Are you:

  • Unsure about what career and college major best fit you?
  • In a major that doesn't’t feel quite right and yet wondering if you should just stick it out?
  • Grappling with knowing what God wants you to do with your career and life?
  • Near graduation and unclear about how to get the right job or if you should go to graduate school?

If any of the above describes you, you are not alone! To live is to grow and change, and nowhere is that more evident these days than in the world of work. We are living in a time of transition and change.

In our book, Live Your Calling, we write:

"Most of us experience times when we feel lost or as though we are just surviving in life. Sometimes we feel disoriented by the circumstances and decisions we face. As young adults, we have to choose a career direction for the first time. Later in life we may have to do so again as the result of midlife changes, job loss, the empty nest, divorce, a spiritual awakening, or retirement. What should I do? Which way should I go? we wonder.

Other times we may look at the familiar routine of our days, weeks, and years and be struck by a sense of purposelessness. We fear that we are experiencing but a shadow of the life we were meant to live. In the quiet places of our soul we hear whispered, "There's got to be more to life than this."

If you are facing a time of career unrest and/or change, how are you dealing with your situation? What are you doing to find a sense of clarity and direction?

How Do You Make Career Decisions?

Being thrust into times of change happens throughout our lives. If you are like most people, you will experience at least 8-10 job/career changes in your lifetime. Despite the frequency of the desire or need to make a job change, most people have never had the opportunity to learn how to choose a career direction effectively.

The majority of people do not make an actual career choice; rather, they let circumstances or other people dictate their path. For example, when we meet with someone new in our career counseling practice, our clients often describe "falling into" their job or career path: "Uncle Joe told me about an opening at his company, and I've been there ever since" or "My friend was majoring in accounting, so I decided to become an accountant" or "I applied online for this job, they offered it to me and so I took it even though I didn't know much about the job or the company."

Letting other people or circumstances direct one's course often results in taking the path of least resistance, which usually leads to one or more of the following outcomes:

  • Becoming dissatisfied, unhappy and/or stressed (which impacts one's physical and emotional health as well as family/friend relationships and all other aspects of one's life);
  • Being underemployed, underpaid and underappreciated;
  • Feeling unprepared and even "victimized" in the event of a lay-off or other external change;
  • Having a lowered sense of self-worth and ability;
  • Struggling with one's relationship with God--feeling confusion, distrust and even anger about the perceived lack of God's "leading" in one's life.

So what is the alternative? Proactively PLANNING your career and life! Most people spend more time planning their vacations than they do planning their careers and lives! Why? Usually it is because they either don't see the need to be invest time and energy in career planning, or they just don't know how to go about it. But neither your past nor your present is your potential...today can be a new beginning for making positive changes in your career and life.

The Benefits of Proactive Career Planning

  • Taking responsibility for and learning how to plan your career optimizes your potential to produce these outcomes in your life:
  • Experiencing the satisfaction that comes from using your most enjoyed skills and abilities within meaningful work;
  • Creating a life that supports your physical and emotional well-being, your relationships with family and friends, and other important aspects of your life;
  • Achieving your financial potential within your career area as well gaining the respect and appreciation of others;
  • Developing "employment security" (the ability to secure appropriate employment quickly in the event of an unexpected job/income loss);
  • Knowing how to make job/career changes as the marketplace or your career goals change;
  • Feeling like you are working in partnership with God to discover your mission in life--to determine how to use your gifts and abilities within work in accordance with God's desires for you;
  • Living life as a joyful witness to God's goodness and provision in your life.

How to Discover and Live Your Calling

St. Augustine, a fifth-century theologian, had some very good advice that applies to times of career transition. He said that we should pray as though everything depended on God and work as though everything depended on us. This statement is helpful because it reminds us that career/life planning is a spiritual process in which we acknowledge that God is sovereign in our lives. As Proverbs 16:9 states, "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps."

We also need to acknowledge, however, that we have a key role to play in discovering and living our calling. God most likely is not going to write His will for your life on your wall while you sit on the couch watching TV. While we may wish that God will supernaturally reveal our career direction to us while we go about doing other things, He typically does not choose to work that way. Why? Because the journey of stepping out in faith, depending on His guidance along the way, taking risks to explore different possibilities, and seeking to figure out how He would have us use our gifts in this world have a spiritual impact on us. The very process of discerning our calling shapes and matures us in becoming the people we need to be to do what God is calling us to do next in our lives!

The Four Stages of Finding the Right Career

Who am I? What is my God-given design? What do I enjoy doing, what do I value, what motivates me, what brings me a sense of fulfillment and meaning? What gifts and abilities has God given to me to use in this world? What needs, issues and/or causes do I find compelling and desire to address in my work? The results of your self-assessment can be organized into your personal Life Calling MapTM.

Career Master Planning is based on the belief that God has created you to be a unique individual, with a specific design of abilities and interests. His desire is for you to work out of your design; that is, find work that utilizes what you love to do. He wants you to experience the joy and satisfaction that comes from doing the work He created you to do. In so doing, you glorify Him. To work out of your design, however, you must know what it is. Therefore, you begin your master planning by discovering and/or deepening your understanding of your design through an assessment process which can include career tests, exercises, career counseling, etc.

