I recently had the opportunity to meet with an intelligent young woman who had just completed university.  Laura felt disillusioned and overwhelmed.  She had completed a Bachelor of Arts in human services and public relations, she now felt that was the wrong direction for her future.  She wanted to speak to a career counsellor before making a decision about further education.

Laura’s Story

Laura felt strongly about contributing to society and promoting equality and justice; that was her motivation for completing a university degree in human services and public relations.  During the counselling process, Laura reflected upon the communications related role she held during university.  The reflection resulted in an important discovery about herself, she realized that she works best when given a clear mandate, autonomy, and empowerment to produce tangible results.  An introvert, she feels dissatisfied in a highly social interactive support role where she cannot see tangible results from her work.

Exploring Possibilities

Together, Laura and I explored her career possibilities by identifying the intersection of four important elements: a) what she loves, b) what she is good at, c) where there is a need, and d) where she can earn a living by applying her passion and skills to solve real-world problems.  We worked through the following steps:

  1. First, using a values assessment we identified what she loves and the impact she wants to make in the world. By exploring her values, it became clear that she was passionate about social justice, human rights and humanitarian relief work.
  2. Next, we researched the local labour market to identify growing and emerging occupations. We accessed information about in-demand careers in Alberta and searched for emerging occupations on the government of Alberta’s Alis website, https://alis.alberta.ca/occinfo/.
  3. Then, Laura completed a skills assessment to identify her preferred and transferable skills. She naturally plans out the details of her life and enjoys the challenge of a project with a start, an end, and a tangible outcome.  Through that assessment, it became clear that she had project-management skills she could build on.  We discussed ways she could strengthen those skills without having to earn another university degree.  Instead, she could take a course in project management.  We also discussed the option of certification as a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® from the Project Management Institute.
  4. Lastly, we looked at where she could build a career and make a living at the intersection of what she loves, her transferable skills and where there is a need. Laura identified that she would like to pursue a career in project management working on humanitarian relief projects at an international relief organization.

All Education is Valuable

Laura felt that she graduated with a useless degree, however, no education is a waste.  BBC recently ran an article titled, Why ‘worthless’ humanities degrees may set you up for life.”  Because the cost of education is high, it is important to pick the right area of study.  While this is true, it is difficult to know what the future holds so more importantly it is necessary to learn how to learn.  A perceived ‘useless’ degree teaches valuable skills such as critical thinking, communication, and interpersonal skills.

What you want to be when you grow up does not necessarily need to be planned in advance because unplanned events are a normal part of career development (Krumboltz, 2009).  In a world that continues to evolve due to globalization, technological advancements and automation, it is important to equip clients to know what to do when they encounter the unexpected.  When clients feel anxious about the changing nature of work, help them view the future with curiosity and build skills of resiliency.  Clients will benefit from skills of persistence when encountering setbacks as well as flexibility and optimism about the changing nature of work (Mitchell, et al., 1999).  Career practitioners can help clients discover that taking a risk and learning something new can be rewarding.

Next Steps

As we concluded our time working together, Laura signed a personal commitment contract outlining a number of activities she was aiming to complete in the next 12 months.  She planned to take a project management course, prepare for and take the CAPM® exam, and continue to modify her resume to reflect her project management skills and experience.  She also identified a humanitarian relief organization that she planned to learn more about.  Lastly, I connected Laura with an individual working in the industry for an information interview.  Laura is on the right path for creating a promising career.

For recent graduates who realize they need to change direction, career counselling helps clients discover their passion, their transferable skills and labour market information in order to retool when necessary and build on their formal and informal learning experiences.


Krumboltz, J. D. (2009). The happenstance learning theory. Journal of Career Assessment, 17(2), 135-154.

Mitchell, K. E., Al Levin, S., & Krumboltz, J. D. (1999). Planned happenstance: Constructing unexpected career opportunities. Journal of counseling & Development, 77(2), 115-124.

Author’s Bio:

Connie Covey is a career counsellor at CareerPlan.ca and an adult educator at Athabasca University supporting 100 on-line learners in career development and adult learning.  Covey is pursuing an EdD in workplace and adult learning from the University of Calgary researching career purpose and meaning.