The Journey

Career changes among Whitworth Alumni
By Rachel Johnson

The average person makes more than three career changes during his or her working life, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics.

"I asked a group of parents if they have changed careers, and probably 90 percent of the hands went up," says Gordon Jacobson, Whitworth's director of career services. "I think it's expected that people will change careers several times in their lives."

Changing careers can be a result of technology advances. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the government expects the U.S. economy to create more than 21 million new jobs between 2002 and 2012. But sometimes personal interests change or financial opportunities open up. Regardless of the reason, most workers change careers at some point, and many end up working in a field other than their chosen college major. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 67 percent of American workers are dissatisfied with their jobs and 41 percent are not employed in the fields they studied in school.

Workers tend to make different kinds of career choices over the course of their lives, and people in their 20s frequently are trying to create career opportunities for themselves, say Timothy Butler and James Waldroop, directors of MBA career-development programs at the Harvard Business School.

Joelle Boslet, '06, says there are still things she is learning about herself and finding on her career journey.

"I want to be the type of person who walks through doors when God opens them," she says.

Boslet graduated with a degree in psychology and now works full time as the youth director at New Community Church, in Spokane, Wash. Before completing her internship to earn a Whitworth certificate of ministry, Boslet never expected to find herself working at a church. She originally planned to work in a psychology profession after graduation, but the internship changed her mind, allowing her to combine her faith with a love for working with people. She eventually wants to earn a Ph.D. in psychology or sociology and hopes to be a professor one day.

"I'm interested in how people react," Boslet says. "By being a teacher I can still influence people's lives and travel with them abroad; both of these things interest me."

While Boslet dreams of being a professor, she remains open to other career opportunities within her fields of interest.

A person in his or her 30s is quite a contrast to a younger worker, Butler and Waldroop say. Decisions people make in their 30s are generally about narrowing focus to one career, rather than keeping a broad, all-encompassing approach. Dave Syferd, '67, began to narrow his focus after graduation and spent three-and-a-half years working as a public-affairs officer in the Navy.

Syferd earned his degree in political science, and is now the president and advertising executive for Dave Syferd and Partners, in Seattle, Wash. He chose political science as a major in order to understand the audiences with whom he would be trying to communicate. Whitworth did not offer marketing classes while Syferd was a student, so he took courses in business and physical education. He was also a member of the track team and, as a result, was interested in coaching. As he got older, the training he received in the Navy confirmed that advertising was the right path for him. Now, 40 years later, he is still involved in advertising, having headed up his own company for the last 11 years.

"I like advertising," Syferd says. "Any time you take a product or service and have a customer act on it, it's challenging and fun. It's a great thing to accomplish and I enjoy it."

For Syferd, the decision to remain in his chosen field is logical; but others, as they age, question their decisions to remain with their original careers. The 40s and 50s are the period, Butler and Waldroop say, when the gap between dreams and reality narrows, and life is lived more directly. Many workers at this stage define what they're doing as who they are, and who they are becomes more important. In other circumstances, adults at age 40 are staying in jobs that they would rather let go. Factors such as race and age discrimination, opportunity to further education, and financial resources are the primary reasons for workers to stay in the same jobs.

Changing careers sometimes entails a change in overall interests. Sean Alcantrara, '89, says he had visions of being the best teacher in the world. Today, he is the Northwest regional sales manager for Hoborama, a beverage company that competes with Red Bull and other energy-drink distributors. Alcantrara double-majored in special education and physical education, but did not complete his student teaching. Instead, he began working at a hotel in Bellevue as a banquet server, and he was soon promoted to banquet captain, then catering and sales manager. He organized hotel meeting spaces for potential clients while talking to different vendors about food sales. Alcantrara says he picked up sales skills with experience specializing in food and beverages.

"Sales is all about relationships," he says. "I get to work with all sorts of people."

Alcantrara's degree in education did not directly prepare him for a career in sales, but he benefited nonetheless from his collegiate experience. A liberal-arts education provided him with the communication skills that he uses in his current job.

Jobs in sales and advertising require good communication skills, especially if the positions are in customer-related programs. According to a survey conducted by the Nace Research Job Outlook in 2006, the most desired skills in employees are good communication skills. For recent graduates, poor skills are apparent in interviews. And students who have trouble in this area will find that their performance in interviews determines whether or not they get the position they are seeking. Whitworth students develop a number of "soft skills" through their liberal-arts education, Jacobson says.

"In a job, everything can be taught except how to write well and communicate well," Jacobson says. "You need to show the employer that you already have those skills."

Sometimes a career path seems appealing to students in theory, but in practice it fails to hold their interest. Scott Shaw, '76, had his area of concentration in arts administration. He enjoyed working in theatre, primarily for the business aspect. Today, he is a claims superintendent for State Farm Insurance, and he spends most of his time traveling for the company. After an internship at the Civic Theatre in Spokane, he realized he did not want to go into business for theatre because of the amount of fund-raising involved. Shaw worked stage crew in Cowles Auditorium and was in charge of running forums on the weekends and working behind the scenes of theatre and performances.

"Back in those days, you could work stage in the auditorium or wash dishes in Saga," Shaw says. "I chose to work stage crew because it paid more."

Not wanting to change his area of concentration halfway through Whitworth, Shaw graduated along with the six other students in his field of study. After a series of jobs in hotel management and real estate, Shaw wanted more education and went to law school. He started a private practice, but was not making enough money to support his family. He decided to work for State Farm Insurance, beginning as a claims attorney.

Apart from his job, Shaw sees his true calling in hospitality. Serving others and entertaining them has brought him huge benefits. His steady income at State Farm has provided him with hobbies he enjoys outside of work, particularly cooking and traveling. Shaw says he is more innovative than creative, and he still loves to watch people express their talents.

Waldroop and Butler contend that career decisions are often based on excelling in a particular area, rather than on desiring a certain career. Understanding one's personal interests is crucial for having a worthwhile career. The probability of job satisfaction increases when the job seeker recognizes what his or her own interests are. Once a connection is found, the seeker has a clearer idea of what vocational direction to take.

Most important, workers should be able to identify what truly interests them, Jacobson says. He believes self-assessment tests are crucial for students and alumni to find which careers coincide with their interests. At Whitworth, self-assessments are free for students and alumni, including SIGI 3, Myers Briggs, and the Career Key. Roughly 25 to 30 percent of the people Jacobson works with are alumni. Many come back seeking advice and direction.

"Students reach their career decisions at different times in their lives," Jacobson says. "It's important that we have resources available for them here."

For more information contact Gordon Jacobson in Career Services at (509) 777-4542 or