“I’ll never get a job!” – Cognitive Distortions, A Career Short List

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a theory and practice of psychology that focuses on how we think and perceive our world, and how these perceptions can change our experiences.  This field has identified common mistakes people make (more information from Wikipedia here.) These types of thinking errors are called cognitive distortions.

I want to write about cognitive distortions as they relate to your career.  You would not guess how many times I have heard a student say “there are no jobs in my field” or “it is impossible to find an internship now” – something along those lines. Of course, the student and I both know that the statement is generalizing, may even be hyperbolic.  Yes it is hard to find work, but are there NO job openings whatsoever, even since the economic downturn in 2008?  I haven’t met a single person who would take their own emphatic statement as the full truth.

So what’s wrong about making an exaggerated exclamation?  Well… the problem is that we often start to believe our own distortions, or use the feeling associated with them to guide our behavior.  Even if you know there are SOME jobs out there for you, if you go with the feeling such a statement might generate or enforce (frustration, helplessness) you are bound to stop trying when in fact, persevering in your networking or other job search efforts might be the name of the game.   My suggestion is to be aware of the messages you convey to yourself – think about if they are helping you, or may be making things worse.

Below are a few statements that may seem familiar, the cognitive distortion involved (From: Burns, David D., MD. 1989. The Feeling Good Handbook. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.), and an alternative that might be more helpful:

“I am so frustrated – there are no jobs in my field.” Emotional reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.” Possible alternative: “I feel frustrated right now.  I am going to focus on sticking to my strategy and getting some support from Career Services.”

I can’t believe I messed up that one question at the interview, I am sure that ruined my chances of getting to the second round.Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.  Possible alternative: “My answer to that one question kind of stank, but the rest of the interview went pretty well.  I need to practice in case I get that question again.”

“If I can’t become a professor I am going to have to wait tables – what else is there for PhDs?” All-or-nothing thinking: You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure. Possible alternative: “I don’t know what I am qualified for besides being an academic; maybe I should explore my options.”

“Nothing came of my contacts at that career fair, I don’t know how I am ever going to get a job.” Overgeneralization: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. Possible alternative: “That career fair was a disappointment, so I am going to look into other strategies for my job search.”

“I still haven’t heard back regarding the job application. I must have done something wrong.”  Personalization: You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event for which, in fact, you were not primarily responsible. Possible alternative:  “There are many factors that affect a hiring decision, I wonder if they need more time to decide or more information from me.”

When you are job searching, as in other parts of your life, your attitude can affect your outcomes.  Make sure you are serving yourself well when you reflect on your own thoughts and behaviors.  If you are interested in learning more about cognitive therapy and working on cognitive distortions, I suggest you read books by Dr. David Burns, Dr. Aaron Beck, and learn about the work at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Cognitive Therapy .

What is this “Penn Internship Network” you speak of?

Some kind of secret club that will get me my dream internship? A group of alumni that conspire to only hire Penn interns? A new social media site?

None of the above.

The Penn Internship Network is, however, a valuable resource for students looking for summer internships that we encourage everyone to utilize! The Penn Internship Network is a listing of Penn students who have volunteered to speak with others about their past summer internships.

How is this helpful to you?

If you are currently looking for an internship, you can search the Penn Internship Network for students that have worked in your industry, at a company you are interested in, or in the geographic location you want to work (to name a few). Their contact information is available for you to call or e-mail the volunteers to learn more about their experiences, how they got their internships, and ask for advice about your search.

If you have an interview coming up, search the Penn Internship Network for a student that interned at that company. Contact them and ask for advice about your interview, what it was like interning for the company, and what types of projects they worked on. This will not only give you some helpful insider information, it will also allow you to stand out amongst other candidates who may not have done such thorough research. Being able to mention in an interview that you have spoken with past interns demonstrates a sincere interest in the position.

For more ideas about questions to ask, check out our tips for informational interviews.

Caution: While the Penn Internship Network volunteers are usually able to provide helpful information and advice, they are not expected to get you a job. They are simply a resource in your own search. Check out our website for more internship search strategies.

Good luck in your internship search! Feel free to stop by walk-in hours or make an appointment with a career counselor to talk about your strategies and career goals.




