Guidelines for Career Mentors

We help people choose career direction by taking them through a series of steps.  Each of the steps in this paper takes time and thought by the student. We have found that it is hard for many people to hold all the puzzle pieces of themselves while they do this process, so our invitation is deliberate for them to have a talking partner, a discipler or a mentor, to help them. 

The process of career decision making can take months, depending on how much self-knowledge and knowledge of the world of work the individual has.  We suggest incorporating small amounts of time into discipling meetings, cell group meetings, coffees, and casual conversations.  Involving others in supporting the process is useful—but only as long as the others subscribe to the same guidelines as the mentor when it comes to the proper role of the listener.

Your Role as Mentor:  The most important stance of the career mentor is that of ‘respectful listener.’  Career is a puzzle that each of us must work for ourselves.  Well-meaning people who want to tell us whether a particular career is practical, or whether it pays enough, or whether we have enough talent for it, are people who actually impede the very process they are trying to facilitate.  Instead of advising, try to focus on helping the person articulate, refine, and read the job description they are carrying inside themselves.  You are the one who holds the puzzle pieces and helps assemble them.  You are not the one to judge whether the person has enough talent, whether it pays enough, whether there are jobs available!  Our nation’s economy will answer these questions, and learning to research practicality for one’s self is a life skill and an important step in the career decision-making process. Don’t rob your learner of the decision of whether to pursue an odd, unusual, ‘impractical’ occupation; you are not going to live the consequences.  Remember that Steve Jobs was ‘impractical.’ 

Each step involves using a worksheet. As you prepare to work on a particular step, use the link to that worksheet and print a copy for your learner to write on in preparation for your discussions. 

Step 1:  Before beginning anything, simply print a copy of the 3 worksheets by Richard Bolles:

 Ask learner to highlight or circle all the boxes they think they are good at; ignore the small boxes numbered 1 through 7.  Set these pages aside for now without discussing them. 

Step 2: Review together McCallum & Risley’s paper, “Propositions on Christ, Culture, and Career.”  Consider together these thoughts:

In Section 17 of the paper, the authors say, “The path one takes to career selection is an area of Christian freedom, provided no other scriptural imperatives are violated.”  This freedom is empowering but can also be confusing.  How can I know what career path will be right for me?  The paper makes suggestions:  Don’t choose a career that pays too much or too little.  Avoid careers that involve a lot of travel. Avoid hours that interfere with ministry and family.

These guidelines lead many Xenos young people to ask, What can I get that fits these parameters?  While this seems like a practical approach, it can lead to naming jobs that fit these parameters without reference to the self and can result in work that is unnecessarily boring or distasteful.  In this paper, we begin with the concept of ‘career selection is an area of Christian freedom’ and show how to use that freedom to choose a career that is satisfying and interesting while not violating scriptural imperatives. 

Let’s begin by distinguishing between job and career.  We take a ‘job’ when we need money right away, when we need to stabilize our ability to meet our financial obligations.  When we are in such circumstances, all honest jobs are acceptable; we will do whatever is necessary to be financially responsible, and we don’t even ask ourselves if we like the work.  All of us have been or will be in such circumstances, and at such times we turn to every lead, from signing up with temporary employment services such as Manpower, to inventing temporary self-employment opportunities like painting houses or cleaning for others.  We do whatever is necessary, and as Christians we work as unto the Lord.

However, as soon as we stabilize our income, we should turn our attention to “career.”  A career is an intentional expression of our self-concept.  In career we enact important aspects of ourselves; we express who we naturally are.  In career we use our God-given gifts on behalf of topics or causes that fascinate us, in a way that respects our inborn temperaments.  In a ‘job’ we fit the work; in ‘career’ the work fits us. 

Step 3:  We have ‘gifts differing’ (1 Corinthians 12). Our gifts, useful for building up the body of Christ are also, in most people, satisfying to use in our careers. 

However, the difficulty is that many people don’t know their gifts! They dismiss the things they do well as ‘easy,’ ‘anyone can do it,’ ‘nothing special.’  Stop!  Let’s name your gifts!

In preparation for this discussion, download and print “Internal Job Description.”. Mentor now begins shepherding learner through a discussion of gifts:

The three pages you filled out (Step 1) are clues to your gifts.   Let’s look at them. 

  • Of the items you’ve highlighted, show me one of your favorites.
    • Tell me about that.  What is it you like about that? 
    • Tell me about a favorite time when you’ve done that.
    • What exactly did YOU do in that experience?  Show me a ‘video’ of you. (Make notes; write down verbs:  eg, designed; analyzed, etc)
    • Transfer the verbs to the Activities section of the Internal Job Description.
    • Is there another favorite time when you’ve done that? (repeat process)
  • Go to the next highlighted item, and repeat these questions
    • Record the verbs for each one.  If duplicate verbs show up, just put a check mark next to the verb in the Activities section of the Internal Job Description.
  • Spend as much time as necessary to listen to the stories, drawing out as much detail as possible, always listening for the verbs, the activities the person has particularly enjoyed doing.  Gifts are expressed in verbs!

