learning from mistakes

The finals of The National Spelling Bee are tonight. Reading about this year’s event brought back memories for me. Ok, so I didn’t participate in that spelling bee, but I did take part in a local spelling bee while in elementary school. I misspelled hippopotamus. Yep, I remember the moment like it was yesterday. Proudly wearing my Hard Rock Café sweatshirt, I easily made it through the first round only to get eliminated in round two. I can tell you this – I never misspelled hippopotamus again. Isn’t that usually the case with mistakes? We make them and then learn from them, hopefully never making them again.

The same goes for the ups and downs of the job search process. Interviewing certainly comes to mind when I think of the importance of learning from missteps. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t left an interview at some point in their professional life questioning whether they made a connection with an interviewer or answered a particular question well. It’s happened to the best of us. The important piece of the process is gathering and applying new information as you go – What do I need to do to prepare better next time? What am I most proud of from my recent interview experience? It’s easy to focus energy on what went wrong rather than what went well. Continue to build on and learn from these experiences. Set your sights on the next interview and put your best foot forward. Let’s just hope you aren’t asked to spell panophthalmitis.

Limited Operations Today

Career Service staff is away at a retreat today, Wednesday, May 27th.

Our front desk is being staffed for letters of recommendation services.  You can call the front desk at 215-898-7531 if you are in need of immediate assistance.

We will resume full operations on Thursday morning at 9am.

Podcasts: A great way to multi-task

Any Serial fans out there? (If yes, did you see the news about Adnan?!)

I was totally riveted by the story and eagerly tuned in weekly to hear what new twists Sarah Koenig had chosen to share with us. I even listened to Slate’s Serial Spoiler podcasts for recaps and additional insights after I’d listened to the week’s episode. And while Serial was a cultural phenomenon (I was delighted when enough of my friends were listening that I could stop explaining, “no, it’s ‘Serial’ with an ‘S,’ not like cereal the breakfast food…”), I’ve actually been kind of obsessed with podcasts for a few years now. I’ll be honest – the main reason I like podcasts is that I’m a big multi-tasker. I want to be entertained while I’m running errands or doing chores, and TV isn’t an option because I just can’t look away. A podcast on the other hand provides the perfect background noise to whatever I’m working on while providing news, entertainment, gossip, or helpful tips!  (Aaaand – if I realized I’ve totally zoned out and suddenly have no idea what anyone’s talking about, that “rewind 15 seconds” feature comes in SUPER handy. Sometimes I might hit it 5 times. Shhhhh.)


I’ve been listening to The Moth and to This American Life for years, but since the incredible success of Serial it seems like more and more interesting podcasts are cropping up. I’ve added Mike Pesca’s Slate podcast The Gist to my repertoire for his humorous take on current events, but I’ve also been excited to find some great podcasts that relate to questions we get here in Career Services.

Adulthood Made Easy tackles questions recent graduates ask – like how to make a new city feel like home, how to find a mentor, and, oh my goodness everyone has a job but me, how do I find a job? 22-year-old Sam Zabell is the host, and she interviews experts to provide the answers!
Adulthood Made Easy
Slate’s Working podcast features professions and interviews someone in the profession about what a day in that field is like.

Slate's Working

Working kicked off big by interviewing Stephen Colbert in its first episode, but other great episodes include How Does a Stand-Up Comedian Work? and How Does a U.N. Official Work? (You might recognize this week’s commencement speaker Samantha Power in Slate’s photo below.)

Press conference of Anthony Banbury and Samantha Power on 29 October 2014 in Accra, Ghana Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by UNMEER/Aaron J. Buckley

Of course these two podcasts are just the tip of the podcast iceberg when it comes to great career (and life) resources. I encourage you to explore some this summer – maybe when you need to be productive but just can’t pull yourself away from your Netflix binge. (Don’t worry – if you lose focus, you can always rewind.)

Thoughts on Graduation

Six years ago, even four or five years ago, I received numerous interview requests from media representatives in the days leading up to graduation. They wanted me to discuss what they believed was a dismal job market for graduates. Of course it wasn’t so dismal for Penn graduates. Even then, people were getting jobs, perhaps not dream jobs, perhaps they had to work harder to receive an offer, but they got jobs nonetheless.

Fast forward to 2015. I did not receive one interview request to discuss the job prospects of new graduates. Not only are Penn graduates getting jobs, but the overall employment picture has improved markedly. The national unemployment rate is 5.4%, a level that some economists might even characterize as full employment. Our graduates have had a banner year. More will be starting their careers at one of their “top choice” employers; graduate school admissions are impressive as well.

The class of 2015 is fortunate to be graduating into a growing economy, and with the skills that employers value. Experience shows that Penn graduates make the most of their opportunities, and those of us in Career Services have great confidence that today’s graduates will do just that.

Class of 2015: the road may be bumpy. You may not move in a linear fashion from one known, well-trod step to the next. The important thing is that you will be learning more about yourself, and about the work you really want to do, or not to do. These past years at Penn have been a time of tremendous growth for you. You are not the same person you were at matriculation. Nor will you be the same person four years from now. Take advantage of your Penn education, take care of yourselves, and don’t be afraid to take a risk. If you can’t take one now, when can you?

On behalf of everyone here at Career Services, congratulations!

Verbal Origami

Dr. Joseph Barber

You can think of verbal origami as a the process of taking one of your skills-based experience bullet points from your resume and verbally folding and refolding it so that it can emphasize different skills for the different positions you might be applying to. Take this bullet as an example – you might have something like this in your resume:

  • Created new assessment tool as part of a team to determine success of new training methodology.

As written, the main emphasis of this bullet is on the creating skill; “created” is the action doing verb that will stand out to the reader as they are quickly scanning through a resume. Focusing on creating something would be ideal if the job description mentioned something about being creative, innovation, showing outside of the box thinking, and so on. Being creative is never a bad skill to have, but if you were applying for a position where other skills were more highly sought after, then it would be a good idea to think about how you might be able to emphasize those skills. You might pick a new experience to talk about, or you could use the same experience but put the emphasis on a different aspect – you could do some verbal folding. Here’s an example:

  • Collaborated with team of 2 MBA students and an engineer to develop an online assessment tool used to measure training outcomes.

This is the same experience, except for this time the emphasis is on team-work and collaboration. This bullet focuses in more detail on quantifiable elements that make the team feel like real people in a real-life contact, as it describes who was in the team and how many people were involved. Let’s fold some more:

  • Successfully used Qualtrics and SPSS to develop and analyze a 30-minute online assessment for training outcomes that is now used as a standard protocol and tool for evaluation in an office of 15 researchers.

Again, same experience but seen from a different perspective. In this case, the technical skills are emphasized. Compared to the last two examples, this bullet point also adds a new element – an outcome. Having outcomes is important, as the outcomes demonstrate how effective the skill is. The reader feels more confident that the technical skills are effective because the evidence points to the fact that others saw value in them (the 15 researchers in the office thought they were useful).

So, this is just a quick reminder that you always use multiple skills in whatever you do, but your job in a resume is to draw attention to the skills that are most relevant to the reader. To do that, you sometimes have to verbally fold and refold you experiences so that the right skills are emphasized in the right way.