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Storytelling is the career superpower your clients need to master

Being able to deliver a compelling career story will help jobseekers identify their value and communicate it to employers

Alastair MacFadden

Alastair MacFaddenContemplating a path through an uncertain future can be agonizing. For students and workers, it can be particularly uncomfortable. They are bombarded with information and advice. From the future of work to the impact of COVID-19, the labour market context is noisy.

In the face of uncertainty, many will seek refuge by just getting by; focusing on the short-term horizon and making choices that can undermine their preferred future.

Short-term thinking comes naturally in times of stress. A job applicant might relay the chronology of their resume rather than reveal their ambition or true self. A university student might choose more education over a leap into the job market. The impulse is to survive the immediate threat. It is an instinct that comes at a cost. By avoiding risk, we also foreclose on opportunities.

How can a person shape a career plan in the face of uncertainty? How do you excite strangers about your fit for a new opportunity? How can you become the hero of your own story?

These questions are fundamental for anyone engaged in a career journey. To help a client find their way, an essential superpower involves helping them master their story.

Why storytelling matters

We’ve all overcome difficulties, stumbled and learned. This personal narrative includes the stories we tell ourselves and others. In that sense, they define who we are. (Other leaders in career development have also described the importance of a personal narrative. Lysa Appleton (2018) offers another angle on storytelling in career development based, in part, on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. )

More on storytelling from CareerWise:

To improve job interview performance, try a storytelling approach

Learning how to trust our clients’ stories

Here’s why storytelling is so powerful in career management:

Our minds are built to share and remember stories. Our physiology drives us to link fragments of information in patterns (Gottschall, 2012). When something is unclear, it is automatic to jump to conclusions, fill in gaps with assumptions and make up stories (or even conspiracies).

Arranging the story arranges the mind. Research has proven that knowing and applying your strengths leads to better engagement, productivity and well-being (Seligman, 2002). Stories integrate emotions, sensations and events into meaning. You can find confidence by exploring patterns and themes that reveal talents and resilience (Dingfelder, 2011).

A personal narrative positions you as the protagonist. When you’re the agent and not the victim of your story, you gain a sense of control and hope for what is still to come (Ibarra and Lineback, 2005). A story forms the context needed for self-compassion. The work of narrative psychology shows that those who find positive meaning in life events express greater life satisfaction.

Storytelling is a way to make sense of our lives. As you arrange the plot points, you highlight what has taken place and frame what is next in your career journey. Turning points gain significance through recall and interpretation, and maturity surfaces as we relate our past to our present and foreshadow possible futures. Your story gives you the words to close one career chapter and begin another.

We communicate and connect through stories. By mastering and then sharing your story, you form relationships with strangers. You can become someone memorable because sharing a multidimensional story creates an associative map across multiple brain regions (Lazarus and Snow, 2018).

There’s value in being able to tell a good story. Good stories transport the audience toward connection. Character-driven stories activate the production of oxytocin in the brain – a hormone associated with feelings of empathy, generosity, trust and co-operation (Zak, 2014). If you want help from others, your story helps them feel they have a stake in your success.

Building a coherent and compelling career story

A random, accidental and incoherent story is a drag. Compelling stories have structure that grabs attention and transports the audience into another world.

A coherent career story also has flow. It identifies plot points and draws connections between them. To help your client explore their story, ask them what has been significant or inspiring in their work life. Try using these questions as a prompt:

  1. As you look back, what are key turning points or events? What are personal experiences that best reflect your strengths, passions and achievement? Describe a time or two when you’ve been happiest in your work – what skills were you using in those moments?
  2. What has been the role of other people in your journey? Who are the mentors, coaches and allies who have influenced you? What advice have you received? What was the impact?

Next, work with your client to create headlines that capture these critical moments and relationships as the chapters in their career story. Encourage them to craft a vivid, concise description of experiences that are most relevant to the impression they want to leave others about their character and story.

woman smiling and speaking to other people in office
Storytelling can serve as a powerful tool to connect with others. (iStock)
Delivering a story that connects

When someone asks your client, “What do you do?” or “Tell me about yourself” they are inviting a short story. Converting career chapters into human connection involves linking past experiences with the present and future.

To arrange the chapters and deliver a story that connects, good stories offer a consistent formula:

  • Know your audience. The aim is to share a career story that will resonate with the audience. The client should tailor their narrative to the opportunities they are exploring. Scanning a job ad for keywords, for example, can point to elements of the story that should be emphasized in a cover letter or interview.
  • Start by sharing something that may be surprising, such as a time you embarked on a personal challenge or crossed a career threshold.
  • To sustain attention, build tension by sharing obstacles that have shaped you, such as a crisis or failure or an unusual project. Describe the insights gained, before leading to …
  • The present state – a career crossroads – where you are taking a further step toward your preferred future.

Over time, each interview and tailored job application will bring the client clarity and a deeper sense of direction as they master their career story.

Anticipating the next chapter

Heroes don’t just endure difficulty and accept their fate. They exercise their strengths to prepare for the future. If a client feels they are preparing for an uncertain future, help them build their story with scenario planning. Have them focus on what is known:

  • Their main talents, gifts and competencies. For example, what patterns are evident in the interests, experiences and life lessons in their career story?
  • Trends shaping the future of their work life. What will be the impact on the client of personal and labour market trends over the next 10 or 20 years? Can they envision multiple futures or scenarios? (E.g. technological change or other trends in their profession, changes within their family or their family status, wider economic or social trends such as access to childcare or eldercare.)
  • Choices in a changing world. How can the client’s talents be deployed in each of the future scenarios they envision? What partnerships or allies will matter? How can their knowledge, skills and attributes best be deployed? Of the tactics that fit each future scenario, which ones appear again and again? Those are the tactics that offer the most robust next steps for any plausible career future, and they should inform the client’s choices and their next chapter.

It is worth reminding the client that they are protagonist of their story. By helping them master storytelling, you are helping them gain a superpower that will build their confidence, form relationships and propel their career forward.

Alastair MacFadden is an Executive in Residence at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy. He has worked in the non-profit sector and government to advance career development practices and to help individuals reach their full potential.


Appleton, L. (2018). Storytelling a powerful tool in clients’ career development. CareerWise.

Dingfelder, S. (2011). Our Stories, Ourselves. American Psychological Association. Monitor on Psychology, 41(1).

Gottschall, J. (2012). The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Ibarra, H. and K. Lineback. (2005). What’s Your Story? Harvard Business Review.

Lazarus, J. and S. Snow. (2018). The Storytelling Edge: How to Transform Your Business, Stop Screaming Into the Void, and Make People Love You. Wiley.

Seligman, M.E.P. (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. Simon and Shuster

Zak, P.J. (2014). Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling. Harvard Business Review.

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Supporting the careers of individuals who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour

It is vital that career professionals understand how systemic racism affects the career and educational pathways of their clients to help them succeed

Jodi Tingling

author headshotSystemic racism in Canada has affected individuals who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC), and for many has had a negative impact on their career pathways. As a career practitioner it is important to understand how systemic racism affects the clients you see and to assess how you can help dismantle a system that can be oppressive to ensure everyone has an opportunity to succeed in their careers.

