In observation of Independence Day, Career Services will be closing at 2pm on Friday, July 1st and will stay closed until 9am on Tuesday, July 5th.
We hope you have a wonderful 4th of July holiday and we look forward to serving you again next week.
Thoughtful Career Advice for Penn Students and Alumni, written by the staff of the University of Pennsylvania Career Services office and selected special guests.
Tiffany J. Franklin, Associate Director
Change – it’s a simple word with big implications for our daily experience. Throughout our lives change is a constant, yet it’s something that often creates fear and elicits anxiety. Once we navigate the initial discomfort of the adjustment period, we may enjoy our new reality if we keep things in perspective during transitional phase. We have an amazing capacity to adapt to new situations and must stop and reflect upon examples of when we have risen to new challenges in the past.
In an ever changing workforce, our ability to tolerate ambiguity and embrace change is essential for growing as a professional. Throughout our careers we will experience change in many ways – when members join and leave our work teams, getting a new supervisor, transferring projects/teams, moving physical office space, and transitioning to a new computer system. To remain competitive, companies need team members with flexibility and adaptability, who will embrace changes. Google “Business Agility” and you will find countless definitions and articles outlining strategies for companies to innovate and respond to changes within the industry and global market. The employee who gets on board in the early stages is valuable to the team.
There’s also change we initiate as we chase our dreams (applying for a promotion, pursuing new levels of education/training, starting with a new company, or moving to a new city). Perhaps a tipping point in our lives causes us to reevaluate the direction we were headed. For example, when a student takes an internship in a field she thought she wanted since high school and suddenly realizes it’s not what she thought – now what? Hint: come to Career Services and we will help!
Given all these factors, how do you find solid ground as you navigate these constant transitions?
Whether change is something we initiate or not, perspective is everything. It’s important to seek out the opportunities that accompany periods of change and doing so demonstrates resiliency, a trait highly valued by employers. Instead of viewing change as something to survive, look at it as a new opportunity to thrive.
Dr. Joseph Barber, Associate Director
I am currently taking an “Introduction to marketing” course on Coursera as a way to think about the whole job search process in a slightly different way. Marketing is actually a very relevant topic when it comes to the process of career development. At some point as a job seeker, you are trying to encourage another entity (an employer) to purchase your product (your skills, experiences, and knowledge). To do this, you have to have a product worth buying, you have to know how to sell that product, and you have to know how to sell that product to a particular segment of customers. So far, some of the most pertinent topics covered in the course include the idea that no matter what the product is, it won’t be equally attractive to the entire customer base. In other words, some buyers will really like the product, some will respond to it fairly neutrally (they might buy it, but they might equally buy a similar product from another vendor), and some won’t find it attractive at all. In business, it generally makes the most sense to focus efforts on the subset of the population who really likes the product (taking a customer-centric approach and using a process of segmentation), rather than just hoping that everyone will find your product equally attractive (a product-centric approach). One of the career analogies here is quite clear. Sending out 50 versions of the same resume to 50 different companies (even if the job being applied for is similar – e.g., medical writer) won’t work as well as really taking the time to understand the differences between the employers, and targeting the most attractive and relevant ones with highly tailored application materials.
So far in the course, several marketing principles, assumptions, and theories have been shared, and I am still processing this information in my mind. It is interesting, though, to look for other areas of overlap between these concepts and what we focus on as career advisors. Here are three market-driven principles that were shared:
Knowing the market is essential. The more you understand about who your customers are (and in career terms these are hiring employers), the easier it is to convince them that you have what they are looking for. If employers are the customers in this case, then they still get the final say. That means that there is little point in telling an employer about all of the great work you have done, and all of the super experiences that you have gained, if this information does not align with what the employer is looking for. For example, over the course of a 5-year PhD, a graduate student can gain a very wide range of transferable skills. However, one of the consequences of doing a PhD is often a lack of practice talking about these skills outside of the context of the very specific research field the student has been working on. In an interview for a non-faculty job, PhD students and postdocs have to be careful not to answer the question “so tell me about your research” by actually spending 5 minutes talking about the specifics of their research. Instead, they have to be able to answer “so tell me how you did your research”, because the answer to this question will be much more skills-focused. Additionally, having completed a 5 year PhD and a 5 year postdoc, there may be some expectation on the side of the candidate that these combined experiences by themselves should qualify them for a wide range of positions. This is not the case – the employer wants the candidates to be able to show how these experiences make them a good fit, and wants the candidate to be able to demonstrate this level of understanding.
