Taking the “Work” (and Fear) out of “Networking”

By Dr. Claire Klieger, Senior Associate Director


Most people will tell you that networking is an important part of any job or internship search. However, when working with students and alumni, I find that this recommendation is often easier said than done. First, there is a lot of confusion about what networking really means and what it looks like: How do you go about it? Who are the right people to contact? What do you say? What’s appropriate to ask? For these reasons, and many others, I encounter many individuals who are reluctant to do it. If this feels like you, here are some tips for finding networking success by making the process easier:

  1. Don’t think of it as networking. Networking can have a negative connotation, feel pushy, annoying, or awkward. What you are really doing, or should be doing, is information gathering. You’re talking to people in industries and positions of interest to learn more about what they do and how they got there. Since they are in roles that you might ultimately want to hold, they can offer a lot of advice that can help you along the way.


  1. Use warm contacts. Even if you feel as though you do not have a strong personal network, every student or alum from Penn has one very important thing in common—your shared Quaker experience! And common ground is all you need to start a networking conversation. So take advantage of that low-hanging fruit. With Penn’s alumni database, QuakerNet, you have the power of access to hundreds of thousands of contacts at your fingertips. This database can be searched not just by employer name, industry or geographic location but also by major, undergraduate club affiliation or even shared interests.


With the alumni page feature of LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/alumni) you can easily filter the page’s almost 140,000 Penn alumni by other useful categories including “what they do” or “what they’re skilled at” as well doing keyword searches. Browsing profiles not only gives you detailed information, but is also a good strategy for identifying good possible professional associations or commonly listed skill sets. Aren’t connected to interesting people you find? No problem! Just look up their contact information on Quakernet.


If you are a current student, use the Penn Internship Network, our searchable database of current students who have agreed to discuss their summer experience. This can be a great way not only to get information but also gain practice and confidence to help you build up to reaching out to alumni contacts. With all of these online resources, identifying networking contacts has never been easier!


  1. Never ask for a job or internship outright. Part of the reason many people find networking awkward or have trouble making it successful is because they assume that it is purely a means to an end—getting that job or internship. In reality, though, the best kind of networking is the building of relationships. So, employing the approach of “do you have any open positions?” or “If you could help me find a job that would be really be great” does not get you very far. This is because people either don’t know you well enough to want to help you in that way or they aren’t in a position to offer you a job. So, those kinds of emails tend to just up in the Bermuda triangle of cyberspace.


  1. Be brief, personalized, and to the point when reaching out. If you want someone to respond to networking request from you, it is critical for you to convey your message in an effective way. The easiest way to do this is to request informational interviews. Explain who you are, how you found that person, and why you are contacting them—because you think the work that they do at XXXX organization is really interesting and you would love to learn more about their career path and what advice they can offer to someone just starting out in the field. Would they have 20-30 minutes for an informational interview over the phone (or in person)? We even have a sample email on our website! Check out our additional tips on informational interviews, including what kinds of questions to ask.


  1. It really isn’t as awkward as you think. Often, when I give this same networking pep talk to students in person, I can tell that some remain skeptical and apprehensive because it may still feel like a big deal, or a big ask of someone they have never met to have a conversation. This is actually my favorite part of the conversation because I know that I have one final ace up my sleeve that turns everyone on its head.  Here it is: Have you ever been contacted by family friends or others and asked to speak with someone about your experience at Penn and offer advice—perhaps by high school students who are about to apply to college? In my over ten years here in this office, not once has the answer to this question been “no.” Without exception, everyone says “sure” and almost always with a smile. Why? Because if you enjoyed your experience, you are happy to speak with others about what that experience has been like and it feels good to share advice and be seen as someone who has expertise on something. When most working individuals receive a request for an informational interview, they are flattered, not annoyed, because they are excited that someone is interested in the work that they do.


So, hopefully you feel less intimidated by the process! Go forth and “network”!


