A dog is for life…, but a job doesn’t have to be

Dr. Joseph Barber

Many of you have probably heard of the saying: “a dog is for life, not just for Christmas”. It is a reminder to parents that while their children may really want a puppy for Christmas, they have to realize that they can’t just throw the puppy into the cupboard (or leave it lying around on the bedroom floor, more likely) when they get bored of it, or no longer want to play with it. Owning a dog is a life-long commitment. Although people do, one should certainly try to avoid taking a dog back, especially to a shelter, like it is some ill-fitting pair of trousers that someone bought you. The same advice about thinking carefully about the commitment involved holds true for bunnies and chicks (often purchased for children around Easter), for parrots (perhaps bought for International Talk like a Pirate Day – yes, there is one), and guinea pigs (bought for…, ok, well, there is no holiday I’m aware of that is strongly associated with the buying of guinea pigs, but you get my point). On the other hand, most turkeys purchased for Thanksgiving are just for Thanksgiving, and perhaps one or two more days beyond – but this is a special situation.

If you are a little unsure of what type of job you want, or afraid to commit to a certain type of job in case it turns out to be the wrong path for you, then it is helpful to know that a job doesn’t have to be for life. Any job you accept can be a stepping stone to a different type of job in the same career field, or a completely different type of career altogether. Of course, you might be completely surprised and find that you really like the first job you get, and continue on happily down that career path – you won’t know for sure unless you give it a go.

Now, that doesn’t mean that you should just apply for any old job, in the vague hope that you will figure things out along the way. For starters, it will be much harder to be offered a job if you cannot provide a convincing answer as to why you are applying to it. Here are some answers to the “why do you want this job?” question that may not do you any favours:

  • “I don’t really know what I want to do with my life, but I saw the job advert and it looked interesting, something I might apply to, and so here I am”
  • “I have discovered that I really don’t like working in a lab environment, and I have had some bad experiences within academia, and so I am looking for a new direction where I can be happier”

Put yourselves in the shoes of the employers listening to these types of answers, and you’ll see why they are not so great. Would you hire someone who didn’t show honest interest in your company or in the day-to-day elements of the job? Even if you a little unsure why you are applying for a job, you can still come up with a convincing and honest statement that will speak more directly both to the needs of the employers, and to what you can offer them. For example:

  • “I see this opportunity for me to apply the skills I have gained through my experiences at Penn, and to be able to use my effective writing and editing skills to complement the other staff in this department, and to maximize productivity. For example… [and an illustration of skills mentioned should follow]”
  • “I think I bring with me a unique perspective that would enhance this organization’s ability to interact with international clients, and I am looking forward to the opportunity to work with the program experts you have here to quickly and efficiently learn the new skills I need to take on the project requirements listed in the job advert. I have always been good at learning new skills. For example… [and an illustration of skills mentioned should follow]”

These statements are overly broad, as I don’t have particular job in mind. The key point is that you don’t have to convince an employer that you only want to do this one job at this one company. However, you do have to convince them that you know what their needs are, and convince them that you have some combination of experiences, skills, or technical abilities to offer something that other candidates don’t have.

It may be that you apply for a job, accept an offer, but find out over time that the career field you are in may not be for you. Make sure that you have invested enough time at the job to make an objective decision about this. All jobs are challenging when you first start. Make sure that you have also looked at whether there are any opportunities to change the nature of the position to better meet your needs – perhaps moving laterally within a company to another position, department, division, rather than considering leaving altogether. However, if you feel as if you need to leave, make sure that think about what skills you might need when applying for jobs in different career fields, and seek out as many opportunities as possible to put those skills into action in your current position. Focus on the key transferable skills that are valuable in any profession, such as communication, leadership, management, problem-solving, and taking the initiative.

Having specific illustrations of your skills in action being actively used to achieve tangible outcomes will be the best way to convince future employers that you are a viable candidate. Any job that you take on, even if it turns out not to be what you want, will give you a chance to put these skills into action, and so will further enhance what you can say in your cover letters and resumes when applying for future positions.

So…, dogs, bunnies, chicks, parrots, perhaps guinea pigs (but not roasted turkeys) may be for life, but the jobs you take on can be stepping stones on a straight or more convoluted path towards your ideal career. Sometimes you just need to take that first step.

Author: Joseph

Joseph Barber is a Senior Associate Director at Career Services serving graduate students and postdocs. He has a PhD in animal behaviour and animal welfare, and continues to teach these subjects as an adjunct professor at Hunter College (CUNY).

3 thoughts on “A dog is for life…, but a job doesn’t have to be”

  1. Really enjoyed your analogy. I have one for you. Dogs can teach us to be patient, loyal and forgiving as well.
    You are absolutely right about new graduates stressing too much about the right job. Money is a big factor these days with student loans that come due upon graduation. It is a good idea to look for something you enjoy doing more than what it will pay.
    You can always trade it in for another job later as long as you can cover your bills.

  2. I hate those questions asked by companies during interviews. I don’t like to talk about myself,my strengths and weaknesses. haha. But everything should be answered especially if you really covet the position.

  3. A few thoughts criss-crossed my mind, like a lightning storm in the Midwest, when I saw the entry…. I love the quote about a og being for life, as it often gives meaning to life, perhaps more so than bunnies, chicks, parrots or a guinea pig, but then I might be biased towards dogs!! Another thought was whether the snarling terrier illustrated the applicant or interviewer..!!? LOL

    The post is so true and probably stemming from age acquired wisdom, something so often ridiculed in an ‘occupy-besotted’ society and yet many will tell you that the start of paragraph 3 is the only way to go in the current situation of joblessness and more qualified candidates per application than needed… but your wisdom and advice still stands, like a quality garment next to just any old t-shirt!

    Thanks for the comparison with the animals, especially our doggie friend.. I often think of the other word one could spell with the same letters as dog…. and how much we can learn from them in giving and never asking…. perhaps the missing ingredient in many first time job applicants’ approach..?

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