Addressing inequity and its impacts

Equity means being fair and impartial; this includes having opportunities for all – not only a certain group. Understanding the challenges that BIPOC face is an important aspect of addressing their true career journey and its impacts. From challenges in the educational system to biased recruitment practices, to microaggressions in the workplace, to being screened out of senior leadership positions – these issues can negatively impact BIPOC’s career journeys.

As a career professional, be aware that BIPOC clients may have experienced racial trauma, which can affect their career and many other aspects of their life. Racial trauma results in the psychological and physical distress of individuals and can be attributed to varying experiences because of one’s race (Comas-Díaz, Hall, & Neville, 2019).

Read more from CareerWise

To build an inclusive workplace, start with CQ – cultural intelligence
Resources on career development and social justice
First Nations skills-training program has partnership at heart

Addressing inequity and its impacts requires a commitment to understanding the system in which BIPOC navigate their careers. It is important to be aware that standards of professionalism are ingrained in white supremacy culture and serve to oppress those who are BIPOC. According to two grassroots organizers and scholars, Tema Okun and Keith Jones (n.d.), white supremacy shows up in many organizations and has characteristics that are embraced in the workplace. This includes expectations of white-coded behaviours and attitudes ranging from perfectionism, to standards of hair, clothing and communication patterns, to overall expectations like adhering to organizations’ “culture fit.” These expectations amplify toxic workplace environments and serve to hurt BIPOC’s careers.

“As a career professional, be aware that BIPOC clients may have experienced racial trauma, which can affect their career and many other aspects of their life.”

Your strategy to empower BIPOC’s career trajectory needs to begin with commitment to becoming an ally to support and dismantle a system that serves as a disadvantage to the BIPOC community. This requires challenging the system and providing a space for BIPOC to thrive in their careers.

Education and career pathways

Barriers to career pathways can start in the education system, where educators’ racial biases can alter the educational trajectories of racialized students. Only recently, the Government of Ontario announced that it would end the controversial practice of streaming students into applied and academic tracks, a practice that has widely been known to discriminate against racialized students. A 2017 report from York University, Towards Race Equity in Education (2017), concluded 53% of Black students were in the academic program of study, compared to 81% of white and 80% of other racialized students. These discriminatory practices in the education system ultimately limit career trajectories and can alter and create a negative perception of school and career navigation for BIPOC.

Employment earnings and job security

BIPOC are affected negatively in their careers when it comes to unemployment, earnings and opportunities. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), racialized workers were more likely to be unemployed in 2016 at a rate of 9.2%, compared to non-racialized workers at 7.3% ((Block, Galabuzi, & Tranjan, 2019).  Additionally, the earnings gap has remained relatively unchanged since 2006. For every dollar that non-racialized men earn, racialized women earn 59 cents and racialized men earn 78 cents. In the By the numbers: Race, gender and the Canadian labour market report, the CCPA also concluded there has been little progress to close the racial gap in unemployment. One of the report’s key learnings is that labour market discrimination against racialized workers continues to be an issue both in the wage gap and in unemployment rates.

Similarly, the Conference Board of Canada (2017) concludes there are discriminatory practices that contribute to the employment and wage gap. One factor during the recruitment process included “having an ethic-sounding name.” When comparing resumes that had similar content but differences in names, they found those with non-ethnic sounding names were 35% more likely to get a callback. Belonging to a racialized group also decreased employment security; 20.9 % of visible minorities reported experiencing discrimination as a barrier to maintaining employment opportunities.

Career mobility

Career mobility among the BIPOC community is a major issue that needs to be addressed. BIPOC are consistently underrepresented in senior leadership positions. A report from Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute (2019) found that although Greater Montreal’s population was made up of 22.6% of racialized people, only 5.3 % held senior leadership positions. Additionally, in The Black Experience Project, Black people living in the Greater Toronto Area were asked how being Black has affected their work experience (Ryerson Diversity Institute, 2017). Participants cited challenges in their career including “having their level of competency questioned, dealing with racism and stereotypes, and having their qualifications overlooked or not recognized.” Expertise in the BIPOC community is often overlooked and this can be very discouraging for those who want to be in senior leadership roles.

Assess your biases

When thinking about the ways you as a career professional can help your BIPOC clients, first, assess your bias. Harvard has a race-based Implicit Associate Test (IAT) that can help you understand your blind spots when it comes to race. Take this test to understand where your biases may be and develop a strategy to actively work on them. Understand that systemic racism in Canada exists and professionals from the BIPOC community have historically been discriminated against, both during the recruitment process and in the workforce. Next, if you realize you have blind spots, take the necessary steps to learn, listen and be receptive to the experiences of BIPOC.

Building resilience

Challenge systems that serve to benefit certain populations and cause harm to others. Ask yourself what you can do to propose alternative processes that support and provide equitable opportunities for BIPOC.

Here are some strategies that you can start to engage in to advocate for opportunities for the BIPOC community:

  • Become an ally; use your power and privilege to help dismantle oppressive systems that serve to promote white supremacy and negatively affects BIPOC’s career journeys.
  • Partner with organizations that do advocacy work to address the specific needs of BIPOC.
  • Assess if education streams your BIPOC clients are being steered into are limiting and help provide options to expand career opportunities.
  • Empower your BIPOC clients by connecting them to mentorship, networks and leadership opportunities to help them build their career.
  • Speak to employers about potential biases and blind spots, advocate for opportunities and amplify BIPOC voices.
  • Stand up to racism and oppression when you see it, engage in crucial conversations and seek reinforcements to help support your work.
  • Form a network that can be a referral source for culturally appropriate resources that can support mental health, build networks and enhance growth.

With these strategies in mind, continue to help your BIPOC clients succeed and navigate the barriers they may be experiencing in their career.

Jodi Tingling is a career and wellness practitioner who works with leaders, professionals and organizations to ensure they meet their true potential. Her true passion is working to empower the voices and experiences of Black Indigenous Women of Colour (BIWOC). As the founder of Creating New Steps, she amplifies organizations and professionals to meet their unique workplace goals.


Block, S., Galabuzi, G., & Tranjan, R. (2019) Canada’s colour coded income inequality. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Retrieved from

Comas-Díaz, L., Hall, G. N., & Neville, H. A. (2019). Racial trauma: Theory, research, and healing: Introduction to the special issue. American Psychologist, 74(1), 1-5.

Okun, Tema. (n.d.) White supremacy culture. Retrieved from

Ryerson Diversity Institute. (2017). The Black experience project in the GTA: Overview report. Retrieved from—1-overview-report.pdf

Ryerson Diversity Institute. (2019). Diversity leads women & racialized people in senior leadership positions. Retrieved from

The Conference Board of Canada. (2017). Racial wage gap. Retrieved from

York University. (2017). Towards race equity in education: The schooling of Black students in the Greater Toronto Area. Retrieved from

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Making career development ‘stick’ in K-12

The career development gap in schools can only be bridged by prioritizing and scaling programming

Adriano Magnifico

headshot of Adriano MagnificoI grew up with superheroes.

