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Take it From Them

"Take it From Them" profiles community leaders, entrepreneurs, business owners, and artists who have inspired change, brought communities together, and made valuable contributions to their professions.

Interview with Dawn Quesnel: Career Coach, Entrepreneur, Change Agent

After finding her calling two decades ago, she set out to help others maximize their career potential and make meaningful changes in their lives.

In 2002, Dawn Quesnel was working at a Boston recruiting firm where she specialized in finding talent for creative, sales, and marketing clients – a job in which she was thriving and earning industry recognition. When a larger firm acquired her company, she was told she would be leaving her current clients and instead be recruiting for the accounting department – a role she could not envision for herself.

She left her job, launched her own firm as an executive recruiter, and began taking courses to finish her bachelor’s degree while becoming certified as a career coach. She believed career coaching would be a natural transition into her next chapter – one that would combine her expertise in recruiting and human resources with her passion to help others thrive.

Since then, “Coach DQ” – as many of her clients call her – has worked with job seekers, entrepreneurs, and executives across multiple industries throughout the United States. She has worked with clients who want to change careers or launch a business and has guided professionals to achieve higher levels of success in their current positions. She has also been hired by businesses to help maximize the potential of their teams, including optimizing talent, building their culture, and developing organizational purpose and values. Additionally, she works with entrepreneurs on how to balance the day-to-day activities of running their business with implementing the marketing initiatives needed to grow their business.

Her credentials include being a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC) through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), and she attended the Career Coaches Institute (CCI) and the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (IPEC) Accredited Energy Leadership Coach Program. She has also served on the board of directors for the International Coaching Federation New England (ICFNE).

​Coach DQ was nominated by her peers for being recognized as the ICFNE Career Coach of the Year in 2011. She’s a former Business Networking International (BNI) ambassador, president, and mentor. She has produced and hosted nearly 200 radio shows and has conducted more than 4,000 interviews (casting, recruiting and radio combined). She is a sought-after public speaker, frequent emcee, and panel moderator. She has also been featured in numerous publications, on Blog Talk radio, and on news segments for local ABC, CBS, FOX, and PBS Boston affiliates.

Coach DQ, there are approximately 13,000 certified career coaches in the United States today. You started your business as a career coach 20 years ago when many people didn’t even know what a career coach was. What gave you the confidence to forge ahead and launch a new business that was still unknown to so many?

I had worked with a career coach previously, so I already knew the enormous benefits and how much it helped me. I wanted to help people believe that they could make meaningful changes in their lives. When I saw the positive outcomes from the work I did with my clients, it was so fulfilling – it kept me inspired and moving forward.

How did you build your business and elevate the concept of career coaching?

There were few career coaches at that time, so I took advantage of every opportunity to explain to people what I did and to educate them about the benefits of working with a coach. Some people thought what I did was cool, while others were often skeptical. To grow my business, I really went out there and just networked. I reached out to my job candidates to let them know I was being certified as a career coach. Several of them became my long-term coaching clients. Several decided to get certified and become career coaches themselves.

One of my contacts introduced me to the host of a radio show who asked to interview me. After the interview I decided I wanted to host my own show and the station manager gave me the green light. This gave me the opportunity to educate the public about coaching. I interviewed many different coaches and authors, and the station grew a loyal base of listeners. I later moved on to a larger radio station with an expanded, more diverse demographic and hosted my show for several years.

What are the top reasons people want to work with a career coach?

They may want guidance on strategies for getting a raise and/or a promotion, or they’re looking for a new job, or they want to improve their skills and productivity in their current position. Perhaps they’ve been laid off and are seeking guidance on updating their resume and how to better network and sharpen their interview skills. I had one client who was out of the workforce for several years because of health reasons. We worked together on strategies for networking and identifying key opportunities and he landed a good job in his field. Some clients want to leave their job or career altogether and need guidance on what to do next. Also, companies will hire me to work with their teams to make internal changes.

Let’s take a deeper dive into the business world. What is one example of how you work with companies?

