Paving the Way through Career Exploration

By David McCall

Societal norms tend to place tremendous pressure on students to declare a college program of study at an early age. It seems that before students even graduate from high school, they are often asked, “What’s next?” For many students who are beginning the transition to post-secondary life, this question leads them to believe that career decisions need to be made sooner rather than later. This can be an overwhelmingly daunting task that fills students with anxiety about their future.

Transitioning to college can be a tough path for even the most talented and dedicated students with a clear vision in mind. However, those entering college undecided (also known as undeclared) about what to major in tend to be much more anxious about the process because they do not feel they have clear direction for their life. In turn, this can lead to a diminished feeling of institutional fit and potentially lower retention rates for colleges and universities. When working with undeclared students, career counselors and faculty members can help ease anxiety by using the PAVE2 model (Purpose & Passion, Abilities & Ambition, Values & Viability, and Earnings & Execution) of career exploration.

The PAVE2 model can be used to direct student energy into a productive career exploration process. While this model is not based on any one particular career development theory, it allows undecided students to take the potentially exhausting idea of choosing a career path and focus their attention on eight important components of career exploration:

P: Purpose & Passion

Purpose – What greater purpose do you want to serve? This truly is the driving question behind significant career exploration and can lead into a much deeper conversation about the impact they can have through their career. Another way of asking this question is, “What impact do you want to have on the world?” Through purpose, the student is able to focus their search into career fields that will allow them to make this impact.

Passion – What do you want to do? While passion is certainly an important component of finding the right career, students must also understand that personal passions do not always lead to relevant career options. All too often students are driven to focus their entire career exploration journey on this one word – passion. Anytime passion is discussed in the realm of career exploration, we must also call upon the many other relevant factors that inform career choice, factors such as abilities, values, and viability. These must all come together to choose a fulfilling career.

A: Abilities & Ambition

Abilities - Can you do the work that is required? The ability to successfully perform the work you want to do may seem like a simple concept to consider, but it is one that unfortunately is often overlooked. This not only refers to one’s physical ability to do a job, but also the required mental ability and emotional capacity to pass classes or earn certifications needed to enter and advance in a given field. Students may be drawn to high salaries or prestigious career options without ever truly researching what it takes to be competitive in a given industry, both initially and over time.

Ambition – Are you willing to put in the work to overcome challenges? We all face barriers in our lives, some small and some big. Success comes to those who are able to identify those barriers and develop a plan to overcome them, independently and with support. Ambition can be defined as the desire and determination to achieve success. Students must be willing to put forth the effort that is required to succeed and overcome the challenges and barriers they face in their lives to move towards career success.

V: Values & Viability

Values – What are your most important values and which careers do they align with? The alignment of one’s personal values to workplace values is an extremely important aspect of career exploration. Students should be taught the importance of this alignment very early in the process, as it is intertwined with other concepts within career exploration. There are several tools available to help students determine their personal values and how they align with specific careers. Value card sorts and work value surveys are often available free of charge, including online, and are a great starting point when talking with students about the importance of values. Additionally, the O*Net website offers a useful resource to search for career options based on value alignment.

Viability – What is the likelihood of being employed in a particular field of interest? Occupational demand continually changes over time with changes to the economy and developments in technology. Students must learn to research the job growth outlook of careers they are interested in, not only for the country, but also for the specific state or even city that they want to live in. Most career exploration websites offer some form of job growth outlook tool. For example, the Occupational Outlook Handbook and CareerOneStop not only provide job growth outlook percentages for each career path in their system, but the sites also allow users to compare growth prospective from multiple career fields. Students can then narrow their search to specific states and metropolitan areas.

E: Earnings & Execution

Earnings – Are you willing to do the work for the pay? Based on the students' values, the issue of money is important to consider. When discussing and researching salaries for different industries and professions, it is important to frame expectations around two important caveats – 1) average annual salary is not synonymous with typical starting salary, and 2) salaries vary greatly based on geographic location. There are several websites (including the ones mentioned above) that provide a glimpse into the average salaries of specific professions. GlassDoor and Indeed are two easy-to-navigate sites that offer a perspective on career salary expectations.

Execution – What will it take to execute your plan? Ultimately, what we are trying to do is to get an undecided student to make a decision. While not all students will be able to make a decision by the end of one meeting (or even after a few meetings. However, it can be expected that they develop a plan for moving forward (and eventually a contingency plan), to help them continue purposefully along the journey of career exploration.

As career facilitators, we must continually strive to ease the anxieties of our students and clients. Using this PAVE2 model allows students to gain a better understanding of the career exploration process as a whole, and to systematically work through the many components of their own career development. I often remind my students, “You can either choose to pave the road to your own success, or follow the path to someone else’s.”


David McCallDavid McCall, M.Ed, CDF, is an Assistant Professor in the Developmental Curriculum Department at Ferris State University where he teaches courses in career exploration, developmental reading, and college study methods. He holds a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction and is currently working on his doctoral degree in Community College Leadership. In addition, he is a Certified Career Development Facilitator through NCDA. David works primarily with undecided students, both at Ferris and around the state of Michigan, as they navigate through the journey of career exploration. David can be reached at davidmccall@ferris.edu



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1 Comment

Joyce Baker   on Wednesday 01/09/2019 at 10:35 AM

I really like this and am going to print it for use in my office. It reminds me a little of the GROW model. Goal, Reality, Opportunities/Obstacles, Will-What will you do? Thank you for sharing.

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