Career Tips Through Life Experiences

Kevin Haines, Associate Director

Hello! My name is Kevin and I just started working at Career Services here at Penn about two months ago. Prior to working at Career Services, I worked at Penn Abroad where I advised students for their study abroad experiences along with summer internships. While Career Services and international education may seem like two opposite career paths, both jobs actually have a lot in common.

But let’s start from the beginning – Career Services was not a term I knew back in my freshman year of college. If I would have asked 22 year old Kevin back in May of 2000 something (I won’t give away my age that easily) where I saw myself in 2018, it would have definitely not be where I am today. And that is 100% O.K. Throughout the years after I graduated from PSU (We Are!), I wore a lot of hats in several organizations. I think one of the hardest things about college is not being exactly sure of what you want to do with the rest of your life. It’s a tough decision and one that arrives quickly. Here is one thing I think all students should know and understand: it’s alright to not know what you want to do after you graduate. I think I just heard a lot of gasps. But really, it’s okay. You may start a job and years later find yourself doing something you never dreamed of doing. It’s through your many life experiences that help shape the person you are and the future that awaits you. Here are some tips if you find yourself asking “what do I do next?” and have no idea where to start (whether you’re a freshman, senior, or alum!):

1. Your first job will not be your forever job.
Graduating from PSU, I thought I had it all figured out: I’d become a teacher and have summers off and live happily ever after. Wrong. Once I actually started teaching, it wasn’t until then that I realized I wanted something more. I learned a lot, and to this day enjoy being a teacher outside the classroom setting, but full-time teaching just wasn’t in the cards for me. So, all those student-teaching courses/semesters back in college only to find out that it wasn’t my passion – great. But here’s the thing: that’s normal and perfectly fine. Your first job out of college will not be the job you’re in for the rest of your life (for some maybe, but that’s not necessarily the case for everyone these days). You’ll never know exactly what you like until you try it. But isn’t that what college is all about? Blood, sweat, and tears for four, maybe five years studying non-stop, writing countless papers, taking quizzes/tests, joining clubs, volunteering, etc. to help land your dream job the day you graduate? Sure, but also in those four or five years you grow as a person and your mind changes at least six times a day about what you want to do when you get older. Take a breath, enjoy the moment you’re in, and know that in the end it will work out. You may have to go through a lot of jobs before you land the one that you wake up smiling and ready to start the day at, but until then, learn as much as you can and network. Which leads me to my second point of advice.

2. Network, network, network! It wasn’t until I lived abroad in Madrid for a year that I realized higher ed was my calling, specifically the study abroad field. After teaching college-level Spanish for a bit, I started reaching out to people in the study abroad field and setting up informational interviews with them to ask how they broke into the field and where they started. It was through emailing these people I had never met that I was setting up connections that would one day help me get into the field. This was something

I was nervous about. “Why would anyone want to chat with me, a stranger, about how they got into the field? I’m sure they have a million other things to do.” These were some of the things that went through my mind before reaching out. Don’t be shy – reach out to someone to ask about their job and/or company. This is how you get a tiny part of your foot in the door and your name remembered in case you choose to apply to where that person works. People who truly love what they do will find five minutes to talk on the phone or meet in person (treat them to coffee if that’s the case!) to discuss their field and position. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Attend networking events, talk to friends, use LinkedIn (definitely a game changer as you can easily search for companies you’re interested in and then see if you have any connections), email, etc. There are so many ways to network and by doing that, you are getting your name out there and learning more about a job or company that interests you.