Which careers (or self-employment opportunities) potentially fit my design? Which would give me a sense of mission and purpose in my work?

Once you know the key pieces of your design--such as the skills you most want to use within work, the interests you are passionate about, the values that are critical to your sense of work satisfaction, the work factors that motivate you, etc.--you are then ready to explore possible options that fit your design. Exploration can include brainstorming strategies to identify and create options that would utilize your design, using written resources like the Occupational Outlook Handbook and ONET Online , as well as conducting informational interviews with people who are doing the types of jobs you are interested in.

Which option best fits my design (and other important criteria such as the job outlook, salary issues, education needed, etc.) Which best enables me to make a contribution to making this world a better place? In which do I believe I could serve God and others most effectively? Which do I believe God is calling me to pursue?

Making a good career decision depends on three factors: 1) Having the right information about yourself; 2) Having the right information about the world of work; and, 3) Using good decision making strategies. Action stages 1 and 2 will provide you with the right information; your task in action stage 3 is to learn how to appropriately evaluate the information. Most people go with a "gut feel" about a job; sometimes this works out, but often it doesn't't. Comparing options against key parts of your design, evaluating both the short-term and long-term pros and cons of options, and other strategies will help you make a well-thought through decision. Prayer certainly needs to be a part of the decision making process, but it doesn't't replace our responsibility to develop maturity and wisdom in how we make life choices.

If you are uncertain about how to make the right career decision or how to develop a good action plan for achieving your career goals, Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck, the directors of the Center for Career & Life Calling are available to help you. You can reach us at careerservices@cuaa.edu or by phone at 734-995-4870.

What are the necessary action steps to achieving my career dream/goal? How do I obtain a job in my chosen field? What are the best job search strategies to use? How do I best market myself? OR What are the best options for getting necessary training/education? OR What is the sequence of steps I need to take to successfully become self-employed?

Making a decision, however, is not enough. You must take action! And, to take effective action, you must have a plan. Many people do their "career planning" by seeing what is available in the classified ads, or sending out resumes, or enrolling in an educational program hoping that will help them to determine a direction. By now you can see how taking these types of actions, when the person has not completed action stages 1, 2 and 3 is really just gambling that their "choice" is going to be a good one.

For most people action at some point also involves job search work. In job search activities there are two keys: finding job openings and proving that you can meet the employer's needs. In finding job openings, it's important to remember that at any given time only 15-20 % of the available jobs are going to be advertised. This includes the classified listings of the newspaper and the Internet. You will want to use these advertised resources to find job openings-- but only for perhaps 15-30% of your job search time. Ninety-five percent of job hunters delay their employment by using these advertised resources, especially Internet job boards, as their number one method for finding job openings. As you can imagine the competition for these advertised jobs is intense.

A key to finding job openings is to know that 85% of employers never advertise their job openings. Instead they fill positions with people they already know, people that are referred to them, or with individuals who just happen to contact them. These jobs are in what is called the "hidden" job market. The jobs are considered "hidden" because they are not advertised to the general public in any way. Seventy to 85% of your job search time should be devoted to tapping into the "hidden" job market.

But it's not enough just to find job openings; you also need to prove that you are the right person to hire. You must show the employer how you can meet their needs better that anyone else they are considering. You can do this by polishing your communication skills that you will use in contacting employers, interviewing and salary negotiations.

Avoiding Killer Skills in Your Career

As you look at the four action stages, ask yourself: "Where do most people begin their career planning?" If you said "stage 4," you are right! Most people jump into a job search with little idea of what kind of work would be a good fit. They may only know that they want something that's different than what they have been doing. However, if they're sending out their resume that highlights the skills they've been using in the work they want to get away from, they may be highlighting all of their "killer skills."

When a person has been in work that does not fit them well, they often have developed lots of killer skills. Killer skills are skills that you can do competently, or even very well, but which you don't enjoy using. So, if you have a job that uses lots of these skills it will "kill" you at least emotionally, and sometimes even physically, as you are asked to use these skills on an ongoing basis. One research study found that the greatest predictor of longevity in our country is the degree of work satisfaction a person experiences in his or her job. So when we talk about "killer skills", we are literally talking about skills that can negatively impact your life.

Therefore, instead of beginning one's career planning at action stage four with little focus and hence little chance of successfully finding enjoyable work, a person needs to complete action stages one through three in order to identify the type of work that will be a good fit for their unique design. Then, a resume can be developed that targets that job objective, and that highlights the skills and abilities a person has that qualifies them for the job.

Would it surprise you to learn that 80% of job search work actually happens in steps one through three? Not one of these steps says anything about job search work, so why would eighty percent of job search work happen there? Because, these first three steps help you to: (1) target the work for which you are most suited and determine where you can make the best contribution; and, (2) intimately know your God-given design so that you can better articulate how you can meet the employer's needs. Thus, by completing these steps you can not only target the type of work that would be most fulfilling and meaningful, but you can also prepare yourself for "marketing" yourself much more effectively. You job search will be easier and much more productive!

© Article copyright by Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck, www.ChristianCareerCenter.com. All rights reserved. The above information is intended for personal use only. No commercial use of this information is authorized without written permission.