Pay it Forward

By: David Ross

I’m sure we all can remember some point in our lives when we relied on the assistance of others as we progressed through an internship or job search. Even though we ultimately applied for those internship and job opportunities, interviewed for those positions and ultimately secured employment – at some point during the process someone else did us a favor. Whether referring us to a job opening, serving as a reference, agreeing to an informational interview or simply offering some advice, the kindness and generosity of others has helped all of us at some stage of our careers.

So I encourage you to “pay it forward” and consider how you can serve as a resource for others. If you are not able to directly hire or recommend someone for an opening, you can still be very helpful to those seeking opportunities in a variety of ways. In my experience, I have found people to be grateful for your time and willingness to offer your insight and advice. It may not seem like much and may take up time that could be spent doing other things, but you may be surprised how the time you do provide for others can be very helpful for them.

Don’t worry if you don’t have many influential contacts – something as simple as directing someone to the appropriate contact person or alerting someone to a new or upcoming internship or job opening you hear about can be extremely helpful. For those with busy schedules, it can be so easy to remain focused on our day-to-day routines and forget that other individuals may be searching for any tidbit of assistance we can provide. If you are unsure what assistance you can provide, I encourage you to take a moment to really think about some of the small things you can offer. For example, sharing your story and some of the lessons you’ve learned thus far can be very informative and illuminating for others.

Remember, at some point in the future you may seek someone else’s help as you transition from one position to the next. Who knows – someone that you help out now may “pay it forward” and be that person that returns the favor in the future.

What Disney can teach you about a good CV/resume

by Dr. Joseph Barber

Although my postdoc was run through the University of Central Florida, I was physically based at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (DAK) – yes, that’s right, with Mickey and the gang. You might think this a strange place to do a postdoc, until you realize that my PhD is in animal behavior. There are lots of real animals at DAK, not just the giant-headed, costumed kind. Beyond my research into animal welfare, I learnt a lot from my Disney experience, and got some great insights into the corporate world of mission statements, branding strategies, marketing campaigns, and the laser-like focus that Disney has on customer service.

Harambe, Africa (Disney's Animal Kingdom)

Let’s take the idea of “theming” as an example of some of these concepts. Yes, theming is based on the noun “theme” that, like the word “friend”, probably should not be made into a verb. But anything is possible at Disney, and so that’s what they did. If you have been to DAK you know that you walk around several different environments within the park. The two main ones are Asia and Africa – not anywhere specific in Asia or Africa, but some broad idea of what we generally envision when we think about those far-off places (or at least what Disney wants you to think). When you walk around in Africa, looking at the range of fantastic wildlife, taking the safari ride, and saving elephants from poachers, you are meant to believe that you are actually there, not just in a theme park. The design of the buildings, the type of thatched roof used, the sights, sounds, and smells that surround you as you browse the vibrant marketplace or wait in the train station, they have all been designed to help you feel that you are really there. The Disney Imagineers, those people in charge of conceptualizing and creating the Disney experience, traveled far and wide to get inspiration to use in the design of the theme park.

Anandapur, Asia (Disney's Animal Kingdom)

In Asia, you may walk through a temple as you queue for one of the rides. When the park first opened, visitors who entered some of the temple areas started to take their shoes off because they saw a pair of shoes outside of the temple that had been placed there as part of the theming. They didn’t have to, and Disney probably preferred they didn’t for liability/health and safety reasons, but they were buying into the theming. It seemed natural to take off their shoes in that environment.

Every object you see as you walk around DAK is there for a reason, and has its own story. Perhaps the shoes were owned by a local bicycle repairman who had spent the day repairing a bike that had been damaged when its owner crashed it after being chased by tigers near to the old temple ruins. OK, now we are getting to the part where Disney can help with your CV/resume. There is such a rich context to every object and every building in the park, but the Imagineers’ goal is for you not to notice them. The objects are not meant to stick out as something you need to look at and investigate, they are they to help you become immersed in the experience of actually being in Africa or Asia. The more you notice the trimmings, the less rich your experience becomes. It seems strange to for the Imagineers to spend so much time on every aspect of their design only to want them to be ignored, but they realize that people value the overall experiences that they have at the end of the day more than they value being impressed by the range of objects that they have seen. They would be impressed by the objects if they realized how much thought has gone into them, but the objects are there to become the backdrop to the immersion experience, not the main parts of it.

If you have had your CV/resume reviewed at Career Services (and we recommend that you do if you haven’t), then you have probably received feedback not only about the content (your experiences), but also about the formatting (the trimmings).

  • Do you have consistent punctuation?
  • Are the hyphens between your dates the same size, with the same spacing either side of them?
  • Are the bullet points the same shape, and indented to the same degree throughout the document?
  • Is the font used consistent, and is the size the same throughout the document?

