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Calling and Vocation in Career Counseling: Recommendations for
Promoting Meaningful Work
Bryan J. Dik
Colorado State University
Ryan D. Duffy
University of Maryland
Brandy M. Eldridge
Colorado State University
Clients presenting with career-related concerns often desire a greater sense of meaning in their work.
Therefore, incorporating the constructs of calling and vocation into the career counseling process may
have utility. An overview of conceptual and empirical work on these constructs is provided. Drawing
from recent integrated definitions of calling and vocation, the authors present suggestions for incorpo-
rating these constructs in practice. Counselors are encouraged to explore the extent to which clients feel
a transcendent summons to a particular career, the extent to which clients’ careers bring meaning to their
lives, and the extent to which clients’ careers serve society. For clients who wish to view their career as
a calling or vocation, the authors provide strategies to help bring meaning and social purpose to their
Keywords: calling, vocation, meaningful work, career counseling
Clients experiencing dissatisfaction in their careers often yearn
for something that goes beyond better wages or more supportive
supervisors: Many want to experience a calling or vocation
(Colozzi & Colozzi, 2000; Dik & Duffy, in press). Increasingly,
popular authors (e.g., Brennfleck & Brennfleck, 2005; Palmer,
2000) and scholars (e.g., Hall & Chandler, 2005; Hardy, 1990;
Wrzesniewski, McCauley, Rozin, & Schwartz, 1997) have advo-
cated reclaiming the constructs calling or vocation in career and
life planning. Such attention has helped raise awareness of these
constructs and has catalyzed research and theory on their role in
career decision making. Yet, the real value of the constructs may
lie in their implications for counseling practice. Thus, the purposes
of the current article are (a) to examine how calling and vocation
are defined and studied by psychologists, (b) to describe how these
constructs can synchronize with contemporary career counseling
approaches, and (c) to provide suggestions for how counselors can
effectively work with clients who view the constructs as salient to
their career development.
Definitions of calling and vocation in the psychological litera-
ture are diverse, often vague, and sometimes confounded. These
concerns prompted Dik and Duffy (in press) to propose working
definitions of the constructs with the goals of stimulating research
and facilitating clear and specific counseling applications. They
conceptualized calling as consisting of three overlapping dimen-
sions: (a) “a transcendent summons, experienced as originating
beyond the self,” (b) “to approach a particular life role in a manner
oriented toward demonstrating or deriving a sense of purpose or
meaningfulness,” (c) “that holds other-oriented values and goals as
primary sources of motivation” (p. 6). Vocation was defined as
consisting of the second and third dimensions of calling. Thus,
with reference to the work role, a distinction was made between
people who connect their work to an overall sense of meaning
toward other-oriented ends, but who do so for purely internal
reasons (vocation), from those who attribute this motivation for
working to an external source such as God, a family legacy, or a
pressing societal need (calling). Both constructs refer to one’s
ongoing approach to work rather than something to find or dis-
cover at a single point in time. This understanding of calling and
vocation is by no means novel; aspects of it have been part of the
discourse on the role of work in human life since at least the 16th
century (Hardy, 1990). Indeed, the historical roots of the concepts
BRYAN J. DIK is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at
Colorado State University. His degrees are from Calvin College (BA,
1998) and the University of Minnesota (PhD in counseling psychology,
2005). His primary scholarly interests include vocational interests and
basic and applied research on calling, vocation, meaningfulness, and pur-
pose in the work role. He is coeditor of the forthcoming book The
Psychology of Religion and Workplace Spirituality, and maintains a small
individual practice specializing in vocational assessment and counseling.
RYAN D. DUFFY is a doctoral candidate in counseling psychology at the
University of Maryland, College Park, and is currently a predoctoral intern
at the University of Delaware’s Center for Counseling and Student Devel-
opment. He received his bachelor’s degree from Boston College and
master’s degree from the University of Maryland, College Park. His
research interests are broadly in the area of vocational psychology, and he
has published on topics related to work values, job satisfaction, research
productivity, and the interface of spirituality and career development.