I loved their superpowers – Superman leaping tall buildings in a single bound or the Torch igniting into a flaming comet.

I always had a soft spot for Spiderman, who could spew silk from his wrists and stick to the sides of buildings. He constantly helped those in distress but struggled to gain the respect of the public.

It reminds me of the typical career development (CD) practitioner.

CD has a respect problem in schools, a notion echoed by Deirdre Pickerell, Dean of Student Success at Yorkville University, who noted how hard it to get career development to “stick” (2020) in the hearts and minds of leaders.

CD’s transformative power must become higher profile – by integrating a Spiderman-like “stickiness” into K-12 programs.

The problem: A career development gap

Career development has long been a part of high school, but its delivery is intermittent and scattered. Program leads, usually guidance counsellors, are often besieged with mental health issues, family engagement, academic recovery programming, at-risk students and graduation credits. Schools laud graduation rates far more than post-high school planning initiatives.

Read more on CareerWise

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The problem is a sizeable gap between research (RBC, 2018, Statistics Canada, 2020, The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, 2014) purporting that career development is “central to learning across K-12” (CMEC, 2017) and the implementation of school plans that treat CD as a bonus activity available to students when time permits.

The gap can be only be bridged by selling, prioritizing, planning and scaling CD programming in K-12 schools. The challenge is getting leaders and school teams on board.

But it can be done.

quote on background of spideweb image: The gap can be only be bridged by selling, prioritizing, planning and scaling CD programming in K-12 schools.
Bridging the CD gap

For 25 years, I have worked to bridge this gap in schools by adopting a “blue sky” perspective of the larger mission. These are my key action steps to build a school career development program that sticks:

  1. Talk to the leaders. The CD gap will never be properly tackled until practitioners sell career development to school administrations and then take time in staff meetings to stimulate discussion about how career development can supercharge any classroom subject. Without the school administration identifying career development as a priority, any effort, while worthy, will ultimately miss its larger mark.
  2. Find the CD champions. Teacher-champions exist in every school who can spread the mission and build a collaborative interschool framework. I run a Career and Innovation Group in Louis Riel School division that meets regularly to discuss our CD initiatives and plans.
  3. Establish a foundation. Is there a 24/7 CD tool that every student, parent and teacher can access? Scaling career development in a building is difficult without one. Our division uses an online tool called myBlueprint, but there are other options. Every Grade 7-12 student has an account and access to self-assessment tools, school credits, occupations, goal setting, e-portfolios and scholarships.
  4. Integrate CD into courses. Some provinces mandate career courses. Manitoba offers optional career electives. These are useful, but they tend to compartmentalize career development. A stronger strategy is to integrate career development into everyday courses such as math, English and biology, and to get bigger buy-in from all subject teachers in schools.
  5. Involve parents. Research continuously shows that parents are the No. 1 influence when students decide on post-high school paths. Connecting with parents on CD initiatives in school is essential to having robust conversations about future pathways.
  6. Collect the dots; connect the dots. School and community do a great job of helping students collect dots – academic courses, clubs, sports, dancing, volunteer work, part-time jobs, etc. – but they do a poor job of helping students connect their dots, which is the key to effective career development. In Louis Riel School Division, we’ve created the LEAN Career Design Canvas, a tool that enables students to connect the dots of their experiences and to prepare for a career path that will last a lifetime. I share the Canvas with any practitioner who wants to try it out; it’s been iterated in 23 cities in and outside Canada.
  7. Build networks. Teach students the art of networking and model how to build professional and supportive networks. While telling students “to get out there” and connect with professionals may seem like a reasonable expectation, it’s really not. Without school networks of community professionals who offer internships, job shadows, volunteer experiences and mentorships, students will have no idea how to connect with employers or volunteer organizations. Most high school students need training, nudging and places to go.
  8. Create extra options. Offer more to students who want more. In partnership with RBC Future Launch, we’ve created the LRSD Skills Credential, an optional intensive career management program for Grade 11 and 12 students who complete career management workshops in financial literacy, labour market information, personal branding, ethics, problem-solving, project management and networking. Seventy-one LRSD students completed the Credential Program in 2019-2020; over 100 are in the pipeline for next year.
  9. Go online. COVID-19 has forced us to convert career development processes into fillable PDFs, one-on-one video chats and group video-conferencing. During the pandemic, 60 students presented their LEAN Career Design Canvases via TEAMS videoconferencing. The online canvas experience worked well; online tools will likely augment teacher-student engagements in the future.
  10. Build inclusivity. CD programming needs to appeal to the wide range of students in every school. For example, how does career programming connect with newcomer, Indigenous and LGBTQ2+ students? The Circle of Courage (Brendtro, 2009) has been an effective philosophy in Louis Riel School Division’s mission to build a culture of inclusivity. 
Plan and pitch large

Currently, career development is too dependent on the will and persistence of a dedicated few working in the trenches with a minority of students. To bridge the career development gap that permeates K-12 schools, we need to build collaborative networks, pitch research and effective practice to school decision-makers and create inclusive plans that bring systemic CD into classrooms

Scaling career development programming that “sticks” to students’ lives can be transformational – they will not only collect the dots of their experiences, but also engage in thoughtful reflection that connects their dots in ways to help them see their best selves and future pathways. We can’t wait for a radioactive spider to make this happen.

Adriano Magnifico is your friendly neighbourhood Career and Entrepreneurship Consultant in the Louis Riel School Division in Winnipeg.


Brendtro, Larry K. Brokenleg, Van Bockern Steve. (revised edition 2009). Reclaiming Youth at Risk: Our Hope for the Future. Bloomington IN: Solution Tree Press.

Council of Ministers of Education, Canada Research & Publications. (n.d.). (2017). Retrieved from

Pickerel, Deirdre, CERIC: Why Career Development Matters. Retrieved July 13, 2020, from

RBC. (March 2018). Humans Wanted. Retrieved from

Statistics Canada. (June 2020). “Through the Looking Glass: Assessing Skills Measures Using 21st Century Technologies.” LMI Insights. Issue No. 32. Retrieved from

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce. (October 2014). A Battle We Can’t Afford to Lose: Getting Young Canadians from Education to Employment. Retrieved from

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Bridging the skills awareness gap through reflection

Queen’s University card sort and mapping activities can help students acknowledge and articulate their skills with confidence

 Carli Fink

There is a lot of chatter about a graduate skills gap, but a skills awareness gap may be more appropriate. Post-secondary students and recent graduates have many skills — skills they have learned in classes, developed in workplaces, sharpened in the lab, honed on the field, practised on stage and demonstrated in their communities. Their curricular and co-curricular pursuits have shaped their ability to perform a wide range of tasks. Yet, as career development practitioners, we often hear students claim they are not qualified for any opportunities. This article will explain why the supposed skills gap is more of a skills awareness gap, and describe practical ways to support students and recent graduates in bridging this divide.

