person.

Identifying individuals’ Holland coding is not pursued simply to restrict their choices, but to provide new possibilities and more direction for future career pursuits and decisions. The coding can be used for a number of career purposes including validation of current or future career direction or highlighting the inconsistency of past or present work fields or positions. In addition, the CSI uses the Holland code to construct a success formula with the individual after the end of the interview. The client’s code is used to develop a basic success formula statement using motivational phrases selected from a success formula grid and refined with the client. Phrases are suggested and a statement is constructed that provides a measuring stick that identifies what it takes for the individual to feel successful. This can then be used in making modifications to the individual’s current position or in making decisions about work that would foster self-actualization. How the individual makes those decisions, however, is related to his or her career adaptability.

Career Adaptability

The career adaptability of the person is revealed through his or her narrative and clarified through further discussion with the counselor. An individual’s CSI narratives will often indicate how the person interacts with or adapts to career developmental tasks, transitions, and setbacks. Career adaptability is conceptualized as consisting of four dimensions regarding career that include concern, control, curiosity, and confidence. Adaptive individuals are developing their attitudes, beliefs, and competencies in these four areas. Through the interview, the counselor often notes a lack of development in one or more of these dimensions and will discuss this with the person. The goal of the discussion is to develop a plan of action that will foster growth in the underdeveloped areas and increase the individual’s career adaptability overall.

The CSI also seeks to identify the individual’s early role models by asking directly and indirectly about them. Early role models are important to explore because they are conceptualized as solutions to the problems or challenges individuals faced in their early life. The role models often serve as a prototype for how one should make life and career decisions successfully. The CSI also views career as an extension or an attempt of the individual to enact a self-concept, and role models relate to this purpose. Similarities and differences between the individual and the role models are explored, and this helps clarify some to the reasons for their selection. In addition, further discussion with the counselor about the role models frequently sheds light onto why a person pursues certain things through work. Early recollections also help to answer this question.

The end of the CSI includes several questions to illicit deeper projective stories related to earliest recollections or memories. The counselor using this technique is not assessing for factual truths, but is actually looking for repeated themes that permeate the individual’s life and are expressed through his or her recollections stories. The stories that the individual selects and shares frequently provide the solution to the current career problem or demonstrate the strength needed to successfully navigate it. These stories can reflect fear, abandonment, or uncertainty, but they can also include joy, celebration, and support. The counselor notes the description and clarifies the emotions in the recollection, clarifying any relationship to the client’s present career context. In addition to recounting the three recollections, the person is asked to title each with an active headline. These stories and their headlines are then used in conjunction with the rest of the client’s narrative to identify deeper themes that permeate the individual’s life.

Life Theme

The life theme concisely organizes the behavior of an individual and demonstrates the consistency of the person across time. It highlights a client’s motivations and beliefs while also answering the why question behind his or her enactments both vocationally and avocationally. Life themes can often include a metanarrative of turning past pain into others’ gain or turning a life preoccupation into an occupation. The themes frequently include motivations that need to be expressed or included in vocational decisions and commitments. When reviewing the overall data produced by the CSI, the counselor looking for the life theme is not necessarily focusing on the facts, but on the glue that seems to hold all of the facts together. The life theme underlies all of what has been shared by the individual and should pull all of the ideas together in a complete picture that clarifies the ruling passion of the individual’s life. It frequently communicates what is at stake in the person’s life or what gives purpose and meaning to his or her work. The life theme discussion is a process of illumination that can take time and is often simplified by a thorough review of the notes where the counselor focuses upon repeated verbs, words, phrases, and themes. The condensed content then becomes the basis of the discussion to construct and validate the life theme of the individual. The CSI and the resultant narrative interpretation seek to clarify and refine the theme that permeates the individual’s life with meaning and produces a life that matters to others as well.


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