Career Planning Process

The career planning process is comprised of three major parts: self assessment, occupational assessment, and career implementation. It is a process that can start anytime during the college years, generally the earlier the better. The emphasis with this process is to learn how to make career-related decisions as they come up, not to arrive at one permanent choice. It is a technique that can be utilized to decide an academic major, which activities to be involved in, whether or not to take a semester abroad, what summer experiences to choose, or what full time occupation to pursue.


The self-awareness component involves knowing what questions to ask of yourself to become aware of personal preferences and priorities. It is learning to examine an experience for its component parts. Why was a particular class so enjoyable? Was it the material? The professor? The time of day? The fact that you did well? Looking at experiences in this way enables students to discover elements that will be important to their future job satisfaction. The object of this part of the process is to become self-aware and to monitor and adapt to changes in interests, motivations, skills, and work values as they occur. Again, career planning is a process, not an exercise with a specific end point.

Occupational Assessment

Once a student has determined a set of personal priorities for a decision, the next step is to generate and investigate as many options as possible. Obviously, ideas formulated from a base of knowledge are much more likely to satisfy the personal goals involved in the decision. Assessing the feasibility of career options requires knowing how to obtain and utilize information from written resources, technical resources and from human resources. During this phase of the process students are taught how to transfer researching skills they have developed in an academic context to a career context. Each option can then be weighted against personal priorities, facilitating realistic decision making.

Career Implementation

The last phase of the career planning process involves taking the necessary action to put a decision into effect. It includes the steps to find a specific summer job, internship, or full-time employment opportunity.

This requires "know how" on resume writing, interviewing and job hunting strategies. While this information is new for students, it is not particularly hard to grasp. Difficulties arise most often when inadequate time has been spent on the self assessment and occupational assessment phases of the process. Information about job hunting is important, but a positive attitude and a solid base of self confidence are even more important for successful completion of this phase.

Our Goal

Our goal in the Career Center is to educate all Luther students about this career planning process and to assist them in all phases of this development over their time at the college. We believe that the idea of career planning is an important component of a liberal arts education and should be integrated into a student's college experience. We also believe that students are ready to assimilate different parts of this process at different times, and we have developed our programs accordingly.

The First Year

As previously mentioned, coming to Luther College is a student's first major career decision. Typically, most of the first year is spent learning how to adjust to that decision. Many first-year students are coping with being away from home, new academic pressures, and a new social environment, all of which takes a good deal of time and energy. To expect a first-year student to have clear career goals is unrealistic. The majority of incoming students will say a liberal arts education is what they want, and perhaps some will have preferences for the choice of an academic major, usually based on high school interests and abilities. Those who say they have already decided on a career path will most probably change that direction over the course of their time in college. It is completely normal and often most beneficial for a first-year student to be deciding about future plans.

First-year students usually have vague ideas about the future and are generally considering a number of often very diverse alternatives. They will typically view these alternatives as simply "right" or "wrong" and have trouble determining combinations. The result is confusion, and students will generally look to the Career Center staff (or their parents) to settle the matter by giving the answers to them. This confusion can also lead to a lack of motivation and, as there is little direct pressure for first-year students to examine the career questions, they often deny the question exists.

Our aim is not to create pressure, but to alleviate it with information. In dealing with first-year students, we are aware that they need time to adjust to their new surroundings, and we take a low key, instructional approach. First-year programs do not require large time commitments and are geared to their more immediate concerns. We teach them the basic elements of the career planning process using decisions about academic majors and summer jobs as the primary focus. The major objective we have is to introduce them to the process and our office so that they know where to find help when they want it.

Parents of new students have some adjusting to do, too. It is the beginning of a redefined relationship, and the separation process can have a real push-pull dynamic to it. When your student may be physically separate, he or she is still likely to look to you for solutions when the going gets tough. Your student is both eager and scared to be independent and will go back and forth (wanting your help and not wanting it) until he or she feels more confident in personal coping skills. You may feel relief with the decrease in your responsibility as your son/daughter needs you less as a parent. Career decisions may be the least of your worries at this time.