The role of skills awareness

The foundation of building a career is understanding the skills required to succeed in a given field and how these align with one’s own strengths. Communicating one’s value to a prospective employer is the ticket into the labour market. Reflection helps one become aware of their own strengths and competencies, enabling them to then articulate those assets and how they align with a given industry’s or employer’s needs.

A need for greater skills awareness is common among post-secondary students: despite their numerous achievements, many struggle to explain what they bring to the table beyond a list of past job and volunteer titles. Some do not connect their experience as a swim instructor to their strong communication skills, or realize that they are adaptable and culturally competent thanks to their experience living in two countries. Therein lies the “gap” —  the skills are not absent, so much as unacknowledged and unarticulated. Those who can speak about their skills with clarity and confidence are able to demonstrate their value to prospective employers.

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Bridging the gap

Reflection is a career superpower and, when it comes to skills, flexing this muscle gives individuals the ability to identify and share their strengths. At Queen’s University, we have created a web of supports to help students with skills awareness and articulation, including:  Skills Cards, Experiential Learning WrapAround and Major Maps.

While reflecting on skills is important, it can be a challenging undertaking. We decided to create a hands-on activity to help make this essential activity more engaging. The Queen’s Skills Cards are an innovative card sort based on the Queen’s Learning Outcomes Framework and employer data on desired skills. The cards name and define common transferrable skills, break each skill into components and provide an example of what that skill looks like in action. These cards help students identify and describe their skills, which boosts their confidence and provides a clearer sense of how different roles suit their strengths. The interactive and fun resource was designed as a physical deck of cards for career counsellors to use in appointments and workshops with students. Our hands-on resource has had to adapt to the COVID-19 times – a virtual version is also available. Guides for career practitioners at other institutions who wish to use the Queen’s Skills Cards or create their own institution-specific set are forthcoming.

We’ve created a variety of exercises that advisors can lead students through using the Queen’s Skills Cards. “You’ve Got Skills!” asks students to sort the cards by their proficiency, and then by the impact of each skill on their energy – that is, whether they find it energizing or draining to use that skill. An advisor can probe students to help them make meaning of their results: what kinds of jobs might rely on the skills they have identified as both high proficiency and energizing? How might they further develop the skills that feed their energy, but at which they are not yet proficient? A graph is also available so that students can plot their skills and see patterns more easily.

cards fanned out on table
Queen’s Skills Cards. (Images courtesy of Queen’s University)

Another activity, “Getting What You Need to Succeed,” asks students to sort the skills by their relevance to a particular industry or job posting of interest. The student and advisor can then discuss whether the student has the skills they have identified as necessary. If the student believes they do possess those skills, the conversation can move toward finding examples to emphasize in their application or in an interview. If the student lacks one or more key skills, the advisor can help them find opportunities to develop those skills.

Update: The Queen’s Skills Cards won a 2020 CACEE Innovation in Student Engagement award as a hands-on skills assessment exercise to help students identify and articulate their skills. Once the pandemic hit, it was clear an online version was needed – it’s hard to use a deck of cards when all appointments and workshops are remote. The new Online Skills Sorter and Facilitator Guide are now available and accessible to anyone.

The Queen’s Skills Cards are now being used within other skill-building and skill-reflection activities. For instance, students can engage in skills conversations through the Experiential Learning WrapAround. The EL WrapAround provides training for university staff and faculty who supervise student employees or volunteers, with the goal of supervisors facilitating their students’ reflection at strategic points within the arc of these positions. At the beginning, middle and end of their students’ roles, supervisors lead their students in an intentional, supportive conversation about what skills they hope to build and how they can do so. A standard form centred on a short list of key skills helps supervisors focus and make the discussion concrete.

Finally, the Major Maps ( and Grad Maps ( allow students to see a list of skills they can develop through each major available at Queen’s. The maps also outline the range of career-building experiences available within each of these programs of study. Prospective students as well as first-year students in general arts, science and engineering enjoy using the maps to evaluate how different majors will prepare them to achieve their career goals. Each map has a list of the skills developed in that particular major – these lists provide students with a starting point for talking about the skills and knowledge developed in their program, and how these differ from the outcomes of other programs.


Skills reflection and articulation are superpowers critical to finding a path that suits one’s strengths and in conducting an effective job search. As society enters a new era – one in which opportunities to gain experience in certain fields may be more limited – it is essential that students and recent graduates be able to explain their strengths and provide evidence of their transferability, ideally in language that is meaningful across industries. The fact that students and recent graduates have skills doesn’t mean they automatically know what to call them, how to describe their development or where in the labour market these skills might prove valuable. To foster this knowledge and bolster their confidence, students and recent graduates must intentionally reflect on their experiences. In helping individuals harness the power of their past experiences, reflection provides the key required to unlock the doors of future opportunities.

Carli Fink is a Career Counsellor at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON, and led the launch of the new Queen’s Skills Cards, which were recognized with a 2020 CACEE Excellence in Innovation: Student Engagement Award.

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Career Briefs

CERIC’s Cannexus conference to go virtual in 2021 

Cannexus21, Canada’s bilingual Career Development Conference, will bring stakeholders together around the theme of Career Development for Public Good and feature 150+ live and on-demand concurrent sessions in both English and FrenchLive sessions will be held over four days (Jan. 25 & 27 and Feb. 1 & 3, 2021) and registrants will be able to access session recordings for a full year after the conference. Virtual Cannexus21 will feature inspiring live keynotes from Zabeen Hirji, Executive Advisor Future of Work at Deloitte; Dr. Kris Magnusson, Professor, Simon Fraser University; and Perdita Felicien, Olympian, author and sports broadcaster. Register by Nov. 12, 2020 to get the discounted Early Bird rate.   

To learn more and register, visit 

Employers expecting more from graduates: survey 

A report from the Business + Higher Education Roundtable in partnership with the Business Council of Canada finds employers are expecting more from new graduates, with 75% saying their expectations are higher than five years ago. Employer expectations focus on productivity, resiliency, technical and human skills. Candidates also have greater expectations around work-life balance, flexibility, empowerment and meaningful work. The results suggest that Canada’s post-secondary system is doing a good job of keeping pace with respondents’ demands for technical skills, but human skills are not meeting expectations.  

Visit to read the report.  

New bursary recognizes career development leader Marilyn Van Norman  

The Counselling Foundation of Canada has established the new Marilyn Van Norman Bursary to support community-based career development and employment practitioners in attending the Cannexus conference each year. The bursary is given in recognition of Van Norman, the recently retired Director of Research Initiatives at CERIC and one of its founding Board members. Known as a collaborator, visionary and expeditor, she is widely respected for her more than 40 years of leadership in the career development field, with particular expertise in career centre and student services management. 