BRANDY M. ELDRIDGE is a doctoral student in counseling psychology at
Colorado State University, where she received her bachelor’s and master’s
degrees. Her research interests focus predominantly on meaningful work
and the use of career assessments in counseling. She is specializing in
vocational assessment and counseling, with a particular focus on the
developmental career concerns of college students.
CORRESPONDENCE CONCERNING THIS ARTICLE should be addressed to Bryan J.
Dik, A. G. Clark Building, Department of Psychology, Colorado State Uni-
versity, Fort Collins, CO 80523–1876. E-mail: email@example.com
Professional Psychology: Research and Practice © 2009 American Psychological Association
2009, Vol. 40, No. 6, 625–632 0735-7028/09/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0015547
highlight their embeddedness in Western cultural values, although
in modern usage the terms appear relevant across multiple cultural
perspectives (e.g., Dalai Lama & Cutler, 2004).
Historical relevance aside, in our experience and that of others
(e.g., Colozzi & Colozzi, 2000), a sizable proportion of clients
with career concerns describe the importance of cultivating mean-
ing in their work lives, often using the terms calling or vocation.
Despite the relatively limited research on calling and vocation,
there has accumulated a theoretical and empirical base sufficient to
suggest some initial practice recommendations stemming from the
Research on Calling and Vocation
Although limited by concerns regarding measurement and gen-
eralizability across cultures and social statuses (Dik & Duffy, in
press), the nascent research on calling and vocation has thus far
demonstrated highly consistent patterns of results. First, at least in
the United States, these constructs appear to be salient for both
student and adult populations that have been studied so far. Large-
scale surveys have shown that more than 40% of undergraduate
students report having a calling to a particular career as mostly or
totally true of them (Duffy & Sedlacek, in press). Similarly,
evidence suggests that between one third and one half of employ-
ees in a wide range of occupations endorse having a calling in their
careers (Dik, 2007; Wrzesniewski et al., 1997). Calling and voca-
tion are likely perceived as irrelevant by some individuals, and
their relative importance undoubtedly varies across individuals and
groups, yet this evidence suggests the terms are relevant for a large
enough proportion of research participants to warrant the attention
of career development practitioners.
Second, approaching work as a calling or vocation correlates
positively with desirable outcomes related to career and general
well-being. For college students, those who identify their careers
as a calling display greater levels of career decidedness, comfort,
self-clarity, and use of adaptive coping strategies (Duffy & Sed-
lacek, 2007; Treadgold, 1999). For working adults, endorsing a
calling or vocation has been linked to work and life satisfaction
(Davidson & Caddell, 1994; Wrzesniewski et al., 1997) and oc-
cupational commitment (Serow, Eaker, & Ciechalski, 1992). All of
these studies employed correlational designs, but are corroborated
by a recent study in which calling- and vocation-infused career
decision-making workshops yielded statistically and practically
significant increases in career decision self-efficacy for college
students compared with a wait-list control condition (Dik & Ste-
ger, 2008). The calling-infused intervention was at least as effec-
tive as “standard,” person– environment (P-E) fit-based workshops
and was especially effective when the counselor self-disclosed
experiences with calling and vocation. Qualitative research also
demonstrates that calling and vocation facilitate adaptive career
development (Constantine, Miville, Warren, Gainor, & Lewis-
Coles, 2006), even when the likelihood of role strain is high
(Oates, Hall, & Anderson, 2005; Sellers, Thomas, Batts, & Ost-
man, 2005) and even for those prevented from pursuing their
initially preferred career path because of institutional racism or
sexism (Loder, 2005).
Results from research specifically targeting calling and vocation
also are consistent with other research areas corresponding to the
three components in Dik and Duffy’s (in press) definition. For
example, experiencing a transcendent summons is conceptualized
as frequently corresponding to religion and spirituality. Religious-
ness and spirituality have been found to influence work-related
values, help participants cope with challenges in their career de-
velopment, serve as sources of career-related support, and posi-
tively correlate with career decision self-efficacy and job satisfac-
tion (Constantine et al., 2006; Duffy & Blustein, 2005; Duffy &
Lent, 2008; Robert, Young, & Kelly, 2006).
