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Scheming Career Schemas

Scheming schemas, what on earth is that old man on about? Well if you are sitting comfortably then I will explain. Now the concept of schemas has been around for a while in psychology. It best describes a packet of information, patterns of thought and behaviour lodged away somewhere in our non-conscious brain. It’s a handy theory as it helps us all know how to behave & think in certain situations. Such as not turning up to an interview naked or in a worse still in a clown suit. Mind you if you are going for an interview as a nude model or a clown then it is a good thing.

Scheming Schemas

Now the downside with schemas is that they may well create the “cognitive miser” in us all. We become lazy information processors relying on outdated cultural stereotypes and sometimes unfounded information about people, situations, the jobs they do & careers.

So the cognitive miser suggestion is that we rely on the information in the schema to give us the view of the world and situations without too much effort or thinking. This is how the cognitive miser theory works. We are non-consciously going through our work & career address book, or a metaphorical database until we find the closest match and we will respond accordingly. Our brains are simply not wired up to take in each person, job, career choice or situation we encounter individually. So we use the process that takes the least mental effort.

Psychobabble or Not?

Anyhow what on earth has this theory got to do with career choice, isn’t this psychobabble I hear you cry. These theories start to become interesting when getting that “itch” in a job or a career no longer suits you or your lifestyle. That odd feeling of dissatisfaction with a role, job or career that it’s no longer……..well you. We all have a “professional identity” that is our image of ourselves at work and what we do. So your understanding (see here comes the schema thing) of our professional identity and how you connect with what you do. Indeed how you discuss it will suggest whether you are comfortable with your career/job or not. A ready reckoner is when asked about “what you do” you can reply “I am a…..” = comfortable with the current role. However, if you reply “I work as………” = uncomfortable and distancing self from a role.

Creating the Possible

So we are getting the feeling we need to change jobs or career, according to these theories what do you do?

  • Think about and describe what your professional identity is and what it represents to you – does this identity represent you now if not when did it change?
  • Imagine someone asking you what do you do – how do you reply?
  • What has changed in your lifestyle or aspirations that has altered your professional identity and work schema?
  • Is the identity what you want now, if not what would you like to become regardless of barriers at the moment.
  • What is the gap between the possible and actual representation of a work schema and professional identities?
  • Create the possible professional identity & changed work schema to help to create a sense of choice of career and to help your changes more successful.
  • Take a flight of fancy and dream or visualise a day in the new professional identity how does it make you feel? How would this change your working life does this new proposed professional identity fit better with how you are now?


Of course, schema and professional identities are theories and there isn’t anything more compelling than a good theory – just reality gets in the way. Though by thinking more about your work schema, what it means to you and how it applies to your job, you then open yourself out to new information and looking at opportunities differently.

It may help you to begin thinking about roles and how they fit with your lifestyle as it is now, thus becoming happier in what you do during your career. Our working schemas & professional identities evolve over time, and sometimes we need to get past the cognitive miser in us all to think a little harder about who we are at work and how our careers develop.


Brower, A. M., & Nurius, P. S. (1993). Social Cognition and Individual Change: Current Theory and Counseling Guidelines. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Fiske, Susan T., and Shelley E. Taylor 2013. Social cognition: From brains to culture. Sage.

Schein, E. H. 1978 Career dynamics. Reading, Ma.: Addison-Wesley,