Organizing Your Job Search

by Sharon Fleshman

So you’re looking at a pile of business cards on your desk from the most recent career fair and a screen full of emailed job postings. Now what?  Here are some tips to stay organized with your job search.

Carve out dedicated time. Make sure that you are tending to your job search on a regular basis.  Whether it’s two hours every Saturday morning or 30 minutes before dinner five times a week,  consider what works best for you.

Have a place to store key information (e.g. applications sent, contacts made, etc.) and document your progress. You may choose to work with a spreadsheet or with a more sophisticated tool such as Jobtreks, which can be accessed on our Job Search page.

Establish a support system. A colleague of mine has found that when he facilitates job search groups, the members begin to support one another in the process.  Be intentional about having a space where you can give and receive encouragement as you conduct your job search. Such a “space” may be a job search group, a mentor’s office, or an informational interview with an alum. Career Services advisors are also available to help you strategize and stay on track.

Summer in the Park

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Jessica Laurel Arias, PennDesign ’17

Me interviewing a community participant in Apartadó, Colombia

This summer I conducted analysis of completed participatory design projects with the organization Fundación para el Desarollo Intercultural. The projects I studied involved communities in the city of Quibdó and the municipalities of Apartadó and Chigorodó in western Colombia to build local parks as a way of promoting social integration among community residents and individuals who had recently demobilized from armed groups. The projects took place in regions that have been torn apart by internal war in Colombia. Mass displacement and resettlement, corruption, lack of institutional capacity, and a culture of violence and distrust have resulted in a social fabric that is in many cases absolutely broken. I gathered first-hand information by travelling to those areas to conduct interviews with project participants and to observe continued use and results since the completion of the projects in 2009 and 2010.

“Peace Park” in Quibdó, Colombia

The common goal of constructing a park produced more than just a physical product; it also gave these communities a first glance into the concept of the public realm: where people learn to tolerate differences, work towards the common good, and participate in civil society. The demobilized individuals described the impact of seeing a positive physical product to their labor, showing them they could be productive members of society. Many of the participants spoke to me about these projects as catalysts for greater empowerment in their neighborhoods. The different communities have since taken initiative to complete their own census to petition their municipality for greater resources, establish a school of music, complete home and infrastructure improvement projects, and involve neighbors in waste management programs. In spite of high poverty and very little institutional support, collective action and accountability have become great resources for these communities.

Linear Park in Chigorodó, Colombia (I am wearing a blue shirt)

For me as a design student, the most interesting aspect of these projects was that although design was not the primary goal, it was an essential tool for promoting reconciliation between groups with a history of violent interaction. While designing and constructing their small community parks, the participants discussed the meaning of social harmony, citizen participation, and cultural identity. By practicing these concepts through the design process, victims and victimizers came together to find common ground.

Linear Park in Chigorodó, Colombia

Through the comparative analysis I completed of these projects, and hearing about other types of projects aimed at reintegrating demobilized persons in Colombia, it became clear to me that the physical-spatial aspect of the programs was fundamental to their sustainability. The parks have become spaces for interaction among strangers and acquaintances alike, places to develop and propagate social norms, and foster a shared vision for their communities. Residents of other neighborhoods recognize these spaces as symbols of the social cohesion achieved through the projects, and the parks serve as important meeting points in the areas where they are located. The continued use of these public spaces has also helped to continually build psychological and emotional ties to the physical spaces of these communities. It is inspiring to see how design can promote more equitable societies by involving diverse stakeholders and promoting citizen participation. By becoming the creators and managers of their own shared spaces, these communities are finding access routes to wider goals: economic development, social justice, and sustainable development.

"20 de enero" Park in Apartadó, Colombia
“20 de enero” Park in Apartadó, Colombia

Engaging the (Firearm) Safety

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Cathy Zhang, COL ’19

cz1This summer, I spent ten weeks interning with the Trauma Injury Prevention Program at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. As an injury prevention intern, I spent my first couple weeks learning the fundamental theories and practices behind injury prevention and assisting in fieldwork ranging from community health fairs to reading to preschoolers about pedestrian safety.

Aside from working at health fairs and talking to children about injury prevention, my primary project this summer was writing a best practice guide for preventing pediatric firearm suicides. Although suicides are typically addressed by behavioral health departments in hospitals, gunshot wounds fall under trauma, and an increase in gunshot wounds due to suicide attempts indicated a need for greater prevention efforts. The recent increase in firearm suicide attempts is not unique to the Middle Tennessee region. Although much national attention has been placed on interpersonal gun violence in the last two years, the rate of firearm homicides has actually been decreasing, while firearm suicides have been increasing.

My objective in writing the best practice guide was to assess the current state of preventive efforts at Vanderbilt and other hospitals and organizations throughout the nation in order to determine how the pediatric trauma department could enhance its suicide prevention efforts. This process involved emailing and meeting with physicians, injury prevention specialists, and activists from a variety of organizations, including the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, to learn about their suicide prevention efforts.

