Who’s that ‘Career Guy’? Getting to know Trent Payne, Part 3

Posted on March 10, 2016

Wood blocks by BrianErskine’s Coordinator for Student Transitions Trent Payne, using his “Career Guy” moniker, issues frequent invitations for students to join him in Java City to talk about their careers, their majors, or graduate school. Free coffee is often part of the invitation. A graduate of Wheaton College and Wheaton College Graduate School and the parent of an Erskine graduate, Trent lives with his wife Lisa in Pressly Hall.


In our final interview segment, Trent tells about how and why the ‘Career Guy’ often meets with students outside offices and office hours, explains the range of career conversations he engages in, and talks about how he helps students think more deeply about careers.


About those invitations to students, asking them to come have a cup of coffee with you…what is the thinking behind that?

My favorite time of any day is when I’m meeting face-to-face with one or two of our students. Sometimes a student will come in and say, “I’m sorry to bother you, but….” After they complete their thought I sometimes correct them, because it is never a bother to talk with one of our students. To me it is an educational opportunity, and a way to connect.

One of Erskine’s strengths is its smallness, which lends itself to a personal approach in interacting with students. This fits my approach. I want to meet face-to-face with our students. Sometimes this is difficult to do for those who are busy with classes, sports, work, and campus activities. So maybe the evening is a better time for them.

A bonus to this approach of meeting students in the evenings at Java City is the many small conversations I have with students as they walk by. These conversations may last 30 seconds or 30 minutes, but they usually result in a positive connection.


Career counseling at a Christian college could range from the highly practical to the spiritual. Do you use an integrated approach, or are you reconciled to working in two different spheres according to the students’ needs?

There are times when I meet with students and it is strictly practical. We work together on a resume, cover letter, or interview tips, and God does not come into the conversation. At other times, the conversation lends itself well to bringing in biblical truth. In all of my interactions with students I have the intent of purposefully incorporating God’s truth and principles into our conversations or my presentation. If I sense an opportunity to do so, then I take the occasion. If not, then I don’t.


How do you incorporate biblical truth?

One way is through many great stories in the Bible that relate to everyday life. Several principles can be gleaned from the life of Joseph in Genesis 37-47. For instance, my two key messages to students are to get to know themselves—their skills, values, and interests; and to get to know the markets they are interested in.

Joseph is an example of someone who knows his strengths and and ‘worked’ in various industries. Now, he didn’t necessarily have the choice of serving in the industries he did, but he learned the ones he was placed into. For instance, he was an administrator, a well-organized person able to manage projects and programs. He knew this about himself. When he was sold into slavery and purchased by a government official named Potiphar, he used his skills to manage Potiphar’s home and business affairs with great success. Read on in the story and we learn that Joseph was framed and put in prison, where he lived for at least two years. What did he do while in prison? He became an administrator for the warden. He used the skills he knew he had, and learned the new environment of prison—the market—and became a successful administrator.


In addition to focusing on a particular biblical character or story, is there a more general application of scripture that you find helpful?

Another theme I try to develop with students is the biblical framework for our careers. I think it is important to know why we do what we do. The scriptures provide this information for us.


In what ways?

What we know from scripture is that we are to multiply (make families) and manage the earth (Genesis 1), which I understand as developing healthy societies. In addition, Jesus commands us to love God and love people (Matthew 22), which can be manifested in and through our work. These ought to be guiding principles for our work and careers.

What we don’t know is our particular career within God’s overall story. And for most of us he does not tell us which one(s) to pursue. He often does not reveal to us what career path we should take. It is a path of discovery. These are decisions each of us need to make as we consider our interests, skills, values, and the opportunities before us.

So, a few points emerge from this framework.

First, God has designed us to work for the greater good of our families and society. It is not primarily about me.

Second, we can glorify the Lord in any legitimate work endeavor. Both the trash collector and the president of the college can magnify God as they work their respective jobs.

Third, we are not called to sit back and wait for God to reveal his will for our career. We need to actively pursue a career using our God-given talents, making wise decisions while following the principles of scripture.

I like the image of people in their boats floating down the river together. The flow of the river represents God’s sovereign guidance as he leads us along. We paddle our boats in certain directions, but along the course of the river. And although we are in our own boat, we float along together as a community.


aaaaapayne cropTrent Payne provides background and more insights in Parts 1 and 2 of our interview with him.