Revitalize your summer

The summer’s still not half-way through yet, but I’ve spoken with a number of students who are already starting to feel burnt out. In honor of all of those who need a palette cleanser from the working day, please enjoy these images and videos of animals in business settings:

And if these images weren’t enough to help you through the working day, we’re still open over the summer and happy to talk through any career questions or plans for what might come after the summer.

The power of positive reinforcement

Dr. Joseph Barber

I was sorting through some old boxes at home the other night when I stumbled across a copy of a book I was given when I worked as a Research Fellow at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The book is called “Don’t Shoot the Dog”, and it focuses on how you can use positive reinforcement as a tool to train animals. Zoos and aquariums engage in lots of animal training, and much of this is done to help improve the welfare of the animals, and so there were plenty of opportunities for keepers to train animals at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Here are some examples of training in a zoo setting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2a3UIu3lJc.

At home, if you have ever given your dog a treat when it sits down on command then you are using positive reinforcement. In fact, if you have ever enthusiastically and immediately thanked a faculty member for writing a reference letter for a job application at short notice, then you have also used positive reinforcement. When it comes to animal training, humans are just as animaly as all the other animals out there. Positively reinforcing a behaviour increases the likelihood that the behaviour will occur more frequently in the future. Effective positive reinforcement increases the energy in the room when you are working with other people or animals, and creates a more positive environment for whatever project you are working on. If you can find the right reinforcer, and can provide it immediately after the behaviour you want to promote has been performed, then you on your way to being able to improve your relationships with peers, advisors, students in your classrooms, bosses, family, and your various companion animals.

When thinking about career exploration and the job search, there are many situations where positive reinforcement can be helpful. There are also many times where people miss opportunities to use this approach. Here are some common issues:

  • You speak with an alum at a networking event, but don’t send a brief thank email within 24 hours.
  • Your advisor rushes to write a reference letter for you, but you don’t acknowledge the extra work they did, thank them, or let them know when you got the job.
  • A recruiter emails you with an update on a position you are applying to, but you don’t respond to their email promptly.

A positive reinforcer tells the recipient that the behaviour they just performed is good. The more you reinforce the behaviour, the more often it will occur. However, not providing any reinforcement, or providing it too long after the behaviour is performed, gives the recipient no information, provides no positive energy, and so there is no impetus for them to do more of the behaviour in the future. When you are looking for jobs or internships, this means thanking people often and quickly, and being prompt with your upbeat responses when you see people working on your behalf at any point in the job search process.

If you are looking for an easy summer read, then take a look at this book, and see how you might be able to take proactive steps towards maximizing the many benefits that positive reinforcement can have as you engage with your network.

Ways to Build Your Leadership Skills

Tiffany Franklin, Associate Director

Photo credit: iStockPhoto - marchmeena29

Now that summer is finally here and you are starting the internships you have worked so hard to secure, it’s the perfect time to consider ways you can make the most of this opportunity and build your leadership skills. Focusing on your professional development while you are in entry-level roles will help you gain skills that not only help your current team, but could also position for opportunities in the future, whether with your current organization or a new one. Just as athletes train throughout the year to improve their performance during the season, you can use this summer to design your leadership strategy.

It’s helpful to consider the qualities that make a strong leader: emotional intelligence, strategic risk taking, effective communication, relationship building, flexibility, problem solving, resilience, vision, and the ability to listen and take purposeful action. Great leaders possess a solid grasp of fundamentals in their field, yet they also surround themselves with people who make up for what they lack. They are constantly learning and envisioning what could be, but not ignoring current realities and historical context. They excel at conceptualizing a path and empowering a team to bring that vision to life.

Reading a list like that sounds like a tall order, especially when you’re in your first internship, but you have been building many of these skills for years through coursework, activities, sports, volunteer work, summer jobs, and more. Here are ways to cultivate your leadership skills. Notice that many of them do not involve an actual leadership title right now – instead, it’s about focusing on what you are learning.

  • Leading/Contributing to projects: Volunteer for more responsibilities. Seek out opportunities for impact and ones that may not seem glorious, but are important for building the foundational knowledge.
  • Build your network: Look for opportunities to work across your company; look into affinity groups or other ways to become involved in your company’s community beyond your own department.

  • Learning opportunities: Does your office host lunch and learns, webinars, or speaker series? Attend these both for the content and to meet more people.

  • Seek out mentors: Express genuine interest in colleagues and what they do. These initial conversations can turn into regular coffee chats and may help you find a mentor within the company or new work friends.
  • Leadership within professional associations: Become involved with your industry’s professional associations. The rates for student memberships are usually reasonable. Volunteer to help plan an upcoming event or help with the next conference. This will greatly expand your professional circle, can be a lot of fun, and a perfect way to learn from others in the field.
  • Learn as much as possible about your field and leadership in general: Read industry publications and remain informed on current events. Look at the syllabi from top MBA programs like Wharton and see which books their students are reading about leadership – check those out and discuss what you learn in your networking.

Taking these steps will help you build valuable skills to benefit you throughout your career. Enjoy your summer and remember that Career Services is here to help you with this process.

Effective Networking Tactics: Time for Introductions?

Here we go again – another blog post on networking…how will this be different?  Well, let me start with a short anecdote:

Recently, I attended an event and had a conversation about networking. We talked about different approaches and tactics – one idea that emerged from that discussion focused on asking for introductions from mutual acquaintances to connect with other professionals you may not know.

You may be familiar with the term “cold-call” or “cold-email” – basically an effort to contact someone you don’t know, commonly used in the context of networking or inquiring about job or internship opportunities.

While there are different opinions on the success of cold-calling and cold-emailing, I encourage you to try asking for introductions to people you want to meet from individuals you already know as part of the networking process.

Think about individuals you know and their existing contacts – one way to explore this could be through LinkedIn 2nd or 3rd degree connections. If you want to connect with someone else that shares a mutual connection with you, consider asking the mutual connection for an introduction. In some cases, introductions from individuals that are trusted can lead to a higher volume of responses and initiate meaningful conversations.

That being said, always be mindful of quality over quantity. Don’t simply focus on the number of conversations you have – the quality of your conversations is most important. And always be authentic with your introduction requests and conversations. Think carefully why you want to be introduced to someone and how a conversation with that particular individual would be helpful.

Let me know how you fare with asking for introductions from mutual contacts as you attempt to expand your network.

Do you have any examples of situations where an introduction from a mutual contact was beneficial for networking purposes?  Feel free to share them below.

Looking for more tips on networking?  Check out a few online videos and social media networking tips here: https://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices//networking/howto.php