The entry stage

The entry stage corresponds to a time in one's career where the individual first enters the profession or a new job within the profession. It is essential that all professionals move out of this stage to attain career satisfaction.

The entry stage is characterized by psychological dependency. Central motivators for professional development include attaining the foundation skills required to do the job and understanding the organization's structure, function, and culture at that point in the organization's history. Motivators for professional development at the entry stage include: (a) understanding the organization's structure, function, and culture; (b) attaining base level technical skills; (c) giving relevancy to previous training; (d) exercising directed creativity and initiative; (e) moving from dependency to independence; (f) exploring personal/professional dynamics; and (g) building relationships with professional peers.

Most stage theories of psychological development posit a set of largely irreversible changes that follow one another in rigid order that is tightly linked to chronological age (Kohlberg, 1969). However, one of the most influential theories of adult career development (Super, 1990) departs from this approach in two key respects. In his recent writings, Super has continued to rely upon the concept he pioneered in the 1950s (Super, 1953, 1957) of career stages as clusters of distinctive attitudes, motivations, and behaviors that arise in sequence over development (Salomone, 1996). But his present model (1990) is unique among developmental theories in that its postulates both: (a) that the stages bear no invariant relationship to chronological age, and (b) thatthe psychological changes achieved by passing successfully through a given stage are not necessarily permanent. Super's theory posits four stages of adult career development: (a) exploration, (b) establishment, (c) maintenance, and (d) disengagement. Since only the first three span the employed portion of the life cycle, these three are the main focus of the present study.

Super (1990) argued that the timing of transitions between career stages was more a function of the individual's personality and life circumstances than of chronological age. For example, while one person might complete the developmental tasks associated with his first stage of exploring career alternatives and selecting a vocation between the traditionally normative ages of 14 and 25 years and, by remaining in the same career throughout working life, might later pass through each further stage just once before retiring at age 65, this is not the only developmental possibility. The decision to extend higher education, to dabble in widely varied career options, or to delay career entry until the completion of childrearing may lengthen the time it takes to pass through the exploration stage, with consequent delays in completion of each of the subsequent stages. Similarly, adults who change careers in midlife will pass through the stages multiple times, with subsequent passages arising at ages well above the traditional norm. However, according to Super's theory, unconventional timing does not automatically make the task of career development any more difficult, or carry any implication that the final outcome will be less successful.

Super's second unconventional prediction is that the passage through a stage need not be permanent to define optimal development. Many other stage theories postulate that transitions are irreversible, and that only the atypical and deleterious circumstances of illness, injury, or decline can produce regression to earlier stages (Nagel, 1957). The potential instability even of normal and successful developmental change is implicit in Super's concept of ‘‘recycling'' (Super, Thompson, & Lindeman, 1988). According to the recycling notion, part of the normal developmental trajectory may include a return to stage issues that were initially laid to rest earlier in the life cycle, and this can facilitate personal development and coping with technological or social change (Hall, 1992). As Super explained (1990): ‘‘The concept of exploration as something completed in mid-adolescence has been shown to be invalid'' (p.237). He viewed career decision-making as a lifelong process in which people continually strive to match their ever changing career goals to the realities of the world of work. In addition to these personal development needs, such social forces as economic downturns, layoffs, computerization, and the advent of new technologies, or new career paths within the organization can all stimulate regressive ‘‘recycling'' backward through career stages. But, unlike the regressions of child and adolescent psychology, where problematic losses of developed capacity are seen to arise, the process of reverting to earlier stages in Super's scheme through recycling is viewed as a means for enhancing maturity, coping power, and creative productivity. As Hall(1992) explained: ‘‘Exploration [during mid-career] can lead to trial activity, new choices, identity changes, and increased adaptability and personal\ agency'' (p. 247). Thus Super (1990, p. 237) proposed that so-called ‘‘unstable'' (or ‘‘multiple-trial'') careers and midcareer crises were not only normal but psychologically advantageous in a climate of rapid social change.

Despite the theory's intuitive appeal and obvious relevance to the career counseling of mature adults (Bocknek, 1976; Sharf, 1992), there has been surprisingly little empirical study of either of these two controversial postulates of Super's theory. Super et al. (1988) gave a brief report of an unpublished survey of a group of teachers and health professionals who were attending a one-day conference. All were at a similar stage in the process of considering second careers, with no concrete plans to change careers. Their chronological age and career tenure therefore predicted lesser concern with exploration issues than with establishment or maintenance. The data largely supported these predictions. However, as the study included no comparison group of adults who were further advanced in the career-change process, its results failed to answer more basic questions such as whether exploration stage concerns are heightened during the process of midlife career change, or whether these decline again once stability is regained. A group of workers who were fully embarked on a second career would have been needed to test this predictions like these. In a more complete test of these two theoretical postulates, Perosa and Perosa (1984) interviewed an ample of 134 men and women in the United States who were selected for the study because they had voluntarily decided to change careers. There were three subgroups, each at different stages of implementing a career transition. The ‘‘persisters'' intended to change but had made no moves to do so, the ‘‘changing'' group had quit their original jobs but had not yet embarked on new ones, and the ‘‘changed'' had already entered their second occupations. Perosa and Perosa used the Career Development Inventory (CDI), developed by Super, Thompson, Lindeman, Jordaan, and Myers (1981), to measure involvement in Super's stages. The CDI rates career-stage concerns on a unidimensional continuum ranging from ‘‘not yet a concern to me'' (scored 1), through ‘‘of great concern to me now'' (scored3), to ‘‘no longer a concern'' (scored 5).

