Career professionals can help clients take control of the unexpected and create conditions for impactful change

Andrew Bassingthwaighte

Chaos, change, loss; each of these words sparks a specific feeling, normally negative, within people. They are something we dread and are used to great effect in movies and comics to inspire fear by villains. Outside of fiction, we are not immune to chaos. Life has a habit of creating uncertainty, and 2020 itself has provided many new challenges affecting people’s lives and careers.

Career development theorists have long discussed the impact of chaos and chance events upon individuals, and there has been a large amount of research on the impact of these events on an individual’s career path (Rice, 2014). More recently, this concept has gained increased traction due to the recognition that careers in the 21st century are inherently dynamic and unstable, making clients more prone to career disruptions and chance events. Specific career development theories such as Chaos Theory, Happenstance Learning Theory, Systems Theory Framework, Social Cognitive Theory and Cognitive Information Processing Theory can provide practitioners with a strong understanding of how chaos and chance events affect clients and how jobseekers may respond.

Based on these theoretical frameworks, career practitioners are perfectly positioned to help clients respond effectively to what is happening in their careers, the workplace and society. However, it is also important to understand that the capability of clients to successfully manage chaos is dependent on a multitude of factors including their understanding of self and the support systems available to them.

Mastering C.H.A.O.S.

This acronym takes the word C.H.A.O.S. and flips its meaning into a structured way to support clients facing loss or change within their career: Control, Help, Adaptability, Order, Stories. It is based on established career development theories (cited above).

However, it is important to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when working with clients. As career development professionals, we need to make sure we are listening closely to where the client is struggling and where they are seeing success to adjust and adapt the supports we provide.


One of the major challenges clients face when hit with an unexpected change is the accompanying lack of control, especially when it is the first major career disruption they have experienced. This sense of a lack or loss of control can greatly affect the client’s confidence in the career counselling process and in future decisions.

It is important, as career practitioners, to help clients recognize how these events can contribute to their career. We can also remind them that they can control their response moving forward as an active participant (Krumboltz, Foley, & Cotter, 2013, Rice, 2014). A key way to achieve this is through the creation of small successes such as securing an informational interview or completing micro-certifications to help rebuild their confidence and sense of control in their life.

“One of the major challenges clients face when hit with an unexpected change is the accompanying lack of control, especially when it is the first major career disruption they have experienced.”


Traditionally, superheroes stand alone, but we all know examples of what can happen when they team up. The Avengers, Teen Titans, the Justice League – no matter the team, they all bring their own unique strengths and tools. Due to the number of areas that career development touches, career practitioners are in a unique position to collaborate with different experts and organizations that can reach out to and support clients.

Read more from Andrew Bassingthwaighte

Responding to career uncertainty with compassion and intentionality
Balancing adaption and access: Career services’ response to COVID
How to engage in ethical advocacy work in career development

Being able to help your client find and effectively work with the right team can help them with their overall career path. Depending on the client and their needs, this team could include members from job developers to housing advocates, who can be helpful in providing resources and advocacy to the client.


Being adaptable is an important skill when navigating the challenges that chaos can bring. Part of developing this adaptability is through our clients taking control of their journey. However, there are other elements that we can use to help clients develop their level of adaptability.

Helping clients strengthen their curiosity and confidence also play a part in improving their overall ability to adapt and be flexible to change. This can be done partly through supporting jobseekers to recognize and leverage new or existing opportunities, which, without the intervention of C.H.A.O.S., they might not have considered. This strengthening also has the added benefit of improving their resilience to change over both the short and long term (Rice, 2014).


Amid the chaos in our lives, if we look hard enough, we can find order. One element shared by Systems Framework Theory and Chaos Theory is the recognition that seemingly chaotic systems have structure and order at their core. Recognizing this, career professionals can help clients identify structures within their lives to bring understanding and balance. This understanding of chaos can also help ease client stress, which has been demonstrated to have a positive impact on their decision-making abilities and self-efficacy (Rice, 2014).


Our clients’ stories have power over how they respond to the situation they are in. By listening to our clients’ stories, we can identify patterns and themes that can help show them how they have adapted to previous challenges and enable them to create future stories (Patton & McMahon, 2006).

Finally, remind your clients to share their story to help give friends, family members and other clients the courage to engage in their fight against chaos. While they may feel that their story is not worth sharing, we can remind them of how stories influence and motivate others in their journeys.


Chaos is not new. Throughout history, we have seen how times of chaos have created conditions for major innovations that have dramatically changed the world that we live in. On a smaller scale, the chaos experienced by clients can also create the conditions for something impactful to take place. Rather than being afraid of what chaos can do, it’s time to take control of chaos and turn it into your clients’ personal superpower.

Andrew Bassingthwaighte (CCDP) is a Talent Performance Consultant from Brock University in St. Catharines, ON. Having worked for almost 20 years in the UK and Canada providing employment counselling, training and mentoring to individuals, he is currently working remotely supporting students in 40 different co-op programs.


Bright, J., & Pryor, R. (2011). the chaos theory of careers. Journal of Employment Counseling, 48(4), 163–166.

Krumboltz, J., Foley, P., & Cotter, E. (2013). Applying the Happenstance Learning Theory to Involuntary Career Transitions. The Career Development Quarterly, 61(1), 15–26.

Patton, W., & McMahon, M. (2006). The Systems Theory Framework of Career Development and Counseling: Connecting Theory and Practice. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 28(2), 153–166.

Rice, A. (2013). Incorporation of Chance into Career Development Theory and Research. Journal of Career Development, 41(5), 445–463.