Interview with Emily McDonald of the Jockey and the Architect blog


In this post I interview Emily McDonald who writes the very good Jockey and the Architect blog. I met Emily when I was in Australia last year and started reading her blog. I’ve been meaning to post this for ages, but have finally managed to find a slot to put it up. So welcome Emily to Adventures in Career Development.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Emily and I work as a careers advisor. I currently work in a university setting helping students from all walks of life to achieve their career goals and transition from study to graduate employment. Previous to this, I worked in employment services which involved case-managing individuals with injuries, health problems and other barriers back in to study or employment.

Emily McDonald

How and why did you get into career development?

My journey in to the world of career development started when I was at university for the first time as an undergraduate. I was originally enrolled in a social science degree because my best friend at the time was doing it, and I did not really know what else I could do at the time. For reasons I cannot recall, I decided to change to psychology. Again, I was not sure where it was taking me, but I had heard somewhere that there were a lot of jobs in psychology. I can still hear my mother’s voice in my mind saying “Choose a recession-proof career”. Having ticked the employability box, I was still at a loss as to where I could fit in to the world of psychology and counselling. I knew I did not want to be a clinical psychologist, organisational psychology seemed a bit too corporate at the time, and hating statistics, a career in research or academia was beyond me. So on the brink of an existential crisis, I saw the careers advisor so he could sort me out. He was a cool dude and I remember thinking to myself “I’d love to do your job”. In my final year at university, I got involved in the Career Mentor Program where students are paired with someone working in their field of interest. I was lucky enough to be paired with Alan McAlpine, head of the careers department at my university. Alan has been a great mentor ever since and has given me invaluable advice and support on becoming a careers counsellor.

What is the “jockey and the architect”?

I suppose it is more of a metaphor than a story; can it be both? Anyway, it came about during a short course I was undertaking in 2011, facilitated by a well-known personality in the world of career development, Professor Jim Bright. The subject of discussion was around the ‘stuck’ client. Typically, the stuck client might have barriers that prevent them from returning to traditional occupations/careers, ones that they have enjoyed before but cannot return to for whatever reason. Sure, the temptation is there to assess, test, probe and prod a client in to choosing a neat little careers box, a position that you can find on SEEK with a clearly defined occupational title, skill set and duties. But sometimes people do not fit in to these neat boxes, and why should they? Jim asked us to come up with career options for a jockey, who has suffered an injury and cannot continue their career as a rider, and who has managed to team up with an architect. Before we knew it, the class was coming up with some great career paths for this hypothetical jockey and his new business partner (e.g. Stable or race course designer, stud farm developer, building inspector etc). The lecturer’s exercise demonstrates that through a simple shift in perspective, some creative thinking, and a move away from ‘traditional’ job-person fit thinking, the ‘stuck’ client, or any client, has options. Good options. And so that was what caused a shift in my own perspective of career counselling. The exercise is elegant in that it demonstrates that careers are non-linear. Yes we can plan, set SMART goals and strategise our next career move, but through chance and unforeseen events (both good and bad) beyond the realms of control, new possibilities can arise that were previously unseen. Through chaos comes opportunity. Career development is about being prepared for change and thriving in uncertainty. As American preacher Charles Swindoll says, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”

Why did you decide to start a blog?

I felt like I wanted to become more involved in the career development industry and to provide a space for other people from all backgrounds to access information around careers and employment. The last thing I wanted was to come across as an ‘expert’ and tell people what they ‘should’ be doing in their careers – a lot of blogs and websites focus on the ‘should’ whereas I like to put ideas out there for discussion and feedback.

jockey website

What sort of things do you usually blog about

Content is mixed bag of trending articles, research, innovative ideas, re-posts from other sites, videos, observations and…something a little different ….the Non-Linear’s Corner. This is where unique career stories of individuals who took the back road, side road, fork-in-the-road and roundabouts in their career journey will be profiled. Hopefully this will provide a little bit of inspiration and fun.


So tell us more about “the non-linear’s corner”.

The underlying philosophy of the Jockey and The Architect is about being flexible, open, resilient and optimistic. In a way, it is also about recognising ‘failure’ as an important part of career development. That is where the Non-Linear’s Corner comes from – people who have taken risks, experienced setbacks, rejections, road blocks in their lives and careers and yet despite it all, they come out the other end OK. These stories are what most people can relate to because very rarely does everything in life goes smoothly and according to plan.

What do you get out of blogging?

Searching for content to post on the blog gives me the opportunity to keep on top of trends and to think critically about careers information that is available. It also allows me to keep in touch with what other people are sharing (career development professionals, clients, students, job seekers etc) and the issues people are facing in their own career journeys.

How important do you think new technologies like blogging are for career development professionals?

Being aware of new technologies is very important for career development professionals. We are in a digital age and participating online helps us to access and share information relevant to our field. Our clients are also using the online space more and more for advice and direction in their careers and to look for work. While blogging might not be for everyone, having an understanding of different technologies (e.g. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, crowd funding sites etc) and how they are being used in career development is essential.

What advice have you got for any potential bloggers out there?

I’m still quite new to the blogosphere and am still experimenting with different approaches, but wiser and more experienced bloggers have found success by knowing their target audience, posting content regularly and staying within their area of expertise. I would add that for anyone who is putting themselves online via a blog or other platform, always be mindful about who is reading your content and to keep it respectful and clean – never put anything online that you would not write on the front door of your house or say to someone in public.


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