3 Things to Do Now That You’ll Thank Yourself for in the Fall

Tiffany J. Franklin, Associate Director

Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s good to think about what can I do now that will make myself happy in a couple months, whether that’s eating a salad instead of grabbing another cookie (which I don’t always do) or as it applies to work projects and other things in my life. Now that summer is approaching, we have a few months that will be filled with internships, summer jobs, research, world travel and many different adventures, as well as hopefully some fun and vacations. With these months before us, it’s a good time to reflect on projects we’d like to accomplish before fall arrives. As this relates to the job search, there are a few things you can do now to make your life easier in the fall when you are balancing many other class and campus responsibilities. A job search is not something that you can cram into a weekend, and that’s why it’s helpful to divide job search tasks into smaller steps that you can do each week rather than try and complete everything all at once.

Here are 3 things to consider incorporating into your summer routine to make life a little easier for yourself in the fall:

1) Update your resume now. If you do that now, you’ll be well-positioned when job postings appear in Handshake in August and for career fairs the first weeks of school. For your current internship and summer experiences, you can leave space on your resume and fill the details in the month before classes start. Throughout the summer, be sure to make notes to yourself about the projects you are doing and write your accomplishments along the way.

2) Take time to Explore Career Paths. Sometimes the experience of the summer makes you question the path you were on; either you have an experience that makes you want to explore something completely new or perhaps a job you’re working on right now isn’t what you thought it would be and you may want to pursue other avenues. Our office offers a variety of career assessments, both formal and informal, that can help you think about all your skills and interests. We can discuss career possibilities that align with your interests and review the formal assessments for insights.

3) Use this time to Network with Quaker Alumni. This is a perfect time to network and connect with alumni in your fields of interest. For example, you can develop a list of people for outreach and create a spreadsheet that includes alumni from Quakernet and LinkedIn. Each week, allot some time to sending emails and talking to people about their careers – what they like, the challenges of their field, what they know now they wish they knew starting out, and any advice they may have. For more information about informational interviewing, check out the Networking section of the Penn Career Services website with tips on how to reach out to alumni and make the most of these interactions. These steps are a great way to build your network now, which takes time, rather than trying to cram this into your fall schedule.

When looking back on past summers, the productive ones started with a strategy at the beginning of June. By dividing my projects into smaller parts and working it every week, I felt less pressure. By the end of the summer, I could look back and see how much I accomplished over time. Plus, I started the fall with a to do list with things already crossed off by the beginning of the school year. Remember, Penn Career Services is here to help you throughout the year, so be sure to reach out to us anytime, even if you’re across the world. We can Skype, schedule phone meetings or email to ensure you have the support you need. If you’re in Philly, schedule an in-person meeting with us. Hope you have a wonderful, safe and productive summer!

Planning for Plan B: 5 Things to Do When Your Summer Plans Do Not Work Out

By Dr. Esther H. Ra, Advisor for Nursing, Education, and Social Policy

“In general, things either work out or they don’t, and if they don’t,
you figure out something else, a plan B. There’s nothing wrong with plan B.”
― Dick Van Dyke, Keep Moving: And Other Truths About Living Well Longer

Sometimes, even with the best-laid plans, our summer plans do not work out according to our wishes. Life happens. Maybe grant summer funding did not work out in your favor or perhaps you went on the job trail, but you did not get an offer for the dream internship you hoped to have. Even worse, you may have had a personal setback in your family, such as a death or job loss, that you could not control. We get it. Unforeseen circumstances derail all of us at some point, and this summer could be the summer that it is happening to you. We have all been there here are Career Services and want to support you through the journey. All is not lost and this summer does not have to be a wash. The key is to plan for plan B. Serena Williams, who is an American professional giant among women’s tennis, boasts 23 singles title wins in the Women’s Grand Slam tournaments of all time. She has been famously quoted saying, “If Plan A isn’t working, I have Plan B, Plan C, and even Plan D.” While your original plans may have come up short, the summer ahead of you does not have to be for naught. Here are some strategic suggestions to make productive use of your summer:

1) Network. Networking, networking, networking. You can never be DONE with networking. In fact, I tell students I meet with, that networking is an ongoing relationship building exercise that can occur at any time and any place. With more time on your hands, take the opportunity to develop your network. Perhaps, you will want to make a goal to network with five new people every week. Whatever your plan, write it down and keep to your goals. While you want to be strategic about networking, be also aware, that it may come upon you without you planning for it. Penn students have met some wonderful people at airports, grocery stores, train stations, and playgrounds. Capitalize on these serendipitous moments because one day it may pay off.