Details about the bursary can be found at 

Report finds Black leaders mostly absent from Canadian boards of directors  

A report from Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute shows women continue to make slow progress on boards of directors, but in some cases, representation of racialized people is moving backward. The study analyzed the representation of women, Black people and other racialized persons among 9,843 individuals on the boards of directors of large companies; agencies, boards and commissions; hospitals; the voluntary sector; and educational institutions. It found that while racialized people represent 28.4% of the population across the eight cities studied, they occupy only 10.4% of board positions in the sectors analyzed. Among 1,639 corporate board members, the study found only 13 who were Black (0.8%). 

Read the results of the study at 

CERIC-funded project to examine foundational skills in Grades 4-6 

A new CERIC project will examine how foundational concepts and skills that are introduced and developed by classroom teachers connect to career-related learning in Canadian elementary schools. The Career Development in Children: Identifying Critical Success Conditions and Strategies project was awarded to an international team of academic researchers led by Dr. Lorraine Godden, Ironwood Consulting and Carleton University; Nicki Moore, University of Derby, and Dr. Heather Nesbitt and Dr. Stefan Merchant, Queen’s University. The research will inform the development of a teacher’s aid toolkit that validates teacher practice. 

Learn more about the project at 

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Editor’s Note

A professor once told me that to live a quiet, simple life is heroic. This stands in contrast to what we typically associate with heroism: dramatic acts of real-life bravery or Marvel superheroes fighting to save humanity. What I believe my prof was trying to tell me – to calm my career-planning anxieties – was that it takes strength to live your values.  

In this moment, I understand that statement in a new context. I see heroism all around me: in the parents trying to juggle work and childcare; in those who, in spite of illness or job loss, continue to keep pushing forward; in jobseekers taking time to reflect and develop new skills; and in the activists demanding not a return to normal, but a better, more equitable future. 

This issue of Careering, on the theme of Career Superpowers, reminds us of the many skills and attributes that can serve as powerful tools in career development. From resilience to mindfulness, storytelling to skills awareness, this issue’s topics remind us of the many ways career professionals can help clients and students become the heroes of their own career journeys. Authors provide tools to help get you and your clients through tumultuous times, and offer guidance on navigating barriers to career success, such as discrimination. (And for a touch of real-life magic, don’t miss our 10 Questions with astronaut David SaintJacques.) 

As we all continue to navigate COVID-19, it is easy to focus on the challenges. We can’t escape them. But reading this issue fills me with optimism – and I hope it does for you, too. Career development is a superpower, and we need it now, more than ever.  

As you read this issue, I encourage you to reflect. What are your own career superpowers? How do you help your clients cultivate theirs? Tag us on Twitter (@ceric_ca) or Instagram (@careerwise_ca) to share your reflections and to keep the conversation going.  

If you’re looking for more opportunities to cultivate your career superpowers, don’t miss CERIC’s upcoming Virtual Cannexus21 conference, with four days of live content and access to session recordings for a full year. Learn more about the conference, including how presenters will be exploring the timely theme of Career Development for Public Good, at 

Happy reading, and take good care.   

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Leveraging an interdisciplinary approach to succeed in a shifting job market

Career practitioners need to be visionaries and change-makers by advocating for the value of creativity and innovation

Colleen Knechtel

AUTHOR HEADSHOTIn a knowledge economy, one important career development superpower is an interdisciplinary approach for innovation. Interdisciplinary mindsets involve recognizing diverse knowledge to enable collaboration, whereas interdisciplinary skillsets embrace relational competencies, work experiences, the sciences, humanities, trades and technologies. Interdisciplinary understandings strategically integrate diverse knowledge and skills for innovation.

Skill shortages and mismatches are frequently cited by employers, while others consider these issues to be awareness gaps (Craig & Markowitz, 2017) with a lack of systems to identify and substantiate skillsets. The diversity of knowledge and skill competencies and their potential for workplace opportunity are undervalued. To expand abilities to solve complex problems during this time of rapid social innovation, economic renovation and global transformation, mindsets and skillsets need to include what Fontenelle-Tereshchuk (2020) called a human-centred approach to diversity, wherein human qualities and contributions are valued for solving real-world and workplace problems. Inclusion is a critical principle in this work. What this means for the field of career development in a knowledge economy is that career practitioners need to be visionaries and change-makers by advocating for the value of interdisciplinary mindsets and skillsets for creativity and innovation.

Strategies for implementing interdisciplinary competencies

1. Recognizing prior knowledge and skills

An asset-based experiential framework grounded in transformative learning strengthens confidence, affirms lifelong learning abilities, and motivates individuals to identify and address learning gaps. Recognition of prior learning (RPL) through art-based and/or online learning portfolios alongside reflection is an approach into self-knowledge inquiry of interdisciplinary competencies. RPL strategies include interviews, focus group discussions, collaborative problem-solving, journalling, life history narratives, journey mapping, collages, drawing, photo-voice/documentary, as well as kinesthetic forms of self-expression such as music and dance.

2. Flipping the innovation pyramid

Another strategy for developing interdisciplinary competencies is accessing and leveraging collective creativity. Hill (2014) emphasized that it is not a single genius that creates positive change, but rather it is collective genius that seizes the energy, talent and ingenuity of many to harness ideas for the development of sustainable and useful products, processes and innovations. Successful companies such Pixar and Google, for example, use bottom-up approaches to innovation, which reminds us that people whose work is most closely connected with customers and clients are those who need to be at the top of the innovation pyramid. This approach to innovation invites people with first-hand knowledge and expertise to drive change, while at the same time, creates opportunities for staff retention, cross-training and lifelong learning. Flipping the innovation pyramid means taking leadership roles, sharing insights and working collaboratively with others. In a knowledge economy, deep listening and dialogue need to be practised to transform diverse ideas into collaborative action.

3. Thinking inclusively and relational responsibility

Principles of interdisciplinarity allow for synergy of ideas from diverse disciplines, address individual differences, expand relational competencies and support the development of transferable skills. Gardner (2000) recognized that the best thinking happens when ideas, fields, disciplines and cultures mingle. Many philosophers and scholars from diverse fields have advocated for “consilience” (Wilson, 1999), the unity of science and the humanities;  however, the importance of relational responsibility and artistic craftsmanship in the technologies and trades are seldom included in these narratives. Respecting different cultures, languages, educational backgrounds, aptitudes, skillsets and worldviews in the workplace leads to opportunities that broaden our abilities to create innovative solutions.

4. Transforming ideas into action

Transforming ideas into action requires the capacity to communicate and access collaborative knowledge and skills for effective team efforts. Leveraging solutions includes the need to value and understand diverse worldviews. This means that our way of solving a problem may not be congruent with how others see the same problem or solution, nor will our values and priorities necessarily align. It is often difficult to negotiate a solution that works for everyone, and dialogue is critically important to this collaborative and consultative process. This involves acknowledging the process as one of knowledge transformation rather than knowledge transmission. In knowledge transformation, staff, clients and students are active participants to improve continuous learning and professional practice. Polishing and sharpening mindsets and skillsets is vital for jobseekers in the new economy.

torn brown paper revealing words underneath "if not now, when?"

