By Norman Amundson, Tannis Goddard, Spencer Niles and Hyung Joon Yoon

Face-to-face and online exercises allow jobseekers to maintain a sense of hope at a time when it is very easy to succumb to negative emotions

There is considerable literature describing the negative impact of unemployment. The research highlights how being unemployed impacts relationships, one’s sense of identity, life purpose and physical well-being. There are often feelings of isolation, depression, anger, low self-esteem and hopelessness. One of the challenges for unemployed clients is to maintain a sense of hopefulness and agency during a time when it is very easy to succumb to negative emotions and thoughts. There are many competencies and actions associated with successful job search; these activities will be easier to accomplish when the starting point of engagement is building action-oriented hope.

Spencer Niles, Norman Amundson and Hyung Joon Yoon have developed an Action-Oriented Hope-Centred Career Development (HCMCD) model (in Niles, Amundson & Neault, 2011). This model is framed using a pinwheel diagram where hope is placed at the centre of the career development process. The surrounding curls reflect the various phases of career development and include the following:

  • Self-Reflection – considering what is important to you, answering the bigger questions of what you want to accomplish in your life; what you value, what skills you possess, and what you want to develop further;
  • Self-Clarity – determining your values, interests, skills, personal style;
  • Visioning – considering future possibilities;
  • Goal Setting & Planning – creating a strategy for moving ahead with meaningful short- and long-term goals; and
  • Implementing & Adapting – taking action and making adjustments along the way.

Environmental factors surround the pinwheel (like the wind) and help to create movement. The model provides a framework for understanding the career development process, and for assessing and developing interventions to fit with the various career competencies.

Hope-based_graphicThis CERIC-funded research project applied the HCMCD model in two different employment centres in British Columbia. The focus was engaging individual clients into a series of hope-based interventions that were delivered through face-to-face or online modalities.

The interventions that were used for the study were as follows:

  • Walking the Problem (also called the Miracle Question) – a physical exercise where clients start by identifying their problem situation. They then think ahead to the desired solution and move to this space. From a solution perspective, they look back to where they came from and identify some of the challenges they will be facing along the way. (Visioning, Goal Setting & Planning)
  • Career Flow – an activity where clients are encouraged to use the image of a waterway to think about their career progress. There are moments where everything comes together and goes smoothly (optimal career flow), but also times when they face stagnation, whirlpools, rapids or even waterfalls. (Self-Reflection)
  • Circle of Strengths – with this exercise, clients tell stories of achievement or simply of times when everything went well. Imbedded within these stories are interests, values, aptitudes and skills. The counsellor works with the client to identify strengths within the story. (Self-Clarity)
  • Two or Three Chairs – when people are making decisions they often are choosing between two options. Each option is represented by a chair (there may be more than two options) and clients are encouraged to physically sit in each chair and describe their thoughts and feelings about that particular choice. A third chair is introduced and clients have the opportunity to step outside of their situation and view the relationship between the chairs. Perhaps there are ways to move the chairs closer together, or maybe they can be stacked or lined up in a sequence. These actions externalize the problem and help to generate new solutions. (Goal Setting and Problem Solving)
  • Staying Afloat – an unemployment problem is not the first time anyone has faced a problem in their life. The focus here is on other problems that have been successfully resolved – what were the skills and strategies used to handle these parallel situations. (Implementing &Adapting)

In addition to this package of interventions, clients were introduced to the HCMCD model using the Hope-Centred Career Inventory (HCCI; Niles, Yoon & Amundson, 2010). This 28-item self-assessment inventory helps people to assess their strengths and challenges in each of the career competency domains. Lastly, there was considerable attention paid to the establishment of positive working relationships between counsellors and clients. It was important that clients felt that they “mattered,” that they had personal significance throughout the counselling period.

Organizing the research

As a preliminary step in this research, it was necessary to develop a parallel set of online interventions. Many of the intervention activities involved an active engagement process, and the challenge was to see whether similar activities could be generated within an online delivery space. The researchers worked closely together on this process and an interesting set of parallel activities was created.

Counsellors were trained in the various online and face-to-face delivery methods. An attempt was made to recruit clients who had relatively low levels of hope according to the HCCI assessment. In the end, 27 clients received the face-to-face intervention package (two sessions – each session lasting about two hours) and 25 clients participated in an online experience over a two-week period. The online interventions included readings, a video, interactive activities and elaborated reflective learning through threaded online conversations. For one intervention, there was a phone call and the use of a shared whiteboard in a web conference format. The face-to-face interventions were delivered in two individual sessions between the practitioner and client.

A series of questions and assessments were used for the quantitative part of the study. In addition to demographic data, clients completed the HCCI (Niles, Yoon & Amundson, 2010); the General Self-Efficacy Scale (Schwartzer & Jerusalem, 1995); the Vocational Identity Scale (Holland, Daiger & Power, 1981); and the Career Engagement Scale (Hirschi, Freund & Herrmann, 2014). These measures were completed as a pre-test, as a follow-up and again three months afterwards. A further testing will be completed after nine months. The Ways of Mattering Scale (Corbiere & Amundson, 2007) was given after the interventions to compare “mattering levels” for face-to-face and online sessions.

Qualitative interviews with 20 participants (10 face-to-face and 10 online) were also used after the intervention period using a method called the Enhanced Critical Incident Technique (ECIT; Butterfield, Borgen, Maglio & Amundson, 2009). With this in-depth, semi-structured interviewing approach, clients are asked to identify specific helpful and hindering incidents, and to highlight what they would have liked to have had happen (the wish list). We also added a separate question at the end of the interview, asking clients to use a 10 point Likert scale (where 0 is doing poorly, 5 is being OK and 10 is doing really well) to assess where they started from and where they are at now that the intervention has been completed.

