“Do you have any questions for me?” – Why this is not a throwaway question during interviews

by Melissa Chu, Wharton Graduate Assistant

More often than not, we walk into interviews with our answers to behavioural questions prepared, our answers to technical questions perfected, and we have done so many cases that we can answer then in our sleep. We breeze through all of the questions, building rapport with the interviewer and showing off our knowledge of the company. Then we get to the final question, “Do you have any questions for me?”

Sometimes, it is very tempting to say, “No, I think I’ve got all of the information that I need,” but more often than not, we fumble through and ask a question that we don’t have an interest in. What most people forget, however, is that this is still part of the interview – and the interviewer will form his/her last impression of you based on this interaction.

  1. The interviewer is still assessing you until you walk out of the room. Asking thoughtful questions shows that you took a genuine interest in the role and the company – and that you prepared for the question, which is 99.9% likely to come up.
  2. This is an opportunity to figure out whether the team or role is right for you. Do you have a truly burning question on life at the company? For example, do want to know if there are formal support networks in place for career progression? This is the time to show an interviewer that you have thoroughly thought about the role and your fit at the company.
  3. There is almost no way that you could possibly know everything about the role and the company. No matter how many informational interviews you go through, or how much time you spend reading a company’s website, there will still be questions that haven’t been answered. For example, does the team have any team-building activities?

As you head off on Thanksgiving break and reflect on (or start thinking about) your recruiting process, this is also a good time to think about the non-advertised aspects of the job that are important to you. This will help you form a list of genuine questions that you can ask at each interview to assess whether the role is right for you—remember, this is a two-way street, so you should also seize on this opportunity to get your questions out as well.

5 Tips for Writing a Statement of Purpose for Graduate Programs

Many graduate school applications are due next month and we know most applicants are asked to write a Statement of Purpose to accompany their application.  While the Statement of Purpose will vary somewhat depending upon your field and the program to which you apply, there are some points every person writing one should keep in mind:

  1. A Statement of Purpose should be…purposeful.  That is to say, you should be direct about why you are applying to graduate school and what you plan to do there and afterwards.  There is no need to convey your entire educational background or write oodles about how much you love your field of interest.
  2. Be clear about the scope of your experiences in your field.  If you did research on something, for example, you might convey what research methods you used, whether you worked individually or collaboratively, describe any end results of the work, or share any important things you learned from the project.  Saying you researched a topic or area is not enough, you need describe your work with some (but too much) detail.
  3. Be sure to write about your experience, your future in the graduate program, and your career objectives.  Everything should make sense.  Someone can describe some wonderful experiences, but not a clear vision of what they hope to gain from graduate studies.  Another person might skip mentioning any professional life after graduate school.  Cover all areas.
  4. You should communicate a high level of understanding of the field.  This means sharing the particulars of your experiences in way that doesn’t merely report facts or repeat the obvious, but shows that you are actively thinking about significant issues and areas for further exploration.  You want to sound like someone who is ready to move forward, not someone who wants to take more undergraduate courses or continue to assist graduate students in a lab.
  5. Be sure you are at the center of the Statement.  Writing a great deal about your love of the subject, the high quality of program to which you are applying, or quoting other people doesn’t address the questions in your readers’ minds:  Why do you want to go to graduate school?  Are you a good fit for their program?  Are you motivated and, if so, for what reasons?

Sexual misconduct and your career development

Dr. Joseph Barber

There has been an on-going focus on topics related to sexual violence and misconduct prevention at Penn. This is a topic that can affect students, staff, and faculty on campus and beyond, and there are readily available resources for each of these populations to use if individuals have experienced these negative situations. Here are a selection of these resources:

From a career development perspective, it is good to be aware of the types of situations where the potential for sexual misconduct, or confusion over whether there is sexual misconduct, is increased. That is not to say that you will experience this on your career path, and so this is not meant as a post to put you off effective approaches such as networking and seeking internships (it is going to be hard to avoid these if you want to be successful in finding the job that matches your skills and career goals). It is important to know how you can respond to any form of inappropriate behaviour or sexual misconduct in these situations.

The great benefit of networking is the ability to make new contacts who can share information and advice with you that you can use to be effective in your job or internship search. It goes both ways, and so by networking with professionals you will be able to present your skills, experiences, and future potential to them too. Compared with the lively, career-focused, in-person conversations you can set up through your networking efforts with people in different industries or at particular organizations you like, no amount of online research will help you get the same critical insight into a particular career, role, or organization. The people you can meet will also be incredibly helpful in sharing opportunities with you – opportunities you might not have been aware of before you had that conversation. Take advantage of resources like the Penn alumni database (QuakerNet) and LinkedIn to find people happy to share their advice and experiences with you.