“So, I know I’m really behind in my job search…”

Anne Marie Gercke, Associate Director

“So, I know I’m really behind in my job search…” Sound familiar? This time of year, this is one of the most common phrases I hear from students as they sheepishly sink in into the chair in my office and go on to list all of the reasons they feel behind the 8 ball. After they stop to take a breath, typically I ask the student what industries he/she is seeking. Since I’m lucky enough to work with undergraduates from The College of Arts and Sciences, I often hear a variety of answers ranging from legal services to non-profit to healthcare to retail to…a whole bunch more. That’s when I offer up four simple words that seem to lift the weight of the world off the student’s shoulders: “You are not behind.”

While there are particular industries that begin recruiting very early, some as early as the summer before the school year even starts (like finance, as well as some consulting and technology), the majority of employers in other industries do what we call ‘just-in-time recruiting’. This means they don’t know quite so far in advance what they will need in terms of full-time employees or interns come the following summer. Those infamous OCR companies that come every fall? They reserve their interview rooms during March or April of the previous school year, a full 3 semesters before the summer for which they are hiring. Employers in other industries don’t necessarily know how many hires they will need so far in advance, so they tend to recruit closer to graduation and/or the summer.

So am I telling you that anyone with interests outside of finance, consulting and technology should kick up their heels and not think about jobs or internships until mid-spring? Absolutely not! Exceptions do exist and I would not be a good career advisor if I failed to encourage you to do your research before the deadlines hit. There are several steps you can take in order to best prepare. Identify key companies of interest. Learn about different job functions and industries by creating a Vault Career Guide account on our subscriptions page. Network with alumni at various organizations and conduct informational interviews. Understand when industries recruit – I often recommend our timing of career fairs as a loose guide as to when various industry recruiting occurs.

Most importantly, while you may feel behind, know your facts before you decide that you’ve messed up in any way. A positive outlook is imperative, because to successfully succeed in your career search, it’s best to feel confident and prepared because that’s what employers will notice when they meet you. If you find you’re lacking confidence or can’t figure out how to best prepare, we’re here in Career Services to help! Call to schedule an appointment with an advisor so that we can help you navigate this daunting process that many of you may be doing for the very first time. You may find that finding the right job isn’t as difficult as it seems, and that you aren’t, in fact, behind at all!

(Please note, it can be challenging during busier months to schedule an appointment since the volume of students we serve is quite large, but we do have walk-ins every weekday, which are first-come, first-served, and these are found on our website and updated daily.)


Have You Considered Working for a Startup?

Tiffany J. Franklin, Associate Director

Startup fever seems to be everywhere these days, whether it’s an episode of Shark Tank or watching Silicon Valley on HBO. Entrepreneur centers are popping up all over the country and the Wall Street Journal and New York Times are filled with stories about these types of companies. Have you ever considered working for a Startup?

With the Penn 2017 Startup Fair being held in just a few weeks (Thursday, February 9th in Houston Hall, 11am – 3pm), it’s the perfect time to explore the world of startups.

Neil Blumenthal, cofounder and co-CEO of Warby Parker, defines a startup as “A startup is a company working to solve a problem where the solution is not obvious and success is not guaranteed.” Definitions on Investopedia describe companies in early stages of operations in which founders “attempt to capitalize on developing a product or service for which they believe there is a demand.” Inherent in these descriptions is the element of risk in conjunction with great potential.

For many students, working at a startup serves as an invaluable part of their internship experience. Some become enthralled with that world and choose to remain in that sphere for years (either as employees of startups or entrepreneurs founding their own companies), while others leverage the experience and go on to more established employers. In either case, working for a startup will provide you will a wealth of examples of how you have demonstrated competencies that employers value. For example, since wearing multiple hats is the norm, you will likely work on numerous projects across functional areas. This provides an opportunity to show how you demonstrate initiative, adaptability, problem solving, and teamwork, among other skills.

As with any job search, it’s important to evaluate the values that mean most to you to see if the startup world could be a fit. Career Services has an excellent values exercise that is helpful to review both at the beginning of your job search as you evaluate offers. In addition, it’s important to conduct due diligence on the company just as you would with any potential employer. You want to ask yourself some of the following questions that Ann Fisher outlines in her Fortune article – “7 questions to ask before joining a startup.”

  • What’s my tolerance for risk?
  • What stage is the start-up in now?
  • Has the enterprise shown fast growth so far?
  • Who’s in charge?
  • Who’s funding the company?
  • Will I have a mentor?
  • What will my role be?
  • Do I have the right personality to shine in a start-up?