3. Study/Intern Abroad or Intern locally (if you can!). Once I started working in the study abroad field, I was a coordinator then switched schools and became an advisor. It was through my own study abroad experiences that I figured out what it was that I wanted to do – help students get an international experience where they can learn about themselves, live in a new culture, and gain experiences that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. If I never studied abroad spring semester of my junior year, I would have never been able to get the learning and traveling experiences I’ve had. It can and will be an expensive semester. However, thankfully, nowadays there are ways to get funding to help with that, whether it’s through campus/outside scholarships, financial aid, work study jobs, other on-campus funding, or program grants. Even if it’s just a week, or a month, a semester, or a year, any international experience you have will benefit you somehow. I once had to call the cable/internet company in Madrid myself and use my Spanish to explain what I wanted and set up a time for them to come out and install everything. Now, I know that sounds like an extremely easy task and pretty silly, but my Spanish was very limited and I was sweating the entire phone call repeating words and phrases and saying a whole lot of “vale, muchas gracias.” Being forced to do that made me step outside my comfort zone and push myself. From something that small, to being mugged and then going to court to point out which person mugged me (talk about terrifying, and it was all in Spanish!), all of those life experiences made me grow more confident in myself and grow as a person. I’m thankful that I was able to study abroad and I continue to be a huge advocate of it. There is so much world out there to explore and see, and there’s no better time to do it than when you’re an undergrad. If studying abroad isn’t an option, but interning is a possibility, that’s equally as amazing. While I’ve never interned abroad, I managed the Global Internship Program (GIP) through Penn Abroad (for about a year and a half) and helped send so many students abroad to all parts of the world. What I would give to be able to live and work in Nepal, Botswana, Singapore, or any other country for 8 weeks! Adding a study abroad or internship experience to your resume makes your resume jump out more and shows employers that you are ambitious, adventurous, hard-working, and up for a challenge. Not sure how to add those experiences to your resume? Make an appointment at Career Services and we’ll be more than happy to help!

4. Utilize Career Services! I must admit, when I was an undergrad at PSU, I never once stepped foot in the career services office. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure I knew an office like that existed back in the year 20…whenever I was an undergrad. I think realizing something so resourceful as that office existed with internship opportunities, alumni I could have spoken to, workshops, career fairs, and career advisors, I would have had different summer opportunities. However, #noregrets. Since I’ve started working here at Career Services, I’ve been able to really see just how much information and how many resources we have for all students and alumni. Side note: just because it’s currently summer doesn’t mean you can’t get help from us! Sometimes, summer is the best time to meet with an advisor because it’s a lot quieter. Once the Fall semester arrives, the rush begins. If you need help with your resume, cover letter, mock interview, advice about a job, phone interview, or you just don’t know where to start with the whole job search process, we’re here for you. We’ve all been through it, so we understand what you’re going through. It’s our job and we are more than happy to help you. So, my advice for you is to stop staring at your computer screen trying to figure out a similar verb for “managed” or “worked” on your resume or how to address your employer – schedule an appointment and we’ll help you get through it!

I hope sharing some of my experiences has helped ease your mind a bit about planning for your future. Sometimes things work out differently than you thought they would, and that’s the beauty of it all – you’ll get where you need to be, just be patient, don’t give up, and believe in yourself. Until next time.

Finding Your Inner Incredible: 5 career lessons from Incredibles2

By Dr. Claire Klieger


1. Get in touch with your own special powers.

Baby “Jack Jack” spends much of the second Incredibles movie exploring and testing out all of his newfound powers, much to the excitement (and, at times, horror) of his family members. While you might not feel that your own strengths technical qualify as super-powers, your own innate talents can serve as valuable assets in the professional world. Even if you can’t shoot laser beams out of your eyes, travel between dimensions, or replicate yourself many times over, perhaps you are an excellent multi-tasker with great attention to detail. Or maybe your gift is to identify patterns or big picture trends quickly. If you find the right line of work (or work environment) that values your particular gifts, you are already well on your way to achieving success.


2. Be willing to go outside of your comfort zone, especially for the good of the organization.

Trying new things is how we learn and being willing to volunteer for jobs that need to be done, even you don’t think they are glamorous, is an important way to contribute and build up your reputation at an organization. Mr. Incredible may never have dreamed of swapping in his role of bread winner for that of stay at home parent, but he quickly discovers that the task is a lot more challenging that he anticipated. Despite his trepidation, he understands that his new role is vital for the overall success of the family and does his best to do it well. In the process, he learns to adapt and gains new skills.


3. Know when to ask for help.

Just like Mr. Incredible juggling the responsibilities of a stay at home parent, everyone can get in over their heads sometimes. One key to career success is to know when to ask for help and seek out sources of support (particularly from mentors) when possible. You may not have the luxury of calling up Frozone or Edna Mode in your hour of need, but do not be afraid to lean on others when you are overwhelmed.


