Light your fire

It’s that time of year. Many of you may be in the final months of your degree program. We’ve all been there – you’re sitting in class when you hear someone nearby sharing details about their latest interview or the number of job offers they’ve received. As classmates chime in with their own experiences, you begin to think about that list of job search “to dos” you haven’t quite tackled yet. While you could spend the semester changing seats to stay out of earshot of these conversations, the better option is to focus your attention on your own plans. If this is the first time you are pursuing employment, the task can seem daunting. Where do you begin? How about starting with that resume and cover letter?

When I first sat down to write a cover letter as an undergrad, I stared at the computer screen a few minutes before determining that the apartment must be cleaned! Needless to say, while my apartment was spotless the cursor stood on a blank page on the computer screen for weeks. I would never have thought that cleaning would be preferable to writing a cover letter! It wasn’t until I found a position of interest and scrambled to put together a so-so document that I realized that I couldn’t keep procrastinating. What a relief it was when I actually sat down and got to work!

Developing your written materials may seem like an arduous task, but you can do it! Why not get these easy check-off items done so you can focus your attention on more important aspects of the job search – exploring your interests, researching organizations and companies, building relationships/connecting with others, and applying to positions!

To jump start the job search process, here are a few easy tips for getting the resume and cover letters done!

1)     Attend an upcoming Career Services workshop on resume and cover letter writing.  You will leave well-informed and armed with resources and knowledge to develop those necessary documents.

2)     Review resume and cover letter writing tips as well as sample documents on the Career Services website. These documents serve as helpful guides as you prepare your own.

3)     Set a deadline for yourself.  In fact, why not schedule an appointment with a career counselor to have your resume and cover letter reviewed? You’ll have a date set when you know you must have these drafts written! Please please please be sure you’ve put forth a valiant effort before coming to the appointment. It will be well worth your time.

Best of luck this semester. Just think, the more efficient you are in developing your job search materials, the more time you’ll have for enjoying life at Penn. You may even find the time to clean your apartment…if you feel like it.


Day in the Life: Program Analyst at the Office of the Inspector General of HHS

What is it like working for a government agency? What about alternatives to academe for PhD graduates?  Russ Tisinger, PhD, answered these questions when he posted to @PennCareerDay about his career at the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  This was a great opportunity to also get more information on careers with the government following our Policy and Government Career Fair on Friday, September 28th. To learn more about this Annenberg alum, read his bio below.  To read his @PennCareerDay feed, visit our Storify page.

Russ Tisinger is a program analyst at the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), which fights waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicare, Medicaid and more than 300 other HHS programs.  He earned a Ph.D. from University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication.  Before attending Annenberg he worked as a journalist in Washington, D.C. for Congressional Quarterly and The Center for Public Integrity.

Some Career Contradictions and a Brush with Danger

Dr. Joseph Barber

In the pouring rain of yesterday’s storm my house nearly caught on fire. Some of the metal roof flashing was blown loose by the wind, and was flapping against the power lines running outside the house along the block. There was an impressive period of hissing, popping, sparks flying, and lights dimming, before the piece of electrified metal actually severed the power line – cutting power to the rest of the block for a considerable period of time (thanks PECO for coming out at night during the tail-end of the storm to fix it!). Despite the heavy rain, someone sensibly called the fire department (not me…, I was running around wondering whether I should call a roofer or the power company). Electrical fires can easily cause full-on house fires even in the wettest of conditions. We were lucky this didn’t happen to us.

Given that fires can start in situations where you wouldn’t think they could – during a downpour, for example – I have been wondering whether there are any equivalent career contradictions I could highlight in this post. I came up with a couple that might seem obvious, but that are still worth a mention.

1) The highest paying job isn’t always the best one…, for you.

When looking for career opportunities, the amount you can get paid is important, but you might find that “fit” is a much better predictor of how much you will enjoy your future career. Your needs may be such that a lower salary position in a different field or organization actually gives you more of what you want, especially in terms of work-life balance. Now, you should certainly negotiate for the best deal whenever you get a job offer, because you deserve to get paid what your skills and experiences are worth However, make sure that you are not just thinking about the money when you make your decisions, and when you are thinking about what exactly you can negotiate. And remember, the “fit” between you and your future co-workers (people you will be spending a considerable amount of time with) might be the most valuable and important aspects of your career choice.

2) The specific subject you have studied may not end up being in any way relevant to the career path you eventually follow.

But…, the many skills you have gained along the way will always be incredibly valuable and applicable. You can be passionate about a topic, and some of you may have spent the last 5-10 years thinking very hard about it, but still apply your transferable skills practically and successfully in a completely different setting. The passion you have shown for your topic can even be one of your greatest selling points, because you can market some of your academic skills as an ability to learn subjects quickly, to do extensive background research, to make informed decisions when it comes to asking questions and solving problems, and to communicate outcomes to different audiences. No matter the job, these are always useful skills to be able to showcase in your application materials in during an interview. Career paths are rarely straight, and there will always be a few unexpected twists and turns along the way.

Being open to different career possibilities, taking every opportunity to speak with people in a wide diversity of careers and from wildly different organizations (yes, this is networking), and potentially getting some hands-on experiences through volunteer or intern experiences, will all help you to successfully navigate through the unknown, but exciting road ahead of you.

So there you have it. The job that you may think you want the most because it pays the most, may not be the best fit for you, and if you are open to new experiences and opportunities, you can always find new career paths that don’t have to be related to the topics that you have been studying. Taken together with the fact that your house can burn down during a torrential rainstorm, hopefully you are now more comfortable with the idea that these contradictions exist. Come and see a career advisor if you want to explore them further, and we will try to answer all of your non-roof related questions.

Simple Advice: Proofread

This time of year I spend much time reading resumes and cover letters. It’s always interesting to see the exciting things students have done and the varied experiences they have. As I peruse these documents, I always look for attention to detail – not surprisingly, I frequently notice small errors, typos and grammatical issues. While I am happy to help with editing and proofreading, I am left to wonder about those who submit sloppy, mistake-filled documents when applying for positions.

With many application deadlines on the horizon, please take a few moments and review your cover letters and resumes before submitting. You don’t want your hard work and great experiences to be diminished or overshadowed by erroneous perceptions based on resumes and cover letters filled with errors. If you want some feedback or need assistance, be sure to check with your counselor in Career Services. Best wishes to all going through the job search and application process!