Facing the Lion’s Den: Addressing tough questions during the holidays

By Claire Klieger

Anxious about going home for the holidays because you know your parents or relatives are going to ask the dreaded question, “So, what are you doing after graduation?”, “Do you have a job yet?” or my personal least favorite, “What are you going to do with that English major anyway?” (as an English major, this was one I got a lot). Holidays can often be an anxious time anyway, but most of us dread talking about future plans, especially when we’re not sure what they may entail. Here are some tips to help you get through any awkward questions (for career parallels and lessons on how to survive the holiday in general, check out last year’s post, No “Gobble”digook – Hidden Career Lessons in Thanksgiving Dinner):

Please, please don't ask me about my future!

1) Don’t show fear. Family, like lions, dogs, bears or other predators, can sense fear in the air like they can smell when the turkey is almost done. So, the best way to combat annoying or unwanted questions is with a calm and self-assured response (more on that in a minute). If you seem confident about your options and choices, you’re more likely to inspire that confidence in others.

2) The best offense is a good defense. There’s a lot to be said for that old Boy Scout adage, “always be prepared.” By familiarizing yourself with information and statistics about everything from hiring timelines to salaries (which is actually much easier and faster than it sounds), you can take the wind right out of their sails of doubt and worry. Remember that there is a wealth of information available to you on the Career Services Website. We collect senior and summer surveys annually and produce reports which show what Penn students are doing in summer and full time positions. There is data broken down by industry, job type and major. In that way, you can say, “Well, Mom, since most students don’t get their internship offers until March or April, it’s actually still very early in the process” or “Dad, I know you’re worried that I didn’t get an offer from OCR, but on average, less than 20% of college seniors each year receive their offers that way but almost everyone eventually gets a job so there are still plenty of options for me.”

3) Show them what steps you are taking. Sometimes, all parents (or grandparents and aunts and uncles, or guys we call uncle even though they aren’t technically family) want to know is that you are making progress on something. So, if they seem concerned about your job or internship search, just let them know about the things you are doing (or, ahem, will start doing) to better position yourself for opportunities. You can network with Penn Alumni through PACNet to learn about different possible careers or get advice about the best places to look for openings or what kinds of skills you should stress in an application. You can research employers or industries of interest through a variety of our online resources (see A map to (career research) treasures!), update your resume, or do online interview practice through InterviewStream (one of the new additions to our online subscriptions this fall—it’s fantastic). Or, best of all, tell them you’re planning to come speak to an advisor in Career Services!

4) Embrace your strengths. Each of you brings a variety of talents and skills to any employer. In fact, your Penn education alone has honed many of these attributes and it’s important to get comfortable discussing what we like to call “transferable skills”. These are things that you use on a daily basis at Penn, probably without thinking about them, which would also make you successful in just about any job: strong writing and analytical skills, the ability to research and synthesize information, etc. There are probably even more specific skills that your course of study has enhanced, which you can include in your arsenal of positive traits that make you the kind of candiate that employers want to hire.

So, chin up, and if you like, just say, “Gee, I think that makes for really boring meal-time conversation. Can you please pass the mashed potatoes?” Or, if you want to really throw them for a loop…“You want to hear something really bizarre? My career advisor’s mother packed a 20lb frozen turkey, a package of celery and two bags of frozen cranberries in her suit case to take to Zimbabwe for Thanksgiving!” (yes, that was my mother and amazingly, apparently it all survived the 25 plus hours of travel fine and still frozen).

Author: Claire Klieger

Claire Klieger is an Associate Director of Career Services for College of Arts & Sciences undergraduates. She earned her Ed.D. from Penn and did her undergraduate work at the University of Virginia. Fun Fact: Claire spent 11 years in the Middle East and North Africa.

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