2013. Vol.4, No.3A, 356-362
Published Online March 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Socio Psychological Counseling: How to Manage Identities?
Philippe Castel, Brigitte Minondo-Kaghad, Marie- F rançoise Laca s sagne
Laboratory of “Socio Psyhoogie et Management d u Sport”, University of Bur gu ndy, Dijon, France
Received December 19th, 20 1 2 ; revised January 18th, 2013; accepted February 15th, 2013
The work presented here is a research carried out into initiatives for returning the long-term unemployed
to work. A small case group study based on international expertise in social categorization and commu-
nication was conducted in France. This analysis of “long-term unemployment” was done through the
consequences for relationships with work with a view to suggesting a suitable remedial approach. The
recommended socio psychological counseling is based on reconstructing the professional identity of the
long-term unemployed person and implementing this before the return to a supported role that should
serve as a springboard towards permanent employment. The results lead to extend this method to other
social disabilities.
Keywords: Long-Term Unemployment; Socio Psychological Counseling; Social Remediation;
Professional Identity
Over the last four decades, unemployment has become an
unavoidable reality. This situation is generally a negative ex-
perience for the people who go through it. It is a challenging,
stressful situation (Borgen & Amundson, 1987; Prieto, McNeill,
Walls, & Gomez, 2001; Borgen, Admundson, & McVicar,
2002). Public health studies are beginning to show that there
could be links between unemployment and health. International
studies focused on mortality and morbidity have shown sig-
nificant correlations with unemployment (Brenner, 1987). This
result also applies in France, where, during the five years from
when a period of unemployment starts, the annual mortality rate
of men aged 30 to 64 is around three times higher than for em-
ployed men of the same age. The risk is doubled for women,
and suicide rates show a similar trend (Sermet & Khlat, 2004).
In terms of health, initial research studies into the consequences
of a factory closure have reported on the effects on physical and
mental health of former employees (Beale & Nethercott, 1987;
Burke, 1984). Unemployed workers seem to experience more
colds, viruses (Taylor & Gavin, 1985), and present more hy-
pertension, high blood pressure, ulcers, heart disease (Kokko &
Pulkkinen, 1998). Unemployed workers are often affected by
depression (Archer & Rhodes, 1993; Lang, 1995) even if this
variable seemed to be time dependent (Borgen et al., 2002). In
France, this result has been confirmed by case studies compar-
ing active with unemployed persons and cohorts against each
other. In fact, premature ageing is observed in the unemployed
by 2.7 years for men and 1.2 years for women (Sermet & Khlat,
2004). In spite of the problems with adjusting the health indi-
cators across the different studies, it seems that in France, more
than abroad, unemployment is a greater disadvantage in terms
of mortality or actual or perceived health status (Cases &
Cambois, 2004).
Thus, job seekers, by the very fact of being unemployed, are
not a pool of active and competent workers who are ready to
adapt themselves effectively to the job market. In fact, it is
quite common to find people who have been looking for work
for over a year, constituting a sub-population of unemployed
people dubbed “the long-term unemployed”. In France, this
sub-population is ten points higher than the average for indus-
trial countries (32%) and three times that of the USA. Part of
this population actually becomes entrenched in their unem-
ployment situation, remaining out of work for over two years.
People in long-term unemployment are managed in a par-
ticular way to help them return to work. However, far from
being properly integrated all the time, they don’t necessarily
end in permanent employment. Progressively, they become
social “misfits” in their own eyes and the eyes of their manag-
ers. It is for these people that we are suggesting socio psycho-
logical counseling i.e. a servicewhich adapts socio psychologi-
cal theories to help workers who are in difficulties. We argued
that this type of counseling is particularly relevant for unem-
ployed people because, in a first time, they overall areworkers
without job. Some of them could have psychological problems,
and would be oriented on clinical specialists, nevertheless, a
great part of them, only need to find work. Their statedepends
of social and not clinical problems.