The second component of calling pertains to “demonstrating or
deriving a sense of purpose or meaningfulness” in the work role.
Research in industrial– organizational psychology, management,
and occupational health psychology has demonstrated that mean-
ingfulness and purpose can be critically important, positive com-
ponents in career decision making and work adjustment (e.g.,
Lips-Wiersma, 2002; Young & Valach, 2004); that people who
find their work meaningful beyond financial rewards report greater
levels of job satisfaction and performance, longer tenure, and
lower levels of job stress (e.g., Claes & Ruiz Quintanilla, 1994;
Knoop, 1994a, 1994b; Mottaz, 1985); and that some individuals
working even in low-prestige jobs shape their work to maximize
its meaning-enhancing properties (e.g., Ashforth & Kreiner, 1999;
Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001).
Finally, research on the effects of prosocial or “other-oriented”
work values has demonstrated that the perception of one’s work as
directly or indirectly helping others yields a variety of benefits. For
example, perceptions of benefiting others serves to protect service
employees against burnout and decreased job satisfaction (Grant &
Campbell, 2007), and contact with beneficiaries of one’s work
increases motivation and performance among telephone solicita-
tion employees (Grant, 2008). Research also has demonstrated that
other-oriented work preferences correspond with higher levels of
helping behavior (Rioux & Penner, 2001) and cooperation
(Colquitt, 2004), as well as enhanced job performance (Bing &
Burroughs, 2001) and satisfaction with work tasks regardless of
rewards (King, Miles, & Day, 1993).
In sum, calling and vocation and closely related constructs appear
to be salient for both student and adult populations and provide a
context in which a variety of benefits typically are experienced. More
research is needed to assess the causal mechanisms underlying these
relationships and to explore the possible moderating roles of cultural
and other contextual influences. However, to the extent that such
factors consistently are associated with well-being at work, calling
and vocation may warrant the attention of career development and
life-planning practitioners, who emphasize helping clients experience
work-related and general well-being.
As noted above, the constructs calling and vocation are multi-
dimensional in nature. The second dimension specifically targets
demonstrating or deriving a sense of purpose or meaning in the
work role, yet all three of the aforementioned dimensions are
broadly conceptualized as promoting a sense of meaningfulness
and purpose. Issues related to facets of eudaimonic well-being
such as meaning and purpose, to varying extents, arguably play a
role in all major theories of career choice and development, al-
though such matters are often implicit rather than a central focus
626 DIK, DUFFY, AND ELDRIDGE
The following are ways in which traditional theoretical perspec-
tives in vocational psychology and career counseling address is-
sues of meaningfulness and purpose. Person– environment fit (P-E
fit) theories (e.g., Dawis & Lofquist, 1984; Holland, 1997) em-
phasize “true reasoning” between persons and environments (Par-
sons, 1909), with a goal of helping clients optimize their strengths
and satisfy their interests and values. Although job satisfaction and
performance are the most commonly studied criterion variables
within P-E fit models, “one may argue that the meaning compo-
nent is an indispensable part that accompanies the matching task”
(Chen, 2001, pp. 322–323). Dik and Duffy (in press) suggested
that P-E fit is a key mechanism through which a calling or vocation
can be discerned. Developmental approaches (e.g., Gottfredson,
1981; Super, 1980) focus on the context in which career paths unfold
but emphasize the implementation of the occupational self-concept, a
process that necessitates reflection of the role of work in living a
satisfying, meaningful life. To the extent that one’s approach to the
work role contributes to experiencing meaningfulness, calling and
vocation may be important factors to incorporate.