There are a wealth of resources available to help you learn more about startups.







Infographic Source: http://blog.gojobhero.com/10-best-startup-job-boards-infographic

Working for a startup can be a rewarding experience that is invaluable to your career progression. If you would like to learn more, Career Services is holding a workshop/panel called “Job & Internship Search: Startups” on February 2nd from 12-1pm in Huntsman Hall, G50. Hope to see you there and at the Startup Fair on February 9th!

Resume advice from the most magical place on earth

I am going to be heading to Disney World with my family this month, and for me it is an opportunity to revisit an earlier step in my career path. It is also a good opportunity to revisit a blog post I wrote back in 2010 about how Disneyfying your resume may be a great idea. After finishing my PhD at the University of Oxford, I went on to start a postdoc at the University of Central Florida. Although my postdoc was run through the university, I was actually based at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (DAK) – yes, that’s right, with Mickey and the gang. You might think this a strange place to do a postdoc until you realize that my PhD is in animal behaviour. There are lots of real animals at DAK, not just the giant-headed, costumed kind. Beyond my research into animal welfare, I learnt a lot from my Disney experience, and got some great insights into the corporate world of mission statements, branding strategies, marketing campaigns, and the laser-like focus that Disney has on customer service. Some of these unique aspects of Disney can also be relevant when it comes to thinking about your own professional branding – especially when it comes to documents like resumes.

Let’s take the idea of “theming” as an example. Yes, theming is based on the noun “theme” that, like the word “friend”, probably should not be made into a verb. But anything is possible at Disney, and so that’s what they did. If you have been to DAK you know that you walk around several different environments within the park. The two main ones are Asia and Africa – not anywhere specific in Asia or Africa, but some broad idea of what we generally envision when we think about those far-off places (or at least what Disney wants you to think). When you walk around in Africa, looking at the range of fantastic wildlife, taking the safari ride, and saving elephants from poachers, you are meant to believe that you are actually there, not just in a theme park. The design of the buildings, the type of thatched roof used, the sights, sounds, and smells that surround you as you browse the vibrant marketplace or wait in the train station, they have all been designed to help you feel that you are really there. The Disney Imagineers, those people in charge of conceptualizing and creating the Disney experience, traveled far and wide to get inspiration to use in the design of the theme park.

In Asia, you may walk through a temple as you queue for one of the rides. When the park first opened, visitors who entered some of the temple areas started to take their shoes off because they saw a pair of shoes outside of the temple that had been placed there as part of the theming. They didn’t have to, and Disney probably preferred they didn’t for liability/health and safety reasons, but they were buying into the theming. It seemed natural to take off their shoes in that environment.

Every object you see as you walk around DAK is there for a reason, and has its own story. Perhaps the shoes were owned by a local bicycle repairman who had spent the day repairing a bike that had been damaged when its owner crashed it after being chased by tigers near to the old temple ruins. OK, now we are getting to the part where Disney can help with your resume. There is such a rich context to every object and every building in the park, but the Imagineers’ goal is for you not to notice them. The objects are not meant to stick out as something you need to look at and investigate, they are they to help you become immersed in the experience of actually being in Africa or Asia. The more you notice the trimmings, the less rich your experience becomes. It may seem strange for the Imagineers to spend so much time on every aspect of their design only to want them to be ignored, but they realize that people value the overall experiences that they have at the end of the day more than they value being impressed by the range of objects that they have seen. They would be impressed by the objects if they realized how much thought has gone into them, but the objects are there to become the backdrop to the immersion experience, not the main parts of it.

If you have had your resume reviewed by a career advisor, then you have probably received feedback not only about the content (your experiences), but also about the formatting (the trimmings).

  • Do you have consistent punctuation?
  • Are the hyphens between your dates the same size, with the same spacing either side of them?
  • Are the bullet points the same shape, and indented to the same degree throughout the document?
  • Is the font used consistent, and is the size the same throughout the document?
  • Is there enough white space to make the document feel easy-breezy to read, or does if feel cramped and overwhelming?