The most helpful thing parents can do for first-year students regarding their futures is to give them the time and space to get used to being at college. Allow their career indecision. Encourage them to discover new interests and abilities by trying new subjects and activities. Let your student know you would be willing to discuss career objectives when he/she would like to talk about them. Suggest taking advantage of the career counseling services if your student shows an interest or is openly concerned about career decisions. Pressuring them to discuss careers or to see a career counselor before they are ready will often have the opposite effect you desire, and the subject will become one surrounded by tension.

Your student may come to you during the year for advice in various new situations. Try to help him/her develop decision-making skills rather than providing answers. Giving answers can put you in a no-win situation. If your solution works, your son/daughter cannot claim any personal satisfaction and may be resentful, or even worse, continue to rely on you and hesitate to develop independence. If your solution does not work, you may get the blame. Allow your student to experience the consequences or his/her own decisions and be there to celebrate the successes and to provide support during the failures. Also keep in mind that solutions that worked for you may not be the most appropriate answers for your son/daughter.

The Sophomore and Junior Years

Sophomores and juniors differ from first-year students in that they have begun to realize career decisions are important, and they have more motivation to explore choices. Often this realization comes as the result of a crisis, usually referred to as sophomore slump, which can occur at anytime during these two years. During this period, the excitement and newness of being at college has worn thin, and the question of what they are doing here hits with considerable force. Part of the anxiety of a sophomore slump stems from indecision about career direction.

Whether or not students experience the turmoil of a sophomore slump, they are likely to be thinking about career choices. At this stage, they begin to identify and organize their options and make tentative decisions, although they often remain hesitant to commit themselves to those decisions. In order to solidify these tentative choices, students need to investigate fully what different occupations entail. The most important areas for sophomores and juniors to spend time on are self and occupational exploration.

We continue with sophomores and juniors to tie the career planning process to their immediate concerns such as summer employment, internship experiences, or time away from college. We teach occupational assessment methods and encourage students to use our resource area and talk to Luther College alumni/ae about careers. We advise students to try out their tentative choices by actually doing a particular job, whether it be during the summer, J-term, or as part of an internship. Sophomores and juniors are beginning to look to themselves for a variety of answers, and we encourage that movement.

The middle years at college are years of transition. Black and white choices become more relative, answers begin to come from an internal locus of control rather than an external one, and general career ideas begin to become more refined. These transitions are often stressful, and at any time progress can be impeded or stopped altogether. Students need to be encouraged to take risks, to try new behaviors, and to shoulder responsibility for themselves and their career development.

There are many ways which parents can assist during this period of career exploration. As your son/daughter begins the self assessment phase of the career planning process, offer to listen to and be available for comment. Your perspective on his/her growth and development can be very useful to his/her self-understanding. Straightforward, non-judgmental communication is crucial in giving your feedback. Own your observations and allow your son/daughter to respond. Instead of "You would make a lousy banker!", try, "I wonder about how happy you would be as a banker, especially since it seems to me you have never enjoyed math."

It is also helpful to discuss your own career-related experiences. How did you end up doing what you do? Did you decide what you wanted or did you fall into it? Did you ever feel uncertain too? The temptation here is to give advice and try to save your student some of the mistakes you might have made. Describe what you have learned from your experiences, and trust him/her to come to his/her own conclusions. "Looking back, I can see I would really have benefited from some sales experience" is usually more readily received than "you better get some sales experience!"

You can also serve as a referral source. If your son/daughter expresses an interest in a particular occupation, offer to help find more information. Perhaps you have friends, relatives or acquaintances currently working in the field who would be willing to talk to him/her about careers. We recommend that you tell your son/daughter whom to contact and let him/her take the responsibility for making the connection.

Most importantly, you can offer support and encouragement as your son/daughter really begins to tackle career questions. Make it known that you believe in his/her abilities and will be behind him/her as she or he explores and makes decisions. It is often helpful to say that making mistakes is part of the learning and that you will be available for comfort when disappointments come along.

