Unknown Unknowns

One of the challenges of careers advice is to help people understand things that they didn’t even know existed – the Unknown Unknowns.

For the avoidance of doubt (phrase stolen from Robert Peston) – what I mean is, people tend to book an appointment with us to discuss a problem – how to write a covering letter, how to improve a CV, how to answer difficult interview questions. These are Known Unknowns. What we then do is ask about the context for the query – what are you applying for? what’s the selection criteria? why do you want to be an X? etc.

Very soon this leads to the enquirer realising that there is a vital piece of information that they didn’t know they needed to know. Now some of the people I talk to love this process – it’s a mini-adventure into the unknown, and they can leave the careers office with loads of new ideas, or avenues of thoughts or doubts or tasks to accomplish.

Others are really frustrated – “all I came in for was a simple answer to a simple question, and now I’m questioning the basis for all my worldviews” (or some-such).

This latter scenario always reminds me of a manager I had about a decade ago – exasperated with me as usual he gave me some feedback – “Graham, the problem with you is that you always complicate things.” I took it as a complement.

Anyway, I guess the moral of the story is that there’s always something we don’t know – so don’t be surprised when you find it.

btw – I think that Donald Rumsfeld’s quote about Known Knowns, Known Unknowns, and Unknown Unknowns is pretty useful, and I’d have liked to link to a video of it, but the comments sections are far too rude!

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