The power of playCareering

The power of play

Brock University’s integration of gamification and assessment has helped students discover new insights about themselves

Marisa Brown

We didn’t start out with a comprehensive plan to gamify assessments with our students at Brock University. It just sort of happened.

We knew we wanted to increase student engagement in their career planning. We also wanted students to critically assess their own strengths, skills, competencies, work values, interests and other key elements in the career development process. Providing students with alternatives to traditional, formal assessments as part of their career journey was also a priority – we wanted them to have fun.

Around the same time, we invested in training a staff member in LEGO® Serious Play® – Methods & Materials facilitation. We were also considering how to incorporate images, mind maps and systems to support design thinking in our work with students.

What does it mean to ‘gamify’ assessments?

CERIC’s Glossary of Career Development defines self-assessment as the process of evaluating one’s own abilities, skills, values, interests and characteristics (CERIC and the Canadian Council for Career Development, n.d.). In the post-secondary context, this can be extended to students and the process of self-reflection in career discovery, career decision-making and career readiness.

Gamification in assessments means applying principles of game theory. According to Kapp and Coné (2012) – leaders in applying gamification within a learning context – a well-designed game involves abstract thinking, interactivity and is defined by a structure or set of rules. Players work toward a tangible outcome and the process may also elicit an emotional response as they strive to attain the goal. At Brock, we have aligned gamification principles to self-assessment by using a variety of tools to encourage abstract thinking and interactivity with the end goal of students discovering new insights about themselves and their career path.

Gamification at Brock University

Brock University has integrated LEGO® Serious Play®, mind mapping and SparkPath Challenge Cards into its career development toolkit.

LEGO® Serious Play® (LSP)

We use LSP with students as a tool for self-assessing strengths, values and skills. Our career consultants facilitate this process in a structured manner while also offering opportunities for abstract thinking (as in Kapp and Coné’s definition of gaming).

LSP is a facilitated technique that is grounded in four main phases: present the challenge, build a model reflecting the challenge (ie, add meaning to the LEGO® bricks), share and reflect. This process is repeated several times through a LSP session, resulting in deeper discussion and connection to the main topic or challenge. At Brock, we have facilitated LSP sessions in relation to skills identification, interview preparation, professionalism training and reflection.

Courtesy of Brock University

For example, in a recent interview-preparation workshop, we used LSP as a strength-based self-assessment tool. We asked students to construct a model of their strengths, skills or “superpowers.” In doing so, students analyzed their own abilities and made connections to how their strength translated in a work or academic setting. Reflecting on their strengths through LSP helps students develop answers to interview questions such as “tell me about yourself” and “what is your greatest strength?”

Students are often surprised at how the LSP process leads to generating new insights about their own strengths while also having fun “playing” with LEGO® bricks. They get genuinely excited about sharing their models with other students and feel more confident in expressing their strengths (than if they were to have done so without building their models first).

Students have also commented that they did not see themselves as creative until participating in LSP. They began to see themselves as creative thinkers through the process of building with the bricks. Students also expressed that they appreciated the opportunity to assess their current strengths in relation to career, rather than skills that they may use someday or have used in the past.

Through LSP, students engage in a continual reflection process and are more connected to the outcome – a physical LEGO® metaphor that they personally created. This complex, involved process can be more impactful than relying on a generated list of strengths or skills that is often a result of completing a more traditional assessment.

Read more about assessments and training opportunities on CERIC’s CareerWise website:

8 free career assessment tools to help clients find their fit

Courses career professionals can take in summer 2019

Mind maps 

We also use mind maps as a way for students to identify and self-assess skills and competencies. Through a guided process, students create mind maps of skills they have developed through experiential learning activities (including co-curricular and curricular learning experiences) related to specific courses, program areas or career pathways. They engage in abstract thinking by literally drawing connections from experiences to skills in new ways.

This process of skill self-assessment also offers an opportunity for students to identify potential gaps and areas for further growth (if they are unable to identify experiences related to specific skills in their discipline or career focus). Students have commented on how the mind-map exercise offers “a-ha” moments for them when sharing their maps with colleagues and telling the stories of how they have developed certain skills.

Tangible outcomes include the mind map, answers to interview questions, ideas for career decision-making and goal-setting.

SparkPath Challenge Cards

Another informal self-assessment tool we have been using to engage students in career discovery is SparkPath Challenge Cards. Each Challenge Card set contains 30 visually appealing cards representing challenges in the future of work in health care, technology, society, environment and the economy.

Our career consultants use the Challenge Cards in one-on-one coaching sessions to engage students in conversations about career options, areas of interest, likes/dislikes and values. This approach focuses on students identifying challenges, problems and opportunities (shifting away from a focus on specific jobs). Through the guided process, students prioritize areas of interest and are encouraged to self-assess and reflect on personal and professional values. By interacting in the process and “playing” with the cards, students develop an action plan for next steps in their career planning.

These tools align with our philosophy of career development at Brock. We provide students with the tools to be successful in a self-directed process. Our career development model is grounded in John Krumboltz’s (2008) planned happenstance theory and Jim Bright and Robert Pryor’s (2003) chaos theory of career development. We encourage students to be flexible and take manageable risks while also asking for help and staying organized through the process. By inviting students to actively participate in the self-assessments of mind-mapping, building metaphors through LEGO® Serious Play® and Challenge Cards, they engage more fully in their own career decision-making. Students are engaged in the process of learning and developing their own narrative, which, according to Kapp and Coné, are critical elements of gamification.

Where we go from here

Our next steps include evaluating how impactful these activities are three months out and also in the longer term. We will be investigating how students are applying these concepts in future career and professional decision-making and how the tools have supported their career journey and self-exploration.

Marisa Brown is a Career Curriculum Specialist with Co-op, Career & Experiential Education at Brock University. She is a LEGO® Serious Play® – Methods & Materials facilitator, career development practitioner and holds a Master of Education – Teaching, Learning & Development.


CERIC & the Canadian Council for Career Development (n.d.). Glossary of Career Development. Retrieved from

Kapp, K. & Coné, J. (2012). What every chief learning officer needs to know about games and gamification learning. Institute for Interactive Technologies. Retrieved from

Krumboltz, J. D. (2008). The Happenstance Learning Theory. Journal of Career Assessment, 17(2), 135–154. doi:10.1177/1069072708328861

Pryor, R. G. L., & Bright, J. (2003). The Chaos Theory of Careers. Australian Journal of Career Development, 12(3), 12–20. doi: 10.1177/103841620301200304

Waggoner, D.R., Martin, S.J., Eads, J.L., & Branson, R.D. (Feb 2019). Using an Escape Room as Gameful Training with Students. NACE Journal. Retrieved from


I took five popular career assessments and here’s what I learned

In turning the assessment lens on myself, I learned more about my own career journey, these tools and how I will use them with my clients

Stephanie Warner

As career practitioners, we work with a variety of tools and techniques to serve our clients, including assessments.

