General Guidance on Career Planning

From career exploration to career commitment

Career planning is designed to help you find and succeed in a career that you love and that meets your needs. Some students enter the major in the career exploration stage, where they need to learn about different careers and figure out which one they will pursue. Others enter the major committed to a specific career, and they focus on developing the skills and knowledge they will need for that career. In reality, students often move back and forth between exploration and commitment. For instance, once students find a broad occupation, they do more exploring to see which specialization they like.

Building transferable skills

Whether you are still planning or are committed to a particular career, you should use your time at Penn State to build your skills and knowledge. Successful careers are made up of two levels of skills and knowledge. Underlying every career is a broad knowledge base and a set of strong transferable skills. Transferable skills are interpersonal skills, effective written and verbal communication skills, data management, budgeting, and time management. They are called “transferable” skills, because they can easily be transferred from one occupation to another.

On top of these transferable skills, each career has occupation-specific skills and knowledge. Early care and education teachers need to know classroom management skills and have a deep knowledge of early development. Human resource professionals need interviewing skills and knowledge about employment and labor regulations. Researchers need to know their topic area in depth and need advanced statistical skills.

Universities like Penn State are set up to help you move from developing a broad knowledge base and transferable skills (your general education requirements) toward more occupation-specific skills and knowledge (your major). Because HDFS is such a broad major, students usually specialize even further, by focusing on a specific career like human resources, social work, or teaching.

Understanding job availability

Students often express their career interests like this: “I want to work with children” or “I want to help the elderly” or “I want to help victims of abuse”. These substantive interests are what drive students to select a major like HDFS. Having a substantive interest is great, but to select a career path to follow, students need to think about their skills.

Careers are organized around skills. Teaching is a skill. Teachers work with young children, victims of abuse, juvenile delinquents, and adult learners. But they all use similar teaching skills. Counseling is a skill. Counselors work with alcoholics, couples experiencing marital trouble, children with mental disorders, and troubled families. Management and administration are skills. People fundraise, coordinate volunteers, keep the books, and coordinate services across a wide range of substantive fields including early care and education, homelessness, environmental protection, and developmental disabilities.

The human service field includes people who use a variety of different skills and those people tend to have different educational training. For example, some students care strongly about helping people with developmental disabilities. But people with different skills will work to improve the lives of people with disabilities in very different ways. Counselors and teachers will work directly with people with developmental disabilities to help them learn and achieve their goals. People with strong organizational and management skills may run the direct service organizations. Others with good community organizing skills may be volunteer coordinators or service coordinators. People who love research may study effective interventions for people with developmental disabilities. People with strong communication skills may work as web designers and resource developers, making the information available to everyone. A central task for career exploration is figuring out how your skills map onto specific careers.

Exploring skills/interests

Because there are lots of different kinds of jobs out there, career exploration involves figuring out what you care about and what you are good at doing to help. Career Services has great tools to help you identify your interests and skills, and match those to different careers.

What do you care about? Some people know they really care about helping the elderly. Others may want to work to reduce drug and alcohol addiction. Some people care passionately about young children. One way to approach career exploration is to see if there is a population you care a lot about helping or a problem that you care passionately about solving.

What are you good at doing to help? Because there are so many different jobs in each field, another important question is: What are you good at doing to help? Some people are really great at working one-on-one with people or leading a classroom full of teenagers. Others prefer to work behind the scenes to do administrative and management work. Some people love to do research. Others are tremendously good advocates.

Career exploration involves taking courses and trying different hands-on experiences until you identify what your skills are and how they map onto specific jobs and careers.

Go to the following pages to explore careers -- or plan your career if you already have an idea of what you want to do.