5. Micro-credentials and mini-qualifications

Patton and McMahon (2006) define career development as a lifelong process of managing learning, work, leisure and transitions in order to move toward a personally determined and evolving future for both individual and civic good. Another strategy to develop interdisciplinary competencies is online courses and accreditations such as webinars through professional associations and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offered by ClassCentral, Khan Academy and OpenLearn, for instance. Micro-credentials are the next upskilling force in the workplace, and everyone including students, jobseekers and employees can access them for free. Mini-qualifications demonstrate knowledge, skills and/or experience in given proficiencies. Compared with traditional diplomas or degrees, micro-credentials tend to be knowledge or skill-specific ways to sharpen and polish interdisciplinary knowledge and skills to enhance collaboration and innovation.

6. Reflective practices of unlearning and reframing

Developing interdisciplinary competencies through unlearning and reframing using reflection is another approach to consider. Interdisciplinary competencies involve reframing what we already know and how we think about problems and solutions. Expanding what we know requires unlearning and reconsidering what we think we know by seeing things through different lenses and adjusting our perceptions and interpretations. Being flexible and agile – that is, thinking in new ways – can be accomplished by critically reflecting on our own narratives and appreciating the distinct narratives of others as valid worldviews and approaches to problem-solving. Career practitioners can advance these competencies by creating reflective practice opportunities for work-related narratives and collaborative problem-solving activities. Presenting reflection pieces to others for discussion will undoubtedly bring forth further insights.


In a rapidly shifting job market, career development practitioners, students and jobseekers need to recognize and develop interdisciplinary competencies for the changing workplace. Fundamental superpowers for career management and advancement involve supporting artistry, craftsmanship and collective creativity. These forces include conveying interdisciplinary understanding to prospective employers to flip the innovation pyramid, sharpening and polishing mindsets and skillsets through collaboration and micro-credentials, and using reflection to recognize and assess knowledge, skills, and experiences while respecting the same in others. In light of the emergent knowledge economy, it is my hope is that these interdisciplinary strategies will enhance career development program design in Canada.

Colleen Knechtel is an interdisciplinary scholar and educator who has worked in career development, disability management, and community engagement. Intrigued by possibilities for career-integrated-learning in schools, Knechtel is currently completing her PhD program at the University of Alberta.


Craig, R. & Markowitz, T. (2017). The skills gap is actually an awareness gap — And it’s easier to fix. Forbes, Web.

Fontenelle-Tereshchuk, D. (2020). Diversity in the classrooms: A human-centered approach to schools. Interchange, 1-11.

Gardner, H. (2000). The disciplined mind: Beyond facts and standardized tests, the K–12 education that every child deserves. New York: Penguin.

Hill, L. (2014). How to manage for collective creativity. [Video]. Web.

Patton, W., & McMahon, M. (2006). The systems theory framework of career development and   counseling: Connecting theory and practice. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling28(2), 153-166.

Wilson, E. O. (1999). Consilience: The unity of knowledge. 31(0). Vintage.

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Reignite your purpose with this career superpower

Help clients unlock the power of enthusiasm to galvanize self-discovery and career development

Taylor Cook

There is one career superpower that is independent of degrees and qualifications. It is relevant to all types of clients and can be applied at any career stage. Its utility spans industries, functions, roles and geographies. The strength of this superpower may wax and wane over time, affected by factors ranging  from mental health to financial security, but ultimately it is accessible to all ­­– a free resource at our clients’ disposal. And it’s contagious.

Enthusiasm is a career superpower. The energy elicited by genuine enthusiasm is an internal resource that clients can tap into to galvanize self-discovery, career development and their professional relationships.

Side effects of enthusiasm

The side effects of using enthusiasm as a career superpower may include enhanced sense of purpose, increased resilience, heightened confidence and greater ability to connect with others. Here are some ways enthusiasm contributes to career development:

  • Purpose: When clients reflect on what they get enthusiastic about, aspects of their identity and what motivates them come to light. This self-knowledge can reignite a sense of who they are, who they are becoming and their purpose. In this way, enthusiasm becomes both a signal and a guidepost as clients navigate career decisions.
  • Resilience: Tapping into clients’ enthusiasm reminds them of their “why,” providing much-needed perspective during setbacks. In addition to the benefits of renewed perspective, enthusiasm inherently connects jobseekers with an internal wellspring of energy. This energy serves as fuel to propel clients forward as they effectively rebound from failures, adjust their job search strategies and adapt to reach their career goals.
  • Confidence: Operating from a place of enthusiasm, clients are led by their curiosity. This heightens openness to learning and inspires engagement in their areas of interest. Through engagement and contribution, clients perpetuate a virtuous cycle, further developing subject matter expertise, visibility in their field and confidence.
  • Connection: Authentic enthusiasm is contagious. Like a spark, enthusiasm is a light in the dark, allowing clients to stand out and attract those with similar interests. Shared interests facilitate conversation, aiding in relationship building and professional networking. Further, when people discuss what they are enthusiastic about, they tend to be less nervous and more at ease, making it easier for them to relax and connect with others. Interactions become memorable for the right reasons, shifting away from the transactional level toward more meaningful connections.
Example: Enthusiasm in action

Your client has secured a phone coffee chat with someone they look up to in their industry. As they scroll through the person’s LinkedIn profile in preparation, they notice their connection’s participation in a project that sparks their curiosity.

 When your client gets on the call, they make a point to find out more about the “behind the scenes” of executing this project. Next thing they know, the interaction takes on a life of its own. It has become less of an informational interview and more of a conversation. Your client is connecting professionally but on a deeper level, and the conversation is memorable to both parties for the genuine insights and perspectives shared. 

Helping clients access enthusiasm as a career superpower

Now that we know some of the ways enthusiasm manifests as a career superpower, how can we help clients tap into it?

1. Help clients recognize and reconnect with what they are enthusiastic about. Try out the tools and assessments in your repertoire to help clients home in on what gets them fired up. Consider reflection activities and questions that prompt self-discovery. The answers to questions like these will provide key hints to reveal genuine enthusiasm:

  • “What makes you lose track of time?”
  • “What topics do you frequently find yourself searching out online?”

2. Encourage “getting inspired” as part of clients’ routines. Promote taking time out of each day, week or month to get enthused. A curated list of websites, professional journals or specific authors are great starting points to stay current in an area of enthusiasm and get exposed to new ideas. Social media feeds can be used to cultivate enthusiasm and get re-energized about a topic of interest.

3. Promote self-care. It can be hard to muster up enthusiasm when you are burned out. Fill the tank to create the conditions for enthusiasm to bloom. Self-care, a favourite type of exercise or even an unrelated hobby can help clients recharge and pace themselves.

4. Recommend engaging in area of enthusiasm through contribution. Recommend that your clients take their enthusiasm beyond the sidelines and leverage the energy that comes with enthusiasm in service of contribution. Encourage them to write, speak or participate in conferences and summits related to their realm of enthusiasm.