Socio Psychological Counseling
In the socio psychological counseling adapted to long term
unemployed people we considered that the human subject func-
tions differently depending on whether he/she operates as a
social or personal identity. Tajfel (1972, 1978) in fact demon-
strated that the concept of the self as a member of a group pro-
duces behavior tailored to the enhancement of the group to the
detriment of members of other groups (for an example from
industry, see Castel & Lacassagne, 2004; Castel, Lacassagne, &
Viry, 2006).
In initial proposals in the Social Identity Theory (SIT), Tajfel
and Turner (1979, 1986) suggest a certain number of “identity
management strategies” (Ellemers, 1993; Ellemers, Spears, &
Doosje, 2002; Van Knippenberg, 1989) for re-establishing or
preserving a positive identity when it is under threat by occu-
pying a disadvantageous position with regard to the group to
which it belongs (Tajfel, 1978; Tajfel & Turner, 1986). The SIT
(Tajfel, 1981) predicts that the choice of strategy made by the
individual depends on his/her personal beliefs in terms of spe-
cific factors intrinsic to the inter-group situation (Ellemers,
1993; Hogg & Abrams, 1988; Tajfel & Turner, 1979, 1986) i.e.
the permeability of barriers, the stability of relationships and
the legitimac y of such positions.
The view of the line between “unemployment” and “non-
unemployment” greatly depends on the economic climate. If
favorable, lines will remain open, and a subject can adopt a
personal mobility strategy. Threatened in terms of his/her iden-
tity at certain points, he/she can change his/her personal posi-
tion without changing the position of the group to which he/she
belongs. In this way, an unemployed person can look for work
and leave the problem group behind.
However, a bad economic climate makes returning to work
difficult, with a higher average period of unemployment and an
increase in the skills gap between people in and out of work.
Barriers are seen to be less permeable, and the position of the
unemployed person as more fixed. The intrinsic legitimacy of
people in work is also reinforced. In order to maintain a posi-
tive self-image when there is no hope of moving into the group
occupied by employed people, an unemployed person has two
options: Either to adopt a personal identity or change the group
to which he/she belongs and adopt an enhanced social identity.
Personal Identity as an Impediment to Employment
If we refer to the ego-ecology model (Zavalloni, 2007; Za-
valloni & Louis-Guérin, 1984), even if an unemployed person
remains confident in some of his/her qualities (“positive self”),
he/she cannot, in a society that values the standard of internality
(Beauvois & Le Poultier, 1986), fail to refer to the personal
faults and failings that would justify his/her exclusion from the
job market (“negative self” on the increase). Given the reduc-
tion in resources (financial, relationships…), he/she cannot
hope to achieve his ideal, he/she loses his/her aspirations and
he/she is less able to get what he/she wants (“positive non-self”
on the decrease); in addition to this, as an unemployed person,
he/she is seen in a negative light, either as an unlucky person to
be pitied or a freeloader (“negative non-self” on the decrease).
All these aspects combine to make the subject suffer an identity
crisis (Hauchard, Martinez, & Costalat-Founeau, 2002) result-
ing, as when individuals retire, in a loss of psychological well-
being and the emergence of the symptoms of depression (Wang,
2007). This identity-related dynamic leads to psychical prob-
lems, and is not an effective route to leaving unemployment.
The subject in question loses his/her autonomy and becomes
less and less employable.
In spite of social pressure, another exit route consists in
changing one’s self-image. Confronted with his/her own iden-
tity, the subject can find ways of valuing himself/herself. How-
ever, this positive image will not stand up to social comparison.
The price paid for this identity is therefore isolation, turning in
on the self, which is hardly advantageous in terms of finding
Professional Identity as a Springboard to Work
Focusing on social identity seems to be an open approach.