One of my favorite meetings was with the policy director of the Safe Tennessee Project, an organization dedicated to addressing issues of gun-related injuries from a public health standpoint. During our meeting I learned about previous efforts in the state to pass legislation that would encourage safe firearm storage in homes with children, as well as how political image in election years and NRA lobbying impacted the ultimate failure of such bills. Nursing and Health and Societies courses at Penn often emphasize the importance of following healthcare legislation, but this experience helped me grasp how legal policies and interest groups beyond the realm of healthcare impact public health.


In addition to writing the best practice guide, I was also given the chance to review and revise a firearm safety course for elementary and middle school students that previous interns had developed for the Injury Prevention Program. I also wrote safety articles for the department’s quarterly newsletter and monthly safety topics throughout the summer and helped implement a teen driver safety program designed by the department. The combination of outreach work and research that this internship offered made this summer an extremely educational and fulfilling experience for me. The opportunity to interact with community members, healthcare professionals, and policy advocates broadened my perspective of preventive healthcare and gave me a glimpse of its complexity. This was the most engaging introduction to public health I could have hoped for, and I am deeply grateful to Career Services for making it possible.

Women on Wheels

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Mariel Kirschen, PennDesign ’17

mk2As the summer comes to a close, I am thankful that I was provided with the opportunity to pursue an internship with Kota Kita, a non-profit organization in Solo, Indonesia. The organization works throughout Indonesia on participatory urban planning which allowed me to work with local community members as I developed my skills of research and analysis.  This allowed me to better understand the processes behind the scenes of community-based initiatives, such as focus group discussions and community mapping.  The skills, experiences, and perspectives that I gained from my summer internship in Indonesia have strengthened the foundation of my education and expanded my opportunities for my future career in transportation planning.

My work at Kota Kita focused on the Women on Wheels pilot project in the city of Solo. The goal of the project is to promote bicycling for women and girls in developing countries to increase their mobility and access to economic opportunity.  One thing that made my internship so unique was that I was able to witness as Kota Kita went into the community to gather input.  With this information, we were able to draw our conclusions and plan actions to improve the lives of the residents of the city.  The process behind both collecting responses and analyzing the feedback was an opportunity to use many of the skills I had acquired during my first year of graduate school and develop new techniques that I will be able to use later in many academic and career settings.

Working on the Women on Wheels project was an invaluable experience that allowed me to pursue a number of my academic interests in one internship. The majority of my work was on developing a methodology that could be used by any city interesting in looking at the current conditions for gender and transportation.  For this, I was able to combine my undergraduate work in gender studies with my current graduate studies in transportation planning, something I did not anticipate doing before this summer.  In the Indonesian context, a foreign perspective helped me to develop both topics further and frame them in a way that I may not have without the international exposure.  All together, I was able to use my past experience with the lessons learned in Indonesia to create a part of the project of which I was proud.

In addition to my internship work, life in Indonesia was filled with unique cultural experiences, beautiful sights, and new friendships. For my first experience in Asia, I was able to adapt to certain aspects faster than others.  I was able to spend time traveling around Indonesia and taking in the diverse cultural traditions and numerous volcanos.  I was fortunate to be able to work within a very supportive office culture with generous coworkers who were always willing to show you around.  I will miss my time on the other side of the world but am looking forward to how I will be able to use my experience in the upcoming year.


Are You Career Competent?

Dr. Joseph Barber, Associate Director

You may not have been asked this specific question in a job interview. But fundamentally all interview questions are trying to help the interviewer to define your career competence. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has recently highlighted the idea of career competencies and career readiness in a push to help colleges and universities work with their students in ways that encourage a successful transition from the academic environment to the workplace. That includes the process of moving from being a graduate student or postdoc to a being faculty member within academe, as well as entering into career fields in business, non-profits, government, and beyond.

You can view the NACE competencies here and read about how these competencies were developed through an interactive process involving both career services professionals and human resources/recruiting staff at more than 600 different employers. As such, they represent both what career services professionals should be helping graduate students and postdocs achieve (or at least talk about effectively), and what employers are broadly looking for in some of their ideal candidates.

I like the idea of competencies. They give people professional development goals to work towards. They help students and postdocs understand that it takes a wide diversity of skills to be successful in any work situation. They demonstrate that there are always news skills to be learned and new situations in which to apply pre-existing skills.

That said, I’m not sure I like the word “competency” as much — at least when thinking about the way graduate students and postdocs think about themselves. Unfortunately, much in the same way that the word “pedagogy” doesn’t find much love outside of academe (most people would call it “teaching”), the word “competency” doesn’t get much day-to-day use when it comes to the interactions that faculty members and students/postdocs have with one another. In fact, it can feel like a very foreign concept. No one has ever made an appointment with me to talk about their competencies.

One definition of competency I found online described the term as “the ability to do something successfully or efficiently.” As definitions go, it is a short one but not entirely helpful. Most people would probably agree that a competency is a positive attribute — something you want more of. No matter what you are doing, you will probably be better off if you are doing it more competently. However, you can’t make someone more competent just by giving them something like knowledge — there is no magical competency pill. A competency is something that needs to be practiced so that it can be used effectively in a wide range of appropriate situations, and at all the right times.