I provide solutions to entrepreneurs and small- and medium-sized companies by optimizing talent development, facilitating communication, and helping teams improve their networking and pipeline development skills. Over the years I’ve invested in a library of resources that includes different personality and behavioral assessment tools, which provide key insights and intelligence about my clients. This helps me evaluate their workplace environment, organizational, and interpersonal dynamics. I use the results of the assessments to work with leaders and staff to design strategies for building a more productive, aligned, and engaged company culture.

What are some other ways in which you work with your clients?

Part of the certification process is that you have to work with your own coach. I’ve worked with many coaches over the years and one of them helped me create my BRIDGE (Becoming clear, Research, Identify, Develop your game plan, and Execute your game plan) method. I use the BRIDGE method as a framework to help clients clarify intentions and develop strategies to achieve their goals. This method was featured in 101 Great Ways to Enhance Your Career.

My Co-Active Coaching certificate from the Coaches Training Institute essentially means I am trained to guide my clients on how we can best work together as partners to design their program. They are the experts on themselves, and I am the expert on helping them reassess or identify their interests and goals, plan a strategy for achieving their goals, and stay accountable to the objectives they set.

Unemployment is low and the economy is strong, yet there continues to be massive layoffs at large companies. What do you think is going on in today’s job market?

It’s hard to wrap your head around the job market because of a combination of factors. A lot of people stopped reporting they were unemployed because they checked out of the job market and went through a career change or started their own business. Employers are hesitant to hire because they are waiting to see what happens with the economy and meanwhile are promoting internally and investing in upskilling programs for their employees. On the candidate side, job seekers are frustrated because they may be getting three or four interviews for a position and never hearing back. There’s a lot of competition out there. And it’s a gig economy – more and more people are working side hustles as they look for work – and many end up turning these opportunities into full-time businesses.

What are some of your most memorable moments over the past 20 years?

I worked with the manager of a restaurant whose dream was to open his own establishment. A few years later, I had the pleasure of dining in one of two restaurants he now co-owns. That was a great moment!

I worked with a financial advisor for 13 years to help him build his practice and his revenue grew nearly 400 percent. Another great memory is when one of my clients increased his salary by 80 percent after securing two different job opportunities within three years.

I was also incredibly proud of another client who worked with me on ways to feel more valued at work. She wanted to be recognized for her contributions and to receive the compensation she deserved. She ended up negotiating a promotion that included a raise.

Your days are largely focused on other people – coaching and training clients every week – not to mention you’re a busy mom to an active teenager. How do you set up each week for success and productivity?

On Mondays, after getting my daughter off to school, I start with a plan for the week by blocking out my strategies for each day. Mondays are designated for administrative work, updating my social media, and working on my business. Tuesdays through Fridays, I’m meeting with clients and out in the community networking in different groups in my town. My “Follow-up Fridays” are about getting back to clients and making sure no emails have slipped through the cracks. I also look ahead to the following week and where I need to be for my daughter’s school and activities.

Who inspires you?

My clients inspire me, especially when they say, “You’d be so proud of me,” or, “I hear the little Dawn in my head.” It’s gratifying to know I’m helping to make a difference in people's lives. It’s been an honor working with the same clients over several years to help their businesses grow and evolve, and to guide others through different career changes.

Any last thoughts?

I think it’s important to know that your ambitions, interests, opportunities, and goals will likely change throughout your career. Embrace these inevitable shifts and be open and willing to invest in advancing your skills, knowledge, and/or education. What excited you in your 20s may not be as enticing in your 40s or 50s, and for a wide variety of reasons.

As we evolve, we often discover talents and capabilities we didn’t know we had, or we may realize we’re not cut out to do what we’ve been doing for many years. Even a loss – like a layoff or a major life event can trigger someone to take a good hard look at what’s really important and to start thinking about how to create a more meaningful path forward. Combine that realization with tenacity. We are more resilient than we think we are. I often remember my mother saying, “You can do anything if you really put your mind to it.” I firmly believe that.

Top resources recommended by Coach DQ for those who want to hire a career coach.

Top books she recommends:

To learn more about Coach DQ, visit:


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