4. Avoid unnecessary tussles with raccoons.

This was probably everyone’s favorite scene of the movie. What’s not to love about a super-powered baby taking on a raccoon in a territorial dispute?  Hilarity aside, when the dust settled after that epic battle, what do you really have? A big mess, an unclear winner, and a newfound rival.  Similarly, in real life there is rarely anything to be gained by rising to the bait of unnecessary territorial battles with colleagues. Oh, these squabbles, particularly if they are public, might prove entertaining to your professional peers, but you want to pick your battles very carefully. It will likely not help your professional reputation to be seen as overly territorial. A far better “super power” is to be a team player, but a team player who also knows how (and when) to protect your own interests.

5. Everyone needs a way to calm their fire.

While it is not practical to calm life’s frustrations with an endless supply of cookies…or a foam spewing, fire retardant suit for that matter, it is important to find a way to relieve stress and vent frustration.  You certainly want to avoid nuclear blow-ups at work. Whether it’s meditation, a kick boxing class, or a glass of wine with friends (preferably after work), incorporate ways to blow off steam and distance yourself from office stresses. And, again, avoid battles with office “raccoons”.

Case interviews 101

Jingy Yen, Career Adviser

Interviewing is usually a nerve wracking, anxiety inducing experience. Case interviews bring a whole new level of stress and uncertainty. Here are some tips and tricks for tackling the case interview and making the process more manageable.

First things first –what is a case interview?

A case interview is when the employer presents you with a business problem, likely something that the company has to deal with regularly. Your job is to analyze the problem and give some solutions. There is usually no clear right or wrong answer. The interviewer is assessing your problem solving ability, how you approach different situations, and your ability to talk your way through it.

So when I be expected to do a case interview?

If you are interested in consulting or similar fields, you will most likely have to do some variation of a case interview. Sometimes it’ll be one-on-one with an interviewer, other times you will be expected to present your ideas in front of a panel.

Yikes this sounds scary. How do I prepare?

The good news is summer is a great time to prepare for case interviews. Recruiting starts the minute you get back on campus, so you won’t have a lot of time to prepare in the fall. Start by reading some case books and watching videos online to get an idea of what the case interview looks like. Then, find peers to practice with. You can also make an appointment with a career advisor to do a mock case interview. It’s hard to practice for this on your own, so the best strategy is to connect with as many people as possible to practice with each other. There isn’t a magic number for how many to practice, just try to fit as many in.

Okay fine, but what can I do on my own?

There are many things you can do on your own to prepare as well. Brush up on your mental math. I’m not talking calculus here, I’m talking long division and percentages. Keep updated on current business trends, read The Wall Street Journal and The Economist. This will help you come up with unique strategies and solutions. You can also do “case starts.” Read yourself the case prompt, and set up your initial framework to practice how you would start a case.

What are some resources for case interviewing?

Books (Available to preview in the Career Services library):
Case in Point by Marc Cosentino
Crack the Case by David Ohrvall
Case Interview Secrets by Victor Cheng

Websites: (great mental math exercises)

MConsultingPrep You Tube Channel :

Tips for the Second Part of Your Summer Internship

Most of you are probably well into your summer internship or research experiences. Hopefully you’ve settled in, established a good relationship with your peers and manager, and are continuing to learn new things every day. Following are a few items that you might consider for the second half of your internship to gain even more from your experience.

Network: There are almost certainly a core group of individuals with whom you work every day. Of course, it’s critically important to develop positive relationships with them. Many interns, however, find it beneficial to expand their networks by developing relationships with employees in other functional areas or departments that also interest them. If you would like to gain a broader understanding of your organization, try reaching out to others within it to see if they might have time for a cup of coffee or a lunch meeting so that you can learn more about their daily work. Even better, if you have a good relationship with your manager, perhaps ask him or her for an introduction to pave the way.

Volunteer for Additional Assignments of Interest: If you’ve already learned the core parts of your job, are performing well, and have some extra time, perhaps you might volunteer to help out with an additional assignment that could help you learn new skills and be beneficial to the work flow in your group. That said, if you are too busy with your current work or are struggling with it, it makes the most sense to focus on these core responsibilities instead of taking on new ones.