I work primarily with graduate students, who tend to struggle when it comes to identifying future plans, despite their years spent pursuing a specialized field of study. Like all of us, students change over time; their values, interests, skills and ambitions evolve. I use assessments as a tool to help them dive into the exploration process and build self-knowledge.

Three years ago, I was considering my own strengths and priorities as I embarked on a significant career transition. After spending most of my adult life studying and working in scientific research (not always happily), I applied to a job at the University of Calgary’s Career Services office.

In this time, I have learned how to use assessments to help clients in their career exploration. But, I wondered, what might I learn about these tools – and my own career journey – if I applied them to my own life? So, I recently turned the assessment lens on myself, trying out some new tools as well as revisiting my past assessment results with a more practiced eye. Here is what I learned.


$19.99 USD

This assessment is designed with positive psychology in mind and provides users with their top five talent themes, from a list of 34. It was the first assessment I did when starting as a career advisor, and some theme descriptions didn’t immediately resonate with me (Input, Analytical – Is this test trying to tell me I’m boring and nerdy?). Chances are, I reacted this way because I had previously seen these talents as weaknesses.

Revisiting my results with a colleague reinforced for me the benefits of debriefing with a career practitioner whenever possible. This allows the client to describe the strength in their own words and identify action items they are motivated to address. Using the targeted language of the Strengths Insight Report often resonates more strongly.

VIA Character Strengths


I breezed through this character strengths activity. VIA provides a rank-ordered list of all 24 character strengths, which I appreciated. Once again, I found that my first instinct was to read into the language literally, and had to urge myself to really read the description. For example, “judgment” may sound negative, but the description is “Thinking things through and examining them from all sides; not jumping to conclusions; being able to change one’s mind in light of evidence; weighing all evidence fairly.” Although the descriptions were short, they aligned well with information gleaned from other assessments. I found this congruence satisfying.

Knowdell Card Sorts – Career Values

$19.95 CAD

Values are the core principles that help us answer the question, “what is important to me?” For those who are more tactile, the Knowdell Card Sorts Career Values cards may be a good option.

This tool evaluated elements that the other assessment tools didn’t directly address: my needs, motivators and purpose. I organized the cards bearing values descriptions into five categories, from “Always Important” to “Never Important.” Discussion around what each value means to me, how I would prioritize it and how it will shape my career decisions was satisfying and empowering. I found helping others and exercising competence make me feel satisfied, while competition is stressful. No wonder I enjoy working with students more than I did competing to publish.

Strong Interest Inventory

Approx. $40 CAD plus certified practitioner time

This assessment seems to really get me and is always a hit with clients. It provides more tangible career options based on one’s pattern of likes and dislikes. My own results fit extremely well with my recent career changes. Reviewing my results with a certified practitioner, I came out as an investigative, social, artistic mix – interests often associated with careers in teaching and university administration. It is important to note that students often find the results surprising if they don’t know what a given career is, or if they have pre-conceived notions about the value or attractiveness of the given occupation.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

Approx. $50 CAD plus certified practitioner time

MBTI can be a challenging assessment to interpret with an individual, due to its dichotomous choices. They may initially feel frustrated with what can seem like rigidity at a surface level. I balked at the different results that arose compared to when I had last taken it, at the age of 16. Luckily, this time around I used the MBTI Step II report, which breaks each preference into five facets, and debriefed with a certified career practitioner. My Step II results showed that, for example, my facets were equally distributed between the S and N type, which helped me to relax about which “bin” I was in overall and identify characteristics that resonated with me.

Read more about assessments and training opportunities on CERIC’s CareerWise website:

8 free career assessment tools to help clients find their fit

Courses career professionals can take in summer 2019

What has this experience taught me?

In taking these five assessments, I picked up some first-hand experience that will shape conversations with my clients and how I administer assessments to have the most benefit to them. Here are a few of my observations from this experience: 

  • It’s important to define concrete questions before doing the assessment and revisit them at the end. When I checked in with myself after completing the assessments, I was then able to ask, “did this answer my questions?” and “what will I take forward?” Following this process with my clients allows us to address any unresolved concerns or discuss areas that still aren’t clear from the results.
  • First impressions can be hard to overcome. I found myself jumping to conclusions about the language or dismissing certain options based on my previously held beliefs. Having a career practitioner present to ask some key questions (eg, “Tell me more about what this means to you” and “Why do you think this option showed up in your assessment?) allowed me to move past my gut reaction and explore the possibilities.
  • Assessments are a great starting point. They provide positive language, opportunities for reflection, even options for careers. Many clients use assessments for self-discovery, but many that I work with also find that the assessments simply validate and reinforce ideas that they already hold about themselves or their prospects. However, they should not be taken as a directive. While most assessments incorporate an opportunity for self-reflection prior to delivering the reported results, the objective, research-based nature of the formal assessment often seems to carry more weight with the client. It is important that the student critically evaluate their results and not just take them at face value.

My results were consistent overall. Together, they painted a more complete picture than any one assessment individually. Using this variety of assessments, I feel more confident about the value of some of my more practical and analytical traits, especially when I can apply them in a people-centred world. The results align better with my current role than my last; I only wish I had invested the time in doing this sooner.

Stephanie Warner holds a BSc in Biochemistry and a PhD in Experimental Medicine from the University of British Columbia. She is now the PhD Career Development Specialist in Career Services at the University of Calgary and also moonlights as a private career consultant and sessional instructor.

The role of assessment in guided career interventionCareering

The role of assessment in guided career intervention    

Exploring why career practitioners use assessments, as well as how they can select the appropriate tools and effectively interpret client results

JoAnn Harris-Bowlsbey

A version of this article also appears in the 2019 Summer issue of Career Developments, the National Career Development Association print magazine.

Assessment has played an important role in career guidance since its beginning in the early 20th century. According to the Joint Committee on the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing of the AERA, APA and NCME (Joint Committee on Testing Practices, 2004), the definition of assessment is “Any systematic method of obtaining information from tests and other sources, used to draw inferences about characteristics of people, objects, or programs.” This article uses the term “career guidance” to refer to interventions with young people and adults related to educational and vocational choices. The purpose of the article is to review with career development facilitators and counsellors the purposes, options and guidelines for use of assessment in career guidance and counselling.

Purposes of assessment

It is possible to view the plethora of assessment instruments available in our field in three categories: a) those that support career exploration, b) those that identify career development needs, and c) those that measure accomplishment in areas related to educational or career development goals. Let’s look at each of those separately.

The purpose of the first segment of assessments available in our field is to help individuals find focus for exploration. This segment includes inventories of interests, skills, work-related values and personality characteristics. The number of occupational options is vast, with 974 groups of occupations defined in O*NET (the National Occupational Classification [NOC] system categorizes jobs in Canada), each of which can be broken down into many more defined occupations. The National Career Cluster Framework (Advance CTE, 2019) defines 16 industry-related clusters, which can be divided into 79 groups called pathways.

