Your Career: It’s a Family Affair

“Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family” (Anthony Brandt)

One of the most interesting classes I took in graduate school included a project where students created a “family tree” of relatives’ professions, going as far back as possible in their family history.  The goal behind the exercise was to learn about family impact on individuals’ career choices.  Sometimes family influence, especially parental expectations, has an obvious impact: ie “I am paying for your Penn education to get you the best pre-med training possible” – other times, it is much more subtle – ie “We just want you to be fulfilled and productive.”

When I have a career counseling session with a student, I am aware that in some way their family is in the room with us.   Families influence what we value (money, prestige, productivity, intellectual achievement, helping others).  Families influence the geographic regions we think are open to us in our work.  Families influence what occupations we are exposed to: know any Resort and Panoramic Illustrators?  How might you know to pursue a career like that unless your parents were skiers or you were raised at 5,000ft?

This is part of my family tree:

What are the themes here?  Is it surprising I might be a career counselor at an institution like Penn?  Even though no one in my family has held my kind of job before, most of my family’s career paths involved teaching and “helping” positions working with people.  Skills required: strong communication, assessment and problem solving, empathy.   Most of my family worked for themselves in private practices or worked in educational institutions.  No one (in all three generations) chose to spend time in corporate environments. Another theme is the level of education in my family.  My family let me know that they expected educational achievement and success but beyond that I got no direct instruction on what I “should be” professionally.  Despite this apparent freedom to choose, it’s easy to see in my case, that “the apple falls not far from the tree.”

Have you thought about the ways in which you have skills, interests, and other experiences in common with your family?  What have you considered to be an option, but don’t know anyone who has done it before?  What choices have already been made for you?  How important is your family to your career plans?  These topics are great for you to explore on your own, or with a career advisor.

Here is a link for parents about career planning for Penn students.  If this really interests you, you may have a career in genealogy to consider….

Attention! Website Construction Underway!

The Career Services website is going to be under construction this week.

image via B Tal on Flickr

We’re updating our layout so that things will be easier to find. (Office hours and a Google map of our location on every page! And our phone number, too!)  We’re also combining our resources for undergraduates into one centralized place rather than dividing up resources by school, and on all pages the navigational links will change to be organized by audience.

In the meantime you may encounter some dead links, redirects, and inconsistencies throughout the site.  If you’ve bookmarked a page, you may need to correct the link.  We apologize for the inconvenience and hope you’ll excuse us for the week. By Monday the 23rd we hope to have everything running smoothly again.  If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at

No Man Is an Island: Overcoming Isolation during your Job Search

by Sharon Fleshman

Over the past several years, there has been quite a bit of research and discussion on what is seen as a rise of social isolation in the United States.  A job search that goes longer than expected can certainly intensify a sense of loneliness.   If you are feeling “stuck” in your job search, continue to reflect on your career goals, network with those in your field of interest, apply for job opportunities, and so on.  However, don’t forget to reach out to others in ways that can energize you as you move forward.

You may have friends who are also conducting a job search. If that’s the case, make a commitment to supporting one another.  Consider volunteering or joining a special interest club where you can connect with like-minded people who share your passions.   Most importantly, touch base with those who really know you well; they can  provide some moral support, help you brainstorm career options and remind you of what you have to offer.

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from a Kindergarten Teacher

by Patrica Rose

Last week, in his New York Times Economic Scene column, David Leonhardt discussed recent research out of Harvard on the importance of a strong kindergarten teacher.

What makes this research different is that it was conducted by economists, who looked not at the short-term effects (test scores and the like) but at the earning power of subjects in their twenties.  And they found (doing follow-up on a study from the 80’s) that a 5 year old with a good kindergarten teacher then was making $1000 a year more now than a comparable student whose kindergarten teacher was not classified as “good.”  Thus the economists predict that a standout kindergarten teacher is worth $320,000 a year, if you take the increased earnings an entire class will amass over their careers.  Such economic benefits are substantial, and cannot be overstated.

Leonhardt goes on to advocate for higher pay for teachers, and while I am in favor of that, it is not my point here.  Rather it is to thank all those who choose teaching for a career: my mother and my own teachers, long since retired and many deceased, my children’s teachers at Germantown Friends School, starting with their own kindergarten teacher, a wonderful man who was indeed a standout, and all our Penn grads who are now in the classroom, including those who learned their craft at the Graduate School of Education, and the many other Penn alums who have chosen teaching as a career, or have decided to begin their professional lives in teachers’ corps programs like Teach for America.  We are proud of our 43 Class of 2010 alumni who are busy preparing to enter the classroom this fall with TFA.  All of you will have a lasting effect on your students’ lives – and maybe even their paychecks!

Chance and Serendipity

by Julie Miller Vick

One of my favorite phrases is “Chance favors the prepared mind,” by Louis Pasteur.  I quote it when I talk to students about their job searches.  I use it when I urge my own children to continue working to achieve their goals.  And I often say it to myself when I have an “Ah ha” moment.

Margaret Newhouse, a career and life coach once explained Pasteur’s quote better than anyone else when she said, “This speaks to appreciating the delicate mix between planning and preparation, on one hand, and openness to serendipity and course correction on the other.”   Being prepared to interact through chance encounters with particular employers or luminaries in your field while attending a career fair or an academic conference, has the potential to advance your career.  While Career Services staff always urges you to be well-prepared and to plan your job hunting strategy, we don’t want you to be so fixated on your goals that you miss unforeseen opportunities that can help you on your current path or expose you to something totally new.

There’s so much pressure on job seekers to land not just a job, but the “perfect job,” that many feel an almost desperate need to rigidly follow a template or outline of tips.  In trying to adhere to such a plan it’s possible to fail to sense things that are staring you in the face.

Having the attitude of a child helps avoid over-analyzing everything.   I’m reminded how, many years ago, while visiting Beverly Hills with my family, my then eight year old son walked by a sign that said Rodeo Dr.   Having no idea that he was traipsing down one of fashion’s top avenues but knowing that his dad was a family physician and his great uncle a veterinarian, he stopped in his tracks and said, “Wow!  Rodeo doctor!  What a great job!”   Only he saw that; the rest of the family was not open to perceiving it in another way.

Unexpected sources — your  hairdresser, grandmother, running partner or insurance agent — may have information, or a point-of-view, that can open up a range of possibilities you might have overlooked.  Being open to possibility – and serendipity – can reveal options and opportunities that can change your life.