The subject has a choice of routes-social competition or social
One strategy for regaining positive self-esteem proposed by
Tajfel and Turner (1986) is “social competition”. It involves
“collective” initiatives aimed at improving the personal position
by changing the situation of the group to which the subject
belongs. For unemployed people, this strategy would involve
taking the place of people working in companies, the latter then
finding unemployed. This strategy is not an option, in that it
presupposes the existence of complementary groups, where the
balance of power is likely to switch. This means that the unem-
ployed group, as it is understood in western society, cannot
replace the employed group.
Social creativity would therefore seem to be a more realistic
option. In fact, the “social creativity” strategy involves referring
to new dimensions, according to which the group to which the
subject belongs can differentiate itself clearly from the other
group (Lemaine, Kastersztein, & Personnaz, 1978). It comes in
three forms, depending on the nature of the divide (Castel &
Lacassagne, 2005, 2011) that unemployed people see between
themselves and others. According to Blantz, Mummendey,
Mielke and Klink (1998), where they see that they have oppos-
ing values, they are able to re-evaluate the dimensions for
comparison by going back to the valency linked to the position
of the endo-group. Just as the “Black is beautiful” slogan
marked a turning point in the values of Black Americans
(Bourhis & Gagnon, 1994), unemployed people would consider
themselves to be in an advantageous position. Here, they can
decide to see the status of unemployed person in terms of free-
dom, leisure time and pleasure… which are all the opposite of
the restrictions, stress and fixed working hours… related to the
status of employed person. Unemployment can be considered
as a “fresh start”, an opportunity to devote time to one’s self
(Kulik, 2001), an opportunity for change (Madonia, 1983) or, in
a more radical way, as a “clever” way of life. In this case, un-
employed people can consider themselves as opposed to people
in employment who are “exploited by the system”. This more
positive identity can enable the subject to achieve some success
in terms of self-esteem, but distances him/her from the world of
work at the same time. For people in this kind of situation, re-
turning to work requires an adaptation of individual identity
that becomes increasingly difficult.
Another social creativity strategy involves using a category
lower on the social scale than one’s own as a point of compari-
son. This involves seeing reality as based on an undercurrent of
hierarchical division, and focusing the attention on a category
with a lower status, referred to as “subordinated” by Gaertner,
Dovidio, Anastasio, Bachman, & Rust (1993). Of all the social
creativity strategies, comparison with lower-status groups is a
difficult one, in that social groups immediately below job-
seekers are groups that they are in danger of joining, and there-
fore likely to cause anxiety from the start, which is hardly con-
ducive to strong self-esteem.
A final strategy linked to this type of division involves un-
employed people becoming a recognized minority. Neverthe-
less, this strategy is little seen, as initiatives conducted solely
by the unemployed have little chance of being effective. In fact,
the unemployed group is not a homogeneous group that brings
together people who share the same values or adopt shared
behaviour patterns. Its very existence as a minority group has
rarely been demonstrated. The Christmas bonus payment ob-
tained in France as of 1998 is a rare, notable exception, and
possibly the only one. The unemployed do not have any par-
ticular standard for their category to refer to (Masters & Keil,
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 357
1987) in order to regain positive self-esteem. On the other hand,
they can belong to other groups, where members are organized
around joint standards, sharing some characteristics with them.
This would enable them to rely on a community if they do not
belong to the dominant culture. In France, for example, the
unemployment rate between 1990 and 1999 went up more in
vulnerable urban areas than elsewhere. These areas are mainly
populated by immigrants. Relying on the community is there-
fore a major option for enhancing individual identity.
Patton and Donohue (1998) developed, by carrying out a
qualitative survey in Australia, coping strategies leading on a
personal well-being of long-term unemployed people and iden-
tified 4 strategies. Both of them which consist in keeping busy
firstly and re-evaluating career expectations secondly seem to
be strategies suggesting that the individual is identified as being
able to cope with stress. The two other strategies seem to in-
volve social identification directly. In the mentioned article,
"having a positive look" consists in either practicing sporting
activities and being identified as a sportsman or sportswoman
(belonging to other minority groups) or engaging humanitarian
work and being identified as a voluntary helper (focusing the
attention on a subordinated category). As to “religious faith” it
consists in joining a minority group which differs from the
group of unemployed people.