To find focus for exploration

The Holland classification system (Holland, 1997) defines six work environments, under which hundreds of occupations are categorized by educational levels in the Dictionary of Holland Occupational Codes (Goddfredson & Holland, 1996). It is impossible for individuals seeking to choose an occupation to learn about all of these options. Thus, one very valuable use of assessment inventories is to find focus for exploration.

ACT’s World-of-Work Map (Prediger, 1981) arranges hundreds of occupations by Holland work environments and 26 Career Areas. There are assessments whose results direct individuals’ focus to options in each of these four organizational schemes, allowing them to identify groups of occupations that align with their interests, skills, values and/or personality traits. Career explorers can then identify specific occupations they are interested in and “reality test” (using Donald Super’s term) this manageable set by reading, job shadowing, course work, etc.

To identify career decision-making and development needs

Though it sounds easy to administer an interest inventory, interpret it and shepherd career decision-makers through exploratory interventions, a significant proportion of career explorers have intrapersonal challenges that need to be removed before they are able to follow a logical process to a well-informed choice. Theorists define these barriers differently. Super (1957) describes a poor self-concept or the lack of completing specific development tasks as barriers. Krumboltz (1991) focuses on negative career beliefs. Sampson and his colleagues (1996) refer to negative career thoughts. Dinklage (1968) emphasizes ineffective decision-making styles.

The assessment tools in this category measure such intrapersonal challenges. The results may be used to work with individuals on specific identified problems or, for example, to assign members of a career planning course to different levels and kinds of intervention.

To measure progress in desired learning or attitudes

Similarly, such assessments may be used for research or for program evaluation. For example, a measure of career decidedness may be administered to two matched groups: one that has not had a course in career planning and one that has had such a course. The hypothesis is that the group that has completed the career-planning course will have a higher mean score on career decidedness than the group that did not have the course. Such an assessment could also be used with one group prior to taking the career-planning course and again afterward. The goal in this case would be to measure change in specific career attitudes or behaviours triggered by the content of the course.

Assessments of this kind can also be used to measure the attainment of skills, such as behavioural skills or academic skills. After individuals receive training and retake such tests, an increase in these skills can be measured. Similarly, students’ achievement toward mastering specific standards or goals can be measured by instruments in this category.

Types of assessments

Assessment tools in our field are typically divided into two categories: formal and informal. Formal assessments have these characteristics: a) their content, specific items, scoring algorithms and score reports are developed with scientific rigour; b) this fact results in the publisher being able to state their reliability and validity; and c) the combination of the first two makes it possible to compare the score of an individual to that of another or with those of a group with a high degree of scientific accuracy.

On the other hand, these characteristics – scientific rigour, known reliability and validity, and capability for comparison with others – are not central to informal assessments. They are tools such as card sorts, checklists, career fantasies, questionnaires and structured interviews. They own a legitimate space in our field and are used skillfully by many counsellors. They cost far less to develop and acquire, and they can be administered with far less advance planning.

Scientific rigour includes the careful completion of tasks such as the following:

  • Clearly defining what is to be measured
  • Clearly defining the component parts of what is being measured
  • Developing items that measure the component parts
  • Testing these items with members of the target population and modifying or replacing those that do not function well
  • Choosing a norm group that mirrors the target population for which the assessment is developed
  • Developing norms for various ages or grade levels
  • Designing score reports that can be readily understood by counsellors and those who took the assessment
Methods of administering assessments

Informal assessments are typically administered by a counsellor or career development facilitator face-to-face in an office or classroom setting. For example, students or clients are asked to sort a set of cards, each of which contains the description of a value, into three stacks: those that “highly appeal to me,” those that are “somewhat appealing” and those that “I’d like to avoid.” In a different setting, a counsellor or career development facilitator may ask students in a career planning class to relax, close their eyes and imagine an ideal day at work – its location, work tasks, co-workers, degree of independence, length, concomitant lifestyle, etc. In yet another approach, a counsellor who has detailed knowledge of Holland’s theory may conduct a structured interview around the six work environments. In each of these cases, a trained counsellor is able to help a student or client draw inferences from the informal assessment that sheds light on potential career choices or changes.

Formal assessments are administered in print or digital forms. If they are standard tests in print form with right or wrong answers, they are administered under controlled conditions usually involving standard instructions, specified time limits, security of testing materials and test monitors. Such tests may also be administered in a computer lab, requiring that individuals prove their identity to access items that are delivered through a secure website. Some achievement or aptitude tests are adaptive, meaning that the computer selects items at increasing levels of difficulty until it finds the examinee’s general level of knowledge and then presents items only at that level. This type of test varies both in items used and in length of testing for different students.

Technology has revolutionized assessment in many ways, offering capabilities such as the following: adaptive testing; the use of videos, graphics and audio; administration to large numbers of people nationwide at their selected time; immediate scoring; online personalized interpretation of results; electronic transfer of results to counsellors; and the ability to easily share results, where appropriate.

Read more about assessments and training opportunities on CERIC’s CareerWise website:

8 free career assessment tools to help clients find their fit

Courses career professionals can take in summer 2019

Guidelines for selecting assessments

Following are some guidelines that may be helpful when selecting assessments to use with clients or students:

  • Define clearly what you want to measure and why. Possibilities for what you want to measure could include interests, skills, aptitudes, personality traits, values, academic achievement, learning style, decision-making style and self-efficacy, to name a few. Reasons for measuring these might include to design career guidance interventions for individuals or groups of individuals, to define segments of your target population to receive different sets of interventions, to measure the effectiveness of your program, to determine whether students have achieved the goals set forth in a specific set of standards, etc.
  • Develop a list of assessments designed to measure what you want to measure. Using a resource such as NCDA’s publication, A Counselor’s Guide to Career Assessment (Wood & Hays, 2019) will be invaluable. It describes assessments designed for various purposes and the 7th edition uniquely gives you online access to expert reviews in order to make an informed choice.
  • Gather as much information as you can about the assessments you have identified. It is essential for you to determine whether each assessment has been developed and tested with individuals like those in your target population. For each, learn about its reliability, validity and theoretical base. Take the assessment yourself and administer it to a few students/clients. Study its score report to see if it is presented in a language and with graphics that will make it understandable to your population. Talk to or read reviews from counsellors who have used the assessment. Importantly, determine if the results of the assessment are compatible with other components of your program. For example, if your school’s occupational information is organized by Holland work environments, use an interest inventory that provides results by Holland types. Last, but certainly not least, assess the quality of the publisher. This involves the credibility of the author, the professional reputation of the publisher, the training offered to assure that the assessment is administered and interpreted properly, and the quality of customer service provided.
  • Determine its practicality for your setting. This criterion includes how the assessment is administered (print or electronic) and scored, how counsellors can get training, length and requirements of administration, and cost.
Guidelines for interpreting assessment

Here are some guidelines for providing interpretation:

  • Provide interpretation as soon as possible after students or clients have taken an assessment. Begin interpretation by reviewing why the person took the assessment and what it was like (eg, “you responded to 60 items by selecting one of five answers – like very much, like, neutral, dislike, dislike very much”). If true, be sure to indicate that there are no “right” or “wrong” answers.
  • Provide the score report to the examinee and explain each section simply and in detail. If you conduct interpretation in a group, use an attractive PowerPoint presentation with a sample score report that students/clients see while having their own report in front of them.
  • Provide an opportunity to students/clients to ask questions, and try to make sure you answer all questions immediately or within a reasonable timeframe.
  • Be sure that you apply the results on the score report to the specific career concerns that the student or client is facing at the moment. This, of course, is the real reason for having taken the assessment. Its interpretation should be used to guide course selection, the tentative selection of an occupation or job, or whatever career concern the student or client has brought forward or your program of services is attempting to support.

