Selling career professionals
By Jaime Watt
What can we do to help Canadians understand the value of career services?
The first time I came in contact with a career professional was about 40 years ago. I was a confused kid, suffering from an embarrassment of too many options and lacking one clear passion. So I met with a specialist who gave me lots of tests to do, and the verdict was pronounced: I was to be a funeral director.
Over the years, and as my career has developed, I have had a lot of laughs at that advice, but if I am honest, he actually got the core attribute right; just the recommendation wrong. Empathy, central to any successful funeral director, has been crucial to whatever modest career success I have enjoyed.
Without one abiding passion, I spent my working years in a variety of different jobs which I very much enjoyed, but the enthusiasm never lasted. I eventually started my own business. As I look back, I realized that I asked a wide range of specialists and friends for advice, but I never thought to talk to a career professional again.
At this point, you might be asking yourself why I’m telling you this. Perhaps my story matters because my career journey, like that of most Canadians, is far from linear. Of course, it’s unique to me, grounded in opportunity and happenstance, and this is exactly what makes the job of career professionals so difficult. No one-size-fits-all model with what you do; clients are demanding individual, tailored advice.
And now, for you, change is everything: Now that the world is changing so quickly, how can the career development sector cope when the past is no longer prologue to the future and when experience can be limiting instead of affirming? What happens when our experience isn’t all that relevant anymore?
This is the challenge for career development, a challenge that’s compounded by the fact that there’s so much variety, fragmentation within the field and, consequently, with the message that’s conveyed to Canadians, and a lack of understanding of how valuable career development services can be.
Our team at Navigator conducted a poll of 1,500 Canadians to get a better sense of their view of career development services. We didn’t discover anything that would set you back on your heels.The research did confirm the importance of your role and the tremendous opportunities that exist in your sector. However…
People don’t know what you do or how to access your services.
In our research, respondents, themselves, made a clear distinction between a career and a job. A job is a role you’re in to make ends meet, but a career is the role you aspired to and then achieved. And here is where you come in: Those with a career – work they aspired to and planned for – are significantly more likely to have accessed career counselling services compared to those with a job, and while only small proportions access these services, those that do are inclined to find them more effective. However, there are barriers to accessing career services:
- Some respondents said they didn’t think they needed to access these services because they knew what they wanted to do;
- They never considered career services because they didn’t know the option was there;
- They had no clear idea of the types of services that were available;
- They didn’t know how to select services appropriate for them;
- They didn’t know where to look; and
- They were concerned about costs.
These results are probably not surprising to you. Taken in sum, the research solidifies and codifies the fact that career professionals have a profile problem. However, as mentioned before, those that do use your services are much more likely to end up in careers they love. And for those that don’t use your services, about 50% said that, in retrospect, they would have benefited from career counselling. So the key is to demonstrate the value of career development services to the Canadian public.
Career professionals have done a great job at creating meaningful services, but if no one knows about it, what’s the point? For instance, when post-secondary career centres fail to articulate their value to students, the institution may perceive the centre as a cost and prioritize spending for areas perceived as revenue generators. After all, price only matters when there is no other concept of value.
So what can you do to raise the profile of the profession? What can you do to adjust your communications so that you speak clearly to your stakeholders and target audiences? And, importantly, how can you demonstrate value?
Champion your successes and tell your stories.
Nothing is more powerful and poignant than hearing directly from the ones you helped. You help people find careers they love; you help young, overwhelmed students navigate their academic choices towards a complex job market; you help mid-career workers figure out how to transition in a changing world; you help people leave a dead-end job in which they feel trapped for the greener pastures of a career they will love. I’m sure all of you can think of countless examples of individual success stories that you’ll never forget.
You need to tell these stories. You need to champion these stories.
Use social media. Continue to build relationships with high school counsellors, university counsellors and university professors – typically the first line of defence for young people trying to make it in the job market. Use the resources of CERIC, so that your successes are housed under one succinct umbrella. When you do this, you will garner results tenfold.
Take advantage of digital communications when influencing your target audiences.
Having access to Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels does not necessarily mean they are used efficiently and effectively.
- Humanize your content with your stories of success.
- Talk about yourself and those you champion often and consistently.
- Use your networks to build off of the successes of your colleagues’ work.
There’s no reason why you should not follow or tweet at every single person you know in the field.
Social media is fundamentally changing the public’s expectations of information, and it enables you to speak and engage directly with your target audiences. Think, for example, of the government. No doubt an important audience for many of you reading this. You need to know what resonates with them and thread these messages throughout your narrative. For instance, many of you serve in a role that helps lift people out of poverty, get them off EI, out of hospitals and ER rooms, and back into society so that they can live fulfilling lives. This is a compelling case you can present when you’re speaking with government officials you want to influence. It’s not only fiscally smart, but it’s the right thing to do. It demonstrates that your work is important to the economy and worthy of support.
Leverage your diverse membership base and the strength of your coalition.
The career development field in Canada is amazing. You come from the youth employment sector, post-secondary career centres, immigrant and Aboriginal services, government, private sector. You are guidance counsellors, vocational rehabilitation specialists, HR professionals, career coaches, and the list goes on and on. You are diverse and multidisciplinary, and you’re not speaking in a unified manner. The diversity of the career development sector is a strength, but one that can only be harnessed with a unified narrative.
Your problem is not dissimilar to that faced by the accountants just a short while ago. For years, there were 40 organizations and designations in Canada. No one, I suspect not even some of the accountants themselves, could tell one from the other. There was no commonality of message, vocabulary or purpose, and it was, ultimately, hurting their credibility. Today, there is one designation. Chartered Professional Accountant. There is one message: They are the professional accountants of Canada. I challenge you to do the same.
As a first step, head to the ContactPoint online community; there you will find a new Glossary of Career Development, trying to harmonize the many terms used in your industry. Read, comment and critique this document; it’s one simple step you can easily take at this very moment.
None of these measures is going to solve all your problems, but it will begin the process of unifying your narrative, raising your profile and demonstrating to the average Canadian the value of what you do. I’m asking you to go out and sell yourself. I was never comfortable with doing that myself, but I learned I’d starve if I didn’t figure it out.
Career professionals, come together. You need to develop a unified narrative that clearly tells people what you do and demonstrates your value. When you get there, the benefits to you, your industry and our society will truly be extraordinary.
Career professionals do important work on behalf of Canadians every day, in every part of our magnificent country. From sea to sea to shining sea. And for that so many of us Canadians are in your debt.
Jaime Watt is the Executive Chairman of Navigator Ltd. He specializes in complex public strategy issues, serving both domestic and international clients in the corporate, professional services, not-for-profit and government sectors. This article is based on Watt’s keynote at the Cannexus15 National Career Development Conference.