There is a long list of formatting issues that we can look for whenever we review your job application materials. But are these really important issues? Will a misaligned bullet point really lose you the chance to interview for your dream job? Well, there are some good practical reasons to make sure your formatting is in order. If you are evenly matched in terms of experience with several candidates for a potential job, but your resume formatting isn’t perfect, then perhaps an employer can make their short list of candidates to interview by thinking about who has the greatest attention to detail. In some jobs (think editing or medical writing), attention to detail is not just a bonus, it is an essential requirement.

The Disney approach to thinking about your CV/resume helps to ensure that the employers focus on the rich experiences that you have, and the skills you have illustrated in your documents, by trying to make sure that that they don’t think about your formatting at all. Employers don’t really care about the formatting…, up until the point where they notice an issue, and then that might be all they can think about. As soon as employers start noticing formatting issues, they are no longer concentrating on your skills and experiences – these are the elements that will get you the interview. You don’t want employers to walk away from reading your resume saying, “those were some nice shapes they used in their bullet points”, or worse, “Why don’t the bullet points line up properly?”. You want them to walk away saying, “Those bullet points really illustrated how effective their analytical skills were”. You have to format your documents so impeccably that no-one even notices all of the time you spent tweaking the look of the text and proofreading for spelling/grammar mistakes. You want the formatting to become the backdrop to the content you want to get across. When employers are immersed in your skills and experiences, they will value you more. When this immersion is interrupted by a spelling mistake or misplaced comma, your theming is ruined, and the key message that you are the most suitable candidate becomes obscured.

Disney knows how to sell their brand and the experiences they offer. Career Services can help you market your own skills and knowledge for your future careers. Stop by and see us, or visit our website to see how we can help you.

Jambo everyone!

“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” — Benjamin Franklin

by Sue Russoniello

The news is really frustrating to read these days. Everywhere you look there are headlines about people and organizations behaving badly — ponzi schemes; inadequately funded pension funds; the sub-prime mortgage debacle; society’s leaders cheating on their spouses and families or abusing their constituents; sports heroes using illegal drugs to enhance their performance; the lack of cleanup plans for the oil spill disaster in the Gulf, to mention a few.

Closer to home we have all seen a classmate or colleague cheat on a test or job application, take credit for something they didn’t do or shoplift even the smallest item. I’m sure you can think of numerous other examples in your own lives and in the headlines. I find it exhausting to be bombarded daily by news of people behaving in unethical, self serving fashion.

My sons used to lament how they did something once and got caught, when all their friends did it “all the time” and never got caught. Why was life so unfair? We reminded them that they knew it was wrong, they were aware of the consequences and they did it anyway. If they got caught, there was no one to blame but themselves. Yes, life is sometimes unfair, and some people get away with behavior they shouldn’t. Others are prone to get caught. “It keeps you honest” my dad used to say.

Along with this lesson comes the realization that the most important thing you have to show for yourself, especially as a young adult, is your reputation. You should be doing everything in your power to build and preserve a good reputation. Also, at the end of the day you have to feel good about yourself. Have you ever laid awake in the wee hours of the morning fretting about something you did or said, whether it was cheating on an exam or lying to a potential employer or being mean to a friend, realizing the transgression of the day was not worth the pain it caused?

I want to believe that we can turn around the growing unethical direction in which our society seems to be going. If each and every one of us pauses to think about our words and our actions for just a fraction of a second, making sure we’re being honorable and good citizens, thinking about the effect of our words or actions, it will carry over to other aspects of our adult life.

Let’s start with the everyday things. Don’t cheat on tests. Don’t lie on resumes or applications. Don’t try to blame someone else for your mistakes, or take things that are not yours. Admit when you’ve done something wrong and accept the consequences for your actions. Work hard for what you want to achieve, and be proud of the honorable and honest way you achieved it. This will result in a more ethical world. The anger and frustration that makes one think, “everyone else does it, why shouldn’t I?” will diminish. It will certainly let you sleep better at night knowing that you have done the right thing, you have a good reputation among your colleagues and friends, and you are doing your small part to make this a better place to live.

Don’t…Don’t…Don’t Believe the Pre-health Hype

I’m sitting in my office listening to a student and, after a brief pause,  am asked, “Um…I heard…are you applying to medical school this year?”  My response, as I recall, was something along the lines of, “[sputter, sputter, pick eyeballs up off floor] Who ME?  NO!  Good heavens, NO!”  The student, looking relieved and reassured, mentioned, “Well, I heard that…it didn’t seem right.”

