Taking a Tour

By Sharon Fleshman

Ok, so I’m not referring to a quick getaway to the Islands or even a great bargain on a last-minute trip overseas.  I’m actually suggesting that you take a “tour” of the Career Services website. (Gotcha!)  Based on our recent analysis of Career Services’ website use, it seems that many visitors find information by way of Google or some other keyword search.  While this is certainly an efficient way to go, it’s easy to miss valuable resources if you always take this approach.  Assuming you have some down time during the remainder of the summer, try to explore our website a bit more.   Admittedly, we have so much information, it may seem a bit overwhelming.  So just start somewhere, perhaps setting aside a little time each week to browse.

On the undergraduate side, a lot of our resources are useful across schools, though we also have some school-specific information.  On the graduate side, most of the resources are organized by school or academic program.   As you go along, take some “snapshots” by bookmarking web pages with resources that will be the most useful for you going forward.  And while you’re at it, do enjoy the last days of summer and get a little touring in (offline, of course).

Make It Personal: How To Build An Effective Social Network

By Kelly Cleary

“I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.”

What better way to say, “I’m not really putting much effort into this networking thing,” reminiscent of the way sending a resume without a cover letter might suggest, “I’m not interested enough in this position to take the time to tell you I’m interested and explain why I’m qualified.”

Making connections on professional social networks like LinkedIn is a relatively easy and very effective way to develop or enhance professional relationships and to reconnect with colleagues or classmates. That said, collecting connections by simply blasting generic requests to any profile names that look somewhat familiar, are in your alumni or employer networks, or are one or two connections away from you is generally not an approach that will likely lead to developing mutually respected relationships that will help you learn more about your field, and perhaps lead you to opportunities in the “hidden job market.”

Instead of immediately hitting “Send Invitation” and the generic auto-fill request when you decide you’d like to request a connection with someone, take just a minute or so to personalize the request with a little note to say hello. It might be helpful to mention where you met or if you have a particular affiliation in common, such as an alumni network. If you’re trying to connect with someone you have not yet met, then include a brief introduction of yourself and mention why you’d like to connect. If you have a mutual friend or connection that referred you to that person, then mention that as well. Since a primary goal for your building your network is to develop longstanding professional relationships, this type of personal note can set the perfect tone for an ongoing conversation.

From Penn’s Career Services on LinkedIn page you’ll find industry subgroups and many tips for using LinkedIn including How To: Network Professionally Online and How To: Build a Professional Student Profile.

Summertime: Feelin’ Groovy

by Anne Lucas

Ah—summertime!  For many of us school is out, and it’s time for fun.  That said, I realize that we’re all pursuing different paths this summer.  What does summertime mean to you?  Perhaps you are working practically 24/7, aiming to succeed in an internship that might result in an attractive job offer.  Or maybe you finance a substantial part of your educational expenses so you are working two or three jobs, stashing away money to pay your tuition bill.

Some of you are seeing the world–vacationing, studying, or doing good works. Others of you still wish that you had found a summer job that provides good experience and/or decent wages.  (It may not be too late!) Whatever your circumstances, I hope you’ll devote some time to some important activities that I believe summer is intended for—rejuvenation and reflection.

We all have our preferred methods for recharging our batteries and making some space in our brains to daydream.  For me, there’s nothing like a long, solitary walk—preferably on a beach—to help me reflect on where I’ve been and plan where I’d like to be going.  Letting our minds wander a bit is not a waste of time—quite the contrary.  I believe that electronics-free, mind-wandering time is essential to helping us discover where our passions and dreams lie—and possibly begin to brainstorm as to how to achieve those dreams.

How many times do we hear employers insist that they seek candidates with a passion for their particular field?  How often do we hear that dreaded interview question, “Tell me about yourself?”  Yet how can we identify our passions or know ourselves well enough to share our insights with others unless we make and take the time for quiet self-discovery?  I submit that in order to get to know ourselves better—and thus be able to communicate our interests and strengths and reasoning to prospective employers—we need to slow down and give ourselves time to ponder.

What could be a better time for this slow down than summer!?!  There’s still time in the Summer of 2011 to prepare for your upcoming job or internship search during the next academic year.  July is almost over, but August lies ahead of us.  I hope you’ll carve out some time from whatever you’re doing to find a place that soothes your soul where you can breathe deeply, open your heart and mind to the possibilities, and dream.  When you’re back on campus this fall, make an appointment to meet with a career counselor at Penn, and let us help you translate your passions, skills, and dreams into a fulfilling career.

Happy R & R!  See you in September!

MCAT + MCAT = x: Should I retake the MCAT?