To summarize, according to social categorization theory, an
unemployed person does not have the option of adopting the
negative image reflected back from belonging to a social group.
Thus if he/she doesn’t find work, he/she has several options for
enhancing his/her identity. 1/ He/she can rely on his/her per-
sonal identity: managing to make it a positive one, de-socialises
himself/herself, and he/she loses totally on his/her own sponta-
neous ability to find a way back to work. 2/ He/she can play on
his/her social identity, either by entering into social competition,
which seems hardly realistic, or adapting the reality using a
social creativity strategy to accede to an higher social position.
These strategies enable former employees to find social stabil-
ity, but are a risk to effective job seeking.
We therefore need to try to re-establish a positive identity for
these people, facilitating a return to work. It would seem that
we first need to do away with the identity as unemployed per-
son and bring back the identity as an employed person.
Counseling and the Professional Identity of the
Long-Term Unemployed
In France, one of the first stages involved in providing for the
unemployed is the skills assessment. This involves helping the
job seeker to establish his/her career plan, taking account of all
the job market can possibly offer. This phase destroys the pre-
vious identity as worker and confirms the status as unemployed
person. On the contrary, we think it important to preserve the
self-esteem of the subject referring to his/her previous profess-
sion. Even if an unfavourable job market means it is not possi-
ble to return to work in the same sector and the same role, we
would suggest that the subject will be capable of finding alter-
native solutions if he/she maintains a positive stance. In addi-
tion to this, we believe it would be dangerous to set the subject
within a reality that holds little promise for the future, when it
should actually be a case of helping him/her to build a new
universe—one where integration will be possible. Thus, in the
very face of the impossibility of finding the same job, the un-
employed person must adopt a stance that will enable him/her
to take an innovative approach. By preserving the previous
identity as employed person, the now unemployed person be-
comes a respectable person who has lost his/her job for reasons
that were not necessarily his/her fault, and who will do every-
thing in his/her power to find the same job again, or find certain
aspects of it in a different role. In this way, the unemployed
person is no longer the representative of the “unemployed”
category, as opposed to the “worker” category, but a member of
the world of work (supra-ordinated) who occupies that position
at one moment or another. This strategy, known as refocusing
on the supra-ordinated group, was devised by Gaertner et al.
(1993), and can be found later in the field of supporters when
teams lose matches (Bernache-Assolant, Lacassagne, & Brad-
dock II, 2007; Bouchet, Castel, & Lacassagne, 2008).
This mobilization of the professional identity was tested
during a University research initiative carried out as part of the
PLIE (social plan for integration and employment) at XXX.
The XXX is an associative initiative financed by one or more
communities and the European Social Fund. Its aim is to help
people experiencing serious social and professional difficulties
to enter the world of work, a mission that it accomplishes by
coordinating and mobilizing various players at local level. In
our case, it was an opportunity of involving ourselves with a
small group of long-term unemployed people with the widest
range of problems in terms of returning to work, so that we
might gain a better understanding of any points of resistance
and promote the most suitable resources for facing up to them.
The participants in this study consisted of seven persons,
they were volunteers and their duration under of unemployment
range from two at three years.
The initiative took the form of two sessions two months apart
lasting three days. The first session, consisting of three phases,
was focused on rebuilding professional identity and the second,
with two phases, on consolidation and implementation.
The initiative was carried out before a test in a real work
situation. There were two course leaders—one to hand out in-
formation explaining the theory behind the initiative and the
other to manage the group dynamic. In fact, given that the ini-
tiative was University-run, it seemed important for knowledge
to be considered as a reference tool, even more so because the
target audience was considered to be less likely to understand
an intellectual vocabulary right from the start. It also seemed
important to manage the group dynamic so that it would be
positive, and not put anyone at risk.
