We’re probably being a little over-protective here; we don’t want you to fall and skin your knees as you get comfortable in the field. Our team of lawyers (okay, that’s an exaggeration – it’s really just 1 lawyer, Jude, who actually isn’t a lawyer anymore but she once was…darn good one, too, we’re told, specializing in real estate, who helps us out now and then) tell us that it’s prudent for us to forewarn you of mistakes that you might make. So, here is a list of mistakes common to newcomers to the field.

1. Sharing client information inappropriately

This mistake is not entirely surprising: Lots of newcomers to the field start working with clients before they have had the benefit of being trained, particularly in the area of ethics. [Canadian CDP Code of Ethics – English | Canadian CDP Code of Ethics – French].  On occasion, they can be heard talking with colleagues or friends with conversation-starters like “I had this client today who…,” “Let me give you an example – I’ll tell you one of my client’s stories…” or “I can’t believe how entitled people have become! Why, I had this client today who…” We won’t get into the nitty-gritty here, but this kind of conversation is ethically worrisome and risks violating client confidentiality, eroding the client’s trust in the practitioner, and setting the client back in their development.

2. Confusing information-giving with advice.

Even when well-intentioned, CDPs generally should not be in the habit of giving advice to clients. Phrases beginning with “You should…” are really worrisome because it’s not the CDP’s job to direct the client’s decisions. It is okay and sometimes even necessary to give information, however. Here are some examples: “Our approach here is generally to do a pretty thorough needs assessment before we spring into action. This way, a client like you will understand what your most important needs truly are, and we can help you create a plan to meet these needs. We have found this approach to be really effective because there’s far less back-tracking and re-starting” or “We know that the majority of job openings are not posted; the jobs are filled informally through relationships” or “The current thinking in our field is that, yes, chance and luck play huge roles in influencing our futures, but that there are ways to increase the odds of lucky circumstances.”

3. Confusing populations/probabilities/patterns with individuals/opportunities

You probably don’t want to be the person who would have urged Beethoven, the Beatles, Wayne Gretzky, Connor McDavid, Picasso or Nelson Mandela to see that the odds of success in their chosen roles were really quite low so they should explore doing something else entirely. None of these individuals needed to be in a growing sector with lots of opportunities. Gretzky and McDavid didn’t need to know that there were dozens of openings for NHL centre ice positions – they each need to know that there was one opening. The typical LMI we help clients work with is all about probabilities and patterns, and it’s important for clients to have this info. Even the Gretzkys of the world need a backup plan if a disaster like blown-out knees occurs. However, it’s one thing to say “Openings in blacksmithing jobs were in decline throughout the previous century and have plateaued at a low level in that. past two decades” and it is entirely another to say “There are no jobs to speak of in blacksmithing.” Your client interested in blacksmithing needs only one job, and they deserve the opportunity to see if it exists.

4. Confusing, combining and/or conflating employability dimensions

A simple way of looking at a central career concern – employment – is through the lens of the employability dimensions model [link to a description of it somewhere] used by the federal government. There are several versions of it in use; below find a version with six dimensions:

  1. work readiness (having life conditions, health, motivation, and self-management skills enabling one to work)
  2. career decision-making (having a sense of what one wants to do, how one wants to live (note…this need not be occupational decision-making)
  3. skill development (obtaining the skills needed to pursue one’s intentions, often through formal training/education)
  4. work search (seeking work (which could include a job, self-employment and/or entrepreneurship) that aligns with one’s intentions and needs and for which one is skilled)
  5. work maintenance (keeping and thriving in the work one obtained)
  6. career growth (developing one’s career path through enrichment, promotion, change/renewal)

Here’s the mistake – providing a service intended for one dimension to a client whose need falls in other dimensions. Say you provide a work search service and a potential client comes to you saying they need work. You ask them what sector or role they’re looking for and they reply “I have no idea – I just need money.” At this point in the conversation, you have options. You could point out that you don’t
provide career decision-making services but could refer the person to such a service or point them to a self-help resource and tell them to come back when they have a sense of what they want to do. You could say “I’ll help you get a job so that you have cash flowing. I can make a referral to an agency that helps with career decision-making so that, if you wish, as soon as you get the job you can get the career decision-making help you need. You could say “Hey, tell me a few things you like doing and we’ll use those to help narrow down how to search for a job you’ll like. It’ll take an extra 5 or 10 minutes over what I usually spend with a client but that’s okay – you seem like a decent sort.” The last approach is the mistake, and it’s far more common than you might think.

5. Acting as problem-solvers

With some exceptions, career development practitioners need not and should not solve other people’s problems. They help people understand what their problems might be, teach people processes and skills for solving problems and making decisions, help people access resources they need, and more, all in service of helping people become increasingly independent of the CDP. It is quite common, however, to hear of CDPs researching possible work roles for a client, writing their resume, finding jobs for them and otherwise doing work the client should be doing. Yes, there are exceptions (e.g., multi-barriered clients
may need some “doing for” rather than being encouraged to act independently) but solving other people’s problems should not be the CDP’s default position

6. Assuming occupational choice is necessary

Historically, our field was defined by the process of deciding the occupation to pursue. The title of the seminal 1909 book, “Choosing a Vocation,” gives us a clue as to how this happened. Frank Parsons was trying to help young men, most of whom who’d moved from farms to the city, figure out what work would be suitable. In the early 1900s, it seemed to be a safe assumption that their first job would also be their last job. The rookie assembly-line (yes, we know assembly lines hadn’t been invented yet, but work with us here) worker would remain an assembly-line worker, as would the beginning teacher, doctor, lawyer, tradesperson, etc.

At the time, “job” was virtually synonymous with “occupation.” This wasn’t technically true in the early 1900s, and it’s clearly untrue now. One’s job (i.e., one’s position involving a set of duties with a specific employer) is distinct from one’s occupation (i.e., a label applied to a set of functions and skills that can be performed in a variety of settings). Say you’re an employment coach at the non-profit agency DontShirkGetWork is a job, a job that falls within the occupation “Employment counsellor” (NOC Code 4156). Here’s the thing: You can be in the job without ever having chosen the occupation! Tomorrow you may be moved over another department within DontShirkGetWork, helping people get their debt under control as a money coach. Does this mean you’ve chosen the occupation “Other financial officer” (NOC Code 1114)? No, it means you’ve changed jobs. You can go through your whole work life this way and never define yourself occupationally. There are groups (e.g., professional associations, some postsecondary institutions) that will want you to declare that you’ve chosen an occupation, but it’s far rarer than you might think.

7. Assuming client progress occurs only when in contact with the CDP

There is a tendency to think that all the progress a client makes is made during 1-to-1 or group sessions with a CDP. This makes sense in one way: A CDP knows the client only in one setting and has no experience with the client in other settings. When the client leaves the office, they sort of don’t exist in the CDP’s mind until the next session. This cognitive illusion – out of sight, out of mind – is well worth pushing against. If the aim of the CDP is to develop greater self-reliance, independence or interdependence with each client, the main point of client contact is to make sure they’re equipped to do all sorts of things between sessions. Every CDP knows this, of course, but knowing it and feeling it or appreciating it are two different things.