Five Ways a Code of Ethics Helps Guide the Business of a Career Professional

By Nancy J. Miller

Defining your role as a career professional may seem simple. You may be a counselor, coach, consultant, trainer, teacher, or therapist often combining and changing roles depending on the client and environment in which you are working. Knowing what you are qualified to do, where you will work, and when to refer can be trickier than it seems in the current stressful and uncertain work culture. The following examples demonstrate five ways a code of ethics helped a career professional define her role as a private practitioner.

1. A code of ethics is a resource and guide for developing professional practices.

Professional standards are guidelines developed from the experience of colleagues who have learned best practices over time. The National Career Development Association offers standards, not rules, as a resource to assist in defining and maintaining standards for professionalism. There are several reasons for being informed by a code of ethics.

  • Demonstrates a high standard of practice.
  • Informs clients of your values and principles of practice.
  • Shows that you stay informed and up to date with current ethics in your field.

With the complexity and multiple layers of situations we see in clients, it can be difficult to clearly define our roles. Reviewing ethics can keep us abreast of issues before they arise. We do well to clearly define for ourselves our own boundaries of competence with consideration of where we practice, our level of expertise, and the clients we serve.

2. Ethics help define your role based on competence, training, and experience.

You develop a vision, goals, and business plan for your Independent Practice. You have education, skills, experience, and expertise in your field. As part of your plan you determined, based on your niche, where you can best serve your clients at a price or payment program affordable to them. It all seems very clear until a client appears to have deeper issues that demand a different role than your environment or expertise would provide.

Although I have competence and training to work as a career counselor, I chose to work as a Personal/Career Coach based on my experience and the environments where I work. I prefer to work in partnership with my clients by phone or in public places making my services affordable to clients, rather than renting expensive office space. Most of the clients who come to me enjoy the convenience of working over the phone, but I need to be very diligent about asking prospective clients if that will work for them. I am then aware of changes that might require a different environment or different skills.

“Career professionals practice only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience, state and national professional credentials, and appropriate professional experience.” (2015 NCDA Code of Ethics. C.2.a. Boundaries of Competence).

3. Keeping in mind your profession's code of ethics prepares you for referrals and exits.

How will you decide when you can help a client, or when they may need another professional service along with yours, or when you need to refer? Keeping in mind the ethics of your profession while in the middle of a business transaction will help you balance your business and professional work however you choose to practice. If you are qualified to work with clients on career planning, counseling, and coaching, you may want to refer to more than one code of ethics.

I recently talked to a prospective client who was considering a career change. We met at a coffee shop and had a lengthy conversation. I could see that she had considerable stress from her previous job as well as distress from personal loss. I suggested that we talk about her stress before getting into the job search. She was very excited about working with me but later called and said she couldn’t work in the public environment. I felt like I should have recognized that she needed something I couldn’t provide. On the business side I wanted another client, was pleased that she was excited about working with me, and it wasn’t until later that I realized something didn’t feel right.

It is not unusual for a client to have deeper issues than what they initially identify when seeking your services. Keep in mind that you can’t meet the needs of everyone who contacts you.

If counselors lack the competence to be of professional assistance to clients, they avoid entering or continuing counseling relationships. (2014 ACA Code of Ethics. A.11. Termination and Referral).

4. Knowing a code of professional ethics helps prepare for changing roles.

As our roles evolve, the titles we use may depend on where we work and with whom. A career professional may have the skills and experience for several roles, but might require a specific environment, an agreement, or license depending on the location and the role chosen for the business.

After working with a client on a career decision and job search for a couple of months, she felt confident in her direction and asked if I would be her mentor and editor after our coaching work was completed. I wanted to stay connected with this client, but I didn’t feel like I could go from coach to mentor. I suggested she sign up for my email plan, and I have been able to answer questions and give resources through email to support her in her continued success. When she needs editing, that will be a different agreement whether written or oral. Defining and clarifying each role with this client resulted in a very successful partnership.

“When a career professional changes a role from the original or most recent contracted relationship, s/he obtains informed consent from the client and explains the right of the client to refuse services related to the change.” (2015 NCDA Code of Ethics. A.5.e. Role Changes in the Professional Relationship)

5. Career Services may offer multiple services a career professional can provide.

When working in an environment with reasonable confidentiality and with professional training and experience for both, a career professional could provide career planning services and then career counseling if the need arose. But if the career professional lacks the training, credentials, state requirements, and experience to delve into counseling they will need to refer to a qualified professional.

While working at a college career center as a grad student, I provided brief career planning services to walk in students. Then I was able to provide confidential counseling in a private office when a student made an appointment with me. My training, experience, and environment allowed for an easy transition from career planning to counseling.

“All career professionals, whether engaging in “career planning” or “career counseling”, provide only the services that are within the scope of their professional competence and qualifications.” (2015 NCDA Code of Ethics, A.1.b. Differentiation Between Types of Services Provided).

Reviewing NCDA’s Code of Ethics before a situation comes up with a client has helped me make decisions about how I want to work and with whom. Further investigation of NCDA’s Code of Ethics would provide information for future articles. Consider commenting on this article or writing one of your own.



American Counseling Association. (2014). 2014 ACA Code of Ethics. Retrieved from https://www.counseling.org/resources/aca-code-of-ethics.pdf

National Career Development Association. (2015). 2015 NCDA Code of Ethics. Retrieved from http://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/asset_manager/get_file/3395?ver=738700


Nancy MillerNancy J. Miller, M.S. is a Career Counselor and Coach at Creative LifeWork Design. She is author of the books, Fire Up Your Profile For LifeWork Success and Vegetable Kids in the Garden, as well as a recorded CEUonestop webinar, 10 Ways to Model a Healthy Lifestyle. She is an Associate Editor for Career Convergence web magazine, has written numerous professional articles, and gives presentations at conferences and community events. Nancy uses a holistic practical approach to coaching entrepreneurs, professionals, and writers to create business and career success in harmony with their strengths, values, and lifestyle. Contact Nancy at connect@nancyjmiller.com, visit her website www.nancyjmiller.solutions, and connect with her on Linkedin.


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Deneen Pennington   on Thursday 06/02/2016 at 08:06 AM

I love your article! Thanks for supporting NCDA and Career Convergence!

Chris lora   on Thursday 06/02/2016 at 08:33 AM

Thank you! You have put into words the approaches I have used, or should have used, with clients. I found your citations specific and helpful. I look forward to reading more from you.

John Long, Ed.S.   on Thursday 06/02/2016 at 09:37 AM

Wonderful article Nancy. You have touched upon key points in the NCDA Code of Ethics to be infused into our daily work with students/clients. Thank you!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.