Maybe you had a feeling it didn’t go well on the test day.  You were sick.  Pressed for time.  Off your game.  Or, you thought it went well and are completely shocked.  The scores on the practice tests…never this low!  Oh, oh, oh…the verbal.  Preparing for the MCAT is hard work and taking the test is stressful.  I’ve had oodles of advisees tell me they loved organic chemistry or thrived on harvesting mouse spines in the lab, but I’ve never had a single one tell me he or she loved the MCAT.  Even people with very high scores.  And to receive a disappointing score is especially tough.

The question, then, is should one take the MCAT again?  Yes, the schools will see all of the scores.  They may use them in different ways to evaluate candidates, using either the most recent score, all scores, the better score, or an average.  If you ask, a school may tell you how they use the scores…or not.  The bottom line is that you will want to avoid retaking the MCAT if at all possible.  It takes a lot of time and effort that might be used elsewhere in your life more productively.  You could receive the same or, most unfortunately, lower scores the second time.  Your MCAT score is one piece of information in your application.  It’s an important piece of information, but not the only one.  So, it’s worthwhile to think about whether you are personally disappointed in your score, or if the score is really going to hold you back or does not nearly reflect your abilities.

The AAMC has gathered some useful information on the admission rates for applicants that correlates MCAT with GPA.  Additionally, you can refer to the AAMC’s statistics on the changes in MCAT scores for retesters according to their initial score in verbal reasoning, biological sciences, physical sciences, and writing sample.  Will these statistics tell you, as an individual, how you will do if you take the MCAT a second time?  No.  Do they tell you how likely it is you will get into medical school?  Not really.  But, they help.  And, they do show what we’ve observed to be generally true  — that a slight increase in your MCAT score doesn’t necessarily make a big difference in the strength of an application and that many people retake the MCAT without a huge change in results.

All the same, retaking the MCAT is not a bad idea in some instances.  If you clearly underperformed or were not well prepared and know your score is going to improve more than a point or two, then it might not be a bad decision.  Some people receive scores that are just not competitive, which also merits renewed effort.  The main points to consider are your certainty that a second score truly will be an improvement and how much time you need to prepare for a second test.  Sometimes applicants want to give the MCAT another go right away when they really need more time to prepare.  Occasionally, it makes sense to forgo applying during a cycle so as not to rush the exam.  Also, compulsive retaking of the MCAT can happen, with applicants rounding up three sets of scores that aren’t very different.  This can raise questions about common sense, patience, and an ability to accept less than perfect results…all qualities of value.

Deciding to retake the MCAT is an individual decision, but many applicants find it helpful to talk about it with a pre-health advisor, if only to vent or give voice to all of the considerations.  Think your decision through before taking action and keep in mind that a “good enough” score may be what you need, rather than your “personal best.”

Embrace Your Strengths

By Claire Klieger

It sounds pretty obvious—understanding and being able to articulate your strengths will make you stand out to employers.  Regardless of your experiences, demonstrating how your abilities are central to the position make the case that you are qualified. But I often see students who, because of cultural reasons, low self-esteem, or lack of self-reflection, have trouble doing this. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about your strengths or even if you’re not sure what they may be, it’s a good time to do a little self-assessment.

You all have skills, many of them, in fact. You had to be amazing to be admitted to a place like Penn, and the fact that you are now surrounded by other extremely bright and talented individuals doesn’t lessen the strengths and abilities you possess. This is not like America’s Got Talent.  You don’t need to have a talent as overt as swallowing swords while juggling fire on a unicycle  (and thank goodness most of us don’t have to face interviewers with buzzers and buttons that display big red “X”s). Because many strengths are innate and come naturally to us, they may be easy for us to forgot or overlook.

Reacquaint yourself with the attributes that make you special by doing some introspection. Ask yourself, “what am I good at?” and “what comes easily to me?” Often times we also enjoy tasks in areas where we are naturally strong so you might also ask yourself what you seem to really enjoy. Another good way to do this and get some fresh perspective is to ask people you trust who know you well (parents, friends, mentors, etc.). Have them tell you in what areas they think you excel and what skills they see you practice almost effortlessly. The answers may surprise you and will certainly give you a boost in confidence.

Being aware of your strengths is not just essential to effectively present yourself to an employer; it also important in identifying jobs that might be a good fit.  In fact, there is evidence that picking a job or internship that allows you to use our talents on a regular basis impacts job satisfaction and productivity. A 2010 Gallup study found that only 28% of the working population is “engaged” (defined as “loyal and productive”) in their jobs. However, at organizations where the leadership was focused on employee’s strengths, 73% were engaged in the workplace. What does all of this mean? In short, you’re more likely to be successful and happy in your job if you are able to find something where your strengths and talents are utilized. So, before you start your next job or internship search, first, embrace your strengths!