Teaching Students How To Make Career Decisions

By Kathy Harris

Across Canada and the United States, schools are working hard to help students make good career decisions. With very limited resources and teaching a largely intuitive, one-on-one process to a classroom full of students in (usually) one class dedicated to this topic, makes this challenging. Add to this the focus of available curriculum, which tends to focus on generating information (about self, work and learning) rather than on developing the tools and skills needed to make career decisions, and you have career decision-making gaps. The Career Focusing™ program closes these gaps.


The Growth of Career Focusing™


The original one-to-one format of Career Focusing™ is very effective at helping people choose career steps they stay committed to achieving. Word of its success spread and soon a high school Guidance Head Administrator tried it with a range of students, found it effective for everyone, and then set about converting the program to a classroom (group), yet highly individualized delivery mode. The program has been embraced by many school districts with several teachers being trained to implement this program to teach students how to research, analyze, evaluate, decide, set plans and put them into action – all of the critical career decision-making skills.


Word of the school version of the Career Focusing™ program spread across Canada, including to the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) Department of Education, Culture and Employment. They saw it as the missing link in their career studies classroom but faced limited resources to put into place. Fortunately, the notion of teaching students how to make informed, intentional decisions they stick with appealed to a diamond mining company wanting to leave a legacy in the Canadian north.


The result was a partnership between the mining company and the GNWT, with the mine funding the training and implementation of Career Focusing™ and its baby sister program (Smart Focusing™) in the NWT junior and senior high schools. Since many of these schools have a large number of Native Indian and Inuit students, the mine is also providing a much needed solution for the dilemma of how to engage a population of youth who have traditionally suffered from low retention and graduation rates.


Critical Program Components


The underpinnings of Career Focusing™ consist of the following critical elements:

  • A concrete decision-making framework that is easily explained and understood

  • A set of tools that define each person’s unique gifts

  • The program builds each student’s:

    • belief that there is something out there they will enjoy

    • sense of power (i.e., they realize they already have ‘stuff’ to pull themselves forward with)

    • capacity to make career decisions via a ‘how to’ process that teaches them exactly how to set career plans and put them into action.


The Framework: Career Focusing™ makes it possible for students to look forward, figure out where they want to go (which is always to work that fits so they willingly engage in life-long learning); map backwards from there to figure out the best learning option(s) to get to their goals; continue back mapping to identify exactly what they have to do next to make sure they are on track to reach their goals.


Defining Each Person's Unique Gifts
Recognizing that each of us is unique, Career Focusing™ begins by helping students identify the thing that makes them most unique – their Intrinsic Motivator (IM). This is the thing that gets us up and connected to our world every day, something that few people can put into words.


Having had to develop the skill of disengaged listening in my career information specialist role made it possible to find a way to help people identify their IM. This is a new, challenging but highly rewarding skill for teachers to learn. They have their students share things that they are pulled to and act as their ears to help them hear what they say over and over again about those things. The teacher then mirrors the repetition back to the student, helps them put their IM into their own words and use it to build a list of work that lets them use their IM every day.


The Belief and Sense of Power involves giving students a way to visually express their innate preferences for interacting with their world – their gifts - then teaching them how to use those gifts to narrow their list of work to ones that are a double good match.


The ‘how to’ consists of defining the mini decision-making steps needed to get to the place where students can set a plan and put it into action. They learn how to develop the right tool at the right time, apply it to the right information for each step and do a matching process that leads to building a list of work and learning that fits them in three ways. That is, they get to:

Do what they love (use their IM every day)

Do it in a way that suits them (use their innate strengths most of the time, their innate weaknesses as little as possible)

Do it in a way that reflects their realities (academic, financial, personal, skills and experience).

When students can identify work that fits them in all three ways, it is easy to identify the learning that fits and set a Plan A, Plan B, etc. to reach their goals.


The partnership between the corporate world and education, along with the existence of a program like Career Focusing™ has resulted in more students than ever who are engaged in setting and attaining career goals, including attending classes, working hard to get the subjects and the marks they need, graduating high schools and going off to post-secondary education. The result will be a larger and better educated future labour pool.



Kathy HarrisKathy Harris, B.A. Sociology, formerly managed the career information centre at Queen’s University, Canada, as well as owned a career counselling company. She is currently president of Jobmatics, and is the author of what is often described as a breakthrough career decision-making program for people of all ages, as well as for organizations experiencing change. She can be reached at e-mail kathyharris@jobmatics.com



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Alease Copelin   on Saturday 09/01/2012 at 09:18 PM

This sounds like a program I would like to learn more about. I plan to "google" Career Focusing, but hope you will be a resource should I have a question.

Kathy Harris   on Sunday 09/02/2012 at 04:03 PM

Alease, I am more than happy to be a resource to answer questions about our career decision-making programs. Feel free to call the number on our website if you prefer. l

Kathy Harris   on Sunday 09/02/2012 at 04:03 PM

Alease, I am more than happy to be a resource to answer questions about our career decision-making programs. Feel free to call the number on our website if you prefer. l

Tunde Akinmolayan   on Monday 09/03/2012 at 12:39 AM

I am impressed at this resource. I look forward to an opportunity to further explore its use because I had always wanted to help students make informed decisions about careers beyond my day to day career information gathering and publishing job. How do I go from here? :)

naniek darmawan   on Saturday 09/08/2012 at 11:30 PM

Great >>> I'm very supprised that since 3 years ago I used that technics to my stdents.

Hopefully I still need more technics made my students have stregth ability and trategic to preparing their career

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.