Request a Mid-Summer Review /Discussion: Some interns will have a formal, scheduled mid-summer review, although many organizations save formal feedback until the end of the summer or don’t provide it at all. If such a review is not already scheduled, it can be helpful to request one with your manager to solicit feedback that you can utilize for the remaining weeks of the internship. Ask what you are doing well and how you might improve. Try not to be defensive when you are given constructive criticism. While it might be difficult to hear, this feedback is ultimately to help you grow professionally and can be very valuable. The review does not have to be overly formal – it would be fine to simply ask your supervisor for a few minutes to discuss how the summer has been going in terms of your performance and how you might be even more productive during the remaining weeks.

Document your accomplishments and request a letter for reference. You are most likely super-aware of what you have been working on and your accomplishments this summer, but a year from now your memory might not be so sharp. Document your accomplishments (including outcomes and quantifications where you can) so that you will be able to include them on your resume and discuss them in an interview. If you feel comfortable, ask your manager for a letter of reference at the end of the summer. If he or she prefers not to write a formal letter, you could ask if they would be willing to serve as a positive reference for you in the future and if it would be ok for you to provide their contact information to prospective employers. Keep in mind that it is a good practice to notify a reference if you provide their contact information to someone in the future so that they will be prepared for a prospective employer to reach out to them.

Most of all, enjoy the rest of the summer! Internships provide an incredibly valuable chance to try out a career field and are not so easily attainable after graduation, so make the most of this great opportunity.

Preparing for a professional conference, post-PhD style

Helen Pho, Associate Director

Next week, I’m heading to Madison, WI for the national conference of the Graduate Career Consortium (GCC), and I’m really looking forward to it. The GCC is a national organization for professionals who serve as graduate career advisers, basically people like me. When I was a doctoral student, I attended and presented at academic conferences where junior and senior scholars would often read academic papers out loud during panel sessions. These conferences can be stressful for graduate students because many were also interviewing for jobs at the same site.

When I became a graduate and postdoc career adviser, I was intrigued yet a little nervous about what a conference for graduate career advisers would look like. Would it be people reading papers again? Would there be a sense of anxiety among conference attendees? Happily, my first professional conference was nothing like the academic conferences I was used to attending. At my first GCC conference last summer, I had a blast meeting other graduate career advisers working all over the United States and Canada, and it quickly became my favorite conference that I’ve ever attended. I learned a lot about best practices for graduate career advising from attending different workshop presentations and chatting with colleagues at the poster session. (If you’re in the humanities and have never seen a poster session, it’s when a large group of presenters would stand next to their giant posters and talk about their research or ideas to attendees wandering around the session.) Most of all, the GCC is a very friendly and collegial group of professionals; everyone is eager to share best practices and ideas, and people love to talk to each other, which is not surprising considering the work we do!

As I prepare for my conference, I wanted to share three things I’m doing to be conference ready next week:

  1. Review the conference schedule. Conference schedules are often released before the event takes place, so take some time to go over what the days will entail. Like many conferences, there are often concurrent sessions and events, meaning you have to pick and choose which sessions you want to attend. If you spend some time ahead of the conference to make those decisions, that means you’ll have more time at the conference to network and chat with people.
  2. Set goals for the conference. Related to the first point, I like to think about what I want to get out of the conference before I arrive, when it’s often a bit hectic and slightly overwhelming with hundreds of people in attendance. For my goals this year, I’d love to chat with colleagues at other institutions to learn what they’re doing to help PhDs explore expanded careers in fun and interactive ways, and to hear how other institutions are supporting their first-gen grad students, since these are priorities in our work here. Spending just a small amount of time to identify goals for the conference beforehand will allow me to focus on attending relevant panels and talking to colleagues who are doing exciting work in this area before the conference flies by!
  3. Identify people with whom you’d like to connect or reconnect. The GCC conference has over 200 attendees, and although I would love to talk with everyone, it’s simply impossible to do so in a span of three days! There are many people whom I met last summer that I’d love to reconnect with as well as people that I’ve never met before that I’d love to meet in person. For example, I’ve been working on a subcommittee to help market ImaginePhD, a career exploration and planning tool designed for PhDs in the humanities and social sciences. (If you don’t know what it is, visit!) We’ve had virtual meetings via video over the last year, so I’m excited to finally meet my fellow subcommittee members in person at the conference! Thinking ahead of people you’d like to meet will allow you to not only have a productive conference but an enjoyable one as well!

If you’re a graduate student planning to attend a professional conference anytime in the future, come meet with a career adviser. We’re happy to help you prepare for networking both within and beyond academia!