Step 4:  Explain the concept of fascinations.  Fascinations are nouns:  topics, subjects, ideas, causes.  We like them over a long period of time, returning our attention to them again and again.  Invite your client to review:

  • What do you think is fascinating?
  • What topics do you like discussing?
  • What do you choose to read, whether in books, magazines, via internet?
  • Do you subscribe to any magazines?  If so, which ones?
  • Do you have any hobbies?  What are the topics of them?
  • What were your favorite subjects in school?
  • What causes are important to you?

Record the fascinations in the Interests section of the Internal Job Description.

Step 5: Give your client the Temperament worksheet.  Invite client to mark where they think they fall on each continuum.  Record their marks in the Temperament section of the Internal Job Description.

Step 6:  Ask the person to imagine an ‘ideal work day.’  Use imagination.  Make notes on a separate sheet while the person talks.  Some people will be able to imagine, others may not be able to contribute much to this part of the conversation.  Take whatever is offered. 

  • Start with what time you wake up, what you wear, where you go (downtown, out in the country, etc), large building/small building; lots of people there/few people.  (Give them time to daydream; many have never allowed themselves to have vocational daydreams.)
  • What does your work area look like?
  • What are you doing all day?  (Listen for verbs.)  What % of your day do you spend working with others, what % do you spend working alone?  What are you doing with the people, what are you doing when you are working alone?  (Listen for whether this person is managing others; is working as part of a team; is working independently.)
  • If you’re working with data, what kind of data? If with people, are they old, young, male, female, handicapped, athletic, etc.  If with things, are they buildings, computers, animals, etc.
  • Are you self-employed, or are you working in an organization?
  • Do you have a sense of whether it is a company, or a non-profit organization, or a government agency? 
  • What is the topic this organization works on? 
  • Add other clarifying questions as they occur to you.

A Note: Don’t make fun of whatever they say.  Don’t take these daydreams too literally.  Don’t say, “That’s not practical.”  The person is showing you some clues; just take them as that. 

Look at the Internal Job Description under “Other Aspects to Consider.”  Add whatever seems clear to your learner and to you.  

Step 7: Brainstorm job titles!  Emphasize this concept to your learner:  There is not just one job title that fits your internal job description.  You will be best served if you use all resources to create as many job titles as possible, even if some of these are occupations that are more imagined than known. 

  • Looking at the Internal Job Description, play ‘brainstorming’ with your client, with both of you calling out and recording every job title that comes to mind.
  • Ask the learner to show the Internal Job Description to trusted others—family members, cell group members, homegroup members, colleagues. Ask them to brainstorm job titles without trying to be practical.  Ask them to refrain from giving advice and opinions. 
  • More ideas can be found on the internet.  For example, type into your search engine:  Occupational Information Network Numerical Index.
  • For occupational titles that tie to Temperament, see the book Do What You Are by Paul D. Tieger. 

Step 8:  Make a ‘short list’ of the most interesting job titles.  Ask your learner to pick 10 job titles from the list and to rank these.  Taking the time to research the most interesting ones is a great use of time.  It is odd that people will spend four years getting an education but don’t want to spend three weeks identifying the work they want to do! 

There are massive resources online and in libraries to learn about specific occupations.  Here are some questions to keep in mind:

  • What are the daily activities of a person doing this occupation? 
  • How closely does this job match my Internal Job Description?
  • Would this occupation preclude me from my highest priorities of serving God, serving family, serving the body of Christ? 

Step 9: Don’t bog down now.  Learner should take his/her ‘most interesting’ occupation and then locate people who are actually in the occupation.  Encourage learner to find them, call them, and ask if the learner can come to their workplace to ask them questions about the occupation.  Then make a list with the learner of the confusions and questions and concerns about the occupation, and encourage them to see people doing the work in as many different settings as possible.  For example, someone interested in physical therapy as an occupation should go see people working as physical therapists in hospitals; in rehab clinics; in nursing homes; in schools; in private practices.  This is a very important—and usually skipped—step in career decision-making.  The people one meets in these interviews are not only a source of information; they form a network of mentors who can help one become employed in the field! 

Step 10:  Find educational information required for the field.  Get creative about financing of education.  Set up a detailed plan with the learner of how to get from here to there.

Step 11:  When the learner is ready to do a job search, use all the resources posted on the Xenos website to help learn how to:

  • organize a job search
  • find potential employers
  • write a resume
  • prepare to interview
  • handle salary negotiations. 

Throughout this process, pray for your learner.  Be encouraging and patient. Your consistency in helping your client work through fears and stuck points in the process makes your assistance invaluable. Above all, resist the urge to editorialize about the learner’s ideas!