Career exploration from a social– cognitive career theory (Lent,
Brown, & Hackett, 1994) perspective targets beliefs about aspects
of one’s career potential and expected outcomes for relevant task
behavior. Social– cognitive career theory proposes a process of
cognitive meaning-making that forms the basis for exercising
personal agency (Chen, 2001). Calling and vocation provide ad-
ditional means for understanding how personal agency might be
expressed in one’s career, with the goal of cultivating meaning in
the work role toward prosocial ends. Finally, among traditional
career theories, constructivist and narrative approaches (e.g.,
Cochran, 1997) most directly address meaning-making processes
by proposing that individuals engage in a continual, fluid, holistic,
and subjective process of making sense of their experience. This
process forms the basis of what Collin and Young (1986) termed
subjective career, and arguably provides the most direct opportu-
nity for calling and vocation to be incorporated into the career
The assumption that themes central to calling and vocation con-
verge to varying extents with traditional career development theories
is prerequisite for applying the constructs in career counseling prac-
tice. Rather than forming the basis of an alternative theoretical para-
digm to compete with already established counseling approaches, a
complementary role for these constructs is suggested in which they
supplement and enhance existing approaches. Regardless of a coun-
selor’s theoretical “home base,” a calling- and vocation-infused ap-
proach may help clients deepen their understanding of the role of
work in their lives, the motivations underlying their particular ap-
proaches to work, the connections between their work activity and
their larger sense of meaning or purpose in life, and the broader social
implications of their work.
Given the diversity of cultural perspectives and social statuses of
clients and the role that such influences play in their career develop-
ment (Worthington, Flores, & Navarro, 2005), it is critical to antici-
pate that the nature of the connection between calling or vocation and
career theory may differ across cultural identifications. For example,
clients with individualistic cultural values may focus principally on
the meaningful work component of the concepts, whereas those with
collectivist values may focus more on the prosocial aspects of the
terms (Dik & Duffy, in press). Similarly, within groups there may be
significant differences in how individuals approach these constructs.
Although several points of intervention involving these constructs are
suggested, practitioners are encouraged to explore the unique, idio-
syncratic linkages of calling and vocation with the specific counseling
approaches they employ in their work with clients.
Infusing Calling and Vocation in Career
The following recommendations for incorporating aspects of
calling and vocation in career counseling are organized according
to the three dimensions in Dik and Duffy’s (in press) definition of
the constructs: (a) transcendent summons, (b) connections of work
and meaning, and (c) “other-oriented” values and goals. These
intervention strategies are based on the assumption that calling and
vocation are valuable constructs to promote because of their the-
oretical relation to enhancing meaningfulness and because they
have been consistently linked in research to work-related and
general well-being. In introducing the constructs in the counseling
process, counselors are encouraged to make this assumption ex-
plicit. To the extent that the constructs harmonize with the cultural
frameworks of clients (Dik & Duffy, in press), counselors are
encouraged to work freely with the constructs to help clients
specify counseling goals and to catalyze action steps. Of course,
although these constructs provide a useful conceptual framework
for implementing strategies to promote meaningfulness, by no
means do they represent the only path to eudaimonic (i.e., growth
and meaning-oriented) well-being in work.
Addressing the Role of Transcendent Summons
The role of a transcendent summons in one’s work has been
emphasized since early discourse on calling and vocation. The
term calling in the context of work originated as a religious
(Christian) concept describing a call from God to enter a monastic
order. Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin expanded
this definition to encompass the full scope of vocational possibil-
ities, suggesting that one could be called to bring glory to God
through any occupational endeavor (Hardy, 1990). Aspects of this
view also have been shared by teachings within other world
religions (e.g., Buddhism: Dalai Lama & Cutler, 2004; Islam: El
Azayem & Hedayat-Diba, 1994). More recently, authors have
further broadened the concept beyond a religious context to incor-
porate wider, more inclusive applications (Treadgold, 1999) in
which perceptions of callings may originate from salient needs of
society or an alternative sense of duty rather than from the divine
(Hall & Chandler, 2005).