Phase 1: Anchoring in the professional identity that is to
be rebuilt. Participants were encouraged to anchor themselves
in a professional identity through two exercises: “Who am I?”
and “What is my job?”
“Who am I?” (Kuhn & McPartland, 1954) is a test that asks
the subjects to give a written definition of themselves, initially
according to 20, but more often 12 items, which generally re-
veals social identity in the first items, then progressively more
personal identities. It is therefore particularly suitable for mak-
ing course members aware of the existence of several identities
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
and repositioning the group to the required level of interaction
during the period of collaboration.
The fact that “Who am I?” is a psychological test cause some
resistance, nevertheless an initial round-table discussion help
course members to overcome this initial reaction. In fact, made
aware of the aim of the question, an individual knows that
he/she will only reveal what he/she wants to. He/she will re-
main in control. Over and above the round-table, the results
from the “Who am I?” test aim members to focus on their jobs
and to think about them.
“What is my job?” is an exercise that aims to encourage each
course member to “baptise” his professional group, at the same
time ascribing an identity to himself/herself and others. After a
phase exploring the range of activities relating to each person’s
job, all the information is condensed down into a single job title.
It is adopted when the course member is in 100% agreement
with the details. This public adoption of a job title is considered
as the sign of passing a milestone, enabling the course member
to move on from the status of job seeker to the status of profes-
sional person undergoing change.
To summarize, the subject, called forward as a job seeker, is
encouraged to explore all his/her identities through the “Who
am I?” test, then he focus on one of them via the “What is my
job ?” test, he adopts the new professional identity and finally
name it. This conversion of identity makes it possible to begin
the phase of exploring the professional identity from a positive
Phase 2: Awareness of professional stereotypes. In order
for the professional identity of the course member to be an-
chored, it has to be put into concrete terms.
Jobs are generally associated with stereotypes. Sales assis-
tants and beauticians are young and pretty. These stereotypes
generate expectations from recruiters, but also in Human Re-
sources (HR) managers, and even in the course members them-
selves. To remove the associations related to different jobs, the
group was considered as a point of reference. This involves
creating a portrait of the job type starting from the viewpoint of
course members not involved in this area of employment. An
exercise based on verbal association helps to reveal related
images. The most commonly shared features are agreed as
points of reference, this collective expression making it possi-
ble to measure collective adhesion. This phase, which is gener-
ally presented as a game, involves testing the mood of the
group, in that it makes people aware of shared points of ex-
Secondly, it is important for any course member who has not
joined in with developing the stereotype to become aware of the
existence of this social image and the gaps separating him/her
from it. How is he/she similar to the prototypical representa-
tives of the jobs discussed? What more can he/she offer? Where
does he/she lack? To achieve this, the whole group begins an
evaluation of the differences between what the course member
reveals of him/her and the stereotype revealed. On the one hand,
this involves what he/she lacks i.e. what he/she does not have
that the stereotype does, and on the other hand, what he/she
does have, in a more or less obvious way, which the stereotype
does not. And, even if there are stereotypes associated with the
ability of this or that type of person to work (obese people don’t
work as hard as non-obese people, Arabs are lazy…), it is not a
question of going from the characteristics of the person, but
rather of the job. During this phase, even if it involves an
overtly caricature-based “understanding”, course leaders still
need to guide proceedings, especially when reformulating areas
of difference. By having overall control over what is said, they
can create a standard for intervention that will ensure that any
statements made are not hurtful to the target subject.
This stage enables course members to identify areas that they
will need to work on. It is not a question of conforming to a
stereotype, but of being aware of the gaps between reality and
expectation, knowing how to interpret and turn around to
transform them to become a benefit.