Trying to find a perfect contact at your preferred organization can take a lot of hard work, research, and other networking to achieve. When you finally make a contact, or have a meeting, what happens if your interaction with this contact doesn’t quite feel right, or worse, that the contact you just wanted advice from asks you if you are single and interested in dating? Natalie Lundsteen provides some great advice in her post on the Carpe Careers blog (on the Inside Higher Ed website). She states:

He or she has absolutely no excuse for unprofessional behavior, especially if you have presented yourself as a student or recent graduate seeking advice and assistance.”

And concludes her advice-filled post by saying:

Negative or awkward networking experiences certainly will not occur often, and may not ever happen to you. Don’t let this discussion put you off the idea of informational interviewing or chatting with a stranger at your next conference. Just be conscious that networking can at times veer unexpectedly from the professional to the personal — and know that you are able to exit those conversations and find better opportunities.”

If you have a negative experience during a networking interaction, then heed some of the advice that Natalie offers, and remember the on-campus resources available to you (listed above) if you need them. Advisors at Career Services can also help you to successfully navigate your networking attempts, and to develop strategies to hopefully avoid these types of situations arising in the first place.

Having an interview for an internship or job is a great achievement, and most people will spend a significant amount of time preparing for these events. In any interview you are pretty much guaranteed to be asked these questions:

  • Who are you/tell me about yourself
  • What do you know about our organization?
  • Why do you want this position?
  • What can you bring to our organization/what are your strengths?
  • Do you have any questions for us?

Everyone should be prepared to answer these questions. But these aren’t the only questions you will get asked, and sometimes you will face unusual ones (e.g., what kind of fruit would you be?), negative ones (e.g., what is your greatest weakness?), and even inappropriate ones. These inappropriate ones are sometimes described as illegal questions (see also here), but it is not illegal to ask them. What is illegal is to discriminate against people based on their answers. And this is why it is inappropriate to ask them. Examples of these types of questions include:

  • What does your spouse do?
  • Where were you born?
  • Are you an American citizen?
  • What language do you speak at home?
  • How old are you?
  • Do you take any time off work for religious purposes?
  • Are you planning on having children soon?
  • Are you married?
  • What will your partner think about all the travel you would be doing if you got this job?
  • Do you take any prescription drugs?
  • How many sick days did you take last year?

There is a lot of different advice given about how to handle these types of questions, but this approach might be a good starting point. You can practice how you might respond to these questions by setting up a mock interview with an advisor at Career Services.

Graduate students might face a different type of situation when applying for academic jobs, as many fields conduct multiple interviews at annual conferences, with the interviews themselves taking place in hotel rooms. In an ideal setting these interviews might be in a professional-looking hotel suite. In some cases, the interview is conducted in plain sight of the interviewer’s bed (and usually there are multiple interviewers in the room), in a setting that seems far from ideal or professional. Cheryl Ball and Katherine Ellison describe some of these conditions in an article on MLA interviews:

“…one major drawback in hotel-room interviews is that you’re in a hotel room. This can be awkward, not the least of which because the size of the department’s budget often determines the size of the room you’re interviewing in. And it has been said that sometimes candidates end up sitting on hotel beds during their interviews. Awk. Ward. Thankfully, we’ve heard of this happening less and less over the last decade, as departments strive to show their professionalism

Like most interviews, internships usually happen off campus. During your internship you have a wonderful opportunity to learn new skills, apply the knowledge you have gained from courses and research you have completed at Penn, and discover for yourself whether you can see yourself working in this field in the future. When employers are trying to fill full-time opportunities, they will look closely at the internships you have had, and will value your exposure to the work that they do. In most internships, these are some of the skills that will be helpful as you try to make the most of the experiences:

  • Time management
  • Effective communication skills, especially asking good questions
  • Learning new skills quickly
  • Taking initiative
  • Prioritizing work projects, especially when these come from several different supervisors
  • Managing ambiguity and conflict

Some internships will be part of formalized internship programs. Some internships you might create just for yourself by establishing an effective professional relationship with a contact at an organization you are interested in. Whatever the type of internship, whether it is paid or not, there is never an excuse for unprofessional behaviour. There have been several recent cases where this has happened in different contexts, and these articles describe some of challenges faced in these situations:

If you experience any form of sexual misconduct during an internship experience, make use of the campus resources listed above. The advisors at Career Services can be a great resource to talk about any aspect of networking, seeking internships, and succeeding at interviews (everyone should set up an appointment to have a mock interview – they are incredibly helpful). Career advisors can offer useful suggestions for how you can make any of these experiences as positive and productive as possible, so that you always know how to handle yourself professionally when faced with any of the situations described above. Please take advantage of appointments and walk-in hours to meet with your career advisor – call 215 898 7531 or visit www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices.