Assessing relevance. Relative to the other two dimensions of
calling, fewer individuals are likely to experience a transcendent
summons as relevant to their career decision making. When incor-
porating the concepts of calling and vocation into career counsel-
ing, an important first step is thus evaluating the relevance and
importance of transcendent summons for the client. Because a
transcendent summons is likely very salient when experienced,
many clients may indicate its relevance spontaneously, without
being prompted. Among those who do not, these issues may be
assessed using open-ended questions such as, “When you evaluate
career options, what factors are most important?” or “How will
you know when you’ve found the career that is right for you?”
When present, the perception of a transcendent summons can play
CALLING AND VOCATION IN CAREER COUNSELING
a powerful, motivating role in career decision making and devel-
opment; thus, practitioners would do well to capitalize on it. With
clients for whom a transcendent summons is not relevant, coun-
selors are advised to focus instead on meaning-making and other-
From passive to active discernment. Some individuals may
work toward discerning a calling through active pursuit of career-
related information and evaluation of how their interests and
abilities match with occupational environments. Others may ex-
hibit a passive tendency to wait for an inspiration or revelation
without engaging in the traditional tasks of career decision making.
According to Eldridge and Dik (2008), search for transcendent
summons is a negative predictor of career decidedness and career
decision self-efficacy, suggesting that individuals searching for a
transcendent summons may be more passive in making career
decisions. Some intrinsically religious clients, for example, may
take a “pray and wait” approach, yet this generally is discouraged
by theologians who have pointed out that except in rare occasions,
God seems to guide career decisions indirectly in a process medi-
ated by one’s ability to self-reflect and engage in traditional career
development tasks (Hardy, 1990; Schuurman, 2004). Thus, the
expectation that the answer will be revealed directly and in the
absence of gathering occupational information, engaging in self-
assessment, and actively evaluating options is of concern.
In the course of career counseling, encouraging passively inclined
clients to actively participate in the decision-making process is an
important early intervention. Counselors may help clients understand
how the process of discerning a transcendent summons is mediated
through active participation in career decision-making tasks. This may
begin with basic psychoeducation about the importance and benefits
of an active approach. For example, active engagement in career
decision making is a fundamental aspect of all major career choice
theories, and research evidence, although limited, demonstrates that
an active approach to career development tasks is adaptive (e.g.,
Jenaro, Flores, & Arias, 2007; Saks, 2006).
Incorporating religion and spirituality. Given the historical
link (Serow, 1994) and continuing relevance (Davidson & Caddell,
1994) of transcendent summons to religion, assessing the importance
of religion or spirituality to the client is an essential element to
integrate in therapy (Duffy, 2006). Devoutly religious clients typically
seek therapy with religious counselors and may feel unsafe in dis-
cussing their faith with nonreligious counselors (Richards & Bergin,
2000). Counselors who are not religiously identified but who none-
theless open the door to discussion of religious or spiritual beliefs are
likely to find relief on the part of highly religious clients. A counselor
may ask questions such as, “To what extent do religious or spiritual
beliefs play a role in your career decisions?” “How do you see your
religious or spiritual perspective operating in your career develop-
ment?” and “In what ways does your religious or spiritual perspective
guide the decisions you make in life?” Responses to such questions
may help counselors shape subsequent questions in this discussion so
that the client’s own religious language (e.g., terms for higher power
or spirituality) is used.
Fostering Meaning and Purpose at Work
The second of Dik and Duffy’s (in press) three calling compo-
nents targets “deriving or demonstrating” a sense of meaning and
purpose in the work role. Spearheaded mainly by social psychol-
ogists, meaning in life has been positively associated with a host of
well-being variables (e.g., Steger, Frazier, Oishi, & Kaler, 2006),
and suggestions have been made for incorporating meaning-
making activities into counseling practice (Seligman, Rashid, &
Parks, 2006). Work may be one of the most important domains in
life from which to extract meaning given the sheer amount of time
that most adults spend working. However, clients’ attempts to
connect meaning to their career may be a difficult or overlooked
process, as clients often work in jobs they felt little choice in taking
or may have responsibility for work tasks with seemingly little
inherent value (Blustein, 2006; Duffy & Dik, in press). For these
clients in particular, promoting work meaning may be critical.
