Considering Jobs

My favorite barista is a dancer. Today, while preparing another of her oh-so-perfect lattes, she mentioned that her dance company is interviewing people about what their jobs mean to them. They’re at the beginning of this creative endeavor, allowing the process itself to take them to an unknown destination. They do plan to create a dance. Will they interpret their interviewees’ stories through movement? Use interviewees’ words? Voices? Where will the interviewees’ stories lead the dancers? Where will the process itself lead them? Where will their artistry lead us all?

What is a job? What does “job” mean to you? Does it matter?

We’ve used the word since the 1620s, but I would guess that many seventeenth-century jobs are uninteresting to today’s students or no longer exist. According to Merriam-Webster, a job is “something that has to be done” or “a specific duty, role, or function” or “a regular remunerative position.” I assume most of us associate “job” with that third meaning, similar to’s “post of employment.”

None of these definitions address why we need a job, other than “remunerative.” (Perhaps a better definition might be “something your parents ask you about during spring break”!) “Remuneration” is something that rewards or pays. What the reward or pay might be is not part of the definition. So, what do you want your reward to be? A paycheck? A large paycheck? Vacation time? Healthcare? Prestige? Comfort? Luxury? Creating something? Changing an expectation? Providing care? Increasing knowledge? Changing the world?

These questions might not be on your next interviewer’s list, but they should be on your list so that you will know what you’re seeking, why, and how to demonstrate that you and the job “fit” one another. Exploring these questions with a friend, family member, or a career counselor (or on our website) is an ongoing, challenging, and meaningful exercise.

So, what do you think? A past blog of mine addressed a similar issue and invited readers to complete a survey. You are welcome to do so now, and to share this invitation with friends and family so that we have many responses.

As a career counselor and someone immensely curious—from a sociological and historical perspective—about “work,” I am looking forward to the future dance creation of Real Live People (in) Motion, and I’d love to read your thoughts in our survey.

Assessments to Help Explore Your Career

We’ve been getting quite a few questions from students regarding tests for career exploration.

We have several career assessments and inventories on our website here:

These tests assess your interests, skills, and values and help you to explore career opportunities that may be a good fit for you.

The most popular ones are Myers Briggs Type Indicator and Strong Interest Inventory.

Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is designed to assess the preferences linked to your personality.

The Strong Interest Inventory is designed to assess interests and preferred work styles and relate them to a variety of career fields and occupations.

Also on the website is a link to SIGI 3. SIGI 3 is a comprehensive, free career exploration tool that prompts you to discover your skills, interests, and values and matches the resulting profile to career options.

For current students, it costs $15 for one test and $30 for both.

For alumni, it costs $25 one test and $50 for both.

If you are a current student, the Counseling and Psychological Services office also provides these takes and gives workshops regarding the tests.

You can view information from CAPS here:

StrengthsQuest is also an assessment tool which lists your top five talent themes and offers advice on how to leverage those talents to achieve success in academics, career planning, and leadership development.

For current students and alumni, it costs $15 to take StrengthsQuest.

You can take it here:

Once you have completed your StrengthsQuest assessment, you will automatically receive access to a customized report based on your talents.  If you would like to discuss your results further, please contact the office to schedule a meeting with one of the following counselors based on your school.

After you have taken any of the above tests, you can schedule a talk with a career counselor for a comprehensive evaluation of your results and career options.

Five Reasons to be a Chicken during your Job Search

by Dr. Joseph Barber

1) Chickens have great vision

With their ability to view the world with binocular and monocular vision (each eye processing a different image with no visual overlap between the eyes), chickens have a great perspective of the environment around them. Each eye (and related hemisphere of the brain) has slightly different priorities in terms of what type of visual information is processed. The right eye/left hemisphere are better at discriminating visual stimuli into categories by identifying common features of objects (e.g., is it food or not? Is it a familiar chicken or not?). The left eye/right hemisphere play an important role in any learning involving spatial information, such as where something is in its environment, as well as for spotting predators.

You can learn from this visual division of labour when it comes to job searching. You should always be keeping one eye out for specific opportunities you want to pursue, such as a very specific position in a very specific type of organization. Perhaps you always wanted to be a professor at a teaching-focused institution in California. However, it is never a bad idea to keep your other eye scanning the horizon for other opportunities, locations, and career paths. Are there different organizations that might allow you to use the same skills sets you have to offer in slightly different ways? Now is a good time to think about your Plan B. Chat with an advisor at Career Services for some ideas.

2) Chickens learn best from the best

Chickens are a highly social species, and there are lots of opportunities for social learning to occur, where one individual can learn something important from other individuals within a social group. When hens were allowed to watch a demonstrating bird peck at a certain coloured button to gain access to food, the observers tended to peck the same colour button when they were given the opportunity to apply what they had learnt – even in the absence of the demonstrating bird. However, most interestingly, hens learn best when they watch dominant bird, compared to subordinate or unfamiliar birds, and they don’t really learn much at all from watching cockerels. Now, it is always a good idea for a more subordinate bird to keep an eye on the most dominant bird, because this is the one that is most likely to peck other members of the group. By watching the dominant bird closely, observers were also able to learn something important about gaining access to food.

