social media

The media and career choice

I would imagine that most Careers professionals working with young people have seen the impact that media has on their perceptions of work and jobs. From the surge of interest in forensics that spiked in the late 2000s as shows such as CSI and Criminal Minds hit the height of their popularity and resulted in a swell of applicants to Criminology degrees in the UK and the United States to the sudden boom in applications to the US Navy that followed Top Gun in the 1980s, it seems that popular media does have an influence on the career choice of individuals.

These anecdotal examples are also supported by research. In 2017 Konon & Kritikos showed that positive media representations of entrepreneurs resulted increase the probability of self-employment and decrease the probability of salaried work. While this paper from Hoag, Grant & Carpenter (2017) concluded that individuals who consume and have exposure to a wide range of news media were more likely to choose journalism as their major. A 2014 article in the Popular Culture Studies Journal (Tucciarone) conducted a research project looking at representations of the advertising industry and found that even negative or exaggerated portrayals of an industry can have an enticing effect on viewers

One research participant explained: “I think any type of portrayal, even if exaggerated a bit, is better than being completely blind about what goes on in an advertising agency. By watching various depictions of the industry and the careers, I am able to decide if I would even want to take ad courses and be involved with such an industry.”

We also have recent survey data that may point to the impact media consumption can have on young people’s career choices. The 2018 DfE Omnibus survey of pupils and their parents/carers might give some hints as it includes responses on what sources of information young rated as offering helpful careers IAG


“Any other source” is a term there that I am sure is a catch-all for a wide range of sources but I would suspect that “the media” (in all it’s guises for young people so including streaming services) is present. I’ve previously posted on the use of vloggers to attempt to capture a young audience and introduce them to a broader range of careers but more traditional narrative media, just streamed by young people on demand, may still play a large part. The BBC itself has found that young people watch more Netflix in a week than all of the BBC TV services. Just how binge worthy shows such as Chef’s Table or Better Call Saul are influencing young people’s views on hospitality or law careers remains to be seen, while free to air channels can still find success with formats that see celebrities trying out different job roles.


Again, the positive/negative view of the role or even the realism of the portrayal (I suspect few of the other midwives on Ms Willis’ ward will also be finding the time to design a range of home ware) may not matter. As the quoted research participant above notes, all it can take is the job being introduced to the viewer for the spark of interest to ignite.

The @Reddit community and Career Guidance

Even in the short time that I have been involved with Career Guidance there has been a notable movement of companies and organisations towards using not just traditional websites but also social media to spread the word about employment pathways in their area to young people. While sites such as Plotr have been specifically tasked to appeal to the younger generation with bright, colourful career areas full of easily navigable pictures, it is well-managed twitter accounts such as the recently established @borntobuilduk backed by the UK Contractors group which offer youngsters the chance to more fully engage by both asking direct questions and interacting with a number of appointed young guiding lights already working within the industry.

Other models such as MyKindaCrowd offer the chance for young people to submit applications in various challenges to secure rewards of various interactions with business areas they aspire to. Here though the community aspect is held at arm’s length as the site relies on teachers or youth workers to provide the organisation of the young people on the ground to actually enter the challenges.

The chance for Employer bodies to build communities of interested young minds inspired by their area of business clearly appeals to managers conscientious of future skills shortages and these interventions are hugely welcome from those of us looking to find the hook to spark an interest in their future from youngsters but it is yet another model that really holds the most potential for me.

Recently, the community based social news site Reddit launched a new sub-reddit called “JobFair”, a dedicated space for members to quiz (or in the terminology of the site “AMA” – ask me anything) other users who volunteer to post answers about their careers. This peer-to-peer interaction, based in a moderated online environment with the enhanced community aspects of a karma voting system for other users to reward positive and penalise negative contributions, holds much promise for a direct, honest and collaborative method of sharing career knowledge not bound by geography or ambition. A youngster with a phone anywhere in the world can now ask tips on how to be a successful bee-keeper. It really can get that niche. With the site now regularly averaging over 16 million unique users a month, the scope and potential is vast and not just confined to questions about users job roles. Sub-reddits to search for open positions have been set up, get general career guidance advice or help finding a route into a specific career, a dedicated section on entrepreneurs, internships, interview advice, CV advice…the list goes on. It’s the internet; build it and they will come. The job boards can get country or city specific, the career sub-reddits specific enough to focus on career areas such as Archaeology or charity work. In its essence it really is just people helping people.

There will be those within the Careers community who will balk at the messy, unregulated and sporadic nature of this sort of exploration experience. The fundamental requirement for safeguarding automatically rules out a Professional recommending a young person to use tools like this. For clients of all ages there are issues to cause caution as well. There is no guiding hand of a Professional to try to ensure quality or relevance of advice, there is only the individual to reflect on their own strengths, weaknesses and traits and, while there is moderation of posts and some verification of claims, the anonymous nature of the site still leaves the door open for unreliable information to be passed on without checks on bias or integrity.

But it is worth reiterating that this is not a free for all message posting board such as Craigslist and all of the horror stories sites like that have. Rules are set, moderation does occur and the community self rewards and chastises so positive possibilities remain with careful use. A school Careers Professional could set up a school account to source information from other users with career experiences not found in their local labour market or established range of contacts and then pass that on to their young client base. Those working with older clients could signpost to users who have become trusted in the community who could answer questions or historical threads, the Professional could use the community themselves to increase their knowledge of requirements or recruitment practices in specific job fields and internship and work opportunities could be sourced to then disseminate. As ever with both online and offline Careers information resources, it’s best that each Professional decides whether to explore it or not and become comfortable with how they could embed it in their own practice as another possible tool for the toolkit.