Drawing on research examining life meaning, counselors can
take several steps to help clients infuse meaning in their work
lives. These provide inroads for helping clients live out their
broader sense of life purpose in the workplace and to approach
work in a way that generates, strengthens, or enhances a sense of
meaning or purpose in life. They are meant to be well suited for
clients seeking to embark on a new career path or to increase
meaning in their current job.
Assessing current work meaning. Counselors can directly dis-
cuss with clients the degree to which they are currently experienc-
ing meaning in their work, asking such questions as, “How mean-
ingful do you find your work activities?” or “What would make
your job more meaningful?” Brief, psychometrically supported
instruments for measuring the presence of, and search for, meaning
in life also are available and could easily be adapted by counselors
to fit the work context, such as the Meaning in Life Questionnaire
(Steger et al., 2006). Likely, the four potential work meaning
groups formed by scores on these “presence” and “search” scales
(i.e., low meaning, low search; low meaning, high search; high
meaning, low search; high meaning, high search) display different
work motivations. For example, those in the “high presence, low
search” group might be the most satisfied with their careers,
whereas those in the “low presence, high search” group might be
least satisfied and most likely to seek a new job.
Connecting meaning in work to meaning in life. Forging con-
nections between a client’s activity within the work role to her or
his larger framework of meaning and purpose is a central coun-
seling goal promoted by the constructs calling and vocation (Dik &
Duffy, in press). Counselors may assist in this process first by
helping clients clarify their broader framework for meaning in life.
Narrative and constructivist techniques such as those advocated by
Savickas (1995) or Brott (2005) may facilitate this task, although
a sensible starting point is to explore client responses to open-
ended questions such as “What ultimately is most important to you
in life?” “How would you describe your overall life purpose?” and
“Where do you turn for answers to questions of meaning and
purpose in your life?” After addressing the broad level of meaning
and purpose, counselors can help clients align their work-related
pursuits in a manner consistent with their perceptions of life
meaning or purpose. Work-oriented values extraction techniques
(e.g., Colozzi & Colozzi, 2000) provide one approach for helping
clients build such connections between work and life values.
Again, counselors are urged to approach these issues through the
cultural lens of the client, exploring potential differences in how
clients may understand this aspect of calling and vocation and its
628 DIK, DUFFY, AND ELDRIDGE
Encourage meaning-making behaviors. Helping clients learn
meaning-making techniques may have a significant impact on their
ability to find meaning at work. One strategy to assist clients in this
process is summarized by Seligman et al.’s (2006) approach to
pursuing meaning: “using one’s signature strengths and talents to
belong to and serve something one believes is larger than oneself”
(p. 777). The work domain is an obvious context in which clients
can pursue this goal. Pulling from Seligman et al.’s (2006) general
counseling recommendations, counselors first can help clients
recognize their signature work-related strengths by identifying five
tasks or behaviors that clients perform well at work. Once identi-
fied, counselors can encourage clients to try to use each of these
strengths at least one time daily on the job. Clients who are able to
use their signature strengths daily have been shown to be signifi-
cantly happier and less depressed than clients from control groups
(Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005). These results can be
applied to the work setting specifically, and can help clients view
their work as more meaningful.
Counselors also can work with clients to do what Seligman et al.
(2006) term “satisficing instead of maximizing” (p. 782). Often,
clients with career concerns are seeking a job or work setting that
will bring maximal satisfaction, whereas in reality the “perfect”
job is probably unattainable. Thus, counselors are encouraged to
have clients write down the top-five things they would like in a
job, determine the degree to which these are currently being
satisfied, and work with clients to reframe their expectations about
the degree to which these components are necessary in viewing
work as meaningful. Research has suggested that when individuals
have more realistic expectations and goals, these are more likely to
be achieved and therefore lead to greater satisfaction (Locke &
Latham, 2002). A similar relationship may exist with work mean-
ing, where clients who are able to have more reasonable work-
related goals and expectations will be more likely to meet these
and, therefore, view their job as more meaningful.