Phase 3: Bringing employment history into line with pro-
fessional identity. The aim of this phase is always to reinforce
professional identity but by exploring how it has developed
over time. This involves reviewing past experience in terms of
the previous job held. Course members often tend to list train-
ing and professional history. In this public explanation phase,
the group ask each other questions and identify problem issues
and, in doing this, they can help the course members to extri-
cate the background logic. Obvious inconsistencies are often
revealed when the course member gives his/her explanation;
however, this work often reveals a number of problem issues in
terms of the search for employment. Based on the fact that any
recruitment procedure is competitive, and knowing that any
atypical aspects—whether positive or negative—are reasons for
rejecting a job application right from the start, these elements
have to be presented as an asset in terms of the world of work.
These points are worked on further to emphasize the positive
features they might represent, which enables the course mem-
ber to take these contentious aspects on board, absorb them into
his/her overall profile and finally integrate them into his/her
professional identity. This in-depth review carried out in a group
setting and taking input from other course members, can lead to
deconstructing certain phases of experience and building them
into new ones.
At the end, they create a Curriculum Vitae (CV) that is a
better reflection of the consistency of their employment history.
It is not a case of scrupulously following a time line, but of
showing sequences of experience to demonstrate the overall
coherence of the whole.
Work is also done on format, style, presentation,
promote the assumption of the professional identity, where the
concrete CV becomes something that the subject has created
personally, and in which he/she recognises himself/herself.
To summarize, the CVs that the course members take away
with them are the result of a process of appropriation and the
concrete expression of their true professional identity—in
which they fully recognise themselves.
Phase 4: How to present yourself when interacting. Course
members need to be made aware of the rules governing verbal
interaction. The course leaders present the Ghiglione co-con-
struction model (1986). And they implement it through the
covering letter, which encourages review without any improvi-
sation, then through simulated interviews, where there is a
greater opportunity for improvisation.
The letter concerning motivations. Once the professional
identity has been developed, we need to empower course
members to use it to their advantage in real situations. The cov-
ering letter, which allows time for consideration before actually
entering into communication, offers the first opportunity for
learning. In fact, if we see the elements of professional identity
as potential content, the rules of communication structure the
way to introduce one self. In analysing the letter, emphasis is
put on respecting the status of the addressee (position chosen in
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 359
the heading, form of address at the start of the letter, forms of
politeness, type of sign-off) and to the aspects of the job history
that might impress the addressee. This work aims to make peo-
ple aware that the covering letter is not just a routine matter, but
constitutes a real communication tool, giving the applicant a
chance to highlight what he/she c an bring to the table.
This work on the covering letter enabled course members to
move from the role of poor ignorant job seeker to the role of a
professional person with skills to satisfy, which might encour-
age the recruiter to choose him/her. In other words, this first
stage involving work on the covering letter aims at making the
course member think of himself/herself as a potential resource
when in professional interaction with others.
The job interview. For the course member, the job interview
is the prime opportunity to put forward his/her professional
identity. Seated opposite the interviewer, who is in the domi-
nant position (Brown & Fraser, 1979), he/she has to “sell”
his/her skills. Nevertheless, they have to dee p the understan ding
of the rules governing verbal interaction in the special situation
that is recruitment. Course members gain an awareness of the
limits and importance of their role in the interview: follow a
procedure dictated by the other person, but remain the master of
their own skills.
Who I am
Spontaneous expression
One individual gave his last name and first name, age,
education, previous employment and current status;
Another individual, an interview specialist, started by
listing his/her personal qualities, family details, life his-
tory and current status as “job seeker”;
Another one spoke about his/her culture, reasons for be-
ing in France and qualifications;
Identity classification
Personal identity (sociable, fear of failure…);
Professional identity (beautician, stores person, engi-
Gender and generational identity(Man/Woman, Young/
Cultural group (Moroccan, Belgian, Algerian…).
“What is my job?”
