By Julie Gouin

Helping clients find employment in their field of study requires an understanding of their motivations

In recent decades, the number of university graduates has risen significantly; however, the number of positions for these graduates has not kept up.[1] Underemployment[2] has become inevitable for many, and while some may choose to accept this situation, others will do whatever they can to secure a position that corresponds to their education. Several courses of action are available to career professionals seeking to help such clients.

It is important to take the time to explore clients’ true career motivations and life goals. Many go to university because of social pressure or to satisfy their intellectual curiosity, without necessarily wanting to launch careers in their fields of study. Some may prefer a technician’s duties and even complete further training for employment in the trades, nevertheless recognizing how their university education contributes to their critical thinking. A technician position can also be a way of easing the pressure when life outside work is already loaded with responsibilities, or when someone wants to be able to spend more time on recreational activities or with family. For others, a professional position is the ultimate career goal; clients like these may feel ill-equipped to tackle the roadblocks to achieving their objectives.

Once the goal has been established, it is time to address any issues preventing the client from finding a job that matches their level of education. Is moving to an area with more available positions that correspond to the degree an option? In addition to the degree, does the client have the required skills and experience for the position? Is the selection process a problem? Career professionals can help candidates who have the required skills and experience for a specific job by tailoring their professional documents (e.g. CV, letter of interest, social media profiles and references) to suit the positions and by preparing them for interviews.

For candidates who don’t have the necessary skills and experience, the next step is to work together on finding ways to bridge these gaps. For example, clients like these can volunteer their services as consultants to organizations that could benefit from their skills. They can also approach their current employers about taking on extra responsibilities. This gives them the opportunity to develop relationships with more experienced colleagues within their companies, who can become mentors and help them advance their careers. Such clients can also become involved with the professional associations in their fields and benefit from continuing professional education. Doing so allows them to develop their skills and expand their professional networks.

Clients who are prepared to move can take trips abroad or to areas where qualified candidates in their fields are rare, giving them the opportunity to be exposed to more complex responsibilities. They can also acquire experience through temporary contracts (e.g. parental leave replacements or part-time positions), which may be less appealing to more experienced candidates. These opportunities allow clients to discover different work environments, giving them a better idea of the type of employer and position suited to them. Once clients have the experience and skills they need, they can find positions in line with their education.

Underemployment can be hard on clients, but with the right tools, career professionals can help graduates attain their objectives by showing them the resources at their disposal and making it easier for them to position themselves in a competitive job market.


Julie Gouin, MA, is a Career Counsellor who has been guiding individuals and organizations in their career decisions since 2007. After working in human resources in Asia, she returned to Quebec to obtain her Master’s degree in career development at Laval University. She is now a career counsellor at a private practice in Quebec City, working with both a youth and adult clientele.

[2] Job requiring less education than the level attained