Moments and Milestones: The Power of Story in Your Career

by Sharon Fleshman

Recently, I went to a talk on professional development given by a professor.  The day was overcast with plenty of liquid sunshine, so I wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of walking across campus to attend. But I’m glad that I did.   First off, lunch was provided (always a good thing).   More importantly, the professor opened by noting that he would share three stories from his life that have informed his career.  Something about that resonated with me.  He could have simply offered three principles, yet he framed his remarks so that the principles emerged out of his defining moments. I found that this was so much more memorable and formative for my own learning. 

As my colleague Tiffany Franklin suggests that you invest in professional development, let me also suggest that you do so as a collector of stories. As you reflect on your defining moments, you will recall pivotal life lessons and milestones that will help you remember what matters, learn from your successes and failures, and navigate your career going forward.

Are You Investing in Yourself?

Tiffany J. Franklin, Associate Director

Congratulations 2017 Graduates! As you celebrate your accomplishments at Penn and take your next steps into the world, whether it’s working full-time, graduate and professional school, volunteering, or travel, it’s a good idea to consider how you will continue to grow as a professional after Penn. For years, you’ve had structured syllabi for classes and countless resources to help you grow just steps from Locust Walk. Now, as you embark on your new life, it’s up to you to ensure your continued growth and to provide structure to the ambiguous endeavor known as professional development.

Why bother with professional development?

Before getting into the how of professional development, let’s talk about the why. Professional development is an investment in yourself. It’s making sure you continue to build skills and remain relevant as the world shifts around you. It’s about staying on top of your game so you can be an agent of change rather than a person reacting to change and trying to keep up.

As a student at Penn, you were all about the possibilities and pondering how you could make your mark on the world in numerous ways. No matter how many years pass since your commencement, never stop asking yourself that question. Keep learning so you can give your future self choices. Do things today that you will thank yourself for in a few years.

Where to begin…

  • Attend Conferences – These are great venues to meet other professionals in the field, learn best practices, gain insights into the future direction of an industry, and meet people in your field.
  • Read industry publications and general business news – Staying informed will help you perform your current job better and is helpful for networking situations, brainstorming, and future interviews.
  • Attend Networking functions Get to know people when you are not looking for a job. Building professional relationships now will make your life much easier for down the road when you are ready to switch positions and call upon some of these contacts.
  • Identify mentors both inside and outside your field. Find people with career paths you admire and see if they are willing to share advice about what has worked for them. Check out QuakerNet to find Penn alumni within every field imaginable. Conduct informational interviews to learn more.
  • Look for dream positions. What skills do you need for those? Where’s the gap between what you can do now and what you will need to do that job? How can you work on that in the meantime? Perhaps taking a course on coding through or a workshop/course at a local college to build your skills.
  • Pay attention to your hobbies and interests. Perhaps your hobbies are just that – distractions for fun that you never want to monetize. But, sometimes there’s more to it. There are stories of many entrepreneurs who turned a blog they started on the side into something that later became their primary source of income. This takes a lot of time and energy, but with commitment, it’s another possibility. Keep in mind that not every interest you pursue has to make sense or relate to your career. When Steve Jobs took a calligraphy class for fun, did he expect it would inform his design aesthetic for wildly successful products at the company he would build?


Keep in mind that Career Services is here for Penn Alumni and we can help you come up with a professional development plan tailored to you. As new grads, this is the best time to develop good habits (investing in a retirement plan, professional development) that will benefit you for years to come.

Congratulations on Graduation!!! Now, About Paying Rent…

Mylène Kerschner, Associate Director

Congratulations Class of 2017!!!! You have worked so, so hard for this and there is so much to celebrate! You’ve accomplished an amazing thing, and you should be proud. I hope you’re excited about your next steps. (Side note: if you’re still uncertain about those next steps, or need any guidance, Career Services is here! We are open all summer and are happy to meet with you to discuss your path!)

Now, I know at Penn it is especially tempting to compare your post-grad plans with those of your classmates. And of course, you know that your friends who went to Wall Street or to those well-known consulting firms are going to be bringing in big paychecks. By comparison, if you’re working in an industry with a different salary structure or if you’re living in a particularly expensive part of the world, you might have some anxiety about how to make ends meet out in the real world.

First of all, a reality check for those who might be feeling “less than” for not pursuing a career in finance or consulting. Your friends may be earning big bucks, but they are also putting in big hours. Maybe you’re bringing home less week to week, but maybe you’re also paid hourly, and your organization restricts how many hours you can be on the clock so they don’t have to pay out a ton of overtime. Or maybe the actual work you’d be performing in a finance or consulting role seems incredibly tedious to you, and instead you’ve found a role at a non-profit whose mission you’re passionate about with exciting projects and interesting colleagues. But of course on average, non-profits pay a little less than big corporations. Or maybe working entertainment is your dream, and you understand that you have to put in some time performing under-paid grunt work before you can become the next Shonda Rhimes (or go to a lot of auditions before you arrive as Penn’s next Elizabeth Banks)!