This article has provided a general overview of the purposes of assessment, types of assessment, methods of administration, and guidelines for selecting and interpreting assessments. Understanding these concepts is just the beginning of preparation for informed use of assessments in career counselling and guidance. In-depth investigation of the effectiveness of specific assessments in various work settings and with members of various populations is essential.

JoAnn Harris-Bowlsbey, EdD, ( is an international authority in the areas of career development and counselling and a pioneer in the development and use of computer and web-based career planning systems. She has served as a high school director of guidance, university professor, career counsellor, executive director of the ACT Educational Technology Center, vice-president for development at Kuder, Inc., and president of the National Career Development Association. Dr Harris-Bowlsbey is the author of numerous print-based curricular materials, is widely published in academic journals and texts, and has delivered hundreds of workshops to counsellors at conferences and universities around the globe. She is the author of numerous versions of web-based career planning systems, of curricula for training of career development facilitators, and co-author of a leading textbook for the training of master’s level counsellors.


Advance CTE. (2019). National career clusters framework. Silver Spring, MD: Author.

Dinklage, L.B. (1968), Decision strategies of adolescents. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Goddfredson, G.D. & Holland, J.L. (1996). The dictionary of Holland occupational codes. Odessa, FL. Psychological Assessment Resources.

Holland, J. L. (1997). Making vocational choices: a theory of vocational personalities and work environments (3rd edition). Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Joint Committee on Testing Practices (2004). Code of fair testing practices. Washington, D.C.: Author.

Krumboltz, J.D. (1991). The Career Beliefs Inventory. Menlo Park, CA: Mind Garden, Inc.

Prediger, D. P. (1981). Aid for mapping occupations and interests: A graphic for vocational guidance and research. Vocational Guidance Quarterly, 30, 21-36.

Sampson, J.P., Petersen, G.W., Lenz, J.G., Reardon, R.C., & Saunders, D.E. (1996). Career Thoughts Inventory. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Super, D. E. (1957). The psychology of careers. New York, NY: Harper.

Wood, C. & Hays, D.G. (2019). A counselor’s guide to career assessment instruments. Broken Arrow, OK: National Career Development Association.

How career practitioners can assess themselvesCareering

How career practitioners can assess themselves

Evaluations can offer insights into clients’ satisfaction and success

Peggy Shkuda

How can we measure our success as career counsellors and educators? No matter where we work, we all want to deliver excellent service, but measuring the outcome of individual sessions is not easy.

Many of us rely on our own intuition and experience to judge the success of our one-on-one sessions – an inherently biased assessment. We may believe we made an impact, but the client could think otherwise. For example, the client may be disappointed because we asked hard questions, challenged their views or did not provide an easy answer to their career concerns. Does that mean we did not do a good job? On the other hand, we may believe that the session did not go well, but the client took away an important insight that was not evident to us. Without proper metrics to evaluate our work, how do we know that we are facilitating growth or helping our client achieve his/her goals?

Using assessments to measure success

At the University of Toronto Mississauga, we use a two-pronged method: client evaluation and counsellor evaluation.

Client evaluation

Once a year, we ask students to evaluate their one-on-one sessions through client-satisfaction surveys. We have two different evaluations – one for first-time sessions and another for returning students. Generally, the results have been favourable, with most students indicating they were satisfied with the session, felt heard and would recommend the service to a friend. Some students said that the appointments could have been better if they had been more prepared. This indicated to us that students gained some insight into how their role influenced the outcome of the session. We continue to use this method of assessment, because we value the client’s perspective.

However, this method of evaluation does not always give us insight into how successful the client has been in addressing their concern. Client satisfaction and client success are not necessarily the same thing. For instance, a client may be very satisfied because we focused all our attention on them, actively listened and appeared genuinely engaged with their problems when no one else was. While a strong, non-judgmental client-counsellor relationship is important to the process, we also want to learn whether we were effective in helping the client move forward after their appointment.

Another concern is that annual or bi-annual evaluations tell only part of the story, capturing a moment in time. For initial appointments, much of the time is spent developing a positive rapport, gathering information and inquiring about the client’s goals. We may have been successful in developing a positive relationship, but haven’t really focused specific actions toward the goals; we’ve just begun to identify them.

Evaluations using longitudinal studies are another potential source of evidence-based information for one-on-one sessions. One way to do this would be to keep data on a variety of clients who seek career guidance and then track their sessions over an extended period. This type of study can take place over a period of weeks, months or years. At our Career Centre, we hold one-on-one appointments to go through evaluations with student staff at the start of their employment and at the end of their work term. The students also have access to follow-up appointments with a career counsellor. We noticed that career education, career decision-making, planning and confidence improved from the initial counselling session.

We have also tried this method with large numbers of students participating in a series of class workshops and have seen progression in self-clarity, comfort in making a career decision and knowledge of occupations. Interestingly, in some groups, we found a decrease in decisiveness on a specific career, which we hypothesized came from deeper exploration into self and occupations, resulting in students re-evaluating their career decisions. There are limitations to longitudinal studies, however, because students drop out, which means that the data collected may not always be reliable with a shrinking sample size. The data is still useful for observing trends that can be investigated further via focus groups or individual interviews.

Counsellor evaluation

The second method we have introduced is a self-reflection exercise that the counsellor completes immediately after the session. The exercise includes questions such as:

  • Was I able to clarify what the presenting issue was in order to better understand the student?
  • Were there aspects of the discussion that were difficult for the student?
  • Were we able to find a common understanding of the issue/question that the student identified by the end of the session?
  • How do I know this? What else could I have done to improve the discussion?

This type of self-reflection has the potential to be helpful because it creates a method for each counsellor to go beyond a gut reaction to a session by providing a guided set of challenging questions that forces us to reflect. The outcome of this two-pronged approach remains to be seen but I am hopeful that it will lead to positive outcomes for both counsellor and client.

Despite the limitations of any evaluation, they are worthwhile because it gives you some indication on how effective your service is. They may take you out of your comfort zone, but with a supportive leader and a great team, evaluations can be helpful to your professional growth. If you are in private practice, consider implementing evaluations so that you are not working in a vacuum. Regular evaluations can help improve service delivery and, in the end, benefit our clients. Isn’t that what we all want?

Peggy Shkuda has a Master of Education specializing in counselling psychology with a focus on career development. She is also a registered psychotherapist with 10 years of experience working as a career counsellor in the corporate and not-for-profit sectors. She currently works as a career counsellor at the University of Toronto Mississauga campus. Prior to that, she enjoyed a successful career as a TV documentary producer/director specializing in arts programming.


Experiential career counselling: A holistic approach to working with clients in transition

Discussing clients’ experiences, values, way of being and future possibilities can help deepen activate and deepen their awareness and perspective

Britt-Mari Sykes

In my career counselling practice, informal assessment strategies play a vital role in understanding what a client is experiencing, in discovering possible next steps and in harnessing personal agency.

Addressing the whole person – working with the multi-layered and specific contexts that are the reality of a client’s life – provides a more substantive, authentic and personalized foundation from which to help them work through career transitions. 

Career transitions are emotionally challenging

Career transitions can be emotionally challenging periods coupled with personal and financial stress. They can shake a client’s self-esteem and sometimes raise deeper existential questions of purpose, meaning and what constitutes a fulfilling career.

Career transitions are not always freely chosen. In such cases, clients can feel that they have no personal agency. They may feel frustrated at not having the freedom to make decisions about their lives.

“Career transitions are time-consuming, emotionally draining and require a lot of energy …”

Periods in our lives such as these can allow for reflection and re-assessment, resulting in new career directions. Transitions can, therefore, prove to be an enormously valuable and positive experience that leads to personal growth and development.

The process, pace and outcomes for each client are always individual and unique. As such, they demand a customized approach to assessing what is possible for a given client.

An experiential approach 

In my practice, I use an integrative and experiential approach. It is an approach to career counselling that takes into consideration the whole person.

An experiential approach:

  • considers an individual’s varied experiences and the influence and impact those experiences have had, and continue to have, on how an individual navigates, shapes and contributes to their life and work;
  • takes into account a client’s values and how those values shape personal definitions of meaningful work, purposeful careers, relationships and goals;
  • respects and highlights an individual’s unique way of being, their personal experiential expertise and capacities;
  • builds on what is possible for a client (this means merging a client’s aspirations and dreams with what is accessible and realistic); and
  • looks at concurrent and overlapping issues that may impede or influence the direction and progress of a client’s desired outcome for career change. This includes a client’s access to – and inclusion in making – career choices.

Informal assessments – getting to the heart of a client’s experience

Informal assessments are vital to an integrative approach. They provide career development professionals (CDPs) with a more substantial understanding of what a client is experiencing and what is possible for them moving forward.

Informal assessments require open-ended conversation, active listening and a desire from the CDP to understand, rather than interpret, their client’s experience. Informal assessments necessitate exploratory questions that generate reflective exploration, deepened awareness and a shift in perspectives within clients; these are key to activating a client’s interest in engaging with new possibilities.

The following are some of the conversational areas I explore with clients to better understand what they are experiencing.

Individual context

Career transitions are often loaded with concurrent issues. Clients may also be contending with financial, familial, age-related or geographical considerations or worries. These can affect how a client is experiencing their life, their assumptions and beliefs about their skills and their ability to secure work, and the meaning career holds for them.

These contexts also influence how a client reacts to the transition, including their motivation and focus, and their resistance to or acceptance of change. A deeper understanding of a client’s unique context provides a wealth of information from which both counsellor and client can creatively co-construct what is possible and realistic for that client.


Accepting career transitions and change is often a difficult hurdle for many people. It is therefore important to discuss and elucidate the degree to which a client accepts their current situation.

A transition that is the result of a job loss deserves distinct acknowledgement. Supporting a client in expressing this loss helps them move toward accepting their current situation, which will free up emotional space and energy they can use to move in a new direction.


Career transitions are time-consuming, emotionally draining and require a lot of energy to promote oneself and to navigate the change.

Understanding the shifts in a client’s motivation, openly discussing it and working with these fluctuations helps a client weather and manage the emotional waves that come with change. This deeper understanding allows for the discovery of personal resilience and illuminates personal attitudes toward their current situation and toward career generally.

Identity disruption

Many clients I have worked with have felt a profound disruption in their sense of self during career transition.

I have encountered clients who express tremendous fear or intractable resistance at the prospect of changing careers because of a perceived loss of identity. Others feel a transition or change will result in a loss of certain key capacities and skills associated with their identity.

Openly discussing identity and its relation to our work and careers can be beneficial in helping a client separate who they are from what they do in the work world. It can also help a client understand the fluid boundaries between the two.

Identifying a client’s “experiential expertise”

While our identities are certainly shaped and influenced to a degree by the work we engage in, we are always more than any one job. We are in fact continuously developing and accumulating a unique and individual experiential expertise.

Discovering, identifying and articulating a client’s experiential expertise is extremely helpful during periods of transition. Clients come to see the depth and expanse of their expertise from a broader perspective. They become able to differentiate a skill set associated with a job from a much more broadly acquired personal expertise, and to see that expertise as more flexible, valuable and transferable.

Taking a holistic approach

Informal assessment strategies work from a holistic perspective. They activate and deepen a client’s awareness and perspective. Clients thereby develop vital experiential muscles that help them access personal agency and identify what is possible. Helping clients to create the navigational tools that are personally appropriate to step through a career transition successfully is the goal.

Britt-Mari Sykes, PhD, is an integrative career counsellor with an extensive background in existential and humanistic psychotherapies, career counselling and teaching. She is the author of Questioning Psychological Health and Well-Being (2010), a historical and contemporary examination of the meaning of psychological health and development. She is currently working on her second book, a collection of essays on education and career from an Existential Analytic perspective. Based in Ottawa, Sykes works remotely with a diverse global clientele, helping them to create personally empowered solutions to career transition, burnout and the building of meaningful careers.,

Principles in Action: Change is inevitable in career development. Fear of it shouldn't beCareering

Principles in Action: Change is inevitable in career development. Fear of it shouldn’t be

Chris Callanan

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 is dynamic, evolving and requires continuous adaption and resilience through multiple transitions.

As career development practitioners (CDPs), we work with individuals primarily at key transition points in their lives. This can include job loss and relocation as well as the desire for a change. Our role is to empower clients to make sustainable choices, aspire to goals, and identify their strengths and weaknesses. This process is unique to each client and can produce many varying results. As CDPs, we work with our clients to guide them down this path and the twists and turns that go along with it to reach the end goal of sustainable employment. I help clients learn to embrace opportunities by recognizing that personal growth comes from change.

Embrace change

People are affected by and interpret change in different ways. As a CDP, I often meet individuals whose resumes state that they “love change” and “enjoy new challenges.” However, a new dynamic in their previous or current employment is often what led them to my office in the first place. When this is the case, I find it helpful to have the client define what they like and don’t like about change. I also explain to clients that this self-knowledge helps them better understand what is happening around them. This allows them to identify any barriers that may get in the way of embracing change. Clients can then apply this objective self-knowledge to examining and strengthening their resume.

