Tips for Supporting Job Seekers Through the Stages of Change

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A previous post, Before Using the Stages of Change Model with Your Job-Seeking Clients, Understand How it Applies to Your Own Life, explained the importance of understanding behavior change to provide effective employment support.

Today's post will explore the Stages of Change model in depth, including job seeker characteristics, goals for the career professional, and facilitation techniques. You can request a FREE copy of this information in a helpful matrix format that you can print and keep for ongoing reference.

PRECONTEMPLATION


A person in the Precontemplation stage has no real intention of changing and may be seen as resistant, defensive, or “in denial” about the need to change. The following information relates to an individual who is in the Precontemplation stage of change with respect to employment.

Characteristics of a job seeker in the Precontemplation stage may include:


  • Resistant to employment discussions or not currently considering job search
  • Rates motivation to change between 1 and 4 out of 10 (The higher an individual’s motivation to change, the greater personal value he or she places on steady employment and the more willing he or she is to take steps toward achieving it.)
  • Views work as a positive, but not yet as a possibility for self
  • Sees prolonged unemployment as an issue for other people in that situation, but does not recognize the personal impact
  • May begin to react to help by reviewing information about employment opportunities (just to see what might be possible)
  • May say or feel that successful recovery and employment cannot be accomplished at the same time
  • Denies that he or she has a problem; says “I can get a job whenever I want to. I just don’t want to right now.”

Facilitator’s Goals in the Precontemplation stage:


  • Raise doubt in the job seeker’s mind that he or she is best served by his or her current behaviors as they relate to job search
  • Move job seeker from “I won’t” to “I might”

Techniques for interacting with job seekers in the Precontemplation stage:


  • Establish trust and rapport
  • Educate and increase awareness of the benefits of work
  • Avoid arguing; reinforce that the job search decision is theirs
  • Encourage re-evaluation of current employment-related behavior
  • Encourage self-exploration (e.g., “What will happen if I never work, and how does that fit with my values and desires?”) rather than demanding that steps be taken
  • Explain the risks of remaining in the Precontemplation stage of job search

CONTEMPLATION


A person in the Contemplation stage may recognize the need to change, but may be ambivalent. He or she has not yet made a commitment to change. The following information relates to an individual who is in the Contemplation stage of change with respect to employment.

Characteristics of a job seeker in the Contemplation stage may include:


  • Begins to think about work, but does not plan to change within the current month
  • Rates motivation to change between 5 and 7 out of 10 (The higher an individual’s motivation to change, the greater personal value he or she places on steady employment and the more willing he or she is to take steps toward achieving it.)
  • Feels uncertain about the need to become steadily employed
  • Ambivalent about the value of steady employment
  • Begins to consider the positive and negative aspects of working
  • Considers healthy lifestyle behaviors important to successful employment
  • Open-minded to others’ suggestions about the value of regular employment and his or her ability to achieve it

Facilitator’s Goals in the Contemplation stage:


  • Resolve job seeker’s uncertainty about employment
  • Move job seeker from “I might” to “I will”

Techniques for interacting with job seekers in the Contemplation stage:


  • Support the belief that employment is possible and build desire to work
  • Discuss job seeker’s indecision or ambivalence about working
  • Explore and personalize benefits of work (i.e., what having a regular source of income means to the job seeker personally)
  • Ask questions to help the job seeker see the discrepancy between his or her stated goals and current behavior
  • Acknowledge and discuss concerns related to employment. Does he or she fear the interview process, believe that he or she lacks required job skills, or have childcare issues?
  • Demonstrate empathy for concerns and discuss possible solutions
  • Encourage the job seeker to ask someone he or she respects, and who is employed, to be a mentor throughout the process
  • Provide information that supports decision-making efforts relating to job search, but only with the job seeker’s permission
  • Encourage the job seeker to weigh the pros and cons of maintaining steady employment

PREPARATION


A person in the Preparation stage has made a commitment to change. He or she may have started to change, or taken some steps in the direction of change without actually starting to change quite yet. The following information relates to an individual who is in the Preparation stage of change with respect to employment.

Characteristics of a job seeker in the Preparation stage may include:


  • Plans to begin job search within the current month
  • Rates motivation to change between 8 and 10 out of 10 (The higher an individual’s motivation to change, the greater personal value he or she places on steady employment and the more willing he or she is to take steps toward achieving it.)
  • Begins to look for solutions to potential obstacles to employment (e.g. transportation, childcare, etc.)
  • Places higher value on job readiness or employment skills training available to him or her
  • Considers risks to job search that could result from relapse in the recovery process, and creates plan to anticipate and address them
  • Begins to deal with the stress of job search or other new behaviors
  • Tries new employment-related behaviors, like waking up at the same time each morning
  • Recognizes that the job search process takes time; learns patience

Facilitator’s Goals in the Preparation stage:


  • Help job seeker prepare a plan for change
  • Move job seeker from “I will” to “I am”

Techniques for interacting with job seekers in the Preparation stage:


  • Reinforce interest and ability to work
  • Confirm commitment to behavior changes needed for employment
  • Offer materials on career ladders, job descriptions, and skills training
  • Anticipate and problem-solve perceived barriers to employment
  • Develop and support achievable employment goals and plan
  • Encourage moving forward with job search in small steps

ACTION


A person in the Action stage has made a firm commitment to change and is putting effort into practicing new behaviors. The following information relates to an individual who is in the Action stage of change with respect to employment.

