By Stephen Landry

With a goal of bringing greater clarity and consistency to our national conversations about career development, CERIC developed a set of “Guiding Principles of Career Development” that have been enthusiastically embraced across Canada. These eight Guiding Principles are intended as a starting point to inform discussions with clients, employers, funders, policymakers and families.

Each issue of Careering features a Guiding Principle “in action,” exploring how a career professional is applying a Principle in practice.

One of the greatest challenges we face as career development practitioners is helping our clients understand options, navigate their careers with purpose and make informed choices.

It is exciting CERIC has taken the lead on a national conversation about career development. I found the visual imagery of a canoe in CERIC’s Guiding Principles significant. When I’ve gone canoeing (and, admittedly, it was a while ago), I remember a term used when the way in front is impassable, such as dangerous rapids ahead.

That word is “portage.”

Portage is when we take the boat out of the water, and move it around a danger to put it back in the water safely somewhere else down the river.

Career management is often like this. Careers are fluid, and we need to be more adaptable than ever to changing labour market forces. Sometimes when we take our canoe out of the water, we are pausing with purpose, resetting our career strategies. We pick up our canoe filled with our skills and take it downstream, to put our careers back in the water, at another point and, perhaps, in another job. With the self-awareness gained during our portage, we can better communicate our value and potential. We are more prepared for future obstacles.

Understanding options

Many people I encounter in my work say they have never had an opportunity to plan, discuss or strategize the subject of their careers. I meet many clients who have been thrust into jobs, out of a necessity to pay rent, feed their families, survive to make ends meet. Without much intention or planning, they feel stuck in a job. Often clients have goals, but there is a layer of doubt on top of them.

Guiding Principle

Career development involves understanding options, navigating with purpose and making informed choices.

I work with clients who don’t know the skills they have, perhaps dismissing their potential strengths and what they can offer because no one has taken the time to help them explore their possibilities. For example, getting fired from a job or leaving on bad terms can teach us things about ourselves. Knowing what you liked about your favourite manager, compared to what “triggered” us about a work environment, can be good conversation starters to help someone learn, grow – and understand options to move forward.

Completing a needs assessment with each client helps illuminate the landscape and highlight areas you want to cover in your career development conversation and planning. Do they understand what education, knowledge, experience, skills or training they need? Do they know what type of work environment they excel in? Do they have a sense of what it could take to achieve career well-being?

Career development conversations can be daunting. Where do you start with someone who does not have current work experience, work references and is lacking self-confidence and self-esteem? I encourage them to find opportunities to understand their strengths and potential through volunteering, for example, at their local school, church or community organization. It can give them options that can influence their career path and build character. I encourage clients to keep a career-planning journal to track each point of contact they make in their career exploration, and reflect on what they learned.

In career development discussions, it is important for people to have options. Options make for better futures. If clients are limited in their options, it takes away from their search for their purpose and potential.

Navigating with purpose

As we grow in our careers, our canoes fill with more and more skills, experiences and wisdom. Jobseekers will need to undertake more frequent goal setting in their careers, constantly researching labour market information and evolving their strategies to find meaningful work, not just work.

Especially because more jobs are temporary or contract based in the gig economy (20% to 30% of the Canadian workforce already consists of “non-traditional” workers, according to staffing company Randstad) there will be times when we “portage” our careers, taking the canoe filled with our existing skills and experience to the next opportunity. We need to understand how to navigate our careers with purpose, taking calculated risks along the way, and avoiding blind turns. This can be daunting for some because the “security blanket” of one job, one employer, one career is all but gone from the labour market.

More and more, I see many younger clients with severe anxiety or depression (research shows one in five students are afflicted today) and often taking prescription drugs as coping mechanisms just to survive. I see clients without any attachment to medical doctors to follow them, assess their condition and help them cope. It is also very disheartening when meeting clients with no social supports, perhaps moving from a small community to a bigger city, leaving their families behind and experiencing feelings of isolation and loneliness.

In these cases, career conversations can be difficult, and clients need additional support in navigating their options. The discussion of career development may need to take a back seat while other matters are resolved.

Making informed choices

Working with jobseekers, I take a “care and share” perspective with an emphasis on presenting information that allows them to make informed choices, without making the choice for them.  When someone is empowered to make their own decisions, they get into action because they have processed the decision-making on their own terms.

People sometimes take the easier road when faced with multiple choices. This is still progress because there are rewards to someone feeling excited about taking charge of their careers. It may give them renewed energy and self-confidence. It can take several appointments, interactions or reminders to get someone to engage in their future, but everyone needs to have the chance to come to terms with what they want.

I like to give clients several choices to select among and get their buy-in and agreement. I will ask: “Does this seem like a good plan?”, “Are you ok with what we talked about?”. I want to know if my client is motivated for change and if they want to follow through. I ask clients to summarize what we talked about, to hear our conversation in their words, as it helps me understand that we are still on the same page.

It’s important to encourage clients to have contingency plans, to allow for unexpected changes in managing their careers (through all stages of life) and adapt to change as it comes. I urge clients to share with others what career choices they make and goals they set and to seek support from the people they care about and respect.

I use CERIC’s Guiding Principles of Career Development as a visual cue, to explain foundational career development concepts and to open the door to further exploratory conversations. Situating career development as a process that involves understanding options, navigating with purpose and making informed choices levels the playing field. It allows clients to be empowered to take concrete steps forward in their careers.



Stephen Landry is an Employment Consultant at the City of Ottawa. He received his CDP (Career Development Practitioner) accreditation from the Career Development Practitioners’ Certification Board of Ontario (CDPCBO). His experience working with clients at his current job and with virtual career counselling roles have enabled him to understand the broad implications of successful career development discussions and planning. He is interested in a teaching career once he “retires.”


Nazareth, Linda. (2017, October 20). The gig economy is here – and we’re not ready. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from

Rosenberg, David. (2018, February 9). 1 in 5 college students have anxiety or depression. Here’s why. The Conversation. Retrieved from: