Principles in Action: Uncovering interests to find the best career fit

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.


Case Study: Building confidence to tackle a mid-life career transition

In this recurring Careering feature, a career professional shares their real-life solution to a common problem in the field.
Identifying skills and successes to help illuminate a new, meaningful career path

By Teresa Francis

Change has been a recurring theme in my own career journey, so it is perhaps fitting that adult career transition became a focus of my work. Successful navigation of this significant event often requires revisiting personal identity as clients learn to see themselves in new ways. This case study tells the story of Stefan, a stage actor seeking career change. For Stefan, reflecting on the career he was leaving was an important step in preparing to reframe his skill set and open himself to new opportunities.

Stefan’s story 

“I’m desperate,” Stefan said as he walked through the door. The look in his eyes confirmed his words. “I need to leave my career,” he stated, his voice thick with emotion, “and I have no idea what else I can do.”

Stefan was a stage actor with an extensive portfolio. For 30 years, he had performed in, produced and directed shows across the country. As he shared a little of his story with me, I realized who he was – a well-known and well-loved personality in local theatre. I noticed my own resistance to his desire for a career change. “What a loss that would be,” I thought.

Stefan loved his work and had given it his all. But the theatre world was changing, and he no longer felt a part of it. Although acting had defined him, the years of performing had taken a toll. He was exhausted, disillusioned and sad. He was also terrified, feeling as though he’d lost his identity, and wondering, as a 55-year-old man, what he had to offer.

Stefan didn’t know what skills he possessed or how he might apply them in another field of work, but he did express a desire for a job with greater stability and more structure – something 9 to 5ish. He wasn’t ready to (or in a position to) retire and felt that he had more to give; he just didn’t know what that was.

Developing a career narrative

As we began our work together, we explored Stefan’s background. His acting CV was extensive and he had directed more than 50 shows. He had led a theatre company, with responsibility for programming, scheduling, hiring and budgeting as well as for building and maintaining community relationships.

Reflecting on his experiences through writing a career narrative was therapeutic for Stefan. This career change was his decision, but he felt a great sense of loss at leaving his life’s work. Revisiting performances, productions, accolades and challenges helped Stefan to acknowledge the achievements and contributions of his career. It allowed him to appreciate and honour where he’d been. At the same time, “it also confirmed that I was ready to move on.”

Stefan’s career narrative served another important purpose: It provided a jumping off point for conversations about Stefan’s career highs and lows, his proudest moments, problems he solved and experiences he might not have otherwise mentioned. For example, for many years he had volunteered as the producer of a local high school musical, working with students, staff, parents, administrators and the public. Because this role was voluntary, he hadn’t considered it a source of demonstrated skills.

From these conversations and other exercises he completed, we began to identify Stefan’s transferable skills (easy!) and name them (more challenging!). Gradually, Stefan began to own them (very challenging!). He recognized himself as an actor, director and producer, but did he believe he had leadership skills? As he worked to find terms to describe his abilities to potential new employers, Stefan periodically stepped away to reflect, integrating this new perspective into his view of himself.

New awareness, new opportunities

When Stefan began to craft a new resume around his skills, I saw a change in him. He had a new awareness of his strengths in managing people and resources, his strong work ethic and his commitment to excellence.  As his confidence grew, an interest in a career in arts administration emerged. Stefan tested out his ideas with trusted colleagues and friends, and the positive feedback he received encouraged him.

“When Stefan began to craft a new resume around his skills, I saw a change in him.”

What happened next illustrates key points of one of my favourite career development theories: John Krumboltz’s Planned Happenstance. Krumboltz’s theory encourages us to remain open-minded in our planning and preparations, ready to embrace opportunity when it presents itself.   Stefan had identified a number of steps toward his new career goal, including further education (he felt his lack of a completed degree was a barrier). As an interim step, he applied for a temporary, part-time role with a local arts organization. He sent off his new resume and got an email back: “Did you know we are looking for an Executive Director?” The rest, as they say, is history.

Several years later, Stefan inhabits his role with confidence, enthusiasm and grace. In many ways, he seems like a different person from the one I first met. In a simple statement, he sums up what the career development process meant to him: Without it, “I could not have seen myself in that way.”

Working with Stefan brought me valuable insights. Among them:

  1. No matter how successful we are, career change can be terrifying. Any of us can lose confidence, regardless of how skilled others tell us we are.
  2. Transition takes time and may be different for each of us. Naming our skills is only half the battle – integrating them into how we see ourselves can take much longer.
  3. Even when we have moved on, the journey isn’t over. Stefan’s transition continued as he accepted, began and learned his new role.
  4. Seizing the moment takes courage. Stefan wasn’t at all certain that he was ready to be an E.D. when the opportunity presented itself, but a new-found courage and belief in himself helped him make the leap.