When clients are struggling with transition, whether it be job loss or having to move into a completely new sector, I also respond to them with empathy. I tell them that I understand change and uncertainty can be scary and unnerving, but it can also create opportunities for personal growth and development. I share that embracing change is what led me to my current career; had I not embraced it, I would have been on a very different path. After spending the bulk of my career within the retail sector, the company for which I worked was facing a complete closure of all stores. During my job search, an opportunity to work within the career development sector presented itself. I embraced this change and this transition has been key to my career. Sharing my story allows the client sitting across from me to see that I have also faced change and used it to move forward.

Learn from experiences

The skill of learning from one’s own successes and failures is also a key component of thriving amid transition. Sometimes, a shift in mindset can be what’s needed to have a clear understanding of the situation. This shift can be seen in the client building upon their self-knowledge to better understand what caused them to arrive at this new turn in their career path.

I guide clients through a reflection of their entire work history. Working in a resource-based community, I often meet with clients who are being laid off after holding a long-term position due to changes in labour market conditions. Clients share that their work is their life and it is who they are. This can be a difficult process for clients to face.

I can recall one client who was displaced by a workplace injury after 30 years of working for a forestry company. After many conversations, it became clear that this client had a passion to teach his trade to others. We worked on having this client apply to a local college as a part-time trades instructor. Allowing the client to share his journey helped me determine how to best offer support and assistance.

Don’t miss our previous Principles in Action articles:

Embracing external influences to help guide career exploration

Uncovering interests to find the best career fit

Understanding, navigating and choosing career options

Be resilient and adaptable

As this Guiding Principle of Career Development asserts, change is inevitable in career development. The ability to embrace it exemplifies a resiliency that many employers look for in potential hires. Adaptability and flexibility are integral to this.

Adapting to a change at a workplace could include gaining new skills, using a previous skill set in a new way or learning to appreciate constructive criticism. More significant events such as a major health incident, workplace injury or job loss can require more intensive adaptations such as physical, mental and financial shifts. It’s at this point that the ability to become resilient and learn from the process comes into play. We cannot control everything in our lives, but we can control how we react to it. Being open-minded when they are pushed out of their comfort zone helps with clients’ personal growth.

To help clients build resiliency, I encourage them to adopt a growth mindset, wherein they learn from their mistakes and take the necessary actions to correct them. To do so, I guide them through a reflection on these questions:

  1. What employment goal are you working toward?
  2. How are you going to achieve it?
  3. What do you need to do next to move forward?

As CDPs, if we take time to ask clients these questions, we will see greater engagement and a willingness to strive further. This critical-thinking exercise will better equip clients to face future challenges with perseverance and resiliency.

Facing the future

Career development is dynamic, evolving and requires continuous adaption and resilience through multiple transitions. It is my experience that the jobseekers’ path from job loss to gaining employment can be ever-changing, and learning to embrace challenges, evolve and be ready to face what comes next are skills that should be encouraged and developed. A growth mindset is one of the most valuable things a client can bring to the process.

Chris Callanan is the Regional Manager for Employment Services at North Island Employment (NIEFS), a BC-based, award-winning not-for-profit workforce development organization. He brings a diverse background in leadership and human resources roles to NIEFS, allowing him to foster meaningful and valuable relationships in his community with clients and employers alike.

Managing expectations about assessment results key when working with studentsCareering

Managing expectations about assessment results key when working with students

Some students are looking for career tests to provide them with clear-cut answers and a-ha moments

Dawn Schell

Viveka is a third-year student who started off her degree with enthusiasm and confidence, but lately is not enjoying her program and thinks she might like to switch. She isn’t sure what else she would like to study. She has invested a great deal of time into her education already and is worried about what a change would mean for her.

Jamie is a first-year student who is eager to know what their career options are, because they don’t want to waste their time or money while at university.

Fred is close to finishing his degree and is planning to work immediately after graduation, but he has no ideas about what he can do with his education. He hasn’t given much thought to it yet as he’s been busy with school.

These are some of the more common reasons students seek career counselling at the University of Victoria’s Counselling Services office. Students can find it confusing to navigate career planning during post-secondary. They face conflicting messages about the world of work as well as pressures from parents and community, and financial challenges. Students frequently say they feel the weight of making the “right” decision and are looking for some way to validate or confirm their choices.

Some students struggle with the belief that they “should” know what they want to do. They often say that everyone around them seems to know, and they feel isolated and left behind in their uncertainty.

Career exploration through assessments

While we offer a variety of career exploration services, students often request career assessments as a way to answer their questions. This is despite the fact that students often share stories of receiving – in their opinion – absurd career options for assessments taken in high school.

At the University of Victoria, we offer the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Strong Interest Inventory career assessments. We also offer the Career Interest Profiler (Canadian edition), Career Values Scale and the Work Personality Index. However, there is little uptake on these options, even though those who have tried them have found them helpful.

What are students expecting when they complete a career assessment? A few are anticipating clear-cut answers, angel voices singing, bright lights, a-ha moments. Some want confirmation for the path they are already considering. Most often, students are looking for ideas to explore. As one student recently told me, “I have a narrow idea of what type of work is out there and I want to expand my horizons.” This rings true for many students. Often their only exposure to work is their experiences at school and what their family members do for a living.

Managing expectations

It is important to manage students’ diverse expectations about what career assessments can accomplish. One way we do this is with a clear statement on our website and our brochures. It reads, “These assessments will not make career decisions for you. It will be a good source of ideas and information … no assessment can tell you who you are or what to do but it might give you words to claim who you are.”

When we begin an interpretation session with a student, we start by finding out what they are expecting from the assessment results. This helps to direct some of the conversation about the results and how to interpret them.

Then, we ask for their career story. Their story teaches us about their interests, skills, values, strengths, pressures, supports, work and volunteer history. We encourage students to make career decisions based on a more fulsome picture than can be derived solely from the assessment. We also remind students that making career decisions is a lifelong, dynamic process. Our aim is help them make an informed choice.

The limitations of assessments

While formal assessments are useful, they are imperfect tools. One limitation we have observed is that the assessments we use require the student to identify as either male or female. This can be an issue for gender-diverse students. One way we try to mitigate concerns is to inform students that assessments require one to identify as either male or female. This is done in person and through a statement on our brochure and website. While this does not solve the problem, it acknowledges the existence of the issue.

For some members of our international community who want to take career assessments, language skills can be a barrier. While some assessments are offered in multiple languages, the results need to be in English so our counsellors can do the interpretation. For some, we recommend they have an individual career counselling session or participate in a career exploration group. In cases where the student still chooses to take the formal career assessments in English, we offer additional time in the interpretation session to address language issues and cultural context.

Another limitation is there are few references in career assessments to technological innovations or the rise of artificial intelligence. It’s not an easy task to keep these assessments up to date when the world of work is rapidly changing.

A continuing conversation

The real work in any career assessment process is the conversation we have during the interpretation. We are weaving their career story into the interpretation, pointing out interesting paradoxes or ideas that connect to what they shared, and creating a bigger picture of who they are and what they might like to do. We end each session with reviewing places they can gather more information about career options online or via informational meetings. We encourage students to share their results with people they trust and continue to process their meaning. Finally, we are clear that the interpretation isn’t the end of the conversation. Students are always welcome to come back.

