CS Radio Episode 21 – “Don’t Come In!”

episode 21

It’s the penultimate episode of the season and we’re encouraging you all to stay home!  This week, Mylène and Michael explore the many Career Services resources available to Penn students and alumni online.  There’s so much you can do from home – including researching employers and industries, taking a self-assessment, reviewing sample resumes, and more.  Plus, there’s still lots of events on the calendar this week, especially for sophomores and juniors who will be using OCR when school resumes in the fall.  Get a leg up on next year’s job search now!


Way Finding

Over the past two weeks I have been fortunate to attend two meetings of career center directors, where we talk shop, benchmark our services and get new ideas from each other. These meetings are invaluable, and I learn a lot.

The most interesting thing I learned about this year was a course offered at Stanford called “Designing Your Life.” Taught by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, two professors from their D-School, the course teaches seniors a new way of solving problems: design thinking. With a belief that the future is unknowable, design thinking teaches students to build their way forward, and to re-frame problems to find actionable solutions. Since you can’t know the future, you have to prototype your way into it.

Using design thinking to solve the problem, “what do I want to do with my life,” the professors work with students to learn tools that will help them navigate life. In this approach, career planning is a way finding; their method can be used at other important times of life transition as well, not just at college graduation. I am simplifying, probably over-simplifying, what design thinking and the course are here. We all will have the opportunity to learn more in the coming months, when Burnett and Evans publish their book, Designing Your Life (Knopf, September 2016).

But I write today because this approach resonates with what I have seen in working with new graduates here at Penn. The truth is, most seniors and new graduates find planning their lives a daunting proposition. They may have a goal (I want to be a physician), and they take the first step along the road by matriculating in a medical school. Or they may want to have a career in business, so they begin their careers in consulting. They are way finding. They are taking a logical next step, and will take a next step from there, and so on. If their end goal changes, they will then find a new way. But the future is ultimately unknowable.

Dealing with the unknowable is pretty scary for 20 somethings. Those at Penn or those recently graduated have been scripted, organized, and focused on clear goals. But the next set of goals is less clear. I am fond of quoting the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. Alice asks the cat, “What road do I take?” The cat asked, “Where do you want to go?” “I don’t know,” Alice answered. “Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?”

More students and recent graduates than you might think don’t know where they want to go. Those of us in Career Services work with students to help them gather information (about themselves and about different career fields) to make a decision about next steps. In the final analysis, a new graduate has to pick a path and try something. Seen in this way, a first job, or even graduate school, is a prototype, to be tested and built upon in some manner. But for many of us, the path becomes clear only in retrospect. We design our lives as we go.

Do You Have this Essential Interview Skill?

Tiffany J. Franklin, Associate Director


Congratulations! You landed an interview for your dream job or internship and you think you’ve done all the necessary prep work. Are you really ready to knock it out of the park and show this company why they should hire you? Before closing the book on your interview prep, you must be sure you possess this skill

The ability to articulate your experience in a way that is meaningful to this particular employer.

The employer already has a vague notion that you can do the job or else they would not bring you in for an interview. Now, they need you to inspire confidence in them that will confirm their initial instincts about you were on point. Specifically, the interview process needs to assure the employer that

  • You have the specific Knowledge, Skills (soft and hard), and Abilities to perform the job duties
  • You have the motivation/initiative to do the job
  • You will work well with the team/clients and demonstrate emotional intelligence
  • You have problem solving skills and can offer solutions to company pain points

Now that we know what you need to accomplish, there are 3 concrete steps you can take to prepare for your interview.

  1. Know the job description inside/out and do in depth research about the company.

    This is huge! To tailor your message to this employer you have to understand who they are (Corporate website, About Us page, Mission statement, Press Releases, Social Media Accounts) and have a firm grasp on the key qualities they are seeking in a candidate. Most job descriptions will ask for 50 different things, but you can usually group these into 3 to 5 major skill areas (hard and soft skills).