5. Lead by example. Beyond telling clients to harness their enthusiasm as a superpower, show them how it’s done. Connecting with your own superpower of enthusiasm demonstrates its power. Try out tips 1-4 to reconnect with your enthusiasm, so you can share that with your clients. After all, it’s contagious!

6. Recognize limitations. There are circumstances and stages in a client’s life and career that may make enthusiasm difficult to muster. Meet your clients where they are, recognize factors that may inhibit enthusiasm and be prepared to make recommendations to other professionals (e.g., counsellors) or offer alternative support as needed.

As a career superpower, enthusiasm aids in self-discovery. It helps clients gain self-knowledge and enhances their ability to overcome obstacles. Enthusiasm begets confidence and helps facilitate meaningful connections. By supporting clients to access their enthusiasm, they can boost their career decision-making, development, and better navigate the ups and downs of the journey.

Taylor Cook is a Certified Coach (ACC) and Learning & Development Specialist. Through progressive roles in human resources, career management and organizational development, she has seen how access to meaningful work changes lives. She designs and facilitates experiences that support people to contribute to their fullest potential.


Belief in their career goals can help jobseekers get through tough times

Cultivating attributes such as confidence and curiosity can give clients a boost in reaching their dreams

Sara Curto

We are supporting our clients through some tough times. But while we’ve never dealt with a pandemic, we have dealt with recessions.

One constant that always exists when we have career goals and dreams? We must believe in our ability to succeed in order to make them happen.

I know this because during the last recession I was laid off. I was scared, but I was more excited – even though I kept hearing that this was the worst recession since the Great Depression, that it would take me up to a year to find a new job, that as a recruiter it was all but hopeless.

I never believed any of it. I set a goal of finding a job in six weeks – a crazy, big and impossible goal that I believed in. This belief empowered me to think outside of the box and do the work that led to not just one job offer, but two, in six weeks.

In order to shift that belief from impossible to possible and, finally, inevitability, there are some key attributes that we and our clients need to develop.


The foundation of belief is confidence. That is, confidence in your skills and in your ability to showcase them. A great place to start is to complete a self-appreciation exercise; recognizing and being thankful for our own abilities is key. During my own search, I made sure to be kind to myself, purposely thinking that I was capable, plus being consistent in my day-to-day actions. These are tools that help create and build confidence.

“I set a goal of finding a job in six weeks – a crazy, big and impossible goal that I believed in.”

For me this meant fully knowing and understanding my value as a recruiter. I reviewed my previous performance reviews, the feedback I got from hiring managers and candidates to remind myself that I was a great recruiter who organizations would benefit from having on their team. I reflected on my accomplishments and the aspects of the job that I loved. This meant that my resume was focused on my sought-after skills and qualities, my differentiating factors, and was filled with words that enhanced my profile. It was a document I was confident stood out from the crowd as it wasn’t boring or a mundane rehashing of my job as a recruiter. I was able to sell myself so powerfully because I was confident.

More articles from Sara Curto

How to use the ‘weakness question’ to show growth and make connections
Insider tips on job search from a recruiter-turned-career-coach
7 work-from-home tips from remote work veterans


Job searches are hard. We see it all the time with our clients: things stop working and they get frustrated, anxious or feel hopeless. They begin avoiding the job search by cleaning the house, watching TV or scrolling Indeed constantly (but taking no action).

Avoidance is normal, but it doesn’t lead to belief. We need to become more mindful of when we do it, and ask ourselves (or our clients) what we are avoiding. We can then reframe the search to create the feeling of curiosity.

Curiosity leads to critical thinking. It sets the stage for evaluating our mindset, strategy and actions so that we can make changes and get results. For me, that meant not sticking with the things that were supposed to work, but didn’t.

Intentional management of time

A prominent theory is that you need to treat your job search as a full-time job. In my experience, that doesn’t work. Since job searches are filled with so much rejection, it’s hard to believe in a process when the majority of our time is devoted to something that doesn’t give us much back. The adage that nothing changes if nothing changes holds true to job searches. If you are hyperactive on LinkedIn or Indeed, it can come across as desperate. Instead of showing people the benefit we bring, we start to convince them that they need to hire us. Sometimes, this leads to us digging in our heels, certain that our actions will eventually yield the result we want. This leads to a one-note strategy and a mindset that isn’t ideal to get that offer.

I didn’t treat my job search as a full-time job. Instead, I tried to have fun. Each day, I intentionally did something I enjoyed without guilt.

I created rules to keep up my positive mindset, such only going on job boards at my favourite place (the library), and only doing two or three days a week of job board searching. This meant that each morning when I thought “How am I going to find a job today?” I had to think outside the job board box.

With clients, I create very specific and intentional plans. I help them optimize their job search time so that no matter their stress or urgency to find a new job, they see the results of their plans while also taking time to do self-care.


Having confidence in myself, remaining curious and thinking outside of the box built my belief in my audacious goal. This meant that my job search strategy was multifaceted. It involved networking, meeting new people, job boards and job fairs. Right now, resourcefulness is even more vital. It means we need to be innovative in terms of the networking we are doing (taking it virtual or creating a social media strategy). This is an opportunity to differentiate ourselves by creating a video resume, a portfolio or a series of articles showcasing our knowledge and experience.

When we don’t believe in our ability to succeed, we edit ourselves. We don’t go all in. It isn’t necessarily our fault; our brains are wired to avoid failure at all costs (a cognitive bias called Loss Aversion). If we think failure is inevitable, we make it so, because we don’t do all the things we need to do to succeed.

Since I believed that getting a job in six weeks was inevitable, I essentially tricked my brain that failure wasn’t going to happen. That made it much easier to put myself out there and to continually think of all the ways in which I could find that job.


A lot happened to me during that six weeks. I blended my finger with a hand-mixer. My husband’s grandmother passed away. I got hit by a car while riding my bike. It was intense. My belief wavered, but I was persistent in reminding myself that I was capable.

Instead of using those events as excuses to give up or that I was cursed, I used them to support my belief; obviously the universe was trying to tell me that I needed to get a job ASAP, as I wasn’t meant to not be working.

You may think that I’m some sort of unicorn, born with high confidence and super job searching skills. However, this didn’t come easily or naturally. I worked on my belief daily. I saw the benefit of this practice and have therefore built the foundation of how I work with clients on the tenet of mindset and belief work.

Putting it into practice

The exercise you and your clients can use to develop self-belief is deceivingly simple.

  1. Every day, on a scale, ask yourself “How committed am I to my job search/career goal?” Write down the first number that pops into your head; there’s no right or wrong answer.
  2. Ask yourself: “What am I thinking that makes me write that number?” Write down all the thoughts that pop up. For example, if you are a 2/10, those thoughts could be: “I have no interviews,” “I haven’t heard any feedback.” Or if you are at a 9/10, they could be: “I have a final interview today.”
  3. Now ask yourself, “What could I be thinking that would get me to a 10/10?” Write down all those thoughts. For instance, “My perfect job could be posted today” or “I’m investing my time in meeting new people.”
  4. Once you are at 10/10, it’s brainstorming time. Ask yourself, “What can I do today to get closer to my goal?” This is where the resourcefulness comes in, which is gold.

