In the early stages of thinking about graduate school you will probably spend a lot of time searching the internet. Unlike the process of applying to undergraduate schools where you had tons of information at your fingertips and could spend days taking campus tours, the process of learning about graduate programs is less structured. This is particularly so if you aren’t pursuing a professional degree, say in medicine or law, but rather something more specific or interdisciplinary. Even if you are able to find a list of graduate programs in your area of interest, it can be hard to discern why you would apply to one rather than another.
The information you gather about graduate school will come from multiple sources including program websites, professional organizations, conversations with faculty mentors, and informational interviews. For this reason, it can be very useful to keep notes and store your information in one place. Some people like to create a file on their computer and others have dedicated notebooks. Personally, I like to use a single big box for things like this and just toss my papers, brochures and notes into it without putting too much energy into organization in the early stages. Whatever works for you. If you see an interesting program online, you can print out the homepage. If you talk to a professor about graduate schools options, save your notes in the same place. If you browse LinkedIn to look for alumni with the same graduate degree, keep your findings.
This process can take weeks, months, even years. It’s easy to read information online and then forget the details later. If someone gives you two names of people you can talk to — the names go into the file and not to the bottom of your bag or lost in your email. Plan for the process to take some time and for the information you need to be in multiple places. Keeping everything organized will lessen the anxiety that can come with undertaking something relatively unstructured and help you a great deal when you transition from gathering information about graduate school to preparing applications.
I usually write an upbeat blog post on this first day of classes, urging you to take full advantage of Penn and of the services our office provides to help students define their career goals and take the steps necessary to achieve them. I may even quote statistics on the success of recent graduates.
Today I am writing about an alumnus from the class of 2013, Christopher Allen, who after graduation went to Europe for a master’s degree and then embarked on a career as an independent journalist in Ukraine, which was at the time beset by war. He was one of the first reporters on the scene of the Malaysian Airlines flight that was shot down by Russian-backed rebels, and his account was published in British newspapers. He wrote about that experience in our alumni magazine, the Pennsylvania Gazette.
Recently Chris had gone to South Sudan, a country which has been engaged in a civil war for over three years. Many thousands have been killed there, millions have been displaced or have fled, and human rights abuses are commonplace. On Saturday, while embedded with rebel forces near the Ugandan border, Chris was killed. He was 26 years old.
A friend of the Allen family spoke about Chris in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “He had a passion for telling the stories of people touched by war,” she said. “He went to South Sudan for the same reason all good journalists go to trouble spots: to get the story and to bring that story to the world’s attention.”
Chris Allen’s death is a tremendous loss to his family, his Penn classmates and his friends, of whom my son is one. I write about him today because he was focused on something larger than himself, and he pursued it with everything he had. He had the courage to put himself into harm’s way, but also the courage to forge his own path. At Penn that can sometimes be a hard thing to do. There are certain well-trod paths that many choose to follow, and that’s fine, if it’s the right path for you.
As we start another academic year, think hard about the choices you will be making. You have one life to live. I am not advocating that you go to war zones, merely that you reflect on the contributions you can make, on the ways you can make a difference in the world. Chris Allen made a difference. In your own way, so can you.
This past Monday, my office threw an eclipse party. It was nice to get outside and enjoy some ice cream and popcorn as we listened to classics such as “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “Here Comes the Sun.” An eclipse is a relatively rare occasion to witness and delight in something magnificent. I found this to be a breath of fresh air given the times we live in these days.
As the summer comes (always so quickly) to a close, I can imagine that many of you may be thinking about what’s ahead for the fall. Penn students juggle a lot: classes, extracurriculars, part-time jobs/internships/field placements, graduate school applications, and the job search. With so much pressure to shift between various tasks, it can be hard to stay focused as you work on laptops and check phones or tablets.
What if we could be positively distracted from our screens every once a while? As much as I am tempted to work at my computer through lunch, I know that it is vital for me to get away from my desk, even if just for a few minutes to take a quick walk or sit outside and birdwatch. As mundane as these activities are, they help me to hit refresh away from my keyboard. Even within the job search, there is much to plan for and be overwhelmed by. Be sure to be intentional about good distractions that allow for self-care and reenergizing.
