By Liette Goyer

In today’s world, people’s relationship with work is constantly evolving and becoming more complex. This dynamic requires the acquisition of a new skill: self‑directed career management

The immigration of people in transitional situations is the source of many challenges and often represents complex experiences. Immigrants must consider several career options that can have implications not only for their own personal lives but those of their family as well. Meanwhile, the notion of career management as a lifelong pursuit has been emerging since the beginning of the 21st century. Participating in career counselling is an opportunity to look inside oneself to tune into what makes one tick and how this interacts with that aspect of other people in new environments. To integrate into the working world, or explore a career transition, people, be they immigrants or not, need to invest significant and thoughtful effort to create, maintain or revise their professional identity strategies coherently and on an ongoing basis. This requires the individual to have a validated self-awareness, confidence in his or her potential, excellent interpersonal skills and to develop a social network.

Forms of career counselling support and their purpose

One of the main goals of career counselling with adults who have recently immigrated is to foster their social and professional participation, and to seek to do so for the entire duration of their working life. With this goal in mind, four key learnings cover a range of elements to be applied in encouraging long-term successful societal participation in adults.[i] These key learnings are the cornerstone to improving your ability to foster your clients’ development of self-directed career management skills in a new environment. It involves the individual learning how to find a suitable career path by being better equipped to co-construct the most significant learning processes.

The first key learning is solicited in immediate decision-making; in other words, the here and now of the situation. Above all, it concerns the choices we need to make and revisit continually throughout the course of our lives. The goal of this first key learning is to build and reconstruct the person’s own process of self‑environment fit. In a transition and/or immigration context, the ability to self-direct one’s career path is crucial, because socio-professional integration requires valid information on the educational system and working world in a new social, political and economic environment. Traditionally, this learning can be associated with a form of guidance-related support. Examples may include enhancing one’s self-awareness, advancing one’s educational or professional knowledge and finding a good match between oneself and trades or professions that reflect the goals of this type of intervention.

Other key learnings are required to manage the projects the immigrant will have defined or will redefine throughout his integration into the new society. This second skill consists in the person learning how to better build or reconstruct his own process for identifying the various ways in which the self and environment influence each other. This learning is associated with a form of career education support. Some examples include assessing the current level of development of the individual in career transition, directing the individual toward career development steps to be taken and, lastly, supporting the individual to develop the attitudes, beliefs and competencies he needs to achieve his career, adaptation, integration and fulfillment goals.

The third key learning aims to improve the person’s ability to build and reconstruct his own anticipation process for social and professional participation. Acquiring this skill fosters an ongoing engagement in proactive actions or career-oriented activities that are likely to enable the person to envision viable professional projects. Lastly, the fourth key learning involves improving the person’s ability to build and reconstruct his process for adapting these professional projects to his situation. These processes lead the person to be more autonomous in formulating, executing and managing his chosen career endeavours.

These four key learnings support self-directed career management skills and are invaluable resources that individuals can turn to in helping them navigate their interaction with their ambient social systems. Among other things, successful socio-professional integration requires the person to continually reflect on his understanding of his resources and limits, which are in constant interaction with new environments.

General career counselling models

Several support models exist in the field of career counselling and draw from components of the major professional development theories. The models founded on a congruence approach (self-environment fit) help the person learn to build his own matching process. For their part, inter-influence models deal with various aspects of the environment and their multiple influences. These models help the individual build a personalized process for identifying the factors that influence the interaction between himself and his environment. The prospective approach advocates building a developmental process for anticipating and planning his career. It is founded on components of several age-old developmental theories. Lastly, the global approach recommends that each adult build an individual process for adapting his professional participation endeavour to his environment.

In addition to these approaches, emerging intervention models focus more on the formulation of identity, intentions and actions by means of a story (building a personal narrative). Instances of employment termination or career transition engage people in a narrative process of reconstructing their biography. Specifically, the individual is invited to construct his professional career through micro-stories, then use these micro-stories to build a macro-story and, ultimately, co-construct a new scenario that can be used to build on his career story. These processes stem from constructivist (build one’s life), contextualism and systemic theories.

Geneviève Fournier, Director of CRIEVAT, highlights the common principles arising from these theories. One such principle is the idea of a dynamic identity that constantly evolves throughout one’s life in response to experiences and contexts. This author also talks about a holistic concept of work life, in which events and priorities in every sphere of life have a mutual influence on each other. From this standpoint, it is necessary to situate the person’s choices, endeavours and actions in every context in which they are expressed; in other words, to approach career paths from a temporal, cyclical and systemic perspective rather than a linear or causal one.[ii]

These principles are highly relevant for gaining an accurate grasp of one’s competencies and charting one’s career path in the often disorienting world of today. As such, depending on the person’s circumstances and personal values, the key learnings in developing self-directed career management skills can be broken down as follows: Learning to improve one’s ability to construct and reconstruct one’s own processes for 1) self‑environment matching; 2) identifying self-environment inter-influences; 3) planning one’s societal participation; and 4) adapting one’s professional participation projects to the context. These key learnings cover a range of factors that are important in facilitating successful adult participation, and are the cornerstone of self-directed career management skills.

In situations of career transition or immigration, adult immigrants can find support in career counselling techniques. In fact, several methods aim to support people to freely make decisions that they value,[iii] because such decisions are aligned with the fulfilment of their life choices. From a social justice perspective, the issue of inclusion of immigrants cannot be ignored. With respect to social and personal vulnerabilities, a number of issues of inequality associated with gender-based social contacts, the intersection of various forms of discrimination and access to educational or professional systems combine together and are amplified.[iv] “Loss of status,” not having an established “place” in society and lack of information, recognition and freedom are other obstacles that limit “possibilities.” Lastly, these environment-based obstacles must be taken into account in facilitating self-directed career management skills. Career counsellors thus have a role to play in helping to foster these skills and empowering individuals and communities. All things considered, the learnings generated from developing self-directed career management skills represents for immigrants a veritable passport in the career arenas of postmodern societies.


Liette Goyer is Full Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in Counselling and Guidance at Université Laval. She runs the Laboratoire sur l’analyse des dispositifs d’accompagnement et de la compétence à s’orienter (ADACO), a research laboratory for the analysis of analysis of support mechanisms and self-directed career management skills. Goyer is a regular member of the Centre for Research and Intervention in Education and Working Life (CRIEVAT).


[i] Riverin-Simard, D. and Simard, Y. (2011). “Adult vocational guidance: An always renewed social participation.” Revista Educação Skepsis, 2 (II), 1012-1065. [Online]

[ii] Fournier, G. (2014). Career Path Diversification: Individual and Collective Issues. Plenary session of the AIOSP Conference, Quebec City, June 4, 2014.

[iii] Sen, A. (2009). The Idea of Justice. Paris: Flammarion.

[iv] Goyer, L. (2015). Enjeux de l’orientation scolaire et professionnelle en situation de migration. [Educational and professional counselling issues in the context of immigration]. Seminar on success and strategies for students with an immigration background in Quebec: “Colloque sur la réussite des élèves issus de l’immigration au Québec et les stratégies à privilégier.” Organized by GRIES and the Direction des services aux communautés culturelles. March 17–18, 2015.