Promoting Prosocial Values in Work
The third domain of calling refers to having an “other-oriented”
work orientation. The suggestion to cultivate a prosocial stance has
a long history in counseling and psychotherapy, dating at least to
Adler’s (1938) concept of the “social interest.” This aspect of
calling and vocation can be conceptualized broadly, as some-
thing that can be pursued across the full scope of occupations,
rather than as something relevant only for certain careers (e.g.,
clergy, teaching, social service). This is supported by evidence
suggesting that many employees across a wide range of occupa-
tions conceptualize their work in terms of the difference it makes
in society (Colby, Sippola, & Phelps, 2001). Although job type is
related to expressed prosocial values (e.g., a higher percentage of
people in executive, administrative, and managerial jobs espouse
prosocial motives for their work than people in technical, clerical,
and sales jobs), nevertheless a significant percentage of individuals
with jobs not directly involved in social service incorporate social
responsibility themes when talking about their work (Colby et al.,
2001). Furthermore, as reviewed earlier, research demonstrates
that “other-oriented” motives predict a range of well-being vari-
ables for employees. Therefore, the idea of work having prosocial
implications promotes some very practical counseling applications
that may enhance the eudaimonic well-being of clients in the
Bridging personal and social fit. The prosocial aspect of call-
ing and vocation harkens back to the notion of “social fit,” a
concept first explored by Plato and defined as the “fit” between an
individual’s abilities and the requirements of a set of social needs
(Muirhead, 2004). Models of P-E fit have dominated career coun-
seling applications since the concept first was articulated in a
vocational guidance context by Parsons (1909). However, coun-
selors exploring P-E fit with clients traditionally have focused on
the extent to which individuals’ traits (e.g., interests, values, abil-
ities) correspond to requirements and reinforcers in particular
occupations irrespective of social needs, with the goal of promot-
ing the client’s job satisfaction; this has been referred to as per-
sonal fit (Dik & Duffy, in press). In a calling- and vocation-infused
approach to career counseling, job satisfaction is viewed as an
important outcome, but the sense of contribution and purpose that
comes from working to address social needs is valuable and
beneficial for clients. Thus, counselors are advised to explore P-E
fit broadly, incorporating both social and personal aspects of fit,
with the goal of helping clients pursue work that promotes per-
sonal fulfillment and optimizes their potential while simulta-
neously addressing (directly or indirectly) salient social needs. The
empirically supported assumption underlying this approach is that
when clients are cognizant of the social purpose and benefit of
their work, distal though it often may be, they are likely to
experience a sense of contribution and purpose that will enhance
their job satisfaction, motivation, and performance.
Broadening the scope of socially significant jobs. Arguably all
areas of work have social implications, but it may be difficult to
see how some types of jobs (e.g., lab technicians or factory
workers) are helpful to society or the common good when com-
pared with others (e.g., nurses or social workers) because their
social benefits are not as direct. Yet, evidence suggests that even
individuals in stigmatized jobs (e.g., miners, funeral directors, bill
collectors) often derive meaning from their work by focusing on
the social function of their work tasks (Ashforth & Kreiner, 1999).
Isaksen (2000) found that workers in highly repetitive jobs also
often find their work meaningful, and Wrzesniewski and Dutton
(2001) reviewed evidence that some hospital cleaning staff, hair-
dressers, and restaurant kitchen employees crafted their jobs in
ways that enhanced their sense of contribution to others’ well-
being, resulting in an increased sense of meaningfulness. Many
clients may think quite narrowly about which types of work
provide a sense that they are making a difference for others. Some
may rule out occupations for which they are well suited because
their range of acceptable job possibilities is restricted to those with
an obvious or direct social impact. Therefore, counselors and
clients are advised to think broadly about what it means to make a
difference through work.