The career facilitators were encouraged to keep a journal and record their impressions about the sessions. They also participated in a focus group after the research was completed.

Outcome highlights

At this stage of the project, the quantitative data analysis has been completed (pre-post; three-month follow-up) along with the Enhanced Critical Incident Technique (ECIT) qualitative evaluation interviews. All of the assessments and interviews have been designed to assess the impact of the face-to-face and online hope-centered interventions.

The quantitative results thus far are all pointing towards significance, for both face-to-face and online clients. These results are very encouraging, and what is particularly interesting is that while the scores for all clients show strong positive shifts, the online results tend to be stronger than the face-to-face outcomes. This is somewhat surprising and needs to be analyzed further. Perhaps there may be some differences in the ways in which the clients were assigned to the two treatment approaches. It was more challenging to find clients who had the technological expertise to participate in the online approach.

The qualitative interviews supported this strong positive shift in perspective. The Likert self-assessment was particularly telling, with 19 of the 20 participants indicating a strong positive upward evaluation. For the face-to-face group, the average shift was 4.75 points and for the online participants the average was slightly lower at 3.33 points (in part because one of the participants had misconceptions about what was involved with this intervention).

After I finished, I felt more hopeful and I felt that I recognized my skills, and the work I’d done because the activities were well organized to do that, to remind me. It helped me to get out of that negative mental state and be more positive.

When clients were asked to identify helpful and hindering incidents in the program, there was a much stronger emphasis on what was positive (200 helpful incidents versus 29 hindering). In viewing the strengths of the program, everyone emphasized the importance of the facilitator. There were also many comments about the usefulness of the various intervention activities, and the effectiveness of an action-oriented approach. Clients also mentioned that involvement in these interventions helped them to view job search from a new perspective.

Now I can look at job prospects and realize that, “Okay you know what, that’s not for me. That’s not aligning with the goals I set out for myself.” Yeah, there’s taking the job to just make the money, which is fine, but then there’s building a career.

Clients in the online group mentioned the importance of flexibility and the opportunity for deeper reflection over an extended period of time.

Hindering comments were varied, indicating some personal difficulties, technological problems (online), frustration with some of the assessment questions, time pressures, and so on. As mentioned earlier, there were relatively few negative items that were mentioned.

In the wish list domain, clients often wanted additional sessions and those in the online group mentioned a desire to have closer contact with the facilitator. People also mentioned a desire to connect with other unemployed clients and share their experiences. Some suggestions were also made regarding how to improve various activities.

The focus group with facilitators at the end of the program provided some additional insights. The facilitators were amazed at how much progress had been made in such a short period of time. They also reflected on the general atmosphere in the sessions, it was different from what they usually experienced at work.

I think [the interventions] are very client-led, and I think that’s a big shift, so although we have structure, it is a very fluid structure when we are facilitating and the client is able to make the story work for them, it’s much more from a holistic view point.

Next steps and recommendations

The overwhelmingly positive results from this study certainly suggest that further exploration be done with regard to applying this type of intervention within a regular stream of client service delivery. To make this happen, we might need to consider ways of providing additional training for everyone in the system.

In making this practical application, we will need to take into account the fact that current employment services operate from a more structured service delivery framework. The hope-centered intervention approach is more flexible, active, creative and focused on establishing a mattering climate. Is it possible for these two philosophies to co-exist and complement one another or is a more radical restructuring needed?

The current research is in many respects a pilot project and needs to be interpreted in this light. If wide-ranging change is contemplated, then there is a need for a larger project to explore viability within a broader system.

Further research with other types of client groups is also something that should be considered. We have started working on other projects, including a group-based intervention with Syrian refugees. The initial results from this current study parallels in many respects our findings from the unemployment study. It would seem that this approach might have broad applicability and could be applied with many different types of groups.

In this study, we have used five interventions with each client. Further fine tuning may be useful. What might be needed is additional training to help facilitators broaden their intervention framework and learn how to be more strategic in applying interventions. This may require additional work to create interventions that have theoretical consistency and allow for some flexibility in delivery.

Lastly, this study was based on the assumption that there were two different ways of delivering service – face-to-face and online.  The research results indicate that while both methods seem to be effective, there also might be ways in which they could be enhanced. Perhaps it would be possible to blend the two delivery methods so that there would be some face-to-face connection, but also sometimes when people can do exercises online and take advantage of the opportunity for more flexibility and deeper reflection. Exploring alternate delivery mechanisms might be an area for future study and exploration.

You can download a copy of the Hope-Centred Career Interventions report at


Dr Norman Amundson is a Professor in Counselling Psychology at the University of British Columbia. He has received a number of professional awards, including an honorary doctorate from the University of Umea, Sweden.

Dr Spencer Niles is Dean and Professor in the College of William & Mary, in the United States. He is a prolific writer and has spoken at many national and international conferences. He is a former President of NCDA.

Dr Hyung Joon Yoon is currently Assistant Professor of Workforce Education and Development at the Pennsylvania State University.  His scholarly work is focused on empowering individuals and organizations with human agency and hope.

Tannis Goddard is President of Training Innovations and her organization runs several unemployment centres in BC. She is also completing her PhD. Goddard is focused on both face-to-face and online counselling intervention development.


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