Teresa Francis, MEd, CCC, RCT, is a career counsellor and a consultant in Career Development and Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR). She draws upon tools and strategies from both areas in the services she offers through her company, Teresa Francis Consulting. 

F18 - Department

10 questions for Dr Mary McMahon

Dr Mary McMahon is an Honorary Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Queensland, Australia, where she has lectured in career development and career counselling at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Dr McMahon is a developer and co-author of the internationally recognized Systems Theory Framework of Career Development, which takes a holistic “individual in context” view of career development. She applies systems theory and systems thinking in her work on narrative career counselling and qualitative career assessment.

Dr McMahon will deliver a keynote address at the Cannexus National Career Development Conference, Jan. 28-30, 2019, in Ottawa. She is a co-editor (along with Dr Nancy Arthur and Dr Roberta Neault) of the forthcoming Career Theories and Models at Work: Ideas for Practice, published by CERIC and launching at Cannexus19.

Describe why career development matters.

Career development matters because it can offer a form of support for people who may have arrived at a challenging period of life in relation to their learning and work options. As practitioners who understand career development, it is easy for us to think career development matters. We need to remember, however, that others in the community such as potential clients and stakeholders may not know why it matters, and a constant challenge for us is, I think, to advocate for our field.

Which book are you reading right now?

Right now I am very busy with work and sadly, am not currently reading anything other than academic literature. When I do read for pleasure I most usually read crime fiction and enjoy the work of a range of authors. When I start a book, I like to finish it as soon as possible and I put everything else off until I get to the end.

What do you do to relax?

I like to walk in the park near our home every day and I regularly go to Pilates. I find going to the beach and swimming in the surf is a good way of unwinding. For me though, the best form of relaxation is to get away from everything by going camping.

Name one thing you wouldn’t be able to work without?

I would miss my diary if I lost it. I need to know each night what I am doing the next day so that I can visualize how I will manage it.

What activity do you usually turn to when procrastinating?

When I am at home, I walk around the house and then sit down with a cup of tea. I try to read something different or do some smaller tasks before getting back to whatever I am procrastinating about.

What song do you listen to for inspiration?

I like any kind of music. I’ve recently been to the musical Beautiful about the music and life of Carole King and I came away in awe of her talent.

Which word do you overuse?


Who would you like to work with most?

I would most like to work with an aid organization trying to learn from and make a difference in the lives of people living in challenging circumstances.

Which talent or superpower would you like to have?

I would like to have the power to make the world a kind, fair, just and peaceful place where differences are solved through respectful, open and honest discussion.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I think pursuing my education has been my greatest achievement because of the opportunities that it has opened for me.


Career Briefs

Filling the research gap on ‘seniorpreneurs’

A CERIC-funded study conducted by the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research investigated the experiences, needs and interests of senior entrepreneurs (or “seniorpreneurs”). The eight-month study collected feedback from 180 senior entrepreneurs through online surveys, in-depth interviews and focus groups.

There has been relatively little research, or even interest, in investigating the characteristics of older entrepreneurs in Canada. This research fills an information gap by providing Canadian data about the needs and interests of seniorpreneurs, the results of which can be used by career counsellors to coach and guide older clients. Among the findings:

  • Nearly four in 10 older entrepreneurs face gaps in the support they need to launch or develop their businesses
  • 37% of the respondents aged 50+ had challenges in accessing financial or government support and mentors
  • The top reason identified by respondents to start a business after 50 was interest in continuing to use their skills

The report offers recommendations to enhance the state of senior entrepreneurship in Canada, including: providing support for all entrepreneurs regardless of age; standardizing programs and services available to support this senior cohort; and providing career-transition services for older workers who are leaving traditional jobs.

Access the final report at

Canada should improve labour-market outcomes for immigrants, women: report

The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) released its Economic Survey of Canada 2018 report in July. The OECD found that Canada’s economy has returned to buoyant growth with the help of stimulus measures following the weak patch caused by the 2014 energy price slump. However, the report stated that Canada’s labour productivity was below the OECD average. It also asserted that Canada’s aging population and weak productivity growth will present long-term challenges.

The report highlighted that Canada’s gender employment gap, which is considerably larger than the OECD average, has not shrunk since 2009. The report stated that the effects of population aging could be mitigated by improving labour-market outcomes for women, youth and seniors.

