Ethical Career Development

The pursuit of authenticity is at the heart of what I do. For this reason, I endeavor to make decisions that match my values whenever possible. To inform my approach, I refer to the NACE Professional Competencies for College and University Career Services Practitioners (2013). Much like the ACPA & NASPA (2015) competencies, these define “what a career services professional should know and be able to do” (NACE, 2013, pp. 5). The NACE competencies combine best practices with specific themes that reoccur throughout the document. These themes (legal and ethical practice, diversity and inclusion, global issues, and interpersonal skills) are also aligned with my values, which make the competencies a logical source to inform my practice.


In the past, I used the ACPA Statement of Ethical Principles and Standards for guidance (ACPA, 2006). However, now that I use the documents simultaneously, I am better able to critically consider subjects, determine best practices, and make informed decisions. For example, before I found out about the NACE competencies, I examined the organizational decision-making at a specific community college. My goal was to illustrate the challenges of delivering career development in either academic or student affairs. As I reflect on this work, I see that my limited career-related ethical context detracted from my ability to understand the complexity of the situation, which I could have avoided by integrating the NACE competencies. My proposed improvement was informed by the ACPA standards and was ultimately too broad to be realistic.


I have also seen this reflected in my work with international students. Although ACPA provides general information, NACE incorporates specific competencies to address the challenges of international students. One competency illustrates this perfectly: “understand and articulate the logistical, legal and ethical complexities of international employment” (NACE, 2013, pp. 19). By reviewing the competencies and incorporating them into a professional development plan, I can ensure that my ethics are aligned with best practices and my personal values. I recently began to develop a guide for international students to help them navigate the difficulties of obtaining visas and unpaid internships. My short-term professional development plan demonstrates my commitment to continued ethical practice.

Just as student affairs professionals support students in their holistic development, we must also ensure that we are pursuing personal wellness and growth. Though we speak of intentionality, we oftentimes find that our intentional work turns into a blur of doing whatever is easy because we can’t find the energy for more. After exhausting ourselves being the best helpers, educators, and professionals we can be, it’s easy to become complacent. Instead, ACPA & NASPA suggests that professionals focus our attention on the core influencers of the work we do: curiosity, reflection and self-authorship (2015, pp. 16). Cliché as the statement is, we can’t pour from an empty glass. Before we can help others, we must return to our own wellness.

When I reflect on graduate school, the changes in my self-definition are evident. I have recognized that I can only control certain things; others are out of my control. Informed by the “challenges and supports” along the way (Evans, Forney, Guido, Patton & Renn, 2010, pp. 186), I focused on the following outcomes: articulate an understanding that wellness is a broad concept comprised of emotional, physical, social, environmental, relational, spiritual, moral, and intellectual elements, describe the ethical statements and their foundational principles of any professional associations directly relevant to one’s working context, and articulate key elements of one’s set of personal beliefs and commitments, as well as the source of each (ACPA & NASPA, 2015, pp. 16).

Balance & Wellness

When I first shared the plans I’d made for my time in graduate school, my friends looked at me like I had lost my mind. They told me: “You’ll never be able to sustain that lifestyle.” I defiantly informed them that “hard things take a long time, and impossible things take a little longer.” I believed that I was immune to the challenges faced by other graduate students. All I had to do was try harder. I found, instead, that I was not a superhero. It was an exercise in humility, an immense challenge, an incredible journey, and a success.


Despite my success, my experience encouraged me to reflect on the ways that “authority and expertise are shared in the mutual construction of knowledge among peers” (Evans, Forney, Guido, Patton & Renn, 2010, pp. 187). I saw my peers taking balance seriously and slowly recognized the ways that my lack of balance was reflected in my life emotionally, physically, and socially. After advising students all week, I would be emotionally drained even if I weren’t physically tired. By listening to feedback about the reality of my approach, I learned to recognize when I am too ambitious. 


Although I will continue to develop balance, I have identified that learning, rest, and structure in my routine will help maintain wellness. My Strengths Insight Report (the result of the CliftonStrengths assessment) showed me just how impactful some of these factors are. For example, my Learner strength says “you feel the need to prove yourself to yourself each day." This resonates with me and is evident in my approach to work. Ideation, another strength, mentions my knack for seeing possibilities. To balance all of the possibilities, I need a structured routine to help me identify when I need rest. In my routine, I seek balance by doing things I enjoy, such as photography, nature walks, or listening to music. I also enjoy writing. In fact, I recently wrote a blog post about incorporating self care into the job search. This was a great marriage of the two ideas, for me.

Personal &  Ethical Foundations

Values & Beliefs

My professional values are a direct result of the impressions made on me by the incredible professionals I have worked with. My colleagues challenge me to get engaged in authentic and meaningful experiences where I can increase my self-awareness and gain a broad range of skills. They challenge me to do my best and to develop ambitious goals, but they are always there to support and encourage me as well. As my professional identity has developed, I see the best pieces of my colleagues represented in me. I feel confident that their contribution to my growth has given me the ability to navigate demanding circumstances, come up with creative solutions, and to be confident when asking the challenging questions. Their mentorship has given me a wealth of opportunities to self-evaluate, think critically, navigate ambiguities, and negotiate conflicts, which are all contributors to professional identity development (Hirschy, Wilson, Liddell, Boyle & Pasquesi, 2015, pp. 790).


The same experiences inform the development of my professional ethics, since “our [ethical] obligation runs deeper than merely learning a set of ethical codes to avoid mistakes or getting caught” (O' Brien, 2015, pp. 41). I have learned to embrace this commitment in my work as a supervisor to weigh the benefits of different courses of action. I have also found that I am at my best as a supervisor when I trust my team to make decisions when appropriate and when I empower them to implement new ideas. I try to challenge them, but to offer abundant opportunity for support and resources. Their development and growth is equally as valuable to me as my own, so it's important to me that I hold them accountable but respect their strengths as well. 

As a career services professional, connection and collaboration are central to my professional values. I am a member of several professional associations, but it can be challenging to identify opportunities that fit my availability. My favorite way to get involved is through virtual initiatives like the Career Development and Advancement Team resume review process through ACPA. Last year, I connected with three professionals through this initiative, which was a great networking opportunity and an interesting change from the student resumes I usually see. I also enjoy interacting with other professionals on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. I read, share, and comment on articles from industry influencers as well as develop blog posts. This helps me stay informed, interact with other professionals, and led me to recognize my interest in higher education technology. My involvement with professional associations even led to my receipt of a professional development grant to attend the EACE annual conference this summer. I value the connection and collaboration I gain through these organizations because it has helped me to get involved and make connections, but I am even more excited by the increased professional identity development that they have allowed me.


ACPA. (2006). Statement of ethical principles and standards. Washington, DC: Author.

ACPA & NASPA. (2015). Professional competency areas for student affairs practitioners. Washington, DC: Author.

Evans, N. J., Forney, D. S., Guido, F. M., Patton, L. D., & Renn, K. A. (2010). Student development In college: Theory, research and practice. (2nd ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Hirschy, A.S., Wilson, M.E., Liddell, D.L.,Boyle, K.M. & Pasquesi, K. (2015). Socialization to student affairs: Early career experiences associated with professional identity development. Journal of College Student Development 56 (8). 

NACE. (2013). Professional Competencies for College and University Career Services Practitioners. Bethlehem, PA: Author.

O’Brien, J. J. (2015, Winter). Ethical perspectives on the ACPA/NASPA Professional Competencies. Developments, 13(4).

Last Updated: May 2018

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