Ryan Kahn: Another Pretty Face, Or A Career Hero?

Dr. Phil. Dr. Drew. Dr. Oz. Any of myriad other “celebrity experts” we seem to be so collectively entranced by. I’ve long had a distrust of these kinds of people, but never really felt like I had too much to say about them, aside from a brief, somewhat unintelligent rant. This week, though, I added a new name to that list, and felt it significant enough to break my silence on the issue.


HIRED!Ryan Kahn, self-proclaimed future “most nationally recognized career coach,” seems to be making a name for himself. He’s got a show on MTV, a book, and perhaps more importantly, a young, cool, attractive image.

I’ll be honest here and say that I’m fairly conflicted about Ryan’s sudden rise to popularity.

As with anything, there are positive and negative ways of looking at it. Allow me to start with a few of the reasons I am hesitant to accept Mr. Kahn as the major representation youth are receiving of the career development field.

I suppose my biggest concern has to do with Ryan’s credibility. Although I really don’t know much about the guy aside from some basic internet research, having looked at his website, and having watched some videos of him speaking at seminars, it seems like his credentials aren’t exactly what a practitioner in the career development field would be expected to have. According to Wikipedia, he has a bachelor’s degree from California Polytechnic State University, and a “focus degree” in music business. It seems from there that he did a few internships with some big name firms, got a few speaking gigs at UCLA, and probably caught the attention of someone who thought he’d be a great TV personality.

Of course, there’s not really any regulation over the title “career coach,” so Ryan is perfectly justified in using that descriptor, and for all I know he might be a really great one. Nonetheless, there are plenty of actual career development experts out there with doctorate degrees, bringing decades of experience, ground-breaking publications, and high quality peer-reviewed research to the table, that I would sooner put my trust in as a representation of the field. Norm Amundson may not be as sexy as Ryan Kahn, but he’s definitely got the upper hand when it comes to credentials.

It’s not Ryan’s fault that he’s being portrayed as more of an image than an expert. The fact of the matter is that in order to carve out any degree of fame these days, you have to appeal to a certain audience. In Ryan’s case, that audience is youth – youth that are being told at every corner that there are no jobs, that the economy will never recover, that they have to get a whole bunch of experience now in order to be competitive in a sardine can job market. Youth that are probably desperate for someone to tell them what to do, how to succeed. Youth that watch a lot of TV.

Here’s the thing: you don’t have to be an expert in order to do good things. I’m reasonably sure that Ryan’s actually helped some students and recent graduates in their careers, most likely in the procurement of internships in his own background industry, the entertainment business. Additionally, despite the fact that Ryan’s perhaps not the ideal version of what I would call a career development expert, it’s nice to see the field being represented in some way on such a large stage, to such an important audience.

Make no mistake, we are on the verge of a major demographic shift in North America that could potentially create a labour market disaster if we don’t get youth engaged. Baby boomers are currently the largest segment of the population, and as they begin to exit the job market en masse (retirements, death, etc.), we’ll need skilled replacements from a smaller and more disillusioned Gen Y. The difficulty lies in the transition from now to then. It’s no secret that the job market for recent graduates is not the best it’s ever been. It’s also no secret that once people have been out of the job market for long enough, they tend to disengage from it.

So, we need to keep our youth from becoming unemployed or underemployed for long stretches of time if we’re to avoid a major economic catastrophe in the next couple of decades. We need to keep them engaged.

If Ryan Kahn is a step in that direction, I’m okay with it.

*Cross-posted at the Career Services Informer.