As this summer is quickly evaporating, now is a great time to gear up for On-Campus Recruiting (OCR) next semester. Each year, OCR brings over 300 employers chomping at the bit to hire Penn students and soon-to-be graduates. Details on all of the employers and positions they’re recruiting for can be viewed in Handshake. Applications for full-time positions open tomorrow, August 23rd . Applications for summer 2018 internship recruiting opens September 28th .
Tips for viewing OCR positions:
1) Go to Jobs -> Job Search. This page has all of the jobs in Handshake but you can add a filter to see just active OCR positions by checking “Interviewing on Campus” under the “Categories” filter.
2) Sort by expiration date to help see what’s coming up sooner rather than later.
3) Find an overview of employers coming to campus by clicking on the “On-Campus Interviews” tab in blue at the top right.
While OCR is open to all undergraduate students, the types of employers that typically recruit during this time are mostly from industries with predictable hiring trends (often Finance and Consulting). On-Campus Recruiting is just one of many options to take advantage of here at Penn so stay in touch with Career Services so we can help you navigate whatever your future plans may be.
You often hear about the importance of follow through in the context of sports, whether it’s a golf swing or pitching a ball, but the principle is just as important in the context of a job or internship search. After working hard to impress recruiters and hiring mangers throughout the interview process, you want to keep that momentum going and demonstrate to your potential employer that their initial positive impressions were correct. Sending a thank you note is a key step in the process.
Is it really that important?
Over the years, I have served on several search committees and this is a detail that is expected from candidates. It doesn’t have to be too long, but it should be timely and free from errors. You will stand out for the wrong reasons if you don’t send one.
You may ask why is it such a big deal. First, employers do not have much to go on during the interview. Anyone can say they are good communicators or pay attention to details, but showing you are those things makes all the difference. A thank you note demonstrates your interest in the position and is a sign of respect, reflecting that you value the time of the interviewers. Writing a thank you note is also another opportunity to remind the recruiter or hiring committee why you would be a good fit for that role and company.
Timing is everything!
I’m often asked if it’s acceptable to email a thank you. Yes, emailing a thank you note is fine and allows you to send the note within 24 hours of the interview. If you are one of the last people to interview and the hiring committee will make a decision soon, time is of the essence so emailing a thank you note makes sense. For positions I have really wanted, I have also sent a handwritten note as well. Just be sure to change the message slightly so it’s not the exact same thing. Handwritten notes are not as common these days, so it can help you stand out for the right reasons.
Should I include all the interviewers?
Ideally, yes you would send a thank you to each person asking you questions. During the interview, see if you can get business cards of those who interview you or a list of names and titles of the people you meet if they do not have cards available. The person who scheduled the interview should have this. They may or may not be willing to share this info.
At the very least, email a thank you to the main contact who scheduled the interview with you. I once had a 6-hour interview with 14 people and I sent thank yous to each one. It took a few hours, but I believe it was one of the factors that helped me land the job.
What to write
A thank you note can be brief with only 5-6 sentences. Address the person by their last name (Dr. X or Ms. Y) and then write a line thanking them for taking time from their busy schedule to meet with you about the role. Mention how you enjoyed hearing about the department and learning more about the company. Be sure to include a specific detail you discussed in your interview. Finally, briefly talk about why you are interested in the role and how it aligns with your skills (mention the most relevant). For an example, see http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/writtenmaterials/followup.php.
Tips and Tricks
Write your thank yous in Microsoft Word or Pages first so you can spell check and won’t be too close to the send email button while in the draft phase. Then, you can either cut and paste into emails or hand write the text after you have it perfected.
When writing notes to multiple interviewers, I start with about three versions of the thank you note and rotate these among the interviewers so they are not all starting with the same sentence. Then, add another level of personalization to each by mentioning something you spoke to that particular person about during the interview. After I’m finished with an interview, I will jot a few notes down about what I discussed and that helps with the thank you writing.
For hand written thank yous, I will buy one of those small boxes of thank you notes you can find at the grocery store, a drug store, or any hallmark or office supply place. I like the small notes because there’s less space to write, so 4-6 sentences will fill up the page. Short and sweet!
Good luck! You are one step closer to landing that dream role.