Characteristics of a job seeker in the Action stage may include:


  • Engages in active job search and/or obtains a job
  • Practices new job search or employment behaviors for 3 to 6 months
  • Continues job search or work adjustment
  • May pay greater attention to personal appearance, recognizing that it influences the opinions of others, including those of employers
  • Becomes more stable in sleeping and eating patterns so that regular employment in an assigned shift can be achieved
  • Begins more realistic thinking, mapping his or her skills or experience to possible employment or advancement opportunities
  • Develops new interests and pursuits that could increase employment opportunities
  • Demonstrates increased emotional stability, and more patience with self and others, allowing for more positive workplace interactions with co-workers and supervisors

Facilitator’s Goals in the Action stage:


  • Support the job seeker in his or her change efforts
  • Move job seeker from “I am” to “I have”

Techniques for interacting with job seekers in the Action stage:


  • Reinforce capability to prepare for and deal with employment obstacles (e.g., transportation, childcare, etc.)
  • Help with skill development, resume creation, job interview preparation and practice, etc.
  • Encourage job seeker to take advantage of natural support systems when anticipating or faced with pre-employment or employment challenges. These natural support systems include family, friends, community organizations and service providers, and employee assistance programs
  • Explore and discuss potential triggers that may affect his or her job search and/or on-the-job success
  • Celebrate accomplishments, such as being asked to interview for a job, even if doesn’t result in an employment offer

MAINTENANCE


And finally, a person in the Maintenance stage has been successfully practicing the new behaviors for six months or more. The following information relates to an individual who is in the Maintenance stage of change with respect to employment.

Characteristics of a job seeker in the Maintenance stage may include:


  • Maintains job performance and transitions to new responsibilities or jobs
  • Has been employed and maintains positive employment-related behaviors for 6 months or longer; if he or she is laid off or loses work, demonstrates positive job search behaviors to achieve re-employment in a timely way
  • Develops new values associated with working and having a steady income
  • Develops new interests associated with work, such as joining the employer’s softball league, a work association, or taking computer classes
  • Gains confidence in himself or herself with regard to being employed; gains greater credibility with family and friends
  • Continues to increase emotional control, and is more consistent in practicing effective workplace and interpersonal skills and behaviors at work and home
  • More consistent and growing involvement in recovery groups or other resources that contribute to stronger recovery behaviors. This, in turn, improves confidence and behaviors as they relate to employment
  • Recognizes that it is okay to ask for help, as many successfully employed people rely on the support of coaches, mentors, and advisors
  • May become bored with Maintenance; misses and glorifies old behavior patterns, like sleeping until noon or having one endless vacation

Facilitator’s Goals in the Maintenance stage:


  • Proactively support job seeker in the resolution of issues or obstacles before they become problems
  • Continue job seeker in “I have”

Techniques for interacting with job seekers in the Maintenance stage:


  • Help resolve problems experienced in job search or in the workplace
  • Continue helping the individual develop work skills
  • Help the individual develop co-worker relationships and conflict management skills
  • Coach in “job loss triggers” and coping skills
  • If job loss occurs, help the individual to see this as an opportunity to understand the cause and proactively plan for ways to overcome the issue in the future
  • Provide ongoing reinforcement of positive job search or on-the-job behaviors
  • Review and revise employment goals

RELAPSE


In any behavior change, a Relapse will often occur. This is not considered to be a stage, but is demonstrated when a person returns to the old behavior, which may negatively affect his or her employment. This should not be seen as failure, but a chance to understand and learn from what went wrong. Doing so will enable the person to plan ways to overcome triggers and challenges, strengthen further behavior change efforts, and minimize any impact on his or her job performance.

Characteristics of a job seeker in Relapse may include:


  • Experiences discouragement over work difficulties
  • Feels like a failure and unable to keep a job
  • Recalls only the positive aspects of old behaviors; no longer recognizes the negative aspects of unemployment
  • Demonstrates the characteristics of the stage to which he or she relapsed. A person who has experienced a small RELAPSE may slip from Maintenance to Action behaviors, for example, while someone who has experienced a full Relapse may revert to Precontemplation behaviors, including an unwillingness to change

Facilitator’s Goals in Relapse:


  • Prevent further relapses by revisiting earlier Action and Maintenance plans
  • Build self-efficacy and coping strategies

Techniques for interacting with job seekers in Relapse:


  • Teach the individual to recognize and respond to situations that can cause Relapse
  • Help the individual develop coping behaviors to address the demands of work. Stress, anger, and conflict management classes can equip him or her to handle common workplace triggers and challenges more effectively
  • Teach and coach in interpersonal skills effectiveness to enhance workplace interactions and relationships
  • Encourage ongoing counseling to deal with interpersonal and workplace challenges
  • Promote the possibility of job loss as a largely controllable event
  • Encourage self-efficacy, which is confidence in one’s own ability to overcome his or her specific workplace challenges
  • Address misperceptions or unproductive thinking about the reasons for job loss. While an individual may be correct when he or she says, “My boss liked my co-worker Randall more than he liked me,” shift the focus to how your client might have changed the boss' opinion
  • Show the individual that a relapse can be a normal part of lasting change, and a way to better understand and find the right employment fit
  • Help the person to recognize that job loss has provided an opportunity for a purposeful career move, and to carefully consider what he or she wants from employment

As mentioned earlier, we invite you to request a FREE copy of this information in a helpful matrix format for future reference.


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