Title for professional identity
Building trade en gin ee r;
Canteen employee;
Computer developer;
Social economy and family advisor;
Multi-service e mployee;
Awareness of Professional Stereotypes
Summary of work with one member:
Mrs X, aged 45, describes herself as a beautician. The
stereotype for this job refers to a young, pretty woman, to such
an extent that HR experts felt it appropriate to ask Mrs X to
leave that job behind and retrain to do a job more suited to her
age—“phone sales person”. Yes, Mrs X is no longer 20 years
old, but if she is not “pretty” as in the first flush of youth, she is
elegant nevertheless, and has no intention of hiding her face in
order to do a job. In addition to this, she likes to work in “body
care”, and refuses to give this up. Aware of the stereotype,
which is presented as an absolute truth, Mrs X tried to break
through the barrier to the job interview, sending photos of her-
self ten years younger and leaving out her date of birth on ap-
plications. She didn’t get a job.
The benefit of maturity is experience. Mrs X has a solid base
of experience that cannot be obscured by her age, but she is not
drawing attention to this asset. In fact, Mrs X has worked in a
number of countries (Algeria, Canada) and has special skills.
She could therefore help a beauty salon to extend its range of
services. The second benefit ascribed to maturity is a serious
approach. This quality could contribute to the professional im-
age of a salon, and also give the salon access to a population of
young people whose parents need to be brought on board first.
Finally, it can also give the salon access to an older population,
appreciating that there is no need to compare themselves
against impossible standards.
Finally, outside jobs offered by salons, Mrs X could help an
ageing population (as of 1 January 2007, 10.3 million people
were aged 65 or over i.e. 16.2% of the population) to stay
“beautiful” in their own eyes.
How to Employment History into Line with
Professional Identity
Summary of work with one member
Mrs Y gives an actual photocopy of her CV. This is the CV
she usually adapts when responding to job vacancies. After an
initial phase with comments from all sides (“You had long hair”,
“Ah! You’ve got a land line, mobile and email—you’re well
sorted”), the course leaders refocused the discussion on the
suitability of the CV and the professional identity of the person
as everyone has understood it. In this way, a photo that the
candidate chose for its aesthetic value shows a hairstyle that is
hardly appropriate, which a course member points out (“You
look like you’re going to a night club!”). The heading only
includes the candidate’s contact details, giving no information
about civil status. The only item relating to civil status is given
implicitly, and is relegated to the final section under “additional
information” as “Based in France since 2007—residence permit
(valid 10 years)”. Putting this information at the end can only
be a problem for the recruiter. He/she cannot but be suspicious
about her status and whether her position in France is stable. It
shatters the image of an engineer and evokes one of the world
of immigrants, represented in social terms as low-status work-
ers, and even the world of people with no official papers. The
positioning of this information also casts a shadow over the rest
of her CV. Mrs X was born in Algeria, did all her studies there
and acquired serious levels of professional experience, occupy-
ing a number of posts in line with her career trajectory. By
hiding her ethnic origins, she makes her professional experi-
ence seem a little vague, the cities she mentions are not recog-
nised and can seem made up, hence the questions put by the
group: “Where’s that?”, “So you were an in-house engineer in
Algeria? Do you really get women engineers over there?”
These innocent questions are a sign of the suspicions that this
CV will certainly arouse in recruiters, who probably won’t
know anything about the businesses referred to. In the same
way, the school and University course details refer to titles that
people are not familiar with (“Baccalaureate +2, preparatory”).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Finally, the group observed that the section entitled “My career
goals”, which is meant to be a strong statement, merely referred
to inconsequential matters totally unrelated to the aspirations
previously described. With the content problems solved, the
course leaders refocus the group onto finding format errors
(presence or systematic absence of dashes, keeping to the same
format, use of the substantive or infinitive…).
How to Present Yourself When Interacting
First Stage
In most cases, the letters would be just like a conventional
one. The course members mainly focused on formal aspects,
starting from an assumption that they were not suitably skilled.
This meant that they wrote a minimal amount, often containing
“errors” in the spelling, and syntax too, sometimes making the
letter meaningless. The people who were most comfortable
with this type of exercise produced highly precise and accurate
letters, but which said nothing.
