Are you a first-gen grad student? We’ve got a new workshop on informational interviews for you!

Helen Pho, Associate Director

One of the most exciting collaborative projects that I’m working on this semester is creating a new video- and discussion-based workshop on informational interviewing for graduate students and postdocs. This means writing scripts of fictional informational interviews gone painfully wrong with my colleagues, working with actors who can perform the scenes, and collaborating with students and colleagues who can film and edit the videos, which has been and will continue to be a lot of fun leading up to our workshops in April!
Throughout college, I found the processes of networking in general and conducting information interviews in particular to be somewhat mysterious. As a first-gen student, I knew that networking was important but didn’t have any frame of reference. My parents didn’t work in offices, so growing up, I never saw them model what networking as a professional looks like. Additionally, informational interview meetings are generally private, one-on-one conversations between two people. Unless you’re already in the hot seat, you really can’t be a fly on the wall during someone else’s informational interview to observe how to do one well—or to observe what not to do!

When I work with graduate students and postdocs who are seeking internships and jobs, I often speak with them about why it is crucial to do informational interviews with professionals in the career fields they’d like to be in, brainstorm questions that students can ask during the actual conversation, and explain the whole process step-by-step from crafting an introductory email to staying in touch with the professional after the informational interview is over. With this new workshop, you’ll be able to get up close and personal with the do’s and don’ts of informational interviews and actually be a fly on the wall! By having students watch and talk about a filmed informational interview gone awry and another one gone well, with pauses in between scenes to discuss the good and the bad, we hope that you’ll learn to make the best first impression, ask the right questions, and come away with helpful information and a valuable professional contact as you venture off on your own to do informational interviews.

As a sneak peek into our workshops, here is a do and a don’t of international interviews that we’ll watch and discuss in details:

Do: Be curious and prepare a good list of questions: Being the student to request an informational interview with someone who’s more senior, sometimes it can feel uncomfortable to come to a meeting ready to drive the conversation with a list of questions. You may feel reluctant to do so for any number of reasons, but remember that professionals who agreed to meet with you are eager to help you as much as they can. Think about the goals you have for meeting. Are you interested in learning about how they prepared for their career? Do you want to learn about the employers they’ve worked with? Are you hoping to find out how they transitioned from academia to industry? Your goals can help frame the questions you devise, so you can get the most out of your informational interview, and the professional contact can be as helpful as possible.

Don’t: Stumble on the “Tell me about yourself” question: One of the common mistakes that graduate students make when they introduce themselves is to simply state that they’re a graduate student and then provide a 5 minute detailed explanation of their research. While discussing your research is a good idea, keep it short and talk about it in a way that someone who doesn’t share your expertise can understand why your research is important. It’s also helpful to relate the skills you’ve used in your graduate work and any prior work experiences to how you might apply them in a future career in the professional contact’s field or industry. By establishing common interests and shared connections, you’ll make a good first impression and begin to build a relationship with the professional at the outset of your conversation.

Come to one of our two interactive workshops (info below) to learn more about the other do’s and don’ts of informational interviews. You will laugh, you will cringe, you might even laugh-cry, but it’s sure to get you thinking about how you can present the best version of yourself in these important networking conversations!

•The first workshop (open to all graduate students and postdocs as part of the Job Search Series) will take place on Thursday, April 5 from 12-1:30pm in the McNeil Building, conference room 97. Please “Join the Event” on Handshake for updates and reminders for the program: https://app.joinhandshake.com/events/112840

•The second workshop (tailored specifically for first-gen grad students as part of our Generation First series, although all graduate students and postdocs are welcome) will take place on Thursday, April 12 from 3-4:30pm in McNeil Building, conference room 97. Please “Join the Event” on Handshake for updates and reminders for the programs: https://app.joinhandshake.com/events/112841

CS Radio – Episode 57: “Live from the Spring Career Fair”

Michael and Mylène take you live (on digital tape) to the Spring Career Fair to speak with two recruiters – one from the world of finance and engineering and the second from a non-profit look to recruit diverse talent into the housing market. A brief but fascinating episode this week! Enjoy!

Following up on the Career Fair “Love” Connection

By Claire Klieger

It’s February and love (Eagles, in particular) is in the air so I wanted to revisit and update this blog post from several years ago….

So you meet a great employer at a career fair (perhaps the spring career fair this past Friday) and it’s love at first handshake—sparks fly, resumes and business cards are exchanged and you feel like you’ve really made a connection. But just like coming down from the high of a great first date you ask yourself, now what? How do I follow up? Do I wait for him or her to call?  Do I email? Who initiates the next move? Similar to a budding romance, it’s about finding that balance between demonstrating interest and not coming off as desperate. Here are some tips and things to remember when following up with employers after a career fair:

Email a thank you note

Yes, even though the representative at the Career Fair may have spoken with dozens of students over the course of the day, this is one way to make yourself stand out. We hear all the time from employers that they really appreciate this kind of small gesture. Despite how it may seem, many applicants do not take the time to do this and so it does make a difference. Increasingly, employers rely on sophisticated tools to help them track contact with candidates and so not only will this gesture be welcomed by the contact, it may very well be officially noted as part of your online file with that employer.

