By Deirdre A. Pickerell and Roberta A. Neault

Key insights for career professionals who want to get involved in corporate career development

Over the last five years, or thereabouts, career development within organizations has quickly emerged as a crucial component of effective people practices. This may be thanks to recent research indicating career development as a key driver of employee engagement – a metric employers are paying close attention to – or that 83% of employers believe career management plays a critical role in the achievement of business objectives. From one perspective, these metrics indicate emerging opportunities for career development practitioners (CDPs) to offer their services within organizations. Unfortunately, however, this may also be a lost opportunity as many CDPs have not been able to make the leap into corporate work. How can they bridge the silos between their traditional roles serving the unemployed to supporting employees within their workplaces?

CDPs are generally trained within education or counselling programs; they are familiar with relevant theories and models as well as assessment tools and processes that are integral to their work. Most are highly skilled in supporting clients as they work through a career planning process, develop work search documents, prepare for interviews and manage their careers across a lifespan. Such competencies are foundational, regardless of client type or setting.

On the other hand, human resource professionals and organizational development consultants are trained within business programs. Although most do not specialize in career development-related skills and knowledge, they do understand how businesses and other large organizations function; their exposure to the business “silo” can give them an advantage over many CDPs whose primary work experience may have been in non-corporate environments.

CDPs who want to be well-positioned to meet the growing need for, and interest in, career development in organizations will need several key competencies. The following tips are designed to help you prepare:

  1. Recognize the differences. Although CDPs already have many of the competencies required to work within organizations, the context is different; therefore, a shift in thinking is required. Career development within organizations helps individuals to align their careers to the goals of the organization. It involves exploring not only how to “move up” or “shift laterally,” but how to “grow in place.”
  2. Learn to effectively serve two clients. Except in cases of layoffs or restructuring, most career development programs within organizations are not designed to help individuals explore external opportunities; in fact, some organizational leaders fear that offering career services will equip their “best and brightest” to leave. Recognize that career development in organizations involves serving two or more clients: individual employees and the organization that employs them… and you!
  3. Know that a path is not a promise. Employers may use career development initiatives to inform and support succession planning. Identifying potential career paths can help workers benchmark their knowledge and skills and identify relevant training and development activities to prepare for various potential roles. However, business priorities can change quickly; pathing models (i.e. clear links between jobs within the organization, and what employees need to do to move) are not guarantees.
  4. Customize your approach. Working effectively within organizations requires CDPs to learn the general language of business (e.g., recruitment, retention, return on investment) along with the specific terms and expressions used within the organization, occupational groups and sector. Using relevant case examples, linking to the organization’s mission and values, learning about significant professional associations, and understanding the requirements of specific regulatory bodies are all important strategies for workplace-based CDPs.
  5. Stay current. To add value to the organizations they serve, workplace-based CDPs must stay on the leading edge of research and practice – within career development, human resources, and the sector(s) in which they work. Alongside their generalist skills, the most helpful CDPs have their finger on the pulse of changes impacting the current and future careers of the individuals they support.
  6. Clarify confidentiality. Whether engaging in coaching conversations, facilitating groups, or administering assessment instruments, it’s important to negotiate in advance what information will be shared, how it will be reported, where it will be stored and who will have access to it… now and later.
  7. Understand that metrics matter. Employers want to understand how career development will improve the various metrics they are interested in (e.g., recruitment, retention, attrition, engagement, productivity and satisfaction). Further they will want to know how success will be measured and how return on investment will be tracked.
  8. Use resources efficiently. In a corporate setting, your fees may represent only a fraction of the total cost of releasing highly paid managers/leaders for a workshop, course or individual coaching sessions. Be respectful of time by keeping your written communications brief and focused, your presentations on topic and your activities relevant to workplace realities.
  9. Recognize international implications. In today’s globally connected world, international mobility may be a reality, especially within larger organizations. CDPs need to understand how to support individuals and families who cross national borders – as expatriates, immigrants, temporary foreign workers, consultants, workers on virtual teams or repatriates.
  10. Become a competent consultant. The expertise CDPs bring to the table fills a void and is highly valued by many organizations. Be prepared to consult and offer advice on such career-related business issues as employee screening and selection, succession planning, leadership development, internships and co-op placements, layoffs and downsizing, wellness initiatives, employee engagement, return-to-work plans, healthy workplace strategies, bullying, stress in the workplace, career and performance coaching programs, and even retirement.

Career development within most organizations has been a lost opportunity for many career development practitioners. However, not all is lost. As the importance of career development becomes recognized by greater numbers of employers, CDPs, with just a few minor adjustments, can be well positioned to play a significant role.


Dr Deirdre Pickerell, CHRP, GCDFi, is Vice-President of Life Strategies Ltd. and recipient of the 2014 Stu Conger Award for Leadership in Career Development and Career Counselling and the 2006 Human Resources Association Award of Excellence. Her work focuses on career development within organizations, helping employers understand the ROI gained in supporting employees’ career development goals. She has designed and supported many organizational career development initiatives, including the launch of a comprehensive onsite career centre for a nuclear power plant – the first program of its kind in the United States.

Dr Roberta Neault, CCC, CCDP, GCDFi, is President of Life Strategies Ltd. and Associate Dean of the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences at Yorkville University. An award-winning leader in career development in Canada as well as internationally, Neault has provided career development services within large multinational organizations, small to mid-size corporations, educational institutions, governments, and not-for-profits – across a variety of sectors and employee groups, in unionized and non-unionized environments.