Interview questions:

The key is to give better answers than anyone else. To do this, you must:

(1) Anticipate likely questions;

(2) Develop excellent answers;

(3) Practice!

Be enthusiastic and confident when responding to questions. Don't rush your answers, but don't ramble on and on, either. Try to, um, avoid, like, using unnecessary words, right? And um, repeating yourself or, like, annoying phrases, you know?

A good technique is to write out your answers to the questions you anticipate, then edit them to make them more concise. Then practice your polished answers out loud, over and over. If you can have someone help you do a "mock interview," that would be the best way to do this.

Most questions will relate either to your ability to do the job or to the type of employee you will be. Here's one that is very commonly used to help the interviewer learn about both:

"Tell me a little about yourself."

When responding to this request, you should focus on both your personal and professional values. Always be honest, but talk about your best traits only, especially those that relate to the position for which you are applying. Highlight experiences and accomplishments you are most proud of. Here's an example:

"I'm an experienced communications specialist with extensive knowledge of public information tools and techniques. I've developed comprehensive communication plans for major public events, written dozens of articles accepted by worldwide publications, and created specialized educational programs for adults and students. I am always eager to learn new methods and procedures, and have implemented continuous improvement techniques in my past positions that saved money and increased productivity. I like working with people and enjoy group projects, but am also a self-starter who doesn't mind working on my own. I'm a volunteer with the local chapter of Special Olympics and enjoy participating in community events. My goals are to complete my Master's Degree and broaden my experiences with community relations."

Remember to tailor your response to the specific job. By studying the job announcement, you'll get a good idea of the skills and experience being sought. Work those into your response.

Consider this your own personal commercial. If the interview consisted of only this ONE chance to sell yourself, what would you say?

"What do you feel has been your greatest work-related accomplishment?"

Choose one example from your past that was important to you and helped the company you worked for. Give specific details about what you did, how you did it, and what the results were. Try to pick an accomplishment that relates to the position for which you are applying. Employers like to hear about accomplishments that reduced expenses, raised revenues, solved problems or enhanced a company's reputation.

"What is your greatest strength?"

This is a great chance to highlight your best skills. Don't pick just one, focus on your top three or four. Some examples are: leadership skills, team-building skills, and organizational skills. Determine which strengths would fit best with the position for which you are applying. For example, if the job announcement stresses the ability to handle multiple tasks, you could say: "I'm good at organizational skills, prioritization and time management. But my greatest strength is my ability to effectively handle multiple projects and deadlines."

"What is your greatest weakness?"

Be careful with this one. Most interview guides will tell you to answer it with a positive trait disguised as a weakness. For example, "I tend to expect others to work as hard as I do," or "I'm a bit of a perfectionist." Interviewers have heard these "canned" answers over and over again. To stand out, be more original and state a true weakness, but then emphasize what you've done to overcome it. For example: "I've had trouble delegating duties to others because I felt I could do things better myself. This has sometimes backfired because I'd end up with more than I could handle and the quality of my work would suffer. But I've taken courses in time management and learned effective delegation techniques, and I feel I've overcome this weakness."

IMPORTANT: Be sure the weakness you talk about is NOT a key element of the position!

"How do you handle stressful situations?"

Give some examples of stressful situations you've dealt with in the past. Tell how you use time management, problem-solving or decision-making skills to reduce stress. For example, tell them that making a "to-do" list helps. Site stress-reducing techniques such as stretching and taking a break. Don't be afraid to admit that you will ask for assistance if you are feeling overwhelmed.

If it's true, say you actually work better under pressure.

"What is the toughest problem you've had to face, and how did you overcome it?"

Try to make this about a problem that faced your company and not just you or your particular work group. The bigger the problem, the better. Give specific examples of the skills and techniques you used to resolve this problem. Emphasize the successful results. Be generous in sharing credit if it was a team effort, but be sure to highlight your specific role.

"Have you ever had to discipline a problem employee? If so, how did you handle it?"

This is a likely question if the position for which you are applying requires supervisory duties. Explain how you used problem-solving skills, listening skills, and coaching skills to help the employee. If those techniques turned the employee around, be sure to say so. If those techniques failed, tell how you followed the company's policies and what the end result was.

"Why do you want this position?"

Here's where your research about the company will help you stand out among the other candidates. Explain how you've always wanted the opportunity to work with a company that... provides a vital public service, leads the industry in innovative products, whatever... find something specific about that company that you can tie in with your answer. Explain how your qualifications and goals complement the company's mission, vision and values (use specific examples). If you are applying for a position in a company for which you already work, explain how you'll be able to apply and expand on the knowledge and experience you've gained from your current position, and will be able to increase your contributions and value to the company through your new responsibilities.

"Why are you the best person for this job?"

As with all other questions, be confident and enthusiastic when you answer this. Don't try to say you are the best qualified person, because you don't know the qualifications of the other applicants. Instead, emphasize several reasons why you should be hired. For example: "I've got extensive experience in [name the appropriate field] and have the specific skills you are looking for. I'm a fast learner who adapts quickly to change and will hit the ground running. I'm dedicated and enthusiastic about helping your company meet its goals, and will provide top-quality results with minimal over site. I'm an outstanding performer who takes pride in my work. You won't have any regrets when you hire me."


Interview questions and answers can only be predicted and prepared for to a certain extent. There are endless variations and no way to know every question in advance. But that doesn't matter. Because you know there will be unexpected questions, you will not cringe or freak out when they pop up, as some applicants will. Instead, you will turn them into opportunities to shine even more brightly.

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