Dawn Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP has been a career counsellor for over 20 years. While Schell’s main focus has been working with young adults, she has also worked with mid-career changers and retirees. She believes career development is a lifelong process and delights in seeing clients find meaning and purpose in all stages of life.

Wearing many hats to help a young client find his pathCareering

Case Study: Wearing many hats to help a young client find his path

Successfully narrowing down a high schooler’s university choice involves commitment to exploration and to uncovering passions 

Hoda Kilani

In this recurring Careering feature, career professionals share their real-life solutions to common problems in the field

I wear many hats working with high school students. I guide them to self-reflect. I mentor them to explore different career options. I scaffold them to pinpoint an academic path. They are on a journey to develop self-awareness and self-knowledge, eager to narrow down choices and make informed decisions. I view my role as their coach, guide, cheerleader, mentor, motivator and accountability partner.

I love working with these clients as they start their independent life journeys. However, there are many ethical considerations involved since they are considered minors. When working with a high school student, I am not only committing to help my client but am also bound by the parents’ hopes for their child. This requires balancing and interactive processes that implore all parties to work toward finding the right fit for the client. It is an extra challenge I take on as I add the hat of discussion facilitator to my role.

Despite their young age, each client brings a unique story. The hats I wear vary depending on their story. One young client’s case vividly displayed how I wear all of the above hats. His name was Peter.

Peter’s story 

Peter’s mom and dad were first-generation immigrants and expected their son to attend university. They were both successful professionals working in their specialized graduate engineering degrees.

Peter did not want to disappoint his parents and admitted that he needed help choosing a university program. His interests were so diverse that he was challenged by the idea of narrowing down his choice to one program. Peter was in Grade 11 and was eager to find a university program that would both interest and challenge him. He was clear that he wanted to attend a prestigious university that would provide him with access to the best academic, technological and vocational resources. However, he wanted to take a gap year to figure out which program he would choose. His parents were worried that a gap year might lead him to give up on attending university altogether. They were hoping he would choose an engineering program due to his passion for mathematics.

Peter was designated by his school as a “gifted” learner, a term that the school defined as having an IQ score of 130 +/- 5, implying above-average intelligence. In school, he was on the honours list, having received above 95% in all subjects. He had also taken Advanced Placement courses in six subjects, an indication of his strong academic skills. His resume was full of accomplishments. These included accolades from multiple volunteer positions as well as awards from debate competitions and science fairs.

Peter was a confident young man, a planner and a positive thinker. He was looking for a program that would allow him to develop “real-life” experiences and acquire “hands-on” knowledge. With his ability to excel in intellectual, academic and artistic fields, Peter was apprehensive about choosing one program that would limit his use of his multiple talents. 

The coaching processes 

With Peter, as with all my young clients, my coaching services included two processes.

The first process involved sessions with Peter and his parents. The parents’ role is important when working with high school students. They are paying for my assistance. Peter’s parents trusted me and suggested Peter uses my services; their expectations were an important part of exploring his choices.

During our first session, I actively listened to Peter and his parents to learn about each of their expectations and assess the level of open communication between them. Subsequent sessions updated Peter’s parents of the progress happening in the second process.

The second process engaged Peter in research and self-assessment tasks. The aim of these sessions was to help him develop the mindfulness necessary to learn what is best for him. Ultimately, the goal was for Peter to make his own decision about his career pathway.

“Peter had the freedom to develop self-awareness and apply processes for self-knowledge through independent exploration and guided reflection.”

As part of his research, Peter had already accessed personality and career assessment resources that are freely available online. He told me that these tools did not inspire him to find his true passions. Peter needed help to reach the decision for himself. My role was to mentor him to bring out what was already inside while providing him with support along the way. I guided him to continue his individual research and report results that he deemed valuable for us to reflect on together. I also assigned two tasks.

The first task required Peter to complete a Career Self-Assessment Chart. With the help of questions provided as part of the task (eg, what do you like to do during your free time? What are the first words that come to mind when describing yourself?), he chose three personal skills, abilities and interests to help him better understand his personal value.

Next, I asked Peter to reflect on his academic, volunteer and extracurricular activities and identify three real-world STAR (Situation, Task, Accomplishment, Results) experiences. I challenged him to be ready to explain his reasons for choosing these experiences. My goal for this task was to help Peter prioritize his passions.

Passions uncovered 

Our exploration sessions were based on Peter’s research results, Career Self-Assessment Chart responses and chosen STAR experiences. My priority was to establish trust throughout our sessions. Peter had the freedom to develop self-awareness and apply processes for self-knowledge through independent exploration and guided reflection. He felt safe, supported and respected to voice his inner thoughts, and was inspired to pinpoint his passions.

Mathematics, drawing and writing were his top choices. Through exploring various educational pathways and career destinations based on these passions, Peter was able to envision potential university programs. My role was to facilitate the extension of every career pathway that Peter chose through powerful questioning, creating awareness and envisioning progress.

Peter initially came up with nine possible programs – three from each passion. I challenged him to think of interdisciplinary programs that would allow him to combine two or all three of his passions. Peter’s parents were engaged at this point and were prompted to share their thoughts. In these sessions, I was the discussion facilitator, observing the brainstorming and prompting exploration. Using a flowchart helped everyone envision the career pathway of every potential university program. Architecture won the day.

Peter’s parents shared that this was not a pathway that they would have considered, since their focus was solely on Peter’s strength in mathematics. Peter was particularly happy with the ability to have a say and take ownership of his future. The support he received to research and recognize his gifts, strengths and interests allowed him to see himself as a resource. He felt that he had control over his life pathway.

Peter was accepted into the university program of his choice. He completed a Bachelor of Architecture and is now working in a world-renowned architectural firm.

Hoda Kilani, EdD, CPCC, is a career coach specialized in working with emerging adults (ages 14 to 25) at Right Career Fit. She strives to increase the level of understanding and awareness of the importance of career literacy among her young clients through workshops, speaking engagements, blogs and research.  


The role of assessment in the development of employability skills

Amid changes in the world of work, it is in the best interests of employers, career development practitioners and educational institutions to help jobseekers develop employability skills

Jeff Landine

With an increasing number of young people entering the workforce with post-secondary education in hand, and employers saying they are more concerned with workers’ punctuality and interpersonal skills than with their technical abilities (Lerman, 2013), the factor differentiating graduates who get hired from those who don’t may be employability skills. While schools are providing the next wave of employees with sectoral knowledge and technical skills (often called hard skills), employers are lamenting graduates’ lack of soft skills (Cassidy, 2006).

Lest young graduates be unfairly criticized, soft skills are also required of adults entering or re-entering the workforce later in their careers. Jobseekers who are part of vulnerable populations including the homeless, chronically unemployed, people with disabilities and newcomers are particularly susceptible to the negative implications of employability skills deficits.

So, what are the skills necessary to work in Canada and how can we assess them?

What are employability skills and why do they matter?