Second Stage
The course members try to “make them take on board”. They
tried to adapt their understanding of their employment history
to the inferences that the recruiter might make. This work,
conducted on a more individual basis, was done outside the
session, with the course member ultimately putting his “fin-
ished” letter up for discussion by the group. In this discussion,
the rest of the group make comments from the point of view of
the recruiter, making it possible to make improvements in terms
of what that individual had revealed about himself/herself since
the start of the initiative.
The Job Interview
During the first few sessions, the interviews had a tendency
to move away from the pact of communication. For example,
one individual assumed the role of guiding the interview by
asking questions right away (“What time does work start?”);
another individual gave a cutting response, almost accusing the
recruiter (“You haven’t read my file properly, it’s written in my
CV!”); another one questioned the legitimacy of the investiga-
tions made by the interviewer (“you don’t need to ask me about
my private life”). In group discussions, nobody noticed these
infractions of the rules of conversation right away, which leads
to the conclusion that these are not the result of “individual
pathologies” but are in fact the collective norm.
Over the next few sessions, the course members followed
these imperatives, but totally jettisoned the relevant information
about their past p r o f e s sional experience.
The next exercises went on to reinstate the importance of
their professional identity, whilst still following the roles dic-
tated by the interview situation.
General Conclusion
Unemployment changes financial resources and removes the
individual from his/her group of reference. In other words, it
renders him/her poor and de-socializes him/her. In fact, regard-
less of the role previously occupied, losing job means losing a
major element of what supports identity, and makes the person
“unemployed”. As soon as he/she becomes unemployed, an
individual becomes vulnerable, and has to find a positive iden-
tity. When he/she does this, the ways of getting out of the situa-
tion, adopted spontaneously, only serve to move him/her fur-
ther away from the world of work. Some kind of help therefore
seems necessary, but needs to avoid the same stumbling block.
In most cases, the unemployed person will have worked before,
and we suggest that his/her previous professional identity needs
to be reanimated before he/she considers how to adapt him-
self/herself better to the job market. In fact, it appears that only
an individual who is “sure of himself/herself” i.e. who have a
positive social identity, will be capable of developing into a
new type of role. We have therefore proposed an initiative
based on psycho-social counseling, which we have tested on a
population known for its problems, such as the long-term un-
employed, whichever country they might come from (Dubé &
Dionne, 2005). The first phase involved labeling the individual
by their job. It was a kind of professional “baptism”, giving
them a social identity traceable by and acceptable to other peo-
ple. Through comparison with a stereotype, the second phase
involved giving substance to the current professional identity.
Exploring the past, the third phase (studies, professional ex-
perience) gave a history to the professional identity—in the
concrete form of a CV. The final phase (immersion in the real
world) involved exposing the identity and making it public
(baptism of fire) in the covering letter, followed by the inter-
view. Initiatives conducted in a class setting actually produced
the positive results expected. Course members rediscovered an
enhanced professional identity, which they maintained through-
out the sessions, and which some of them put to the test. This
took the form of taking personal initiatives, such as applying
for jobs resulting from remedial work or training designed to
take them back to their actual level of qualification, and not
designed for people with problems. Nevertheless, to achieve
maximum effectiveness from the initiative, it would have been
necessary to consolidate counselling with a follow-up period
when they were at working again, which this institution-led
initiative did not allow. In fact, in this initiative, getting some-
one into a role equivalent to the one the course member had
before was only meant to act as a springboard to permanent
employment. Finally, it should be emphasized that the proposed
counseling still remains within the scope of social remediation
and not personal remediation.
This method might be limited in terms of cases involving
psycho-pathology. In fact, it is only designed for long-term
unemployed people with social problems i.e. who have experi-
enced a hiccup in their job history that is no fault of their own,
or job seekers belonging to populations suffering from dis-
crimination (racism, ageism, sexism). In such cases of social
remediation, even if the job histories of some “cases”, being
social in construction, necessarily have psychological repercus-
sions, it would seem preferable to establish a contractual
framework from social identity.
We thank the European Social Fund who has financially
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