Networking for International Students

Dr. Esther H. Ra, Career Advisor for Nursing, Education, and Social Policy & Practice

According to Merriam Webster online, it defines networking as: Networking: noun net·work·ing \ˈnet-ˌwər-kiŋ\

1: the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business

Here at Penn, we are proud to have in our midst a diverse body of scholars who come from across the globe. It is not unusual to rub shoulders with a student with multi-lingual fluencies or who was born and educated overseas before arriving at Penn. Such students are wonderful assets to our Penn community and we, here at Career Services, have the pleasure of advising them on career-related topics and helping them to navigate the job search, whether it be in the United States or abroad. Many of the questions I often address with our international students pertain to the nuts and bolts of networking, which include: How do I start networking in a foreign country when I don’t know anyone? When and how should I say what I want to say and how should I proceed? Also, students have sometimes expressed self-consciousness in their English language skills when approaching Americans, who may be of higher status or individuals who they have never met. These are all valid concerns and make networking daunting even for a native English speaker, however, they should not deter students from reaching out and making connections with the community around them.

Why is Networking Important?

Why network? Do I have to reach out to individuals I do not know very well and strike up professional conversations with them? The answer is yes. Often, I will hear from students that they prefer not to bother others or be in such awkward situations, however, networking is essential to delving into the hidden job market. Without proactive networking, it is difficult to tap into the stream of positions that never even make it onto an organization’s website. According to LinkedIn, a study reveals that 85% of jobs are obtained through networking1. Many jobs are shared internally first to identify a qualified candidate before being posted publicly. If a qualified candidate is located prior to a job becoming public, often the positions are filled accordingly. Networking is instrumental to obtaining a desired job, so it is imperative to be intentional about reaching out.

The Greeting: Handshake, Eye contact, and Smile

Perhaps, one American civility that may be quite universal in all professional settings is the handshake. Typically, handshakes are used when greeting an individual for the first time and sometimes even thereafter for subsequent meetings. Some tips to remember are:

Be firm. When shaking a potential employer or interviewer’s hand, be sure to give it good shake. It need not be extremely vigorous, however, a weak handshake, often called “the dead fish handshake” can be remembered negatively and leave a bad impression. A firm handshake, one where a firm grasp of the palm and fingers occurs, connotes confidence and ability, while a weak handshake, one where the fingers do not grasp the other’s palm and fingers, connotes introversion and anxiety.

Make eye contact. When shaking an individual’s hand, be sure to make good eye contact. In some cultures, it may be rude to look directly into someone’s eye, however, in professional settings in the US, it is expected and acceptable to meet someone’s gaze, particularly when greeting them for the first time. When speaking, it is also important to make direct eye contact from time to time, to display feelings of interest and commitment to the conversation.

Share a smile. Generally speaking, Americans appreciate neighborliness and conversation. After shaking hands, making good eye contact, be open and share a welcoming smile. A warm smile can go a long way while networking, positioning yourself as friendly and accessible. Such a simple act can open doors for more casual conversations, as well as, light-hearted moments between potential interviewers, which can make the process seem less intimidating.

Informational Interviews

Take advantage of informational interviews, especially while at Penn. Do take the time to set up informational interviews with professors, colleagues, classmates, and alums. Yes, it takes a bit of legwork to find individuals to network with, but the gains after doing your initial research, will pay itself forward after graduation. Also, so many individuals, such as alums and professors, are very willing to help, one needs only to inquire. Many alums have often been in the same position and have expressed a willingness to speak to current students to help begin their networking journey. Please check out our resources on Penn’s Career website for more information on dos and don’ts of networking:

Resources for International Students

There are several sites I encourage international students to peruse: 1) Penn Career Services:

Our website, of course, is chockful of practical and useful information for all students, including international students. The networking section outlines protocols that may help familiarize students with typical American networking interactions. We also have networking tips located in our video archives, which can also be accessed and viewed.  2) Another website that is extremely useful is GoinGlobal:

This is a comprehensive global website that helps the career search by country, profession, and topic.

3) Last, but not least, many of our international students have sought out the help of Marks Family Writing Center on Penn Campus:

The Center is a wonderful place to receive regular help on writing cover letters and any other correspondence. It is always recommended that students, international or not, receive feedback on their resume and cover letter, or any other communication. Of course, advisors in our office are always more than willing to look over your resume/CVs and cover letters. However, if you are not able to get the documents to us in time, be sure a classmate or family member can take a look before submitting an application.