At Penn, we have been thinking about how the NACE competencies can be adapted for the different student and postdoc populations we serve through Career Services. We are considering how they might inform the future programming we develop as well as the way we work with students one-on-one with our advising. We are also thinking about how these career competencies have value to our colleagues in other student service offices on the campus as they work with students in their various capacities.

Here are the NACE career readiness competencies:

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Oral/written communication
  3. Teamwork/collaboration
  4. Information technology application
  5. Leadership
  6. Professionalism and work ethic
  7. Career management

One of the first changes we made to this list at Penn was to integrate the idea of applying information technology into the other competencies rather than having it stand alone. We decided that telling students that it is important for them to use technology to accomplish a task and solve problems would likely trigger blank stares flavored with a distinct essence of disbelief. No one is going to sound cool and trendy telling students that using technology is important — especially since many may not actually know that there is any alternative. (And, yes, it is always important to sound somewhat cool and trendy to be seen as credible by some students — at least as cool and trendy as someone can who uses the words “cool” and “trendy.”)

We also added a “self-management and personal wellness” competency to emphasize concepts such as resiliency in the face of challenges, mistakes and failures. Students and postdocs should know that it is OK to make some mistakes, that failure often creates different opportunities, and that it is both professional and important to ask for help in pretty much any scenario.

Here are the career competencies we have developed so far: 

Self-management and personal wellness. Build personal and professional development strategies and goals with a clear focus on effectively managing stress and balancing work/life commitments.

  • Assess personal feelings and effectively keep emotions in perspective.
  • Showcase empathy and understanding with others.
  • Cultivate and foster habits of wellness to increase focus, productivity and impact.
  • Develop and demonstrate resiliency within a professional setting and other stressful situations.
  • Gain awareness of available wellness resources and support and ask for help when needed.

Active listening and effective communication.  Accurately receive and interpret verbal and non-verbal messages from direct reports, peers, colleagues, and supervisors. Clearly and effectively articulate thoughts and to varied audiences in writing and in presentation.

  • Adapt speaking approaches to suit different audiences.
  • Communicate effectively and professionally through diverse channels (social media, emails, verbal communication).
  • Express ideas in a coherent manner.
  • Write/edit letters, position papers, proposals, web content and complex technical reports clearly and effectively.

Critical thinking and problem solving. Exercise sound reasoning to analyze issues, make decisions, overcome problems, address ambiguity and find relevant information.

  • Obtain, interpret, and use knowledge, facts, and data to resolve problems.
  • Demonstrate creativity, originality and inventiveness.
  • Easily adapt new technologies and applications to address work challenges and apply computing skills to solve problems.

Teamwork and collaboration. Build collaborative relationships with colleagues and clients representing diverse cultures, races, ages, genders, religions, lifestyles, disciplines, and viewpoints.

  • Assume various roles within a team structure.
  • Effectively manage and negotiate different personalities in order to reach a common goal.
  • Understand how to problem solve when encountering challenging workplace dynamics. 

Leadership and project management. Develop professional, working relationships with colleagues, peers, and supervisors/advisors, and leverage the strengths of others to achieve common goals.

  • Develop a strategically conceptualized plan to identify and achieve goals.
  • Utilize interpersonal skills to coach, develop, motivate and gain buy-in from others.
  • Organize, prioritize and delegate work.
  • Identify opportunity areas to more successfully achieve goals.
  • Leverage diverse talent pool to maximize team results.


Professionalism and work ethic. Demonstrate personal accountability and effective work habits (e.g., punctuality, working productively with others and time/workload management), and understand the impact of non-verbal communication on professional image.

  • Demonstrate integrity and behave ethically.
  • Make responsible decisions that consider the interests of the larger community.
  • Assume responsibility when mistakes are made and learn from them in future situations.
  • Communicate with colleagues in language appropriate for the work. environment and suitable for a diverse environment.
  • Go above and beyond to make positive impressions.
  • Understand data privacy and security issues particular to the workplace. 

Career Management. Identify and express one’s skills, strengths, knowledge and experiences relevant to both the desired position and career goals, and identify areas necessary for professional growth.

  • Assess current role and how it will lead to future prospects.
  • Understand and take necessary steps to find and pursue opportunities.
  • Articulate impact on workplace by effectively communicating and illustrating skills, competencies, knowledge and experiences.
  • Self-advocate for professional development and advancement.
  • Understand current industry’s market and relationship to the overall economy.

Many higher education institutions have developed their own customized competencies for their students, and we hope that this approach at Penn will be similarly helpful for us as administrative staff as well as to the students and postdocs we serve. It is clear that the role of career advisers is not necessarily to assist them in gaining all of these competencies. Many fall outside of the reach of a career services office. But we can certainly play a key part in helping students and postdocs understand the importance of these traits from the prospective of employers, to point them towards experiences that help them develop and practice these competencies, and perhaps most important, to help them be able to communicate the competencies they do have in clear, illustrative and relevant ways during their job search and career development. I will describe possible ways to gain and then demonstrate some of these competencies in a future post.