By Lisa Noonan

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.

Guiding Principle: Career development entails determining interests, beliefs, values, skills and competencies – and connecting those with market needs.

One of the simplest questions we as career practitioners can ask our clients, and often one of the most difficult questions for our clients to answer, is: “What do you want to do?” Having a realistic career goal is the first step to developing an action plan, but from a client’s perspective, choosing a career goal can be daunting. How can career practitioners assist clients in setting their goals?


The first and often easiest place to start career exploration is to examine what interests our clients. There are countless interest profiles and assessments available to help with this. The reason personal interests are important is simple: we work harder when we are doing something we find interesting. From a jobseeker’s point of view, doing something that appeals to their interests means they will find more joy in work. Not every task at work will be enjoyable, so it is important for career practitioners to make sure their clients seek job opportunities that balance uninteresting tasks with engaging ones. This is also an opportunity to explore a variety of career goals, weighing the interesting and uninteresting aspects of each.

Skills and competencies

Often when we find something that we enjoy doing, we practice it and become skilled, so it is not uncommon for a client’s interests and skills to complement each other. When clients have competencies and skills in areas that are outside their interests, they can feel like they are “stuck” doing work they don’t want to do. I have worked with clients who, due to injuries or illnesses, could no longer do the kind of work they loved and so were facing retraining into new careers. Helping clients recognize links between what they loved about their past work, other things that interest them and the skills they have that are unrelated to their injuries can greatly improve confidence and help them come to terms with career change.

Self-exploration around the transferable skills clients use every day can also help with goal setting. I remember a client who claimed she had no skills because she had never held a paid job in 35 years. After doing some exercises to identify her skills, her attitude shifted and she could articulate unique skills she gained from her volunteer experiences. She uncovered career options in areas she enjoyed, using skills she already possessed, and was so successful that within a year she had won a performance award with her new company.

Values and beliefs

Perhaps the most important component of job maintenance is finding a career choice that supports or matches a clients’ core values. Simon Sinek ( says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Jobseekers who can articulate why they are drawn to a certain kind of work or why they perform certain tasks will appeal to employers who understand and share those values. It is not easy to uncover why we do what we do; it often takes hard work, introspection and motivational questioning by career practitioners to help clients uncover their values. We can learn a lot from asking ourselves why we do things the way we do or why we choose to do the things we do. If a client’s job is to enter customer contact information into a database, ask “why do you do this?” “What benefit does this task bring to the company/to the customer/to your work load?” Clients who can articulate their “why” make the employer’s job of determining their “fit” much easier.

Connecting with labour-market needs

When I am talking to clients about their job search, there are two key messages I try to convey to them: first, don’t settle for a job that is a poor fit, and second, be open to new and unexpected opportunities.

Several of our workshops talk about “fit” – demonstrating how our skills and values match the job or the company, and how we as jobseekers can assess a company’s fit for us. A couple of years ago, I was working with a client on his resume for a butcher’s assistant job. His resume was very short, unfocused and lacked personality. When I began questioning him about what he enjoyed about meat cutting and why he was interested in the field, he confessed that he had no interest in it at all. He was feeling so desperate for work that he decided to apply to a job he thought others would find too disgusting to apply to. With further conversation and motivational questioning, it came out that he had worked summers painting houses with his uncle and loved the work. When we ended our meeting, this client had an entirely different career focus, a well-targeted and well-supported resume, and a new excitement about his job future.

Sometimes opportunities come from completely unpredictable sources. I facilitate a workshop about networking, where we offer clients strategies to more effectively reach out to their existing networks and to build strong professional networks. A recurring theme is “network with everyone”; you never know where a lead might come from. One client shared a story about when she was having an interview for a “survival job” at a coffee shop, and a patron stopped her on her way out to offer her a job with her husband’s company, which was a much better fit for both her experience and her interests. Another client was looking for a payroll position when she accepted an invitation to take dance lessons with a friend. After the class, the two women were chatting with the dance instructor and learned that they were getting ready for an upcoming festival and were looking for temporary help in marketing. My client had no direct experience in marketing but felt she had the technical skills to do the job. They spoke on several occasions and the dance company agreed to hire my client and train her in marketing. She had never considered this as a career choice but loved every minute of it.

Every client is unique, and only they can find their paths. As career practitioners, our goals are to help our clients know themselves better – to uncover their passions and talents. We can help them foster a positive attitude and excitement about exploring their career options. We can build their confidence, so they have the courage to explore new opportunities and find a “fit” for their values and interests to realize their career goals.

Lisa Noonan is a Workshop Facilitator with Job Junction, a Nova Scotia Works employment resource centre. She started in the career development field in 2010 and has worn a variety of “hats,” including Information Resource Specialist, Case Manager, and is now the Team Lead for job search workshops. Celebrating the success of her clients when they achieve their career goals and believing that she makes a difference in their lives are what motivates her.