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Intersection of Life and Faith

Exploring Careers to Discover Your Career Niche

  • Kevin Brennfleck and Kay Marie Brennfleck National Certified Career Counselors
  • 2001 21 Oct
Exploring Careers to Discover Your Career Niche
Career exploration is the second stage of career master planning, following stage one which is assessing your unique God-given design. The assessment stage enables you to determine which interests, skills, values, personality traits are important to consider in making your career choice. The purpose of stage two, the exploration stage, is to determine which career options best fit your design.

Most people have "tunnel vision" when it comes to knowing about available career options--that is, they are only aware of a limited number of jobs based on the types of jobs their parents, friends and family members have done. Reading, traveling, talking with a wide variety of people, and the media can widen a person's exposure to the world of work. Most people, however, have not been exposed to the wide diversity of jobs that exist (one resource lists over 20,000 different job titles!) that could fit one's God-given design. Therefore, one of the primary goals of career exploration is to enlarge your vision of career options because you can only select from the jobs you are aware of!

Another purpose in career exploration is "reality testing," which is "trying on" jobs to get an accurate picture of how well they fit you. Most people begin "reality testing" their career choices the first day on the job! They then begin really looking at the job to see if they'll like it and if it's a good fit for them. Unfortunately, people often discover that the job is much different than they thought it would be and that it isn't a very good fit. This realization could come after four--or more--years of education or after an expensive training program. Obviously, you want to do your "reality testing" well before you make career decisions or complete education in preparation for a particular career. There are four primary ways to identify and explore potential occupations of interest: creative brainstorming techniques; using various written career resources; informational interviewing; and, "shadowing" someone on the job. (These last two methods, particularly, are key ways of "reality testing" options.)

Creative brainstorming involves generating a list of potential work options. The "input" for the brainstorming comes from the assessment stage: information about your skills, interests, values, temperament traits, etc. (With our clients, the information is organized into their Career Map, which is a document that organizes key information from their testing and assessment results.) Testing and assessment gives you a lot of information to use in brainstorming options that would uniquely fit you.

For example, while working with one of our clients, we brainstormed several options. One of these was helping inner-city youth to develop entrepreneurial skills. He later decided that this was the type of work he felt God was calling him to, as it was a way to use his business background and skills to make a significant difference in people's lives. Although there were no advertised job openings for doing this, through some creative research we discovered a non-profit organization whose mission is to help youth develop and run their own businesses. And they "just happened" to be looking for a director. (We find that when our clients are being faithful to taking the steps they need to take, a lot of things "just happen." We believe these things are evidence of God's willingness to be our partners in our quest to use our gifts fully to serve others.) Our client applied for the position and was selected from over 200 other candidates. (One of the reasons he was hired was that, because he had completed testing and assessment work, he was able to communicate very effectively what he had to offer in this position.) All of this, however, would never have happened without our doing some visionary brainstorming. That was the key beginning step that led to him developing his dream.

A second method of doing exploration is through using various written career resources such as The Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), The Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), The Enhanced Guide for Occupational Exploration (EGOE). The DOT lists over 20,000 different job titles. You don't have to read all of these descriptions (!)--the results from some good testing and assessment tools will enable you to identify the appropriate categories to explore.(Key career tests and assessment tools are linked to lists of job titles and code numbers in the DOT and other important resources.)

Listed below is some additional information about each one of these resources.

The Dictionary of Occupational Titles: The DOT provides information on over 20,000 jobs and is the only reference of its kind. The DOT's classification system is the standard system for describing jobs. Each job code reveals the level of skills required to work with people, data and things, and each job description contains detailed information. It is organized by major job categories, and cross-referenced by industry and job title--the result of more than 40 years of systematic analysis of millions of jobs in America.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook: This reference describes 250 different jobs-- the jobs held by 86% of the American workforce. Each description covers: the nature of the work; future employment outlook; earnings; related occupations; training/advancement; employment opportunities; and, sources of additional information. The OOH's addendums include summary data for another 80 occupations covering another 5% of the workforce. It is published every two years.

The Enhanced Guide for Occupational Exploration: This book includes descriptions for the 2,800 most important jobs in the economy-- 95% of the workforce holds one of these jobs. The descriptions include skills, abilities, academic and physical requirements, work environment, salary and outlook, training required, typical duties and many other details. It contains indices to explore career alternatives based on interest, skills, industry, training, education required, etc. as well as hard to obtain technical data such as aptitudes, industry designation, work field, temperaments, stress factors and physical demands.

The EGOE includes the latest data updates from the U.S. Department of Labor, The Census Bureau and a variety of other sources. Job descriptions in the EGOE are more current than those in many existing career reference books. The most recent edition of the EGOE was published in 1995.

All three of these books can be obtained through the Christian Career Center Resource Center. You can also use the Occupational Outlook Handbook in the career center. Libraries will also carry some of these resources, however, they may not have the most recent additions.

A third method of exploration is through informational interviewing. Informational interviewing is a technique to "reality test" a small number of career options (usually three or four) by talking in person to people who are doing the type of work you are considering. For example, if you are seriously considering becoming a lawyer, you would talk to three or more attorneys (preferably in different types of practices) and ask questions such as what they like best and least about their jobs, what a typical day/week is like, what advice they would have for someone considering the field, etc.

A fourth method involves "shadowing" someone on the job. Shadowing means spending at least half a day (but preferably a whole day) on the job with someone who is doing the type of work you are considering pursuing. It may mean simply observing someone or it might entail volunteering your time to assist with various activities. Following our previous example, someone interested in becoming a lawyer could observe what a "typical" day in the office was like, plus perhaps observe a court session or other relevant activities. This method is most appropriate when you have narrowed your options to two or three career options that you are seriously considering.


Using the above methods for career exploration can expand your vision of what is possible for someone with your skills and abilities. At the same time it allows you to "reality test" how well different options may fit your God-given design.

Plan on giving yourself several hours to complete this work. Completing this step thoroughly will greatly increase your opportunity to find the best career path for your unique design.

Should you need assistance with exploring options that fit your skill and interest, professional career counseling is available to help you successfully complete this critical step.

© 1999 Copyright by Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck are National Certified Career Counselors (NCCC). They have served the career needs of the Christian community since 1987, and in 1997 expanded their services by launching the online career center, Their calling is to help Christian men and women do first-rate career planning with an eternal perspective in mind. They seek to help Christians find work that fits their God-given design, enabling them to be good stewards of the gifts and abilities God has entrusted to them.

Through the, the Brennflecks provide individual career counseling to people across the country and make available a wide variety of career resources including a Job Bank (listing hundreds of current job openings), online Christian Job Fair, Resume Bank, the Occupational Outlook Handbook, and many articles on career planning and job searching.

The Brennflecks provide a variety of career services: individual career testing and counseling, seminars and workshops, and outplacement services for organizations. In addition to helping thousands of individual men and women with career planning and job search issues, they have provided career programs for Christian organizations including Insight for Living, Campus Crusade for Christ, Wycliffe Bible Translators, the Christian Management Association (CMA), World Impact as well as Christian schools and churches. They are listed in Richard Bolles' best-selling book on career/life planning, What Color is Your Parachute?, as career counselors who work from a religious point of view. In addition, they are Certified Career Consultants for Larry Burkett's Crown Financial Ministries.

Kevin and Kay Marie are married, and have a young son and daughter. They are well-acquainted with the balancing act required to pursue career dreams and be committed parents. They are active in their church, and are grateful to Jesus Christ for giving them purpose in their lives, and making life an adventure!