The role of manipulation in early careers advice and guidance

The role of manipulation in early careers advice and guidance


Not necessarily the first word that springs to mind when talking about careers advice and guidance, but one which by its definition alone implies a level of control and/or influence. A new revelation which came to me after reading the fantastic guide to building habit-forming products ‘Hooked’ by international best-selling author Nir Eyal, which reveals how successful companies create products people can’t put down. For me your employer brand is a product, albeit in experiential form, and so I’m always looking for new ways to apply user psychology to the world of recruitment.

Whilst discussing the ethics of using consumer insights to build habits and increase return custom, Eyal offers what he calls the Manipulation Matrix, a simple decision-support tool, which seeks to help designers to answer not ‘Can I hook my users?’ but instead ‘Should I attempt to?’ which my Carrie Bradshaw ‘and I got to thinking…’ wandering mind started to contemplate the parallels with the heady world of early careers advice and guidance. A small adaption to the axis labels on Eyal’s original matrix, I believe, can result in a pitch of meaningful advice against the extent to which it is authentic. In other words how manipulative the advice could deemed to be. This is important, especially in the context of an increasingly ambiguous world where the careers our young people will end up pursuing don’t even exist yet, and also further supports my existing thoughts on ‘supporting not telling’. I also believe there are important implications here that we as a community need to consider more often when creating the ‘products’ and information that tell the story behind our employer brands.

Eyal identified 4 types of manipulator: The Peddler, The Dealer, The Facilitator and the Entertainer. Their ‘level’ of manipulation varies as with any standard ‘box model’ and here I share my thoughts on how to identify them when applied to careers advice to illustrate the extents to which manipulation can either control or influence the important career choices our young people are making, often without us even realising.


The Peddler (control)

Essentially the advice given which often lacks empathy and the audience (the young person) insights needed to be considered informed. Sadly I see myself here during my time as a classroom teacher when trying to provide support to my students asking questions about their future. As a Geography teacher I only saw some of them once a week, and didn’t know them very well at all. Not lacking empathy as such, perhaps bandwidth (I taught over 270 students each week) and the basic tools needed to signpost which wasn’t provided at any point in my teacher training… The Peddler has the motivation to help provide meaningful careers advice, but their lack of knowledge and expertise might often lead them to dismiss options preferring to seek comfort from their own frame of reference, inadvertently placing a control on what is learnt by the seeker of advice? 

The Dealer (control)

As bad as it sounds to be honest. Eyal also used the word ‘exploitation’ here. The Dealer will create solutions and give advice even if they don’t believe it to be meaningful or adding value. Advice given might leave a young person to learn to assess unknown consequences of their choices by heavily promoting and advocating for one option with no consideration for the alternative. The parents who are convinced that they know what’s best for their child being some of the worst offenders, often choosing to selectively hear what they want to. Even with the best of intentions, the best careers advice is that which increases self-awareness and empowers, not that which dictates and controls. Their opinions are of course valid, but they are just that, opinions. Not a rulebook for success. One that doesn’t even exist.

The Entertainer (influence)

In stark comparison the right side of our matrix, The Entertainer, as you might expect brings the fun into their approach to advice and guidance. They help young people to see the world differently, and work hard to connect them with rich life experiences that make the process more joyful. However, they can often be fleeting, with interest fading quickly once the hard work of filtering the vast amounts of information collected kicks in. From experience they may benefit from a series of nudges as the young person they support moves through the moments of inspiration and choice – for example, parent’s evenings were always a great opportunity for me to re-engage and challenge ideas and perceptions to inform next steps.

The Facilitator (influence)

The gold standard of manipulation if ever there was one. The Facilitator works in partnership with young people, working to create something together, often leading to them becoming champions of the alternative without question, and all with limited information at their disposal. They are guided by the young person and enable. Where The Entertainer stalls, The Facilitator comes into their own. They will encourage exploration and advocate for the hidden strength that can be found in failure. Think Mahatma Gandhi and ‘Build the change you want to see in the world’.

 A final thought…

Where do you see yourself on the matrix, and what steps do you need to take to ensure your early careers advice is both meaningful and authentic?

Photo by pixpoetry on Unsplash

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