Later in the afternoon, it occurred to me why someone may have thought I was making a major career change.  We had used my name as a “Jane Doe”-type place marker in a sample AMCAS application during a workshop.  I think a joke was even made at the time about my “application.”  But at least one person didn’t see the humor, which is perhaps understandable at the end of a busy semester.  It called to mind, though, the many times I’ve clarified other pre-health “rumors” in my office (as well as memories of hype man Flavor Flav, c. 1988).  For example:

“I heard you can go to medical school without taking science courses.”

“I heard that Penn Med doesn’t like to accept Penn students.”

“I heard you have to take the MCAT right after your sophomore year.”

“I heard that admissions is really only about your MCAT and grades.”

Admission to graduate school in the health professions is so competitive and the process so fraught with uncertainty, detailed information, and waiting, that it’s natural for people to talk.  To commiserate.  To worry.  To, er, suspend disbelief.

Gathering information is a vital part of pursuing a career in the health professions and going through the application process with confidence.  Be mindful, however, of the source of your information and consider whether it can be checked against another or more reliable source.   An internet forum for applicants can be a source of support and insight, but it can also be a breeding ground for false statements.  A family friend’s thoughts about admissions can be invaluable or, possibly, a little out of date.  A story about someone who surprisingly had ten interviews, or none at all, might say little about admissions in general or your particular application.  In fact, it may not be true.

Whether you’re starting out on your pre-health path or waiting for those secondary applications to arrive this summer, keep in mind that if something doesn’t sound right, it may not be correct.  Check your information.  Of course, your pre-health advisers are happy to point you to resources or share their perspective on those questions that don’t always have a right or wrong answer.  That is, if we aren’t busy filling out our own secondaries (don’t you believe it!).

Don’t Quit Your Day Job, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Mayor McCheese

by J. Michael DeAngelis

Have you ever stopped by my desk at Career Services? If you have, I bet you’ve said to yourself: “Man, that guy has it made. He’s got a nice desk with lots of little toys on it, a zillion electronic gizmos plugged into his computer and nice comfy chair with more adjustable levers than I can identify. Yes, that Michael DeAngelis must have the greatest job in the world.” It’s true – I have a really great job, one I enjoy coming to every day. Yet, unlike many of my colleagues I consider Career Services to merely be my “day job.”

Yes, much like Bruce Wayne/Batman, I lead a double life. By day, I’m your friendly neighborhood Career Services staff member, but by night, I’m an actor and a playwright. My degree and my training is in the theater arts, and I consider that to be my true career path. As many students in the arts know, it’s not an easy field to break in to, let alone support yourself in. Like many theater grads, I knew I would do whatever it took to stay afloat, even if that meant taking a non-theater day job.

But just because you’ve decided to take a day job, it doesn’t mean you have to end up working for this guy:

"Do you want fries with that?"

Here are a few tips that might help you, if you are considering taking a part time or full time job outside of your ultimate career path that doesn’t involve anthropomorphised hamburgers:

1. Try and find a job where your skills and training can be applied in a different way. For example, though I don’t typically write plays as part of my career services job, I do get to have a lot of fun writing these blog entries! This is what we refer to as a transferable skill. Your liberal arts education has given you lots of them – think about what you can bring to the table in a unique way.

2. Look for a job that will allow you to pursue your ultimate career goals. For me, Career Services is a steady 9-5 job on weekdays, which gives me my evenings and weekends to take theater jobs. Leaving work and heading right to a rehearsal or performance can lead to very long days, but also very exciting ones.

3. Be honest and up front about your goals. I don’t mean you should walk around looking like you’re going to quit the minute Hollywood calls, but let people you work with know about your “other life.” First and foremost, it’s the polite thing to do. Second, you never know what opportunities it will open up to you. Perhaps you’re in the fine arts. When it comes time to design a new company logo, you could be the first person they call! My colleagues have become not only supporters of my goals, but also my fan base!

4. Remember that your day job is still your JOB. If you are lucky enough to work someplace where you can pursue other goals on the side, it is your responsibility to be a productive and valued employee. It can sometimes be tricky, but I never allow my theater work to interfere with my day job. If you have a job with flex time and vacation days, use them to your advantage when juggling your second career. If it becomes too difficult managing a day job and a “night” job, it might be time to reevaluate. This is something we can help you with in Career Services.

There is a vast array of opportunities out there waiting for someone like you. Don’t rule out job possibilities just because they don’t fit squarely into your planned career. Stick to your goals, but don’t be afraid to explore jobs that are outside your set career plans. One day, as you’re accepting your Oscar, Grammy or Pulitzer, your colleagues will shout “We knew you when” and your blog posts will become instant collectibles! (The Collected Career Services Blogs of J. Michael DeAngelis out this fall in bookshops!)

And you’ll never have to say “Do you want fries with that?”