While the report commended Canada for its successful immigration policies, it also noted that labour-market integration challenges persist. When compared with Canadian-born workers within comparable education, age and geographical brackets, immigrants earn considerably less. The OECD urged Canada to improve integration measures and to select immigrants with higher earnings prospects to reduce the wage gap.

Read the Economic Survey at – Economic Surveys.

Playbook provides comprehensive career-management tool for non-profits

CERIC is publishing a non-profit edition of its popular Retain and Gain Playbook this fall that addresses the challenges faced by charities and non-profits in attracting, retaining and engaging staff. This bilingual publication, authored by Lisa Taylor of Challenge Factory, will enhance capacity building across the non-profit sector. The Retain and Gain: Career Management for Non-Profits and Charities Playbook addresses the unique environment in which non-profits operate, in terms of funding mechanisms, community stakeholders and reliance on volunteers.

Written in an innovative “travel guide” format, the Playbook is intended for executive directors and people managers to use as a practical career management tool with their employees in charities of all sizes. It features strategies to engage full-time and part-time staff in ways that advance, develop and support thriving careers within the sector. This includes more than 40 practical, low-cost tips, activities and actions that can be implemented in as few as 10 minutes a day.

You can download the Playbook free, or it will also be for sale in hard copy as well as ebook formats.

Download the Non-Profit Retain and Gain Playbook or learn how to buy a copy at

Excitement building for Cannexus19

Planning is well underway for Cannexus19, taking place Jan. 28-30, 2019 in Ottawa. This bilingual conference is Canada’s largest for career counsellors, career development professionals and the career services sector. The Cannexus19 National Career Development Conference will feature more than 130 education sessions. Topics include:

  • Effective counselling & facilitation techniques
  • Labour market information
  • Career assessment tools
  • Post-secondary & graduate employment

Deborah Saucier, Right Hon David Johnston and Mary McMahon will present keynote addresses. Cannexus will also feature a Mega Panel on Theories and Models at Work  – Ideas for Practice.

Cannexus19 is expected to bring together 1,000 career development professionals from education, government, community and private sectors. The conference is designed to promote the exchange of information and explore innovative approaches in the areas of career counselling and career development.

Register for Cannexus19 by Nov. 7, 2018 to get the Early Bird rate, a savings of $75 on the three-day rate.

Learn more about Cannexus19 and register at

Many students lacking paid work experience in their field: poll

A survey of 1,000 Canadian adults, 18 to 29, from the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) revealed that while students believe in the value of experiential learning, they are often unable to find paid work placements. The survey found nearly half of current students have not done paid work related to their field of study or through their academic program. However, the poll also found students believe paid work placements related to their field of study are the best type of experience to help new graduates get a good job. More than half (57%) of current students reported having participated in an unpaid work placement.

CASA recommendations for the federal government include:

  • Expanding the Canada Summer Jobs program to reach 10,000 additional students
  • Investing in programs that connect Indigenous and marginalized youth with employers and the labour market
  • Increasing youth access to career education
  • Increasing access to apprenticeships, as well as vocational education and training
  • Developing a well-co-ordinated and highly visible school-to-work transition strategy

Access the survey at

George Brown College launches new career development program

George Brown College, located in downtown Toronto, launched its Career Development Practitioner program this fall. The year-long (three-semester) program is shorter than the diploma program it replaced. Graduates of the program, which the College says is more practical and responds to employer demands for trained workers, will earn an Ontario College Graduate Certificate. The program maintains a generalist perspective, with such courses as Trends in Career Development, Professional Practice, and Individual Counselling and Coaching. Part-time and online learning options are available.

The program includes an experiential learning component in the third semester, which will see students attend a placement several times a week with the support of an advisor. Placements are chosen by students and approved by the program co-ordinator. Students can choose to work in a variety of settings, from community-based organizations to the private sector, vocational rehabilitation programs and government departments. The practicum component allows graduates to partly fulfil the work experience hours required by the Career Development Practitioners’ Certification Board of Ontario. As well, the program’s ethics courses are designed to meet the Certified Career Development Practitioner certification.

Visit to learn more about the Career Development Practitioner program.


Editor’s note

Hello, readers. My name is Lindsay Purchase, and I’m excited to share with you my first Careering issue as CERIC’s new Content & Communications Editor. While you will continue to find the thought-provoking, informative articles that make Careering a must-read, you may also notice some new features (check out our infographic) and design shifts going forward as we continue to look for ways to serve you better. Inside our Navigating Mental Health and Disability issue, you will find themes of resilience, shifting perspectives and support networks; these have resonated with me as I have navigated my own career transition, and I hope they will for you as well.

