The Nebulous Next: Making Sense of Career and Calling

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The path each person takes after graduation is hardly ever linear: job searches, promotions, further education, ministry, career changes, and growing families all contribute to the path we decide to walk. Throw a worldwide pandemic in the mix, and it’s safe to say that knowing “what you want to do when you grow up”—and actually doing it when you “grow up”—can be a somewhat daunting pursuit. And what happens if what you want to do (a decision most college graduates make when they are only 17 or 18 years old) changes?

Whether you’re looking to start your career, change direction, or just take the next step, you might have a few questions about what to do next. To address these FAQs, Luke Gibson, director of the new Pathway Center, and Rachel Park, assistant professor in the School of Business, have provided some insight based on their personal careers and the trends they see as they mentor our students.

What is a crucial quality that is often neglected by applicants but sought out by employers?

Rachel: Intentionality. Students should remember that they are entering into a world that seeks, recognizes, and rewards real professionalism. There will need to be a conscientious effort made by students to transition from viewing the world around them as a textbook to something much more tangible. Students are no longer passive bystanders who are given credit for simply showing up. They need to be proactive and intentional and make the effort to become a positively contributing member to an organization and society overall.

What does career development look like in today’s age?

Luke: It has changed a lot over the last two decades, and unfortunately, the approach to providing wise counsel hasn’t always adjusted. It’s no longer a straight path, and the sooner graduates accept that, the more joy they’ll find in the process.

How do you get the “experience” all jobs are looking for when they all require it?

Luke: Experience, in many ways, is relative. It’s vital that students seek work that connects to their prospective career or get involved in extracurriculars that can build their resume and speak to their readiness for the job they’ll be seeking.

Rachel: There may be some specific experience required in a job posting, but what companies are looking for are candidates who are hardworking and have been purposeful in how they spend their time. Part-time jobs, internships, volunteer work, extracurricular activities—these can all count as experience.

What role does networking play in finding a job?

Luke: There are studies that show up to 85% of jobs are found by networking. It is essential to understand the value of networking and how it not only gives you opportunities that you wouldn’t have otherwise, but how it helps you grow professionally.

What’s the best thing a seasoned employee can do for a soon-to-be graduate, and what are you suggesting that soon-to-be graduates do to be well-prepared for employment?

Luke: I think this ties back into the importance of networking. A mentor and the wisdom that they share can save us from going down a lot of wrong paths. Soon-to-be-graduates should be seeking out mentorship in the areas that they hope to enter. Ask questions, be curious, and keep an open mind. I’d challenge a seasoned employee, or someone who is further along in their journey, to find someone that may need guidance and share the experiences, both good and bad, with them. This is one of the reasons we created Cairn Connect.

Rachel: Even if one is not a “seasoned” employee, having any additional experience post-graduation can make someone a helpful resource for students. The moment you enter into an organization, your network grows exponentially. Using this network to help new graduates and offering guidance to those coming after you can make a big difference. The bigger responsibility, though, is on the soon-to-be-graduates. Students should not just expect and feel entitled to receiving support. It’s important to be a candidate that someone wants to support and network with. Soon-to-be-graduates should also be the ones seeking the help, and in that process, making sure they are being genuine and authentic in those relationships.

The Pathway Center
At Cairn, we believe that students are more than their majors, and our majors are more than streamlined channels into specific careers and lifestyles. Our integrated biblical education has a lasting value that is applicable to all of life. Careers are built through many experiences and opportunities, with a bachelor’s degree being just one component. Providing direction on all other aspects is why we have instituted the Pathway Center. Directed by Luke Gibson, the Center offers everything students need to pursue and obtain resume-bolstering internships, acceptance letters from graduate schools, and job offers in their chosen field. In addition to these concrete helps, Luke also advises students as they ask bigger questions about their life, calling, and purpose.

What is your best piece of advice for new college graduates who are in limbo between undergraduate studies and a full-time career?

Luke: It’s a great question. My best advice is that finding your first job is nothing like choosing or finding a college. We like to correlate the two, but it’s vastly different, and the comparison sets people up for disappointment. Your first job doesn’t need to be a perfect fit, and it doesn’t need to check all of the boxes. But it can still be a defining experience in your career path. I often say that a resume is a working document, and that first job is part of adding important experience to that resume.

Rachel: Students should not wait until they are at the brink of graduation to ponder their future. They should be asking themselves, “What am I actually pursuing?” and “What am I seeking?” throughout their entire college experience. The clarity for escaping limbo will come from determining what makes the most sense based on the future they’re pursuing.

What role does grit, determination, toughness (whatever you want to call it) play in the job search process?

Luke: I love Angela Duckworth’s definition of grit: “passion and sustained persistence applied toward long-term achievement, with no particular concern for rewards or recognition along the way.” It’s easy to fall into the instant gratification trap, where a tough interview means we need to choose a new career path, or that a bad day at work means we need to look elsewhere. Ultimately, those are temporary things that have the ability to get us closer to our goals or aspirations. It takes a lot of grit to not only tackle the job process but also to fully embrace a career path.

How many job changes is too many? Is there a number to that, or are there other factors in play that are more important?

Rachel: There is no single number that will be the right count. A more important factor is the actual experience gained from the different roles and the reasons for why one might have left a role.

In what ways is Cairn in a unique position to address the concept of “calling” for students as it relates to work?

Luke: We are here to help students understand that who we are is more important than what we do. Yes, our work and calling often connect, and I believe that our students have the opportunity to explore that in a way that differs from many of their peers. I also believe it’s important that students know it’s okay if they haven’t found or heard that calling yet. Regardless of where someone is at, the work that they get to do professionally has the opportunity to shape and sharpen who they are.

Rachel: Hopefully, students are persistently being reminded that they do have a calling from the Lord. They should be mulling over what this means and recognize that it is their responsibility to pursue that truth and fulfill it.

The Alumni Network: Your Greatest Untapped Resource
Whether you’re looking to hire, be hired, or just build relationships with other alumni in your field, Cairn Connect is the place to do it. Think of it as a better LinkedIn, where you already have common ground to network with anyone in the app and no one is trying to sell you something.