Original Research

Adults changing careers through university education: Making meaning of quantitative career assessment scores through an integrative structured interview

Mary McMahon, Mark Watson, Louis Zietsman
SA Journal of Industrial Psychology | Vol 44 | a1487 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v44i0.1487 | © 2018 Mary McMahon, Mark Watson, Louis Zietsman | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 06 September 2017 | Published: 31 May 2018

About the author(s)

Mary McMahon, School of Education, The University of Queensland, Australia
Mark Watson, Department of Psychology, Nelson Mandela University, South Africa
Louis Zietsman, Department of Psychology, Nelson Mandela University, South Africa


Orientation: Career change in adulthood is becoming a norm and university education is a pathway to new careers. Career psychologists are well positioned to assist adult career changers. Contemporary approaches to diverse client groups and integrating career assessment with narrative career counselling are needed.


Research purpose: This article reports on an innovative approach to assisting adult career changers through the complementarity of an integrative structured interview (ISI) and the self-directed search (SDS) career assessment questionnaire.


Motivation for the study: The overall aim of this research was to explore the career transition experiences of adult university learners. The secondary aims were to investigate the complementarity of quantitative career assessment (i.e. the SDS) and narrative interviewing (i.e. the ISI) and how adult university learners engaged with the ISI. This article reports on the secondary aims by considering excerpts from case study interviews.


Research design, approach and method: This qualitative, exploratory, descriptive, multiple case study research presents case studies of two adult university learners: an Australian male student and a South African female student. Participants completed the SDS prior to engaging in a four-part semi-structured interview that incorporated the ISI.


Main findings: The findings revealed that the participants told rich stories that related past, present and future life and work experiences to their SDS three-letter codes. Their stories revealed how quantitative career assessment scores and narrative career counselling may be integrated through a structured interview.


Practical and managerial implications: Adult career changers told meaningful stories about their quantitative SDS scores. The findings suggest that narrative career counselling may be useful for adult career changers and that the ISI could provide a model for career psychologists who support them. Implications of the findings suggest that managers and human resource personnel working in organisations may assist adult career changers by offering them access to psychological support that uses quantitative career assessment as a foundation for career story telling.


Contribution or value-add: The research provides an innovative response to challenges in career psychology to develop contemporary responses to diverse client groups and to integrate career assessment with narrative career counselling.


career change; lifelong learning; integrative structured interview; self-directed search


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