How to be Indispensable in the Workplace: 6 Tips for Internship Success

By Dr. Claire Klieger

Many students are getting ready to start summer internships next month so I thought it would be a good time to revisit a topic I blogged about a few years ago. Regardless of whether you will be in your dream internship or just trying out something new, it is important to create a positive impression. Future employers will often ask for references (even if your previous experience is completely unrelated) so you will want to be able to provide a list of contacts that you know will speak highly of your job performance. Here are six tips sure make you stand out on the job:

1) Volunteer for any work that needs doing, no matter how menial or uninteresting. Let’s face it, every internship may include some less than glamorous tasks, but the attitude you take towards completing these matters. Whether it’s making copies, picking up mail or (as in the case of one intern at the Eagles), counting the number of toilets in your facility, your willingness to say, “Sure, I can do that!” will be noticed and appreciated.

2) Drink the cool aide. Fitting into any work environment depends upon understanding the culture. Pay attention to those around you. What is the dress code? Do people go out for lunch or eat at their desks? Do most people stay and work after hours or is everyone out the door at five? Also, take part in social activities provided by your organization to show that you are a team player and enthusiastic about your work. These kinds of events are also great networking opportunities.

3) Go the extra mile. It is important to make the very best of any internship situation.  If you do not have enough work of your own to do, look around to figure out who could use help; then offer it. You never know who is going to be grateful for your offer to crunch some numbers, design a flyer, summarize a set of articles, or run an experiment, etc. If you identify a need, you could gently offer an idea (and volunteer to see it through) that might be useful.

4) Put in the time (and be on time). Understand what your expected hours are. Whatever they may be, if you want to stand out, be prepared to arrive a little early and possibly stay late. Whatever you do, don’t create the impression that you’re checking your watch so that you can bolt out the door at 5 (or whenever the business day ends where you work).

5) Be professional. This is important for demeanor as well as dress. Also, be cognizant of your online communications. Keep your work emails professional—write in full sentences and avoid using acronyms or emoticons. Employers often complain that interns, used to texting, do not understand well how to draft professional emails.

6) Treat everyone pleasantly, regardless of status. Focus less on becoming chummy with your fellow interns and more on being pleasant with everyone. This could be as simple as greeting people at the beginning and end of each day and remembering to smile. Also, be careful not to look like as though you are only interested in making a good impression with senior level colleagues in positions of power.

If you follow these simply steps, you greatly increase the chances that those working around you will not only see you as a great intern, but may even start asking themselves, “what would we do without you?!”

The Mindful Job Search

By Sharon Fleshman

Mindfulness programs seem to be increasingly prevalent on university campuses and in the workplace.  In fact, Penn has offered a number of these programs for students and staff.  It might be tempting to reduce mindfulness to sitting in a quiet space and breathing deeply, yet it can be much more. 

Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

How can mindfulness be applied to the job search? Let’s consider the potential of being mindful as a practice that can enhance the interviewing process.

Prepare positive impact stories

One of the challenges that mindfulness confronts is our tendency to ruminate over past occurrences (usually negative ones) and to worry about the future. What if you could intentionally focus on times when you have made a positive impact on a person or situation? Form a mental picture of someone you helped and tell yourself the narrative of the person’s situation, your actions, and the results.  Imagine that person’s response if someone else was asking them about you.  Journaling your stories and reading them over would likely solidify your positive memories even more and pave the way for increased gratitude. These exercises can not only boost your confidence, but help prepare you to answer behavioral questions in an interview and show how your positive impact can continue in the future.  Even “negative” events such as mistakes or conflicts can be reframed for focus on positive impact if you learned vital lessons and experienced growth as a result.

Press the pause button

Often the job search feels like a job in of itself, and for that reason, it is crucial to give yourself space to replenish.   For more on this, check out my previous article.  Though mindfulness is not limited to sitting quietly in a contemplative stance, regularly taking time to just breathe and embrace the silence can reap future benefits, even in interviewing.  Briefly pressing the pause button during an interview can help you navigate thoughtful or challenging questions and decrease use of filler words (e.g., um, uh, you know, etc.)