As previously mentioned, it is a stressful time for students, and without encouragement, they may be too anxious to engage in career planning, deny the question exists, or pick the easiest, rather than the most appropriate, answer. If you are feeling uneasy about your student's progress in career decisions, say so. Again, how you communicate that concern is important. Express your feelings as one adult to another rather than in parental tones. "You seem worried about deciding what you want to do, and I am concerned. How about talking to a career counselor?" or "When you ignore your future, I get annoyed, and I would like to talk with you about it."

The Senior Year

The key word to describe seniors entering adult life is anxious. The fact is that ready or not, graduation is approaching and life at Luther College will be coming to a close. As with first year students breaking from the home setting, seniors breaking away from campus life will feel a range of emotions. On the one hand, they are eager to be independent and try their wings. On the other hand, life in the real world can be uncertain, insecure, and frightening. Once again, there can be a push-pull dynamic to the transition.

Stress occurs when there is change and can be a problem when there is an imbalance between the demands of the environment and the responsive capabilities of the student. Impending changes for seniors include: changes in responsibilities, living situations, recreational patterns, vacation time, time structure, and financial status. Stress can also result from personal achievements such as finishing a major project, passing exams, or receiving honors. For some seniors, marriage can also mean change and stress. On top of all these changes, a senior must make career decisions and launch a job search.

Ideally, seniors will be aware that career decisions must be made. They will be making those decisions with varying degrees of uncertainty and perfecting their ideas for the future. Tools they have gained from their liberal arts education such as the ability to synthesize and analyze information can be applied to finding answers to their career questions. Typically, seniors will begin to convert their choices to reality by setting goals, making plans, and taking action.

Hopefully, seniors will be able to cope with the stresses that challenge them, but often they can be as undecided, as dualistic in their thinking, and as externally oriented as any first year student. The Career Center provides the services and information that seniors need to realize their career plans. Our experience has taught us, however, that unless a student is ready to hear and use that information, not much progress will be made.

What makes the difference between a senior who fears his/her future and one who copes is a strong sense of self, purpose, and confidence. Does this student feel assured enough of his/her own abilities to get through what is likely to be a lengthy job search? Job hunting involves taking repeated risks and facing rejections. Even the strongest of egos can sag under such conditions.

Seniors need all the encouragement they can get. While all of the previously mentioned ways parents can be helpful still hold true, your ability to communicate your support is the single most important way to assist your senior. It's difficult as parents not to rescue, which is doing something for your son/daughter rather than giving encouragement to do something for him/herself. The end result of a rescue is that your student feels less sure of his/her own abilities. When your support enables your son/daughter to reach goals, the accomplishment can be counted as his/hers, building self esteem. It's often hard not to rescue, especially as it once was entirely appropriate in your role as parents to do so. Switching to support is another way of relating to your son/daughter as another adult.

There are three major ways to be supportive. As a clarifier, you can offer yourself as a brain to pick. You can listen, give feedback, suggest resources, and come up with ideas and options. In a comforter role, you'll be a shoulder on which to cry. Rejections, mistakes, and failures will be part of any job hunt. When your senior is discouraged reassurance that he or she is a good, capable person (although unemployed) works wonders. By far the hardest supportive role is to be a confronter. In this role, you can offer tough support by setting limits and being honest. In all these roles, clear, direct communication will make the difference in how successful you are.

Often problems arise when there is a mismatch between the need and the support offered. Ask your senior how you can help. "You look discouraged. What do you need from me?" is an open invitation of your support, whether or not your son/daughter takes you up on it. In confrontation, it's helpful to confront the behavior rather than the person. Criticizing an individual typically sets up defensiveness and conflict. Name the behavior, own your feeling about the behavior, and state what you want. "When you sit around not making any effort to look for work I get angry and concerned, and I'd like you to get going."

Again, parenting during the college years involves going from a student to parent relationship to an adult to adult relationship. Career decisions fit into that transition. While the Career Center is here to assist your son/daughter with programs, information and advice, your part in the process is vitally important to your student's career development at Luther College.

This portion of the Career Center's web site was provided by Joan E. O'Connell.