Top Career Tips for Seminarians

Today I was working on editing a video for a friend of mine from seminary who is about to start applying for ministry positions. That stirred in my head an idea for a post that I hope will be helpful to a lot of people in her position. I may be preaching to the choir here (bad joke!), but after being out of seminary for over a year now, I can tell you that career-wise, it’s a jungle out there! I’ve compiled a list of tips and advice I wish someone had told me my first week at seminary (maybe they did, but I was too busy trying to settle in and make new friends for it to sink in). Whether you just graduated this spring, will be starting seminary in the fall, or are anywhere in between, here’s some practical advice to help you thrive in post-seminary life.

  1. Start a website and blog. This is really a non-negotiable for any seminarian, whether you are looking to work in the church, a nonprofit, or hope to pursue Ph.D work. A great looking website and an interesting blog are really the best ways to put yourself out there. Don’t wait until your senior year to do this, like I did. If you start blogging and building a community around whatever topic most interests you early, by the time you’re ready to graduate you will have built up a solid network of connections (and possible employers!). You’re smart and interesting – show the world what you’re made of! One of my favorite website/blogging platforms is WordPress. It’s free, they have a bunch of great looking themes to choose from, and it’s built around blogging. Start one today!
  2. Be extremely intentional about internships. Most (if not all?) seminaries require internships as a part of their curriculum for a reason – they’re essential to bridging the gap between school and work. I had great experiences at my three internships during seminary, but that’s more attributable to God’s grace than my planning. During your first month at seminary, you should start thinking very intentionally about the kind of internships you want (and need) to do and where you want to do them. And you must think very broadly about this. Let’s say you definitely feel called to work in the church as a pastor. That’s awesome! But you should do at least one internship at a nonprofit or other parachurch organization. Why? Because even though God is good and your calling is genuine, you have no idea what your life situation will be like when you graduate. There may simply be no church jobs available where you (and your potential significant other) plan on going after seminary. You know that vocation has many meanings and that God might be calling you to do ministry in a variety of ways, so prepare yourself by getting experience in a non-church setting. Most non-church employers have no idea what to do with church internships on your resume, so it’s best to diversify.
  3. Network, Network, Network! It’s likely that the equivalent of the Office of Senior Placement at your seminary tries to bring pastors and churches on-site to talk to seminarians and interview. Yes, graduating seniors might receive priority in this, but even as a junior or middler that shouldn’t stop you from talking to as many pastors from as many churches as possible! You may not be very interested in moving to wherever that church calls home…now. But again, you have no idea where life will take you when graduation day comes around, so it’s good to have your name out there and start opening doors early. Plus, every time you talk to a different church, you refine for yourself a little further what it is exactly that you’re looking for, and you improve the ability to articulate that. By the time your dream job comes around, you’ll be completely prepared to explain exactly why that church is the one you’ve been searching for and why you are the perfect candidate for the position.
  4. Don’t flirt with getting a Ph.D. Commit or don’t. From almost day one of seminary, I flirted with Ph.D work like some jerk at a bar who gets your number, maybe calls once in a while, then you don’t hear from for a very long time, then is all interested again…you get the idea. I realize now that telling people “I might do Ph.D work” was more about my ego than a true desire to call the academy home. Needless to say, I applied to Ph.D programs and didn’t get in. Yet I know a lot of people who graduated with me who did. What’s the difference? They were committed to it from day one. They didn’t flirt. Most came out of undergrad already married…to the idea of Ph.D work. The kind of unflinching attitude, the drive to study and work a lot harder than everyone else, to get to know professors very well and basically have their desired schools and programs chosen early on in seminary – that’s what makes the difference between getting in and not. That’s not to say that remarkable people can’t all of a sudden decide to apply and get in. I’m sure that happens, but it’s probably because they had been doing the right things all along and had already put themselves in the position to succeed. You have to be real with yourself and be totally honest about who you are (now – not your ideal self!) and how Ph.D studies meshes with that. I’ve decided I can’t sit still long enough to be reading for eight hours a day, but everyone has their own good reasons either way.
  5. Prepare for Tentmaking. Well, not literally, unless that’s what you love to do! Many churches are struggling financially, and while they would love to be able to hire you on as an Associate or even Head Pastor, they just might not be able to make it work with their budget. If you love ministry and the church and would be willing to serve even for little or no pay, then the best thing to do would be to prepare for a dual-career outside the church as well. The best way to do this, of course, is to gain work experience in a field you would be interested in not directly in ministry. Do you love writing? Check out part-time or intern positions as a copywriter for websites. There’s a huge push for businesses to have blogs – you can write for them and simultaneously improve your skills for your own blog! Love crafting and delivering sermons? Look into part-time or internship opportunities doing Public Relations work. Another field in high demand is Development. Many institutions are looking for people who are great at fundraising. This could definitely apply to your ministry as well. There’s tons of opportunities out there, you just have to take some time to see what your options are and what might be a good fit for you.
  6. Read widely. What, more homework? As if you didn’t have enough to read already, it’s not necessarily about reading more, but about reading and learning about a variety of topics. Yes, you love wrestling with biblical, theological, and ministry-related issues, so that’s your bread and butter when it comes to book selections. But in light of all I said earlier, it’s a great idea to become familiar with as many different topics as you can, and then see how they can apply to ministry. Some of the most interesting ideas I’ve had for ministry have come through reading fiction or books about business, and of course the trusty old newspaper. The more you know about a variety of subjects, the easier time you will have navigating the post-seminary world.

I would love to hear from you about how that advice is helpful, or not, to your particular situation. And of course, feel free to add more tips from your own experience in the comment section below! Follow me on twitter here for more helpful tips and advice!