  2. Understand Yourself and Be Able to Tell Your Story.

    This is an exercise I call Your Greatest Hits.” This will give you a quick visual depiction of approximately 30 success stories across skills areas and is a great prompt for those behavioral, “Tell me about a time when” questions.  They are based on the premise that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

    On one sheet of paper write 10-15 skill areas (for example, Leadership, Teamwork, Cultivating Client Relationships, Demonstrating Initiative, Customer Service, Project Management, Problem Solving, Data Analysis, Persuasive Communication, Delivering Presentations, Mentoring, Product Management, Budgeting, Coding, and other technical/non-technical skills. Select those 5 skill areas represented in the job description (from step 1) plus soft skills and other skills applicable to your field/industry.

    For each of these skill areas, write 2 – 3 CAR stories meaning Challenge (what was the challenge you encountered), Action (what were the specific actions you took to address the challenge), and Results (what were the positive results). The answers to these should be 90 seconds to 2 minutes long and demonstrate you using that skill.

    When doing this exercise, don’t write out long answers. You know your experience and should not memorize the answers – rather use the keywords and phrases to trigger your memory. For example:

    C: Wedding Planner for outdoor ceremony/reception in FL in July; forecast called for showers

    A: Encouraged couple to consider party tent; called frequently used vendor and secured tent days before ceremony; worked with other vendors to adjust to new configuration for reception. Ordered umbrellas.

    R: Sunny for ceremony, but rained most of reception. Tent in place, dry guests, good time had by all. The couple was happy and guests commented on beautiful event in spite of weather.


  3. Practice saying these success stories aloud. It will help you smooth out the flow (get rid of ums, pauses, likes), identify areas where you need to come up with a better example, and in the process increase your confidence.

By engaging in these exercises, you have made a significant step in preparing for a successful interview. You are now able to articulate how everything you have done in your career to this point has been building transferrable skills and leading you to this interview!

Career Services is here to help you with this process. Review numerous resources online at www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/interviewingadvice/practiceresources.php and you are welcome to schedule a mock interview with one of our career advisors.

CS Radio Episode 20 – “It’s Not Too Late for Summer!”

episode 20

Thinking it’s already too late to secure a summer job or internship? This week, Michael and Mylène take a look at the 2015 summer survey data that shows plenty of undergraduates didn’t secure their summer activity until the end of April or later.  We’ll take an in depth look at what undergrads from every class and school do with their summer and discuss taking “traditional” summer jobs like life guarding or camp counseling.  All that, plus the usual rundown of this week’s events.



The Little Things

By Barbara Hewitt

This has been a rather reflective week for me, as I attended a funeral for Sandra, an extended family member. Although I always knew Sandra was wonderful and made a positive impact on many lives, she lived quite a distance from me so I didn’t often get to spend time with her. For that reason, it was especially rewarding to hear the many, many stories from people whose lives she touched through her work. Sandra was an inspiration to many. She was a single mother early in life, and there was no time (or financial resources, for that matter) to think about attending college when she graduated from high school. She worked hard, two and three jobs in the early years, to make ends meet and provide for her three children. Imagine our surprise (and pride!) therefore, when she earned her college degree in her 60s! She truly taught us all that it’s never too late to strive to reach your dreams.

Sandra ran a daycare center out of her house for over 25 years. We heard from many individuals in the community who attended the center as children. Some have even gone on at this point to graduate school! We also heard from the mothers who commented about how much they appreciated the warm, nurturing environment she provided for their children so that they could feel comfortable going to their own jobs each day. The majority of her clients were young, often single mothers, and she helped them navigate the often overwhelming experience of being a new mom and provider while still trying to figure out one’s own life.

As I heard these stories, it reminded me that although Sandra wasn’t famous, didn’t run a company, or hold an elected office, she made a profound difference in numerous people’s lives through her chosen career of nurturing young children and supporting their parents. As you consider your path forward,  keep in mind that there are countless ways to make a difference in the world, and while your future may hold a very public position (like being a corporate leader or congressional representative), it may also be something much more private, but equally important in making the world a better place.