For many reasons, your first job out of college might not pay exactly what you were hoping it would. But that’s okay! I’m here to tell you: there is no shame in taking on a second job, especially if you can find one you enjoy. After I graduated from the University of Richmond and started working in Career Services, I still kept working a few shifts a week as a server at a country club. I knew the members, I had a great time with my coworkers, and I liked having a physical job that got me out from behind a desk. I didn’t really have to go to the gym because running around to check on my tables and carrying a ton of plates was a full-body workout. I enjoyed the work itself, it was nice getting a little bonus around the holidays, and let’s be honest: I had student loans to pay off. They weren’t crippling, but I had a monthly bill slated forever, before I’d even purchased a single thing. Those few shifts at the country club gave me some breathing room (and kept me from spending more money because I was busy with work!).

It doesn’t have to be waiting tables. Are you a morning person who likes hanging out at a coffee shop after you purchase your daily chai? Consider working there for a short shift in the mornings and perfecting your foam art.

Find it hard to resist the latest fashion trends? Retail could be a fun option (plus, employee discounts). Prefer something quieter? There’s always freelance work. It also doesn’t need to be something with regularly-scheduled hours. You can find temporary or part-time work through a staffing firm or a temp agency (Check out GoinGlobal’s US City Guides via our online subscriptions page for lists of temp agencies in a wide range of cities) And it may sound silly, but even babysitting can be an easy gig – especially if the kids go to sleep right after their parents head out. You can make money just providing peace of mind to a couple in need of a night out! There is zero shame in getting paid to do what you’d likely be doing at home anyway: scrolling through BuzzFeed’s list of 14 Times the Container Store Went Too Far…how did you even get to this page?

And! Aside from maybe the babysitting, the experiences you will gain in these roles will be incredible fodder for interviews as you advance in your professional life. Dealing with a difficult client? Meeting someone’s high expectations? Managing fifteen different things at a time and finding a way to prioritize? Check, check and check! Boy do you have stories to tell.

Now that last one, “managing fifteen different things at a time and finding a way to prioritize?” That probably sounds familiar to you. You graduated from Penn. You’re a hard worker. You juggled academics and volunteering and clubs and social activities here on campus. Likely, you could work two jobs after graduation and still have more free time than you did when you were living in University City! Except in this scenario, you’ll actually be getting paid for all that hard work!


Networking for All Seasons

Networking for All Seasons With graduation and the end of the semester right around the corner, many Penn students are headed out to their first full-time career, a summer internship or research experience, or time abroad. Whether you will be returning to Penn in the fall to continue your academic work, or will be pursuing your interests in the world of work or academics, networking should be an important goal in the coming months.

Many think that networking is reserved for those in search of a job or internship, but truly, the best time to network is when you are NOT on the job market. Making and developing connections when you do not need to utilize them imminently is a great way to make contact with others in a more relaxed environment. Here are some tips on how to network during the upcoming summer, no matter where your travels take you.

Reconnect with old friends. If you will find yourself in your hometown, this is a great time to look up old friends and check in to see what they are up to. Chances are some of them are studying something interesting to you, and they may have a job or summer internship that you find interesting. Ask questions. Be inquisitive. Maybe they have learned something through their studies or job search that could be useful to you, too.

Try something new. If you will find yourself in a new city either temporarily or permanently, try an activity new to you. If you like to play sports, join a local intramural team. Like to read? Check out the local library for book clubs or lecture series. Now is the time to take yourself out of your comfort zone and meet new people. You never know how personal connections can turn into professional contacts later.

Seek out mentors, but also be a mentor. It’s easy to look for a mentor who is at the top of your organizational chart. Look instead for peers who are slightly ahead of you. Ask them to coffee to pick their brains about the ins and outs of your organization and/or your new city. What have they learned that would be valuable to you? At the same token, look for others to whom can offer assistance. If you are not in a new city, offer to show newcomers around.

Record keeping. Now is the time to keep track of whom you meet and where. This could be as simple as an excel spreadsheet, or you can utilize one of the many apps out there to assist you in managing your networking contacts. Keep LinkedIn updated. Make sure to update your profile with where you are working, what you are doing, and what skills you are acquiring.

No matter where your life takes you at the end of this semester, remember Penn’s Career Services is always here to help you. We offer services to alumni for life!

Endings and Beginnings

Patricia Rose, Director

Cartoon courtesy Jon Youshaei, COL/WH ’13

Another academic year over: how did the time go so fast? For those of you who are not receiving your degrees on Monday, have a great summer. For those of you who are graduating, good luck on your next steps, whatever they may be. For some of you, next year may be an interlude, a chance to catch your intellectual breath, or to undertake a research project, or to do work where you can give back and make a difference. For others, the next step is not short term; it is a first “real” job or another degree program. You may be following your passion, or hoping to find your passion. Others may just be hoping this new job or new course of study won’t be too difficult; they are apprehensive.

In our experience, the shape of one’s career becomes clear only in retrospect. Something that you view as a fill-in-the-gap experience leads to a lifetime of involvement and passion. Something you are convinced will be your life’s work turns out to be not so very satisfying after all. Whatever the case will be for you, know that your Penn education has prepared you well for a world of challenges and change. Careers are iterative and develop not vertically like the proverbial ladder, but in a zig zag fashion. Please know that those of us in Career Services are here to help you, now and in the coming years as you strive to figure out the next step, and the one after that. We believe in you and what you are poised to accomplish. On behalf of everyone in the office, congratulations on your graduation!