After the Exhale: Making the Most of Your Winter Break

By Sharon Fleshman

Winter break is drawing near.  Hold on… you’re almost there! In a couple of weeks, if not sooner, you’ll have handed in that last paper or exam and the busyness of the fall semester will be over.  And then you will have a moment to sit and simply breathe.  Inhale. Exhale.

Though I offer suggestions on how you can use some of your downtime for career planning, I hope that one of your priorities is to get some rest. Therefore, the following tips should be seen as less like a “checklist” to complete and more like a “menu”, where you choose what is most useful for you to accomplish during your time off.

Think about your experiences at Penn so far. What have been some of your most energizing projects? Such projects may have taken place in the context of an internship, student club or a class.  Write a quick summary of each project, what you accomplished, and what you enjoyed. Are there any common elements that you see from these projects that point to skills, values, and strengths?   Reflecting on these matters is not only helpful for improving your resumes, cover letters and interviews, but will also allow you to identify careers that may suit you going forward. Career Services has self-assessment resources that can help facilitate this process.

Winter break is a great time to research careers, industries, employers and job/internship opportunities.  Make sure to peruse the Career Services website for online resources. You may decide to begin with resources on web pages which are more specific to your school or career interest. We also have general Career Exploration resources available. Online versions of newspapers, trade publications and other periodicals are other good sources for industry research. Websites for professional associations and chambers of commerce can also provide helpful career, industry and employer information.

Reach out:
Don’t forget that you already have quite a network which includes family, friends, alumni, current supervisors, and professors.  Don’t be hesitant about reaching out to your network for insight and consider how you can help others in your network as well.  Helpful resources for this include the Penn Alumni Career Network, LinkedIn and professional associations related to your field of interest.

In addition to networking and information interviewing, you can make connections with others while getting direct exposure to a career.  For instance, volunteering is an excellent way to accomplish this with hands-on involvement. Perhaps you can assist someone in a field of interest in a short-term project. Another means of exposure is shadowing, which allows you to accompany someone in a career of interest during the course of a work day.

As you assess your career goals and progress you’ve made so far, you may decide that you need to make some adjustments. To do this, consider an approach with “flexible focus” by determining what is most important concerning your career plans and where you can be more flexible. For instance, you may be committed to a particular industry but may decide to expand your geographical options. Invite family, friends, and mentors to strategize with you.

Once you have revisited your goals, it is time to document your plan of action with concrete, timely and measurable steps. Such a goal could sound something like, “I will conduct informational interviews with at least two people each month after break.”

Finally, the most important tip of all: RELAX!

Author: Sharon

Sharon Fleshman is the Senior Associate Director of Career Services for students in Education, Nursing and Social Policy & Practice.