Helping Our Clients Develop Their Careers During Times of Change

By Carolyn Wilson

As career development practitioners, our mission is to support others in developing satisfying, engaging careers in a complex and changing workforce. Understanding the impact of change on the employees we work with is a continual quest in our practice. Generally, when we assess individuals, we tend to focus on understanding their internal reality through assessment of their motivations, interests, values and abilities, while also seeking to understand the importance of cultural background, personality and temperament. However, external factors often receive much less attention although such factors can greatly influence career decisions.

Consider the wide range of external factors that employees are faced with at the moment:

  • A U.S. presidential election and change in office
  • Shifting and strained U.S. economy
  • Declining home values in the real estate market
  • Rising costs (e.g. gas prices and groceries)
  • Re-organized departments (i.e. employees and duty changes).

Every one of these events can cause stress to workers. And as employees seek ways to cope, adjust, and get work done that provides value to their organizations, career development practitioners can help employees move forward in their careers. To do this, we need to make certain we consider the impact of such external events on our clients when we provide counseling and coaching to them.

When working with career development clients during uncertain times, career development practitioners can encourage internal locus-of- control activities. These activities can increase employees' readiness for their next role while improving their performance in their current role. Here are three quick tips you can use in your conversations with your clients who are working to develop during times of change. Suggest they consider these attitudes and activities.

1. Establish a Dynamic Professional Identity.

  • Recognize that change is a constant in your career and there is likely no fixed "end goal" for your professional identity. Whether it's the economy, a change in family status, or the fact that your boss just got laid off, your role at work may likely evolve from time to time, impacting how you do your job and what you are doing each day.

  • Start by increasing your insight and self-awareness of what really fulfills you in your professional life - Is it brainstorming an innovation with your team? Setting the strategic direction of a workgroup or business unit? Making your customers happy? Understand that having a good grasp of what fulfills you is the central ingredient to consider when making career and role-change decisions. And when you are required to adapt to change, consider how you can include this understanding of what fulfills you as you prepare to take on new challenges.
  • Focus on what energizes you at work, while also striving to maintain a healthy lifestyle and seeking social support. Doing so can help ease the bumps along the road of transition.

2. Set Realistic Stretch Goals.

  • With the recognition that your career will change over time, be opportunistic when taking action along your quest for development.
  • Examine your ‘to-do' list and your other commitments for the week and determine what you will do differently to make progress on a goal you've set.
  • Consider starting with low-risk situations to build up your confidence. For example, if you are developing skills in delegating work to others, find opportunities to assign small pieces of that large project coming your way.

3. Arrange Support for Continuous Development.

  • Identify mentors and role models to give you clarity on what to do differently to stretch and grow.
  • Once you've set goals for development and lined up opportunities to practice, seek proactive feedback by asking for others' advice in advance so they are cued to be on the lookout for new skills you are trying to hone. For example, if you are working to refine your presentation skills, ask a colleague you trust to attend one of your presentations and watch for the behaviors you wish to change.

These suggestions offer ideas on different ways you can facilitate the personal growth and professional development of those employees you coach and counsel during times of uncertainty. Remember that some individuals may be more sensitive to external factors and so consider what questions you may want to ask these employees to better understand the impact of change on them and on their work.


 Carolyn Wilson is a licensed psychologist who provides executive assessment and feedback services in the San Francisco Bay area. She holds a Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and Counseling Psychology, and has provided career assessment and development services within university counseling centers and human resource consulting firms. She can be reached at carolyn.m.wilson@gmail.com

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