Practice paying attention

Imagine a moment when you are talking with a friend on your phone, then you hear the chime from a text message, and then a notification for an Instagram post, and then…. Paying attention to one thing at a time has never been so challenging. Mindfulness exercises can help you focus your attention on activities as simple as breathing, munching on an apple, or watching a squirrel scurry up a tree. This practice allows you to be present in the moment, which will serve you well for interviewing.  For example, it is wise to prepare for interviews by considering how you would answer anticipated questions, but you don’t want to be preoccupied with recalling scripted responses.  With mindfulness, you can be prepared and interact with your interviewers in a genuine and engaging way. 

Please note that a mindfulness program will be offered on-campus for Penn students in the fall. To further discuss how you can use mindfulness in a practical way to enhance your job search, feel free to set up a time to speak with a career advisor.

Career mythbusting, and interesting facts about vegetables and Vulcans

Dr. Joseph Barber

As we conclude this academic year, let me take this opportunity to clarify some common areas of career confusion relating to the job search. But first, some interesting facts to start us off. Did you know that May is the only month that spells a vegetable backwards? I was going to say that May is also the only month that spells another actual word backwards, but then we would be forgetting about April. “What is a Lirpa?” you might ask yourself. Go ahead, look it up, and you will be ready to impress the next Trekkie you meet at a party. OK, and now onto some areas of career confusion and other assorted myths.

  • Professional recruiters only spend an average of 8 seconds reading your resume

I am sure some data have been collected on this, but I am also positive that these data are unlikely to be representative of all industries, and all jobs, and all people. It is the kind of statement that attracts people’s attention, though, and there is some element of truth to this. The reality is that different people will read your application materials at different points along the process, and each person will be looking for something specific from your document. But it is true, that all of these people have busy jobs, lots to do, and so just can’t spend an awful lot of time trying to figure out if your experiences as described might be a good fit for a position. Moreover, the first person who reads your application might not be a person at all. More and more companies are using application tracking systems and software to compare keywords from resumes against keywords from the job descriptions. In a mere fraction of a second, these systems can give a score that addresses how many keywords, skills, and concepts from the job ad are covered in your materials. If there is too low a match rate, then a real person is probably never going to read your materials at all. Your job in your resume is to demonstrate to a very specific population of people at one organization interested in filling one particular role that you have something of value to bring to that specific role. So yes, you need a tailored and customized resume for each job application so that in the short time that someone does spend reading the document, that it really addresses their needs. This leads us to myth #2.

  • But I thought only cover letters need to be customized for each separate job

Cover letters also need to be customized. If you only customize your cover letter, and no-one reads it, then have you actually customized anything at all? That’s a philosophical question for you. Not everyone will read a cover letter. Some application tracking systems won’t scan cover letters in their analysis. Now, don’t get me wrong, you want people to read your cover letter. You want them to read both the letter and the resume. Each document provides something rather different. The resume focuses on relevant skills for the job, and presents them as short, punchy, bullets that illustrate the relevant, takeaway skills in action, provide enough context to make the skills make sense, and ideally point to outcomes that show how effective the skills are. The cover letter takes the most relevant of these and tells more narrative stories that have some aspect of humanity integrated within. So, in a resume you might state:

Created a new experimental protocol in partnership with a bioengineer from a separate lab that resulted in a run time that halved the experimental timeline, and produced sufficient data for a publication now in press.

In a cover letter, you might tell the story behind this bullet point experience, structuring your story using the STAR format (situation, task/challenge, action, result):

In my last experiment, I was trying to get data from my cell-lines using the standard lab protocols, but realized that there wouldn’t be enough time to complete it before my funding ran out. I tried all sorts of approached before I reached out to a bioengineer from another lab at Penn who I had heard give a talk about a new filtration technique she was developing for her research. I was able to collaborate with her to modify her approach to my cell-lines, and actually double the experimental yield. It was really exciting to try an untried, innovative approach, and I really enjoyed the collaboration I established. My advisor has now started using our modified protocol on his own research, and we now have a paper in press. I am looking forward to bringing my creative problem solving to this new role, as I know this quick thinking is essential in a lean start-up environment.

