Exploring Work: Job, Career, or Calling

Have you ever heard someone say any of these statements?

“I love my job! I would do it for free!”
“I’m interested in climbing the ladder at work.”
“Work is just a means to an end.”

These statements are reflections of someone’s work orientation – your attitude toward work. Is work a means to an end? Is work your calling and identity? Recognizing your work orientation can help you attain greater job satisfaction as you explore careers.

Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski, Professor of Organizational Psychology at the Yale School of Management has conducted a lot of research in the area of work orientation. We all have an orientation toward work: job, career, or calling. Like personality, there’s no one right or wrong orientation toward work.

An article on Psychology Today titled Job, Career, Calling: Key to Happiness and Meaning at Work? by Katharine Brooks Ed.D. provides an excellent overview of work orientation that I won’t attempt to replicate here. Go read it and come back to see why this is relevant to you while exploring careers.

How might this apply to you?

If you have a job orientation, you may be most satisfied in occupations that provide a strong work/life balance and a level of pay and benefits that supports your desired lifestyle. You may not feel a strong affinity toward a particular industry, company, occupation, or set of tasks/responsibilities and would likely enjoy any number of occupations. Reflect on the aspects of your desired lifestyle post-graduation and what kind of job qualities would support that lifestyle. Instead of finding a whole career trajectory that fits with your desired job qualities, focus on exploring your first job after graduation. What job will help you meet your desired lifestyle for the next 2-5 years?

If you have a career orientation, you’re likely interested in occupations that have upward mobility and/or prestige. While many students are concerned about how their first job after college might (or might not) determine their career trajectory, with a career orientation, you might be particularly focused on creating a planned, linear path. As you explore careers think about both your first job after college as well as what you might want to achieve later in your career. Use LinkedIn to explore alumni profiles. See what they did after their first jobs to get an idea of a trajectory. Or, see how they got to that dream job a decade(s) away.

If you have a calling orientation, you are likely seeking a career or occupation that you are passionate about. Or, you are really attuned to the big-picture purpose of an occupation. Many people struggle with being “exploratory” because it does not offer a concrete image of what post-graduation life looks like. With a calling orientation, you might especially struggle with not having a vision of your career path post-graduation because this occupation will be a core part of your identity. As you explore careers, help yourself form some of your post-graduation identity by thinking about desired qualities in a career. You might not be able to name a specific job title in your post-graduation identity, but you will be able to name what type of work environment you would like. Think of yourself as a future professional that works at a start-up and travels a lot, for example.

Remember that these categories aren’t exclusive. For example, I seem to align with a career orientation the most, but I don’t identify with everything in that description, and I do identify with many aspects of the job and calling orientations. In any case, understanding your work orientation may help you evaluate the fit of a particular occupation as you explore careers. Schedule an appointment with a career coach to discuss your work orientation and how it fits in with your career exploration.

By Kelsey Keefe
Kelsey Keefe Career Consultant Kelsey Keefe