 

Err on the side of being more formal

After a first date, you probably aren’t ready for someone to start addressing you as “Babe.” Similarly, some employers won’t feel that you know them well enough to refer to them by their first name. Unless during your initial conversation the recruiter specifically asked you to call him or her by their first name or introduced themselves using only their first name, you should still use a formal greeting (“Dear Mr., Ms., Dr., etc.”). Your email message should also avoid overly casual language, slang, acronyms (TTYL!), or emoticons.

 

What to say…

An email to an employer should be brief but detailed. Reiterate your interest in the organization and remind the recruiter of details you discussed at the fair. “Thank you for taking the time to speak with me at the Penn Career Fair on Friday. As I mentioned when we met, I’m really excited about this internship because as a health and societies major, it blends my interest in healthcare and communications. In particular, I enjoyed hearing about the kinds of projects that past interns have had a chance to work on and believe my leadership role as publicity chair for my sorority will enable me to…(reference what you will be doing in the position). I’m excited to submit my application online.” It could also just be thanking for them sharing some particular piece of advice or resource that resonated with you. Often, the best thank you emails are simply ones that show appreciation without an expectation of any follow-up or responses to questions.

 

Show that you really listened

You know how impressed you are if someone you’re interested in remembers something you mentioned (like a book you read that you enjoyed), unless, of course you have a stalker and then it’s just creepy. The same holds true for recruiters. If there was advice or information that a recruiter gave you at the fair (a professional association or recruiting website to check out), thank them for making that suggestion and show that you followed up on their advice. “Thanks so much for recommending ______. I spent some time looking at it this weekend and it’s a wonderful resource which I think will really help me….”

 

How long is too long?

Remember that recruiters are really busy and don’t have much time so they want to be able to get through your message quickly. Ideally, it should be no more than a few sentences. I think a good rule of thumb is whether or not the entire text of your message can be seen when the message is opened on a regular computer screen. If the message requires scrolling to finish reading, it’s probably too long.

 

Not getting a response doesn’t necessarily mean they “just aren’t that into you”

While some recruiters will respond to individual emails not everyone is good about replying. Don’t assume that if you don’t get a response that the recruiter isn’t interested in you as a candidate. They may just be too busy. That said, if it’s been more than a week since you initially emailed AND your message was something that required a response (like an answer to a question), it’s fine to follow-up with a second (even shorter) email referencing your initial email and asking they have had a chance to consider your question. After that second follow-up if you still don’t receive a response, it’s time to back off (remember, being labeled a stalker on the job market is no better than in the dating world). The “ball” is in their court and they will get back to you if (and sometimes only if) they are interested. Remember that all employers are on different timelines so it may take some time to get a response.

CS Radio – Episode 56: “First Impressions”

Sorry for the short delay in getting this week’s episode online. It’s a terrible way to make a first impression, which is exactly what we’re talking about on this week’s episode! Mylène takes a look at an article from the Wall Street Journal that discusses the various signals we can give off in the first seconds of a meeting. We’re focused today on keeping that job after you’ve landed it! Also, from the vaults, Michael finds a recording from 1992 of a program that we still give every year! What’s changed in the nearly three decades? Tune in and find out! Enjoy!

Career Lessons from the Eagles

Pat Rose, Director of Career Services

The entire region is swept up in Eagles euphoria, as well we all should be.  The story of a team that rebounded from last year’s losing record, overcame injuries to key players on offense, defense and special teams and rallied around back-up quarterback Nick Foles through the end of the season and playoffs is inspirational.  The players followed Doug Pederson, a leader who was criticized just last year as the least qualified coach in the NFL to their first world championship.  How did they do it?

There are many answers, including a committed owner and a smart front office executive who made the right trades and drafted the right players.  But from a career standpoint, I want to focus on one quality shared by both coach and quarterback: they were themselves, and they believed in themselves.

Doug Pederson believed in his players, and so he took risks (on fourth downs, on points after touchdown tries) that they would perform well and succeed.  His risks were calculated risks (the Eagles are clients of a data analytics firm that can predict the likelihood of winning if certain decisions are made).  But Pederson mainly decided to be true to himself, which meant to do the unconventional and discard received wisdom, which was usually the conservative approach (punt, don’t go for it on fourth down; kick an extra point, don’t try to go for two).  Pederson believed in himself, and in his players, and in his own unique approach to the game. 

Likewise, Nick Foles exceeded expectations, and when asked after the game if he had been nervous, replied that he was actually calm.  He knew he didn’t have to be superman, he said. And he knew he was surrounded by awesome teammates, who could be counted on to do their jobs.  He made it sound easy. He didn’t try to be someone he wasn’t.  And he believed that what he was was a pretty good quarterback.   He was right.

Among all the lessons to take from the Eagles victory is the importance of being who you are, not who conventional wisdom or peers tell you to be.  It is not always easy to be confident in yourself, especially when expectations are high, or when you get off to an inauspicious start or if you are taking a different path.  But you have to do it.  You may not get a parade up Broad Street after a huge win, but there are other rewards to be had.  Go ahead, go for it, and good luck.