Words such as “enjoy” or “excited by” are hard to use in a resume, but are more easily integrated into the cover letter. A one-page cover letter that has a couple of interesting and unique stories that contain just the right amount of drama and emotion will always be engaging to the reader.

  • You will never get a job by applying online – you have to network to get a job

Well…, networking will absolutely maximize your potential to get a job – and the job you want – but plenty of people I have worked with have received interviews and offers after applying directly to a job posted online. Companies wouldn’t waste their time posting jobs on LinkedIn, Indeed.com, their own websites, or a host of other websites if these were just for show. In fact, in most companies, you do have to apply online to be officially tracked within their applicant tracking system. For most companies, there is a candidate hiring process that they need to follow, and specific steps you and they need to take. Networking helps you along this process, but it doesn’t replace it in most cases. Applying online with a generic resume might not get you through the applicant tracking robots, and a cover letter that doesn’t engage the reader might not get you the interview, but that doesn’t mean that this is the fault of the online application system.

  • If the employer has answered all of the questions you had prepared ahead of time during the interview, it is OK to say that you don’t have any more questions when asked at the end

If time allows, you should always ask questions – always. In every interview that I have been part of (as an interviewer), the people who don’t ask any questions at the end, or who only ask one, or who ask a weak question, are always seen as least favourable candidates at the end of the process. Saying that you don’t have any questions basically tells the interviewer that you are disinterested. If you are applying for a new job, you can’t possible know everything there is to know about it, and so take every opportunity to ask smart, engaging questions about the specific role that you are interviewing for. Here are a few examples:

  1. Over the first 3-6 months, what will be the main priorities for the person in this role?
  2. How does this role fit into the team structure in this office – if I were in this role, would I be working with the same team over time, or on different teams for each project?
  3. What types of professional training opportunities are available for the person in this role?
  4. What are some of the most exciting challenges that the person in this role might face in this work?
  • You should only go to Career Services if you have a specific question, and only if you are an undergraduate

No, you can come at any time, and we will help you identify some of the questions you should be asking if you are having a hard time figuring out what they are. Career Services is also divided into teams, and you will find career advisors who work specifically with undergraduates, and some who only work with graduate students and postdocs. So, if you didn’t take the opportunity to stop by during Lirpa, we look forward to seeing you later in Yam! We are open all summer long!

End of a Semester, and an End of a Career

Patricia Rose, Director of Career Services

For most of you, your semester is ending soon, with final classes, papers or exams. Then it’s off for a summer of more study or an internship or a research opportunity or perhaps travel. But for some of you, this is it. You are graduating. Even if you have made your plans, you may face the future with some trepidation. Major life transitions can be scary, despite how excited you are about your first full-time job, your fellowship or your graduate program.

I too am facing a major life transition. After almost forty years of working at Penn, most of it in Career Services, I am retiring later this summer. I first came to Penn as a graduate student 45 years ago. It has been a joy and a privilege to study here, to work with such great colleagues, and to get to know generations of Penn students. I have reached a point that the sons and daughters of students I knew years ago are now themselves Penn students. (Too soon for grandchildren to arrive!)

Donna Shalala, former cabinet secretary and university president, once said that women stay in jobs until they no longer like them. Men are more willing to move on, even when their jobs are going well and still enjoyable. Maybe this is why I never left. I have enjoyed my job almost every day for all these years. My wish for you all is that you find a job and a career that are fulfilling and meaningful. Sigmund Freud notably said, “Love and work… work and love, that’s all there is.” May you find work with a purpose as well as love. To all the students and alumni I have gotten to know, thank you, for giving meaning to my work. Best wishes for continued success to you all!

CS Radio – Episode 65: “A Rose By Any Other Name”

SEASON FINALE. We’ve come to the end of another school year and another season of CS Radio. We’ve also come to the end of Pat Rose’s time as director of Career Services at Penn. We’re joined by an incredible array of guests who stopped by to reflect on Pat’s time at Penn and her contributions to Career Services. CS Radio will be back in September, but remember that Penn Career Services is open all summer long to both students and alumni. Thank you for listening and we’ll see you in season four!

Enjoy!