If you are interested in figuring out what you can do with your knowledge, experiences, and skills, then make sure you look for opportunities to find what people with similar knowledge, experiences, and skills have done before you. Make use of your alumni networks, like PACNet or the alumni LinkedIn group, to explore what people with similar backgrounds have successfully gone on to do. This can give you some insight into how your skills might be valued by different types of organizations. It can also give you a chance to make some contacts and expand your network.

3) Chickens like contrafreeloading

Contrafreeloading is the term used to describe the tendency for animals to work for access to a resource like food, even in the presence of free food. Chickens may peck at a button in an experimental chamber to access food. Perhaps 10, 20, or 30 pecks results in a small amount of food being delivered. Chickens will continue to work for food in this way even if there is a dish of the same food sitting right next to them. The act of working for food provides the chicken with some element of control over its environment, and having some control is always a good thing. Chickens seem to value the rewards they receive more when they have put effort in to obtaining those rewards.

Be proactive in your job search. When you attend career-related programs, such as panel discussions featuring alumni from different occupations coming back to talk about their own experiences, be one of the people who actually asks questions. Take the opportunity to follow-up with the speakers at the end of the discussion. Don’t just accept the free information gained by passively sitting through the discussion without asking questions, or by spending too much of your time looking at career resources online. Be active, and connect with real people who might be able to provide you with much more accessible information and additional contacts. You will gain more, and appreciate what you uncover more, when you have been courageous enough to network.

4) Chickens know that hidden objects still exist

Organisms that have an understanding of object permanence know that objects that become hidden by some sort of visual barrier still exist. So, just because they are out of sight does not mean that they have disappeared. Chicks in the first week of their lives have a basic understanding of object permanence. It takes a human infant 8-10 months to develop this ability.

You want to make sure that the people you meet at career fairs, conferences, and other networking opportunities, don’t end up questioning your physical existence once you have left their sight. In other words, the shaking hands and exchanging business cards part of networking is only a small part of the networking process. Once you have made a contact, you need to be able to further develop and build on this connection. Your goal is to develop a more established relationship with the people you meet. This is successful networking. If you meet someone and they never hear from you again for 2-3 years, then you should not be surprised that they have a hard time remembering you when you try to get back in contact. You do still exist, and so help them remember this. This is especially important for the people you hope will write you letters of reference one day soon – keep them updated about your professional progress even during times when you don’t need them to write letters for you.

5) I know a thing or two about chickens

I did my PhD research on the behaviour of chickens. If you choose to be a chicken during your job search, then chances are that I can offer you some insightful advice. I might have a slightly harder time providing feedback if you choose to be a kinkajou, a wombat, a prairie dog, a kiwi, a humpback whale, a hedgehog, a hellbender salamander, a Pacific walrus, a newt, a kookaburra, a giraffe…..


Day in the Life: Pennsylvania Council of Children, Youth and Family Services

What is it really like working in a state-wide nonprofit network?  Maggie Potter addressed this on Tuesday, March 13th. Get insights into this field in preparation for  the Philadelphia Nonprofit & Government Career Fair at St. Joseph’s University on Tuesday, March 20th. Post your questions to our Facebook page or send us a tweet  to @PennCareerServ or @PennCareerDay.   Maggie will answer them directly. Read more about Maggie below and check out her insights on our Storify page where her tweets are available.

Maggie Potter graduated from Williams College with a Bachelor in Psychology in 2004. Following several years of working and soul searching, including a stint abroad in Nepal and a year as an Americorps VISTA in Boston, she landed at Penn for a dual Masters degree in Social Work and Social Policy. She graduated in 2011 and now works at the Pennsylvania Council of Children, Youth and Family Services, a statewide membership association of nonprofits. She works closely with non-profit leaders, public officials at the state and local level, and foundations to advocate for better policies and practices for children and families involved with the foster care, juvenile justice and behavioral health systems. In her free time she enjoys traveling the world, reading, baking and doing yoga.

Make the most of Spring Break

 Whether you:
  • are an undergraduate and have “vacation” during Penn’s Spring Break period
  • are a graduate student on campus and perhaps just appreciating less traffic and competition in lunch truck lines
  • are at home enjoying family time and respite
  • find yourself traveling to friendly places and/or sunny shores, or
  • are an alumnus reflecting fondly on spring breaks of years past

 please be sure to take the opportunity this week to take a break. 

I like to think of Spring Break as a chance to regroup – frankly, it’s usually the first chance since early January’s resolutions to really take a good look at long term plans, projects, and needs for moving forward – and that organization and planning itself can be rejuvenating.  To each their own!  Couple the opportunity to reflect and regroup with nature’s signs of welcoming spring – budding daffodils, warmer afternoons, twittering birds – and it may be that the mere exercise of breathing deeply for a few moments and being mindful of the world’s changes can bring relaxation and peace regardless of your locale or the demands on your time.

Whatever you find yourself doing these days – especially if you are using this time to catch up on missed opportunities and projects or assignments left over from weeks past – please take the time to enjoy “Spring Break” and all that it can mean for you.