But are these really important issues? Will a misaligned bullet point really lose you the chance to interview for your dream job? Well, there are some good practical reasons to make sure your formatting is in order. If you are evenly matched in terms of experience with several candidates for a potential job, but your resume formatting isn’t perfect, then perhaps an employer can make their short list of candidates to interview by thinking about who has the greatest attention to detail. In some jobs (think editing or medical writing), attention to detail is not just a bonus, it is an essential requirement.

The Disney approach to thinking about your resume helps to ensure that the employers focus on the rich experiences that you have, and the relevant skills you have illustrated in your documents, by trying to make sure that that they don’t think about your formatting at all. Employers don’t really care about the formatting…, up until the point where they notice an issue, and then that might be all they can think about. As soon as employers start noticing formatting issues, they are no longer concentrating on your skills and experiences – the information that will actually get you the interview. You don’t want employers to walk away from reading your resume saying, “those were some nice shapes they used in their bullet points”, or worse, “Why don’t the bullet points line up properly?”. You want them to walk away saying, “Those bullet points really illustrated how effective their analytical skills were”. You have to format your documents so impeccably that no-one even notices all of the time you spent tweaking the look of the text and proofreading for spelling/grammar mistakes. You want the formatting to become the backdrop to the content you want to get across. When employers are immersed in your skills and experiences, they will value you more. When this immersion is interrupted by a spelling mistake or misplaced comma, your theming is ruined, and the key message that you are the most suitable candidate becomes obscured.

The relevance of the content itself is also important. If you were walking around the Africa area of Disney’s Animal Kingdom and you suddenly came across theming that looked like it belonged in Asia, you would certainly notice this fact. And this is a very important aspect to keep in mind as you think about how you are talking about your experiences in a resume. The more you can match your own experiences to the type of experiences that are relevant to the job you are applying for, the easier it becomes for the employer to imagine you in this role. You can do this by adopting the language used in the industry or organization you are interested in to describe your own examples of your skills in action. The best way to get a sense of what language is relevant will be to have as many conversations as possible with people in the type of role you are applying to. By being an active listener during these informational interviews, you can not only get a sense of what skills are valuable in the role, but you will hear firsthand how people talk about using these skills on the job. You can then echo these descriptions when you are illustrating your skills.

Disney knows how to sell their brand and the experiences they offer. You may want to take a similar approach as you market your own skills and knowledge in pursuit of your future careers. Jambo everyone, and we hope to see you at Career Services soon!

Happy New Year! Time for a New Look?

Welcome back! Hopefully all of you had a restful and enjoyable break. We invite you to stop by the Career Services office (Suite 20, McNeil) to check out the renovations that occurred over the break – with fresh paint, new carpet and updated furniture, we have a whole new look! (Admittedly a bit austere at the present moment as we work to get our wall decorations back up, but that is coming!)

Is it time for you to take a fresh look at various aspects of your career? As you all know, your resume and LinkedIn profile are always “works in progress”. If you haven’t done so in a while, pull out your resume and check to see if it needs updating or refreshing. Have your goals changed? Do you have new relevant classes you might like to add? Does your GPA need updating? How about new roles you have taken on in your extracurricular activities? Is it time to devote more space to your college activities and start deleting more of your experiences from high school? Do your categories still make sense? Maybe you have enough experience now that you could add a section tailored to your area of interest – for example a “Marketing Section” or a “Research Section.” Feel free to update your resume and then send it to a Career Services advisor or schedule an appointment to meet with an advisor to review it in person.

The new year is also a good time to think about how your career goals might have changed and to set some new ones. Is there a new industry or type of job that you’ve recently heard about that is intriguing? Perhaps set aside some time to conduct some online research about opportunities in the field and try to set up a few informational interviews with alumni to learn more about it. Maybe you’ve determined that you need to develop a certain skill set – whether it be technical like learning a new programming language or a soft skill, such as improving your public speaking abilities. Think about how you might find opportunities to further strengthen those areas. (For a structured way to think about competencies that are valued by employers, check out our Penn7 Career Competencies that will walk you through skills that will be helpful to you in your career regardless of academic discipline.)

The New Year is a natural time for reflection about the past and pondering the future. Be sure to include some time to think about your career.