Day in the Life: Anup Swamy, CAS ’99/MBA ’06, Vice President, Time Inc.

Be sure you’re following @PennCareerDay tomorrow, Wednesday November 16th to get an exclusive look at the day-in-the-life of a Vice President at Time, Inc!


Anup Swamy is a Vice President at Time Inc.  He currently leads Consumer Marketing for Sports Illustrated and SI Kids.  Additionally, he has recently added responsibilities for Consumer Revenue Expansion (e.g. New Product innovation) and Strategic Partnerships across all Time Inc. brands for Time Inc. Consumer Marketing + Revenue.  Prior to joining Time in 2014, Anup was at Bain & Company for almost 10 years, most recently as a Principal in the New York office, focused on Financial Services and Customer Loyalty.  Anup is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (BA 1999) and The Wharton School (MBA 2006) and currently resides in the NYC area.


My Career Path, from Accountant to Consultant to Professional Organizer

by Barbara Reich

My senior year at Penn was the first time ever that I didn’t have a plan. All I knew was what I didn’t want to do after graduation. I had explored career options within my major of psychology, eliminating one after another. I had considered law school, but concluded that a mountain of debt was too high a price for a degree that I didn’t really want. I thought about publishing, teaching, and advertising, but nothing felt quite right. Then, I heard about an Executive MBA program jointly sponsored by Price Waterhouse (now PriceWaterhouse Coopers) and New York University Stern School of Business. Depending on the semester, I would work or attend classes full or part time, and at the end of the program, I would have an MBA, no loans, and three years of work experience. I had never considered being an accountant, but I mailed a resume, secured an interview, took a train to New York City, and came back to Penn with a job offer. I was a little shell shocked, but it was a plan.

Unfortunately, the plan soon unraveled. I didn’t enjoy the business courses and had no passion for accounting. The months that I worked full time and went to school at night were brutal. I was staffed on a bank merger, working 12 hour days and weekends, leaving work to go to class, and returning to work afterward. I was exhausted and unhappy. And, since I had no time to even think about another job, I simply soldiered on, focusing on getting my MBA. At that time, I figured I could look to move internally to another area within PriceWaterhouse (an advantage of working at a large firm) while I came up with my next plan.

Before that happened though, fate intervened. In one of my MBA classes, I worked on a group project with a woman who was a human resources management consultant. Her job sounded compelling to me, and by the time the class met again, I had updated my resume for her. A few months later, I had a job offer from her firm, the Hay Group. I found the work interesting, and the culture at the Hay Group to be congenial and inspiring. Yet, after five years, I decided to move to a smaller firm where I would have a larger role. That, it turns out, was one of those mistakes that work out for the best. I soon determined that there was no reason to bring my clients to another firm when I could run my own. So, Resourceful Consultants, LLC was born and just four months later, my twin daughter and son were born.

During the next two years, I worked part time, picking and choosing clients that fit my lifestyle. Then, one day, I got a call from a former Hay Group colleague. She had a client who wanted to hire someone to organize a home office. Her words were, “Don’t kill me, but I gave him your number. You should do this.” And, so I did, and I LOVED it. I started calling myself a professional organizer, told everyone I knew, and soon had my second client. That person referred a friend, and each of those friends referred friends, and my business began to grow. Soon, I was meeting with two clients a day, five days a week, helping them organize their homes, offices and lives. In 2011, the NY Times wrote a two-page story about me and my business, and that’s when things really took off. Today, I’m the author of a book (Secrets of an Organized Mom), and have appeared on The Today Show, Inside Edition, Good Morning America, Fox News, and New York 1. In addition to the NY Times, I’ve also been in the New York Post, Real Simple, InStyle, People StyleWatch, Family Circle, Better Homes and Gardens, AARP Magazine, and O Magazine among other publications.

When I entered my senior year of college, I had never taken an accounting course or heard of a professional organizer, so every job I ultimately held was unimaginable to me at the start of my search. I hope sharing my path will help others realize that it’s completely normal not to know exactly what you aspire to be. I’ve heard it said that if you do what you love, the money follows. I’ve also heard it said that if you love what you do, it’s not work. Both of those sentiments apply to my career, and I hope one day to yours.

More information about Barbara and her organization can be found at ResourcefulConsultants.com or Facebook.com/ResourcefulConsultants.