Making the Most of Professional Conferences

By Sharon Fleshman

This is the season in which many of my colleagues and I go to conferences for professional development. To that end, I have some quick thoughts on how to be more intentional before, during and after these events.

Join the planning committee. Perhaps you have ideas for a theme or can assist with logistics. If so, your role in planning a conference would allow you to utilize your skills in new ways and collaborate with others outside of your workplace, resulting in a stronger network and broader exposure.

Present on a topic. If you are developing an area of expertise acknowledged by your colleagues, faculty, or classmates, chances are that you can propose to facilitate a workshop or present a paper. If others have knowledge that would enhance the presentation, invite them to co-present.

Share best practices. During a conference that I attended recently, there was time allotted for some who presented on initiatives or efforts that were successful in their contexts.  Sharing best practices can also happen informally in between workshops or over a meal.  Forums such as email lists or LinkedIn groups can be used to extend the exchange of ideas beyond the conference.

Identify next steps. After a conference, it is tempting to take your notes and handouts and file them somewhere with the best of intentions of pulling them out later.  Instead, be sure to debrief and strategize with your colleagues shortly after the conference.  Finally, determine two or three action items that can be implemented based on your primary takeaways from the event.

Career Tips for International Students

GlobeInternational students enrolled at Penn seek internships and jobs in their home countries, in the United States, in global organizations’ locations around the world, and in other countries. Searching for an internship or job involves many of the same tasks anywhere (identifying one’s strengths and goals, exploring career fields, preparing resumes and cover letters, networking, researching companies, applying, interviewing, and more), but two particular issues make the process different for international students seeking positions in the United States: language skills and immigration issues.

Through my experiences at several universities working with international students who are undergraduates and graduate students in many different disciplines, I’ve found that the best way for international students to address these two challenges is to take responsibility for what they can control and to learn as much as possible about what they cannot control.

You do have control over your language proficiency. If English is not your first language, practice. Practice more. Practice every chance you get. Practice with people whose first language IS English. Listen to English being spoken—on TV, online, in movies and plays, during lectures (in your own classes and through guest lectures on other topics you find interesting). Find every opportunity you can to speak English. Visit the Graduate Student Center’s website to learn about their resources. When you are with friends from your home country, agree to speak English together all the time or at designated times. (For example, ask your friends to promise to speak only English this evening until 10:00 p.m. If anyone breaks the rule, that person must buy ice cream for everyone else in the group.) Practice makes sense. If you were planning to compete in a sport—let’s say tennis, would you spend most of your time practicing volleyball?

You do not have control over immigration policies in the United States, but you DO have control over how well you understand them. Take the time to visit ISSS to learn about your visa options regarding work during and after your time at Penn. Review the online resources about immigration. Attend workshops about OPT and CPT. Read our blog regularly to glean advice for international students from career advisors, students, and alumni. Pay attention to calendars at Penn so that you can attend helpful career events such as alumni panels (former international students) and the annual fall lecture on “Immigration Made Easy,” presented by immigration attorneys. The more you understand about work visas in the United States, the better prepared you will be to respond to potential employers’ questions. There were many special Career Services workshops for international students at Penn last year; how many did you attend?

Tomorrow is the first day of summer, and fall seems many weeks away. But summer is a great opportunity to dedicate some time to your career preparation. Update your resume. Draft your cover letter. Be able to identify what type(s) of work you’re seeking and be able to explain why. Think of good examples you can use to prove you have the skills needed for the position(s) you plan to seek. Practice your English skills. Acquaint yourself with the visa issues you need to understand.

International students at Penn bring incredible strengths with them: tenacity and drive, global perspectives, unique experiences, enthusiasm, daringness and bravery, intercultural competence, an awareness of more than one way of doing things. Use these skills to tackle the challenges of language proficiency and immigration issues. And go eat some ice cream on the first day of summer!Ice Cream

colleagues…revisited

Last summer I wrote this blog about the importance of colleagues in our professional life. I reflected on these relationships at the time because of a reunion with beloved former colleagues of mine. It’s summer once again and I was recently reminded of this same theme as Career Services met for our yearly office retreat. While I carry a constant appreciation for our team, I was especially reminded of the strengths of our staff and the genuine respect we have for one another as we shared, reflected, and planned. I left our retreat thinking, “I am so lucky to work with these people!” The best part is I knew it would be this way. Why? My interview three years ago told me so…

We spend a majority of our waking hours at work, so who we clock those hours with on the job does matter. I would guess that most of us want to work with bright, driven, supportive people who strive to do their best. Strong leaders are probably at the top of this list, too. The interview serves as an important step for gathering information on not only the specifics of the position, but also the team you will be joining.

Many times we are so focused on nailing the interview that we overlook our own first impressions of those we meet, most importantly, supervisors and team members. Take advantage of the time spent with these people during the interview. They are a reflection of the organization. If a supervisor or manager appears negative and uninterested during the interview, then chances are that you will face these same qualities when you begin the job. Alternatively, do team members seem happy with their jobs? Do they refer to a strong team environment?

We won’t leave an interview knowing everything about everyone we meet. However, we will gain some degree of insight so that we can make an informed decision. Bring your own questions to the interview. If you interview with a supervisor or manager, be sure to ask about his or her supervision style. Inquire about a typical day on the job or specific challenges that a new hire may face in joining the group. If the answer is that the new hire will need to learn quickly without much guidance, then you have an idea of the type of supervision (or lack thereof) that you may receive. How will that suit you? Ask team members how long they have been with the organization and what they like best about the job. Do they speak highly of leadership? If they do, that’s a good sign. Do employees join the company and stay? Another good sign!

I bet many of us already make these observations and ask similar questions during an interview. If you haven’t been asking questions and observing, be sure to take note. Surround yourself with good people who care about your career and be that same person to others. You won’t regret it.

 

“Pathways”—It’s Plural!

DSC00766“Pathways” is used as a title for several career resources. Some companies call their internships or rotational programs “Pathways.” The word “pathways” is sometimes a label for information sessions or bridge programs that organizations develop as introductions to industries or companies.

At Penn’s Career Services, we call our career guide “Pathways.” This manual is a printed book, a downloadable PDF on our website, and an online ebook. It is full of articles about exploring career fields and searching for internships, jobs, and graduate/professional schools. Employers eager to hire Penn students advertise in it, and we provide lists of companies that actively recruit on campus.

In all the career uses I’ve seen of this word, it’s plural. “Pathways.” This is intentional for two reasons. First, there are many different career paths available to Penn students and alumni. Second, each individual student will almost certainly pursue more than one career path during her/his professional life. (According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most people stay in the same job for under five years.)

Students are sometimes anxious when considering career fields to pursue, which internships to seek, or which opportunity to accept after graduation. Should I take this job offer, or should I go to graduate school? Yes! Both (although usually not simultaneously).

Of course you can’t embrace two full-time opportunities at the same time. The option you pursue will affect your professional life now and in the future. But you will make changes. It is unlikely you will still be in your first position after several years. So sometimes the question is not “Which path will I give up?” but “Which path will I pursue first?” (Experience may be the necessary ingredient to selecting one’s next pathway. John Krumboltz has explored this in his happenstance learning theory.)

Remember, there are multiple pathways in your future. It’s plural!