The long Social Network tail

The most recent NICEC – Journal of the Institute for Career Education and Counselling focussed on Digital Technologies in career education and guidance.

All of the articles discuss how careers practitioners should be utilising the online world to offer a service that blends the best of the digital world with the benefits of more traditional career support.

“Careers workers who are not developing digital career literacy will soon find that they are not developing careers at all.”

The articles are an illuminating mix of career theory and real world examples of practitioners incorporating digital technologies into their work. Reading the issue lead me to mull over just what sort of clients careers workers will be dealing with in the future and what experience and, in some cases baggage, from their online life will they bring to careers guidance interactions. Current teenagers are often referred to as “digital natives” (urgh) but, in my experience this is a catchphrase that simplifies the more complex mix of online skills and deficiencies the majority of teenagers display.

“The ability to utilise the internet is a spectrum rather than a binary divide.”

This is true now but, as the current teenagers mature, this spectrum will alter and flex as they move through the education stages and into the workplace. Their current digital skills and priorities will change throughout this process as they mould their online experience and footprint to position them selves to best achieve their goals. Careers workers of the decades to come will encourage them to progress towards their career goals through embracing the digital communication and branding opportunities available online. I fear that this process will be akin to pushing a snowball up a hill though as future clients will start the process with years of baggage of social media usage. This baggage will manifest itself in two ways.

1) A long tail

Most modern teenagers treat social media and other digital methods of communicating not as tools to access specific information at specific periods but that they are part of their day as much as breakfast or brushing your teeth is. Their use of digital interactions seems (at least it is if you’re trying to get them to concentrate on anything) as fundamental to their waking moments as breathing. And all of this interaction (sometimes with local friends, sometimes with people they’ve never and will never meet in real life) leaves a trail of internet debris, a library of tweets, facebook posts, youtube comments, instagram comments, pinterest notes…. Every nock and cranny of their life can be, and usually is, seeped into the pores of the internet.

Now of course, teenagers don’t post all (or any) of this online just below a flashing neon sign with their full name or date of birth by it so potential future employers can quickly find this with the simplest of Google searches. They use pseudonyms and online tags as “xxXXXdizzaboiXXXxx” or “((lulzWaRrIoR))” which add a layer of confidentiality to their interactions but they are still there, online, forever. Imagine the worst case scenario for your own personal history. Cast your mind back to those first dates, those first underage nights out, that Sixth form group holiday, that high school play you (god knows why) were in…all loving recorded and displayed at the touch of a button.

Career minded adults are constantly reminded to police their own online behaviour for fear of negative consequences through a stream of news stories such as


Which, in turn, raises the question of just how expert in web search future HR departments are going to need to be to track down online histories and assuage the fears of employers that their preferred candidate isn’t a secret raving twitter loony.

2) The teaching of formality

“Connecting – describes the ability to build relationship and networks online that can support career development”

As their online communication is incessant and habitual, their checking system over both content and style of delivery is very weak. The ease by which the thought in their head makes its way onto the internet is too enticing. This means that levels of formality in language and tone are at extremely basic levels. Remember that time you accidentally sent a text to a work colleague and, through sheer habit, added an ‘x’ at the end? Imagine that but multiplied through generations. Encouraging formality and structure in online interactions to build fruitful career networks will be a major task of career professionals in the future.

“Grubb (2002) has urged caution about celebrating the availability of online careers information without also recognising the skills and literacies that underpin the effective use of these.”

There are two skills which I think are most relevant to Grubb’s observation and are lacking in this age group. Firstly, the ability to search the internet to find useful information is a possible weakness to consider when designing online careers provision and when assisting clients to access such provision. Young people struggle with the most basic online searches, sometimes asking you to repeat what you just said so they can type it verbatim into Google. An ‘online’ version of a careers library is sometimes regarded as an inferior model on which to base your online offer to clients but, in my experience, the clear structures and descriptions of job and work areas lead young people more quickly to the information they want to find. Ineffectual searching quickly leads to disengagement with the process as they fail to immediately see the relevance of the task.

The other skill is the impetus to take the online interaction into a ‘real world’ interaction. Colleagues that organise work experience in schools will know from experience that if you give a student an option of emailing or phoning an employer to request a placement; they will email every time. Requesting a student to phone an employer elicits a response of panic, disbelief and, sometimes, outright refusal which has to be overcome with encouragement and a steadfast refusal to take ‘no’ as an answer.  Another task for future career professionals will be to overcome an increasingly widespread aversion to face to face interaction. I should say at this point that, in my opinion, some of this trait can be based on a fear of failure. Reading a negative response in an email is much less of a knock to fragile confidence then putting your hopes on the line in a telephone or face to face conversation and then having them dashed.

“Online can no longer been seen as a parallel world where individuals take refuge from reality.”

Young people now seem to be very literate in their descriptions if asked (but perhaps not in their actions) of the dangers of online interaction with strangers. Through mildly hysterical media coverage and mildly dull assembly presentations they have a competent knowledge of the possible negative outcomes from their online profiles. Meanwhile, negative consequences to their own future career prospects of their online histories and interactions are not highlighted to them in any consistent way which is why resources such as this prezi by @GailMcguigan can be a useful starting point for raising this with this age group.
All quotes from “How the internet changed career: framing the relationship between career development and online technologies” by Tristram Hooley