As a society, we have a growing awareness of mental-health issues. We are becoming more accepting of physical and mental differences in the workplace. And yet, we have a long way to go in tearing down barriers to work for people living with disabilities or mental illness.

With one-third of Canadians experiencing a mental illness in their lifetime (Public Health Agency of Canada) and 3.6 million Canadians projected to be living with a physical disability by 2030 (Conference Board of Canada), professionals working in career development have an important role to play. How do resilience and wellness factor into career development? How can workplaces, schools and career development practitioners better support people with disabilities? In this issue, we explore these questions and many more.

First, Dr Marie-Helene Pelletier outlines the barriers people on leave due to mental-health issues can encounter upon their return to work. Then, Mary Ann Baynton explains how jobseekers can build resilience to more effectively handle the challenges of career transition.

We are also launching our new Client Side feature, in which a jobseeker reflects on successes and struggles in their career development. Here, Rebecca McMurrer shares her journey to finding meaningful employment in nursing after being diagnosed with a progressive condition that caused her mobility to deteriorate.

Also, in this issue’s Case Study, Teresa Francis shares her experience of helping a successful stage actor find confidence in his strengths to start a new phase of his career.

If you have feedback on our print articles or our web exclusives, or if you have ideas about how we can make Careering even better, I would love to hear from you. Have an article idea for our next issue? Take a peek at our upcoming theme and view our submission guidelines at Happy reading!


Client Side: How my disability changed my perspective on jobseeking

In Client Side, a new Careering feature, jobseekers reflect on successes and struggles in their career development.

After she was diagnosed with a progressive condition, Rebecca McMurrer feared the time and effort she had put into building a nursing career would go to waste

By Rebecca McMurrer

Jobseeking can be difficult in the best of circumstances. Browsing through postings, hoping to see a position that will not only meet your financial needs but also allow you to build a long and meaningful career, can be frustrating. When living with a disability, you share the same insecurities as other jobseekers, but you are also flooded with emotion and concerns, wondering if your limitations (perceived or otherwise) will eliminate you from even being considered.

My name is Rebecca McMurrer, and I live with a condition called spastic paraparesis as well as cerebral palsy. I have been trained in and worked as a human services worker, pharmacy technician and most recently became a licensed practical nurse specializing in Alzheimer and dementia care. I live in Saint John, NB, work for a non-profit organization and volunteer with a local nursing home in their Dementia Care unit. I have a passion for caregiving and educating others on various health topics as well as advocating for those who do not have a voice.

Finding a job was never very difficult for me. I had a great resume and a lot of experience and education. This all changed after I was diagnosed with a progressive condition and my mobility began to deteriorate. I still had the same qualifications and experience, but now I felt burdened with a label and new restrictions. I was a nurse, but now a nurse with a disability. This newly attached addendum to my life felt like an apology with a “but” attached to it. I felt my skills and experience would mean less and by that I would mean less as a person in the health-care field. How could I compete with those who had the same qualifications and knowledge, but were able to stand for hours on end, when I could not?

Being a nurse is an extremely physical job, but it was my passion. I was left struggling to reassure myself that I was still viable in my chosen field and that not only could I continue and flourish in my current vocation, but also that all the time, effort and study I had put into my career was not without merit. I began to feel as though my life (which was tethered to my career in many facets) was now as limited as I had begun to feel physically. My mental and physical health began to suffer as I pushed myself more and more to show not only those I worked with, but also myself, that I could still be a viable member of a care team. I pushed myself so hard, in fact, that I now require crutches and, in many instances, a wheelchair to complete even the simplest of tasks that I once took for granted. I began to feel more isolated and ineffectual as time passed.

I reached out to a friend to talk about my situation. He told me about an organization called the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW), and how they not only assisted him with finding a meaningful and appropriate career, but even more importantly, reminded him of his worth as a productive member of society. I took his advice to reach out and, after only three months, I found a position that suited my needs and accommodations, and also allowed me to support a population of people – often neglected and underserved – living with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Advocacy organizations help people who may have lost their drive, or even their ability to feel productive and of worth, to see themselves as equal to their peers. This is no small task, as physical ailments can create or exacerbate mental ailments if a person is feeling undervalued at work. Much work is still to be done, but with the increasing number of inclusive employers and organizations such as the CCRW working together, we are now making what was once impossible, possible.

Rebecca McMurrer is 26 years old and lives in Saint John, NB. In her spare time she enjoys volunteering at her church, exploring New Brunswick’s beaches and spending time with her partner, their Boston terrier and their cat.