If you are a Penn international student and need any help with career-related issues, please come in and visit us! Allow us to help you navigate the sometimes choppy waters of networking. Penn’s Career Services advisors are here to help. We look forward to meeting with you!

Reaching Success….One Failure at a Time

Claire Klieger, Senior Associate Director

Success stories like those of Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg are all around us. Students dream about creating the next revolutionary product like the iphone or the industry-changing company like Amazon. What we talk about a lot less often are the many missteps that frequently come before someone’s big break. These setbacks deserve their day in the sun, not only because they are a normal part of life (we can’t win at everything all of the time, afterall!), but more importantly, because of all that we learn from them.

As seen in a recent Washington Post article, a new “Failure Museum” in Sweden has taken this message to heart with exhibits featuring some of the most famous brands’ biggest product flops: Heinz’ “green ketchup,” Pepsi’s crystal clear soda and the Harley Davidson perfume, to name a few! Far more than a quirky tourist attraction, this museum offers the opportunity to really teach patrons a valuable lesson: that behind every great success is often a series of mistakes. In fact, some of the most successful products of their day were initially meant to be something else. Far from being developed as a new children’s toy, what we know as Silly Putty was created by an Engineer in the hopes of developing a form of synthetic rubber. Bubble wrap was first marketed as the latest craze in textured wall paper! What made these products ultimately successful was not the product itself, but the ability to adapt the failed product for a new purpose. In other words, to see the potential, switch gears, and be flexible (and courageous) enough to move in a completely new direction.

In the Ivy League world of Penn, there is so much pressure on students to be successful that so many people seem afraid to make a mistake, let alone talk about them. Ultimately, this unwillingness to take risks, adapt, and forge a new path may be preventing success. Increasingly, employers with whom we meet stress the value of being able to overcome obstacles. One of the reasons that “Tell me about a time when you failed at something” is such a popular interview question is because employers genuinely want to know how you deal with difficult situations and, most importantly, what you learned from them. So, my biggest piece of advice to students this summer is to embrace the missteps. I am a firm believer that they are often a key ingredient to the sweetest success!

What Handshake has to offer Grad Students and Postdocs

By now you’ve hopefully heard about Penn Career Services’ new online platform, Handshake.  We’re excited to announce that Handshake is now accessible to ALL current graduate students and postdocs!

While Handshake is a fantastic place for students of all levels to search for jobs and internships, schedule appointments, and learn about Career Services programming, I want to take some time to respond to what I know many graduate-level students might be thinking: What’s in it for me?

1. There are lots of employers on Handshake who are looking specifically for graduate-level candidates from Penn.

To be more specific, there are currently 886 employers who have posted 1,595 positions seeking graduate-level candidates, and this number is growing daily as more employers from around the world become connected with Penn on Handshake.

Here are some great examples of current postings:

2. Handshake gets to know your qualifications and interests, helping you to explore new opportunities!

It’s very important that you not only activate your account, but also fill out your career interests. Once you do this, Handshake will automatically and continually generate a list of jobs, Career Services events, and articles that are likely to be of interest to you.

Use this as an opportunity to explore how your interests might align with a range of different career fields, and to discover employers who are interested in recruiting students with your academic background!

3. Handshake’s job search feature makes it easy to narrow down the positions that meet your qualifications and interests even further.

You can filter opportunities by degree level (referred to as School Year in Handshake), academic major, keywords, location, size of company, job type, and more.

4. Moving forward, Handshake will be your one-stop shop for communicating with Career Services.

  • Schedule advising appointments and mock interviews
  • View and register for upcoming workshops, info sessions, and career fairs
  • Sign up for degree and industry-specific Career Mail to receive job postings and tailored newsletters from the Career Services team.
                                                       … ALL IN ONE PLACE!

Gain access to all of these great resources by activating your Handshake account now, and feel free to contact our office with any questions.

Embarrass Yourself This Summer

Natty Leach, Associate Director A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across Mike Boyd’s Youtube channel dedicated to learning new, often frivolous, skills. The first video I came across, for instance, focused on an MIT physicist’s peculiar ability to quickly make a dotted line across a chalk board. 