Doing this every day before going after a goal can put you and your clients in a confident, persistent, innovative, resourceful and curious mindset. The mindset will help you accomplish seemingly impossible goals – even during a recession or pandemic.

Sara Curto is a Certified Career Strategist who helps people find a career they love by teaching them a new way to job search. With a history in counselling plus 15 years of recruitment experience, she teaches people how to think the right thoughts, create the right strategies and take the right actions so that they can land that career in 12 weeks.

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Journalling: A strategy to better navigate career transitions

Clients can respond to writing prompts, write unsent letters and make lists as a way to process emotions and explore their options

Nora M. Kelly

author headshotIn a classic experiment on “Expressive Writing and Coping with Job Loss” documented in The Academy of Management Journal (1994), recently unemployed professionals who wrote about the thoughts and emotions surrounding their job loss were re-employed more quickly than those who did not.
Research by Dr. James Pennebaker and others has shown that journalling has positive impacts on physical, psychological and emotional health; goal achievement; and the development of emotional intelligence. However, aside from the work of Pennebaker and his colleagues, very little has been written on the benefits of journalling during a job search. Could journalling be a useful addition to the job search tool kit of some of our more introspective clients?

Job loss has been significant during the COVID-19 pandemic. Canada hasn’t seen unemployment rates like this since 1976, and south of the border, rates rival those of the Great Depression. Journalling can help jobseekers process emotions, flesh out ideas, explore options, make decisions, visualize their future and acknowledge progress as they navigate their career transition.

Recommendations for a journalling practice

Clients can use a number of techniques. They can respond to writing prompts, engage in freewriting (or stream-of-consciousness writing), write unsent letters and make lists (e.g. of skills, values or preferred working conditions).

Here are some suggested prompts to help clients get started with journalling:

  • What emotions are you feeling right now about this job loss? (e.g. sadness, grief, anger, relief)
  • What do you need to say to be complete about this ending? Is there anything you would do differently in the future?
  • What career accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • What are your non-negotiables for your next job or career?
  • What do you want to start, stop and continue with your next role? (skills, responsibilities, etc.)
  • Which new skills do you need to hone to better position yourself for your next job? How can you go about learning these skills?

Clients can choose to keep a paper (typically, a notebook) or digital journal. Committing to a short period of time at a high frequency is recommended: either 5-10 minutes daily or 15-20 minutes a few times a week.

Topics for journalling

There are several ways that clients can use a journal throughout the job loss cycle. Career development professionals can also individualize topics according to clients’ needs.

Clients can:

  • Write about their emotions and feelings on losing their job. Considered one of the most stressful life events, job loss can prompt a wide range of emotions and seemingly contradictory feelings. It’s important for clients to deal with these emotions up front and to release them in order to pursue a successful job search. Clients can begin to process these emotions by reflecting on the emotional rollercoaster or “job loss cycle” (Amundson, N.E., & Borgen, W., 1982), a model for understanding the stages and emotions that people experience during job loss and transition. Other models could include Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief or the Bridges Transition Model, which identifies three stages an individual goes through when they experience change: Endings, Neutral Zone and New Beginnings. Some clients may want to communicate and release unresolved feelings (e.g. hostilities, resentments, embarrassment) by drafting an unsent letter, a form of writing therapy, to their former employer or colleagues. Kathleen Adams discusses this technique in her book, Journal to the Self.
  • Explore what’s next. This inquiry is best made after clients have started to process their negative emotions. As we prepare our clients to look toward a new job or even new career, we may be helping them to identify or re-assess their work values and priorities, their strengths, their career accomplishments and the skills they wish to use going forward, as well as further training and development. Career and Job Search Coach Cheryl Simpson recommends a values check-in throughout the process. “Clients can use journalling,” she said in an interview, “to clarify their values and to ensure that the work they are doing and pursuing honours those values. For example, during the interview process, they can analyze interview responses to determine whether those values are being reflected.”
  • Make sense of advice. Jason Alba (2017) acknowledges the barrage of (often well-meaning) advice that jobseekers are subject to from career experts, family, friends and professional acquaintances. As they progress through their job search, clients will need to discern the good advice from the bad.
  • Visualize their ideal next chapter. Jobseekers can write a script for a fantasy interview (Vandewater, 2012); describe their ideal work day, boss, and colleagues; as well as the types of projects they will be working on and the conversations they wish to be engaged in.
  • Celebrate their wins (e.g. applications sent, interview offers and productive informational interviews), process “rejection” and vent their frustrations (lack of response, slow response, etc.). What are they learning about themselves and about how they deal with failure, rejection and lack of response? Some clients may wish to write about their discomfort with networking, for example, and explore solutions that can make the process more comfortable and even enjoyable.
  • Journal their responses to expected interview questions. Clients will want to consider a positive reframe of their job loss, so they can focus on the opportunity before them. They also may want to refine their career stories, and if they are looking to move into more senior roles, reflect on how they describe their leadership style/philosophy.

“Being able to see their progress, or lack thereof, through journalling can empower clients to self-coach,” said Simpson. They can note patterns, areas where they get stuck and changes in their experience over time. Hopefully, they will also see how their negative emotions have dissipated and been replaced by excitement for their new direction.

This new reflective practice can shift with them into their new job/career. Being able to reflect on work situations and document career accomplishments will be valuable to their professional growth and ongoing career management.

Nora M. Kelly is an experienced career development professional with over eight years’ experience in the non-profit sector – leading youth employment programs and employment services teams, and facilitating workshops on employability skills – and a past presenter at CERIC’s Cannexus conference.


Adams, K. (1990). Journal to the self: Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth – Open the Door to Self-Understanding by Writing, Reading, and Creating a Journal of Your Life. Grand Central Publishing.

Alba, J. (n.d.). Use a Career Journal to Track Career Progress and Aid a Job Search. Retrieved July 17, 2020, from

Amundson, N.E., & Borgen, W. (1982). The dynamics of unemployment: Job loss and job search. Personnel and Guidance Journal, 60, 562-564.

Bridges, W. (2009). Managing transitions: Making the most of change. Da Capo Press.

Kacewicz, E., Slatcher, R. B., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2007). Expressive writing: An alternative to traditional methods. In Low-cost approaches to promote physical and mental health (pp. 271-284). Springer, New York, NY.

Spera, S. P., Buhrfeind, E. D., & Pennebaker, J. W. (1994). Expressive writing and coping with job loss. Academy of management journal37(3), 722-733.

Vandewater, C. (2012, May 29). Dear Diary: Journal Your Way to a Job. Retrieved July 17, 2020, from

Zucker, R. (2019, October 27). How to Manage the Emotional Roller Coaster of a Job Search. Retrieved July 17, 2020, from

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