New Publication: The Paradox of Self-Help Expertise: How Unemployed Workers Become Professional Career Coaches

Hi OOW! Today we are sharing Patrick Sheehan‘s new article:

CITATION: Sheehan, Patrick. “The Paradox of Self-Help Expertise: How Unemployed Workers Become Professional Career Coaches.” American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 27, Number 4, January 2022.

ABSTRACT: A wide range of self-styled experts have emerged in recent years to sell professional self-improvement advice in fields as diverse as employment, health, and finances. Despite lacking traditional markers of expertise, these minor experts are gaining credibility and clientele, often at the expense of official experts in their field. Why do people turn to these experts? How do they build credibility? This article analyzes the paradoxical case of career coaches, many of whom were themselves long-term unemployed, to advance a theory of credibility construction among self-improvement experts. Drawing on qualitative data, the author finds that self-improvement experts build their credibility through strategic interactions and relational work with clients rather than through the institutional affiliations and credentials normally associated with expertise. The author identifies three complementary techniques—(1) constructing a shared moral order, (2) building affective trust relationships, and (3) sharing personal testimonials of transformation—and argues that this bundle of tactics represents an alternative and growing pathway for building expert credibility.

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