For the chalk trick, it only takes Mike a few minutes; other videos chronicle upwards of 8 hours of attempts. Regardless of the task at hand, every video shows him starting from scratch with what some might consider embarrassing results. And that’s what I found most impressive about these videos—through every failure, no matter how public, he betters himself until reaching the goal in mind. So this summer, I recommend that you do something completely new and different, even if it feels embarrassing to try at first. Whether you’re busy at a new internship or just taking a break this summer, do something you’ve never done before, no matter how big or small, and relish in eventually conquering it. If you’re not as bold as Mike and would rather do some trial and error before hitting the big stage, here are a couple of projects that you can easily do, embarrassment-free, from the comfort of your couch: A small thing to easily familiarize yourself with this summer: Handshake – Career Services’ new job and internship platform. Handshake Mastering Handshake will only take you a couple of minutes. Check out our Handshake Hints on getting started. If there’s anything I can stress, it’s completing your profile and marking some career interests. Handshake’s homepage shows you opportunities that are molded around your interests so the more choose, the more you’ll see. A bigger project you could tackle: Anything on Lynda, a tutorial database that’s free to Penn students. Lynda has a ton great, skill-oriented tracks you can follow along with. Most videos are digestibility small (10-20 minutes) while full collections can total 40+ hours of hands-on training. Last year, I took a few courses on drawing, game design, and JavaScript.


Option B: Making the Most of Your Job or Internship (Even If It Wasn’t Your First Choice)

I recently listened to an interview with Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook’s COO) and Adam Grant (one of our amazing professors here at Penn). Sheryl has long impressed me with the huge amount of work she has done in empowering and inspiring girls and women to take on leadership roles through her book, Lean In, published in 2013. The book became widely popular and topped the New York Times hardcover nonfiction list. It inspired an immense amount of dialogue about women in the workforce and also resulted in over 30,000 Lean in Circles (small groups of individuals who meet regular to learn and grow together) in over 150 countries around the world. Impressive!

Her newest book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, comes from different circumstances entirely and is focused on the hard truth that sometimes we can’t control what happens to us and life doesn’t always work out the way we had planned or hoped. Sheryl lost her husband suddenly and unexpectedly while on vacation, and Option B focuses on how to move forward after such a devastating loss and finding and building resiliency within. Adam Grant, as a co-author and friend of Sheryl’s, contributes with research on finding inner strength in difficult circumstances.

The idea of an “Option B” resonates strongly with me, as I often talk with students and alumni who are disappointed in how their job or internship searches worked out. Perhaps they had hoped to work for a large, well-known firm with a structured training program, but instead landed a job at a smaller organization that offers more “on the job” training. Perhaps they were hoping to land an internship in New York City, but ultimately could not find one that paid enough to cover the exorbitant housing costs in the city, making it an unrealistic option. Perhaps they were hoping to travel the world and land a job in Europe, but couldn’t find an employer willing to sponsor them for a work visa. These are all discussions I’ve had with students in just the past few weeks, and yes, they were disappointing outcomes. Through the many such conversations I’ve had with individuals, I’ve found that the most successful at navigating these disappointments are those who can acknowledge their disappointment and then move on to make the most of and capitalize on the options that they do have available, rather than focusing on “what could have been”. I believe there is always something positive you can take away from an experience, even if it is learning how to work for a difficult boss or how to tactfully ask for or negotiate different or new assignments if the ones you are initially given are not exactly piquing your interest. (Of course, keep in mind that this tactic always needs to keep the needs of the business in mind!) Rather than coming to work with negativity, focus on how you can make a positive impact and contribute. Good things invariably happen when people enjoy having you as a colleague and can feel your positive energy.

Think creatively about how to move forward with your Option B. For the person who wants to work in Europe, perhaps looking at US based multi-national employers would be a good next step – focusing on working in the United States for now, learning the ins and outs of the organization, and then exploring the possibility for an international assignment at some point in the future. For the person working at a smaller firm with less training, try seeking out online programs, workshops or conferences to learn new skills (and maybe even have it paid for by the employer). We all will experience “Option B circumstances” in our work lives. I encourage you to handle them with a positive and forward looking attitude – do the job to the best of your ability, learn new skills, increase your network, and when the time is right move on to the next (hopefully exciting!) chapter in your work life.