Reframing and refocusing. Some clients and counselors may
assume that changing jobs is the only way to establish a stronger
prosocial connection with one’s work. However, other options are
available that can help clients subjectively transform their current
work experience in ways that create or increase the value of its
positive and socially beneficial aspects. Two strategies, drawn
from Ashforth and Kreiner’s (1999) work, include reframing and
recalibrating the work experience. Reframing occurs by infusing
value into the work by exploring its broader occupational mission.
CALLING AND VOCATION IN CAREER COUNSELING
For example, dental floss factory workers may focus in the value
of their work for improving the hygiene and health of thousands of
people who use the product rather than on the mundane and
repetitive aspects of operating machines on the line. Counselors
can facilitate this by helping clients articulate the social function of
their current work or of career paths they are considering. Such an
exercise may be novel to many clients.
Recalibrating refers to changing the standards typically used to
assess the relative value or valence of one’s work. For example,
seemingly small or insignificant work tasks that often are ignored
or unappreciated by society or by one’s organization may be
recalibrated as highly important and beneficial. Invoking the “for
want of a nail” principle,
Ashforth and Kreiner (1999) provide
several examples of this strategy, such as hospital cleaning staff
noting that patients would get sicker without their work (Wrz-
esniewski & Dutton, 2001) and racetrack “backstretch” employees
arguing that their tasks, considered menial by many, are essential
in making horses fit for racing (Rosecrance, 1985). Counselors
might begin facilitating clients’ recalibration efforts by exploring
what might happen if their work tasks were left undone for any
length of time and guiding this line of discussion toward the
conclusion that their work makes an important difference when
viewed in light of the broader systems of which they are a part.
Caveats and Future Directions
Three caveats are important to note, each paired with a sugges-
tion for future work on the constructs of calling and vocation in
career counseling practice. First, the recommendations presented
in this article for applying the constructs are by no means exhaus-
tive. Counselors are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the
constructs and to creatively explore additional strategies for cap-
italizing on their meaning-enhancing potential. Second, it warrants
repeating that clients approach their career development in a
cultural context and through a cultural lens. It is essential for both
counselors and researchers to explore how cultural differences
may influence how clients understand calling and vocation and
how cultural values may influence the salience of the constructs.
Finally, although the recommendations presented here are sup-
ported by theory and in most cases at least indirectly by empirical
research, it remains unclear that implementing these suggestions
would yield more positive counseling outcomes because most have
not been directly tested in process and outcome research. An initial
study (Dik & Steger, 2008) tested a calling-infused workshop with
promising results, but the intervention was only two sessions,
resulting in a limited exploration of the constructs with partici-
pants. Research is needed that tests the effectiveness of a more
in-depth integration of the recommendations presented here with
“standard” career counseling, especially that provided on an indi-
vidual or structured group basis. For example, researchers might
test the extent to which exposure to the “calling components” of
career counseling improves the client– counselor relationship,
leads to greater client satisfaction, effectively facilitates clients’
career decision making, enhances the perception of meaningful-
ness and purpose they experience on the job, increases their
commitment to their careers or organizations, and increases their
intrinsic motivation to complete work-related tasks.
The primary goals of this article were to familiarize readers with
the empirical and conceptual work on the constructs of calling and
vocation and, most importantly, describe how these concepts can
be integrated into counseling for clients with career-related con-
cerns. For clients who want to experience work as a calling or
vocation, the strategies outlined here may provide counselors with
a starting point for helping best meet their goals. Given evidence
suggesting that these constructs may be tied to higher levels of
career-related and general well-being, counselors are encouraged
to explore the salience of these constructs for clients, how they
define them, and how they fit into their career development.
“The Horseshoe Nail” in Grimm’s Fairy Tales states, “For the want of
a nail the shoe was lost, for the want of a shoe the horse was lost, for the
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Received September 8, 2008
Revision received January 23, 2009
Accepted January 26, 2009 䡲
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