Day in the Life: Development Officer at Penn Medicine by Day, Grad Student by Night

Day in the Life on@PennCareerDay is back!  January 30th – February 3rd we will highlight Careers in Healthcare on our various social media platforms.  There are a variety of career paths in the healthcare industry beyond becoming a nurse or doctor, managing insurance or healthcare policy.  We are excited to welcome Lee Every to discuss an important role to the industry – fundraising for research.  Lee will also talk about a component to anyone’s career path – pursuing an advance degree – as a current graduate student here at Penn.  To learn more about Lee, visit our Penn & Beyond blog.  And remember, follow him on @PennCareerDay next Tuesday.  We welcome questions on Facebook or send them directly on Twitter, and we’ll be sure Lee gets to them!

Lee Every is an Assistant Development Officer at Penn Medicine Development and Alumni Relations.  In his role Lee works to develop fundraising initiatives for a number of centers and institutes within the Penn Medicine Health System.  Currently, Lee is working with the Center for Aides Research and the Neuro-Ophthalmology Program within the Department of Neurology.  Both departments are spearheading cutting edge research that requires additional funding to support their work.  In addition, Lee works in conjunction other Penn Medicine Development Officers in order to fundraise for some of Penn Medicine’s most well known centers and institutes including the Institute on Aging and Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research that consistently makes strides in the fight to cure Alzheimer’s.

Lee began working at Penn Medicine in 2010 and immediately enrolled in the Fels Institute of Government Executive Program where he will graduate with a Master of Public Administration in May of 2012.  A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh in 2009 with the Bachelors of Science in Business Administration, Lee interned with a number of non-profit entities during college including the American Red Cross and the United Way of America.  Lee hopes to combine his knowledge of public policy and finance with his experience in the non-profit and higher education sectors as his career moves forward.

Proposition I: Creating Your Own Internship

by Sharon Fleshman

So there’s this great organization doing work that really inspires and excites you.  You’d love to intern there, but there are no internships offered.  It just may be that you should propose your own.   If you seek this pioneering path, here are some ways to get started.

Identify areas where your experience, skills and interests align with the needs and mission of the employer.  Are there potential short-term projects that would help establish a new initiative or program?  Is there an opportunity for research that may inform ways to enhance existing services?  Clues can be found on the organization’s website as well as news articles that are written about the organization.

Email the employer with a concise message outlining your interest in the organization, a concrete idea or two for an internship, and proposed next steps.  As you offer your ideas, be sure to leave room for the employer to consider where you might be the best fit.  You don’t want to inundate the employer with too much information at first, so you can start with attaching a resume that provides an overview of your background.  Possible next steps would be to submit a proposed internship description or to set up a preliminary interview.  Human Resources tends to be an initial point of contact, but it is also fine to call to confirm who should get the email.

Be proactive and consider potential resource constraints ahead of time.  It could be that some organizations don’t offer internships because of a lack of staffing.  Therefore, it is important to demonstrate that you are a motivated self-starter and team player who can utilize the time of supervisors or managers wisely. Funding an internship may be challenge for non-profits in particular.  Are you able to volunteer or locate other funding sources?  Civic House has Public Interest Internship funds for Penn undergraduate students to apply to internships at a variety of types of non-profit organizations.    Penn students who have work-study funds can check with the Student Employment office about applying them to non-profit or government internships.

At the very least, adding this strategy to your internship search would allow you to make some fruitful connections.  If you are successful in proposing and obtaining the internship, you will not only gain valuable exposure and experience, but may also pave the way for others to follow in your footsteps.

5 Interview Tips You Can Learn From My Adjunct Teaching

Dr. Joseph Barber

I’ll be teaching my Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare course again this semester at Hunter College, and here are some things I have been thinking about that might help you with your next interview:

1) It’s good to be in control – but you have to know when to adapt. I feel much more comfortable teaching when I know certain information: 1) where the classroom is; 2) how the IT works; 3) where all the exits are; 4) how many students will turn up on the first day; and 5) how many names I am going to have a hard time pronouncing. As I have been prepping my updated course, I have a plan in my head for what it is I want to get across and what I want students to walk away with. If all my students sat quietly in the room, then my plan would be flawless. But I don’t want them to do that, and so I have to be able to think quickly on my feet when they ask questions I have never thought about, or talk about their unique perspectives and how this changes their understanding of a subject. You can’t plan answers to questions you don’t know are coming…, is what you can take away from this. Most interviews are going to involve questions that you can plan for, such as: tell me about yourself, why do you want this position, and in what ways are you qualified? You also know that you should have 4 or 5 questions for them – that is the easy part. What happens if they answer all of your pre-prepared questions before you have even asked them? What happens if you get asked questions you have never anticipated being asked? If your pre-prepared questions get answered before you ask them, this is when you have to draw upon what you have heard people talking about during the interview itself to help you craft some new ones on the spot. If you are meeting with multiple people in separate meetings, draw upon the comments made by one interviewer, and ask another interviewer what their perspective is. Have questions about what people’s best experience has been working for the organization – chances are they won’t answer that one before you can ask it, and they might get a slight warm and fuzzy feeling when they do answer the question as they relive the moment. Unconsciously, you might be associated with that warm and fuzzy feeling, which is never a bad thing. When I get asked a question I have no answer to in my class there are a couple of strategies that I take. One is to simply state that I don’t know the answer, but that I will look into it before the next class – something hard to do in an interview setting. The other is to answer a slightly different question that I do have a better answer for, and then to try to explore how the two questions might be related, and where there might be similarities in the answers. These strategies usually work well together in my class, and it may be possible to adapt the second strategy for interviews. Come set up a mock interview at Career Services and we can talk about approaches for answering challenging interview questions.

2) Be relevant. My course has a very applied component to it, and I get a better sense of what to talk about the more I understand the students in the class – they will hopefully be the ones applying this information in the future, after all. Interviews are all about finding out how you might be able to apply your skills in the role you are interested in. To make your skills and knowledge as relevant as possible, you have to know who you are talking with – from both an organizational and individual person perspective (apparently corporations are people too, you know). Don’t stalk the people you’ll be meeting with, but find ways to show your interest in them and their organization through your answers.

3) Learn from your mistakes. Some lectures go well, some examples of complex topics make sense, but there are always going to be times when you fail to connect effectively with students in the classroom. Similarly, even with lots of preparation, not every interview goes as planned, and some don’t’ go well at all. Take a moment soon after the interview has ended to collect your thoughts, and write down the questions you were asked that you didn’t answer well, as well as the illustrations of your skills in action that did seem to resonant well. You’ll be able to use this information going into the next interview. You can always ask students for feedback on a course, but you can’t do the same thing with interviewers, and so you have to rely on your own recollection after the interview. Because stress and fear can impede the transition of short-term memory into long-term memory, the sooner you do this, the more helpful this exercise will be.

4) Drink plenty of water. What? What kind of tip is that? Well, there is never a situation that can’t be improved by being properly hydrated. If you have to give a job talk, a teaching sample, and talk with 15 different people in a row – all in the same day and without a break, then water will be your best ally to stay refreshed and energetic. You might not see this as a priority with all the hustle and bustle of the interview day, but make sure you stay hydrated.

5) Be passionate. I teach as an adjunct at a New York college not because I enjoy small salaries and a 12 hour round-trip on a cramped bus with no indoor waiting areas at the bus-stop. I teach because I enjoy the subject, and the students at Hunter College always come from diverse and interesting backgrounds that help to enliven the subjects we explore together. I always learn from my students, because they have had experiences that I haven’t. Many are as passionate about the subject (albeit from different perspectives) as I am. Even if you are interviewing for a job that you are not passionate about in a “this is the best job in the world ever” standpoint, you can still be honestly passionate about the opportunities there will be to use you unique set of skills and experiences to help achieve some common goal. Help the interviewers see that you do have some passion, beyond just the day-to-day tasks that you are qualified to complete, so that they can better imagine what you can contribute to their departments and teams. The interview is not the time for soap opera-esque displays of emotion, but you can still find ways to be passionate when you talk about what you have done in the past, and why that brings you to the interview in the present – as well as what your thoughts are about your own professional future.

Wish me luck for the new class starting this Friday. And when you have your next interview coming up, set up an appointment at Career Services and we’ll help you make the most of your preparations.