Employability is rarely clearly defined and a search of the relevant literature divulges a fairly wide variety of descriptions. Most of these, however, contain the core idea that employability relates to an individual’s capability to obtain a job (Harvey, 2001). Thus, employability skills – or soft skills, as they are often referred to – are the skills that increase one’s capability of obtaining employment.

The shift from an industrial economy to a service and/or office economy has shifted employers’ emphasis to hiring for integrity, attitude, responsibility, self-management and communication skills (Robles, 2012). It is clear that non-academic or non-technical skills are important and the literature confirms that these employability or soft skills are not only integral to getting a job, but pay dividends in terms of job mobility and earnings (Lerman, 2013).

Soft skills have been described as a combination of interpersonal and social-emotional skills, in contrast to the technical and administrative skills and procedures that typically constitute hard skills. Hard skills are often acquired through formal education and training while soft skills are, for the most part, developed through personal experience and reflection. However, these skill sets are complementary in the sense that they are both necessary if an employee is to remain employed and both contribute to the success of the organization (Rego, 2017). 

Can these skills be assessed?

It is incumbent that educational institutions and career development personnel be able to assess the development of employability skills. Unlike hard skills, however, which can be evaluated using more traditional means such as tests, employability skills are difficult to objectively assess. Assessment of employability skills most often involves the observation of a particular activity or task as it is being performed (Kechagias, 2011).

Formative assessment occurs when observation is combined with the provision of timely and supportive feedback. Unfortunately, programs that teach technical skills for future specialization often don’t assess and develop employability skills effectively, as sustained effort in the formative process of observation and feedback is typically needed to reinforce these skills. The job of assessing and developing these skills is made even more difficult because they are contextual and are best learned and most applicable in connection to a specific job. A formative assessment process that involves supervisors and employers is likely the most effective way to assess employability skills.

So how should employability skills be assessed?

There is a lot of variability across the literature on how best to measure employability skills. Valid and reliable assessment tools are available (eg, the Employment Readiness Scale [Ward & Riddle, 2014]), but these tend to focus on a broad but limited number of employability-related factors. Some sectors have established methods for assessing and benchmarking soft skills (eg, health care or public relations), but this is not the case for the majority of sectors (Cukier et al., 2015).

There is evidence to support the belief that these skills can and will be learned in the course of gaining experience. In fact, research suggests that the development of employability skills may require learning in actual workplaces (Lerman, 2013).

Gibb (2014) offers a number of suggestions, based on the work of Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006), for making effective use of experience and feedback in the interest of developing and assessing these skills. He advises that the assessment of employability skills needs to take place in a safe environment and involve the following practices:

  • Connecting employability skills with the performance goals of the organization in an explicit way. This means clarifying what good performance looks like. Rubrics are useful to this end for formative and summative forms of assessment (DiMartino & Castaneda, 2007).
  • Paying equal attention to both observable behaviour and an employee’s perceptions of their own behaviour.
  • Ensuring that the information used to support feedback is sound – observations are valid and reliable, the information used is concrete and relevant and inferences are minimal.
  • Providing feedback that is goal-referenced, actionable, timely and consistent, and pointing out opportunities to close the gap between the level of performance that has been observed and what is required.
  • Encouraging self-assessment and reflection on learning and skill-development opportunities.
  • Encouraging positive beliefs and self-esteem that contribute to motivation for learning and skill development.
  • Employing assessment that is adaptable to new skill requirements and allows opportunities for creativity on the part of the employee.
  • Giving equal and objective treatment to all employees.

The world of work is changing and so are the skills employees need to participate in it. Formative assessment of employability skills should be an integral part of practicum and co-op experiences for students. Programs and workshops already exist in Canada that will provide training in employability skills and many of these use a formative assessment approach. Furthermore, it is in the best interests of employers to use assessment strategies as part of their performance review process with employees, as this can increase retention and reduce hiring costs.

Jeff Landine is Canadian Certified Counsellor (CCC) and Licensed Psychologist in New Brunswick. He works as a Counsellor Educator at the University of New Brunswick but also maintains a private practice where he particularly enjoys helping clients with career and employability needs.


Cassidy, S. (2006). Developing employability skills: Peer assessment in higher education. Education+ training48(7), 508-517.

Cukier, W., Hodson, J., & Omar, A. (2015). “Soft” skills are hard: A review of the literature. Ryerson University: Toronto, ON.

DiMartino, J., & Castaneda, A. (2007). Assessing Applied Skills. Educational Leadership, 64(7), 38–42.

Gibb, S. (2014). Soft skills assessment: theory development and the research agenda. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 33(4), 455–471.

Harvey, L. (2001). Defining and measuring employability. Quality in Higher Education, 7(2), 97–109.

Kechagias, K. (2011). Teaching and Assessing Soft Skills, MASS Project, 115-117.

Lerman, R. I. (2013). Are employability skills learned in U.S. youth education and training programs? IZA Journal of Labor Policy, 2(1), 6. 

Rego, A. (2017). Soft Skills: Who says they can’t be taught? Canadian Journal of Medical Laboratory Science; Hamilton, 79(2), 11.

Robles, M. M. (2012). Executive perceptions of the top 10 soft skills needed in today’s workplace. Business Communication Quarterly75(4), 453-465.

Ward, V., & Riddle, D. (2014). Weaving soft skills development into everyday employment services in Canada. Career Development Association: Online Resources. Retrieved from


Editor’s note

Lindsay Purchase, CERIC Content & Communications Editor

In between watching Office Space and Gladiator in my Grade 10 Careers class (essential viewing for our career education), we took an online career aptitude test. Would I be a veterinarian? An author? No, the destiny that awaited me – a student who later quit school sports for human rights club – was to be a professional athlete.

I found this process confusing and unhelpful – hardly a unique first experience with career assessments. However, it illustrates a couple of important points: 1) Not all career assessments, formal or informal, are created equally, and 2) Results interpretation with a trained career professional is an important part of the assessment process.

CERIC is thrilled to share with you our second collaborative issue of Careering magazine with the US-based National Career Development Association (NCDA) on the theme of “Career Assessments.” A robust overview of informal and formal assessments, the feature article by JoAnn Harris-Bowlsbey from the NCDA’s Summer Career Developments magazine, is included in Careering. Both magazines also contain an interview with assessment expert Dr Chris Wood of the University of Las Vegas and an infographic exploration of how career professionals can best use assessments. You can learn more about Career Developments at

Our print articles and robust offering of online-exclusives approach the Career Assessments theme from a broad range of perspectives. This issue examines a variety of assessment tools and strategies, from widely used career tests to unique, homegrown approaches (try bringing music into your career conversations for surprisingly insightful results). Learn tips for weaving assessment results into a meaningful whole, what happened when one career professional decided to test out five popular assessment tools on herself and much more.

A secondary theme of career transition emerged in this issue’s recurring features. Principles in Action looks at the dynamic nature of career development, while our Client Side writer shares her experience with career counselling during a mid-life career pivot.

Happy reading!