And then the idea of being the best at one of the concepts listed above (operational excellence, performance superiority, and customer intimacy), but good enough at the other two, might be relevant to the job seeker as a way to show that there are different approaches to successfully landing a position. Performance superiority might represent the research skills a student has gained. Someone with 15 published papers and two grants might demonstrate performance superiority. Operational excellence might represent the number of connections that a candidate has in different career fields, or their knowledge of these fields and of what employers are looking for based on extensive research into their different career fields. Customer intimacy would represent the degree to which a candidate has actually initiated and then further developed relationships with contacts at different employers through collaborations or networking (taking the idea of knowing people to the more advanced level of having professional relationships with these people). Given this, the following scenarios demonstrate how excellence in any of these three areas can help. Someone might be hired because they are the best at what they do even if they don’t have a lot of contacts or professional relationships with employers, or even if they don’t know much about the business itself (they can easily be trained in that, for example). Another person might get hired because they have been able to craft a spectacular resume that shows that they understand the nature of the position to which they are applying, even if they are not the best candidate in terms of their accomplishments (the most accomplished individual who cannot articulate how their accomplishments are relevant might not get the job, after all). And finally, someone else might get hired even though they are not the most accomplished, and even if they don’t have a smart-looking, tailored resume, but because they have great working relationships with people at a specific company, and those future colleagues can easily see themselves working with the candidate for the foreseeable future (fit always plays a role in hiring decisions). You only need to be the best in one of these dimensions…, but it helps if you are not terrible at the other two.
One other marketing topic that is directly relevant to the job search is the idea of brand positioning. One of the points mentioned in the course is the idea that a personal brand is not what you say about yourself, but represents what others say about you. You can come up with a really snappy brand statement about yourself, a well-craft narrative about what skills and experience you bring, but if this is not how the customers see you, then these statements won’t stick. This is another good reason to develop a broad professional network, and to cultivate this network carefully, and tend to it frequently. It will be people in this network who create your personal brand. You can help them through your interactions, through being able to articulate your unique selling proposition (the clear, simple, and unique benefits you bring), but beyond that, they will define your brand for you. When it comes to branding, the goal is to get consumers to notice the brand, but also to understand the information it represents. Just like with resumes, if there is too much information (and especially too much irrelevant information), the audience will likely block all of it out. Clear, concise, target-focused information should be at the heart of personal brands, resumes, and pretty much any form of communication.
I have obviously got more to learn about marketing, and hopefully will come across more ideas for how marketing principles can help individual job seekers. Interestingly, I think there will be information from this course that can also be used by institutional career centers at universities to better market themselves to their customers (the students and postdocs they serve). From branding, to segmentation and targeting, to customer-centricity, these are all relevant to how we as career advisors can better work with these populations.
by Sharon Fleshman, Senior Associate Director
Earlier this year, I posted an article called Pressing the Pause Button which offered some guidance on how to regroup and refocus during times of overwhelm. Given the abundance of emails in my inbox and the constant allure of technology, I am challenged to follow my own advice. As I realize how overrated multitasking is, I have been drawn to the practice of mindfulness, which has emerged as a practical way to experience more fulfillment and productivity in the workplace. In their Harvard Business Review article, How to Practice Mindfulness Throughout Your Work Day, Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter note that:
“Two skills define a mindful mind: focus and awareness. More explicitly, focus is the ability to concentrate on what you’re doing in the moment, while awareness is the ability to recognize and release unnecessary distractions as they arise. Understand that mindfulness is not just a sedentary practice; mindfulness is about developing a sharp, clear mind.”
I see mindfulness as an intentional way to pause, pay attention, and be present in the moment, which are vital to producing high quality work, connecting well with colleagues and clients, and maintaining a healthy rhythm of work, recreation and rest.
Below you will find several articles that speak to the importance and impact of integrating mindfulness in the context of work. As you read them, consider how you can put one or two concrete practices into your everyday life this summer.
10 Ways to be More Mindful at Work
I was recently talking with a family member about her fairly new job – she’s been there 8 months, and had been with her prior organization for 8 years. We discussed the many ways in which her two experiences have been different – in her previous company, she had made deep friendships and many partnerships, she felt that she was a valued part of a team, she was allowed to innovate, her suggestions were heard and contributions recognized both privately and publicly. She changed jobs to help advance her career…but it turns out that this new position is lacking so many of the things that felt so important to her before.
As we finished talking, we focused on developing an action plan – determining what she could do to adjust her job and find new opportunities that helped her to contribute, feel valued and make partnerships. After talking with her boss, with whom she has developed a great relationship by clarifying his expectations and exceeding them, she will be taking the lead on a new project and developing an affinity group amongst her peers to forge relationships across the company.
It is so hard, when interviewing for a job, to figure out if you’re the right “fit” for the organization, and so easy to get frustrated – or immediately start looking for a new job – when you begin to realize that perfect “fit” isn’t there. Now, I am not one to advocate for making yourself miserable if you’re truly unhappy and unfulfilled in your work – by all means, use your energy to begin planning your next move. But, it is so important to have these conversations with someone you trust – a mentor, a friend, your sister – so that you can begin to figure out what you like, what you dislike, what your values are and how you can find a position that plays to your strengths, helps you to grow and “fits” you. I think of career paths as an accumulation of knowledge, experiences and decisions, as well as something unique to a person. What do you like about your current role? What do you dislike? What are you able to change? How can you find your best fit? If a Career Services advisor can help you in thinking about this, by all means please contact us!