2) Volunteer. Not all amazing life experiences come from paid positions. In fact, some of the best experiences in my own life came from volunteer experiences that have taken me around the globe, richly broadening my perspectives. Take the opportunity to seek work that brings you passion and gets you excited. Perhaps you can enter a field by offering to help staff a project or an event in your community. I do not know anyone who has turned away a cheerful volunteer. Being a volunteer allows for exposure to the working culture of an organization and you may be privy to spaces you would not otherwise be able to occupy. For example, had I not taken a volunteer opportunity to help design school curriculum in Indonesia, I would not have experienced traveling through Southeast Asia, nor gained a grasp on international education in this part of the world. I would have also missed the unforgettable experience of trying all the lush tropical fruits the region has to offer (durian anyone?). You get my point; not all amazing life experiences come from a paid position

3) Shadow. Consider asking someone in your network if you could shadow for a day. Shadowing is a fantastic opportunity to understand the pulse of an industry or dabble in an interested arena without any pressure. Often, through shadowing, you have the opportunity to rub shoulders with many potential mentors and network accordingly as you look to the future. It is an invaluable way to make connections that you would not otherwise be able to make. Like volunteering, you can also be invited to spaces that you might not normally be able to be in, and such opportunities could help open further job opportunities. It can also help you decipher which niches you want to explore.

4) Learn. Have you always wanted to take extra classes, but you never felt like you had the time or energy? Now is your chance! Maybe you always wanted to hone a skill or try something new. Do it now. Having unstructured time allows for creative exploration and flexibility. My friend is a great example of this. She had always wanted to be a certified fitness trainer and had enjoyed all things health. After working toward certification hours during a free summer, she now trains private clients as a very meaningful side gig. Not only does she love the work as a fitness trainer, she is able to stay extremely fit and healthy. This is all due in part because of her strategic decision one summer to take a risk and capitalize on her interests and free time.

5) Write. Do you feel that you have expertise and experience in a specific industry of work? Consider creating a niche blog or starting your own website. Alternatively, work on writing an article for an online digital resource in your field. Perhaps, get your name out on social media outlets and see where this brings you. Sharing your knowledge and expertise can be an immensely rewarding experience. Furthermore, the opportunities to write freelance on a topic you are an expert are endless. It could take you down paths you never dreamed you would take.

Planning for alternative options can bring meaning and purpose to your “plan B” summer. As Carol Burnett says, “Words, once they are printed, have a life of their own.” Create a plan, be strategic, and be tenacious and I promise, you will achieve your goals.

How to be Indispensable in the Workplace: 6 Tips for Internship Success

By Dr. Claire Klieger

Many students are getting ready to start summer internships next month so I thought it would be a good time to revisit a topic I blogged about a few years ago. Regardless of whether you will be in your dream internship or just trying out something new, it is important to create a positive impression. Future employers will often ask for references (even if your previous experience is completely unrelated) so you will want to be able to provide a list of contacts that you know will speak highly of your job performance. Here are six tips sure make you stand out on the job:

1) Volunteer for any work that needs doing, no matter how menial or uninteresting. Let’s face it, every internship may include some less than glamorous tasks, but the attitude you take towards completing these matters. Whether it’s making copies, picking up mail or (as in the case of one intern at the Eagles), counting the number of toilets in your facility, your willingness to say, “Sure, I can do that!” will be noticed and appreciated.

2) Drink the cool aide. Fitting into any work environment depends upon understanding the culture. Pay attention to those around you. What is the dress code? Do people go out for lunch or eat at their desks? Do most people stay and work after hours or is everyone out the door at five? Also, take part in social activities provided by your organization to show that you are a team player and enthusiastic about your work. These kinds of events are also great networking opportunities.

3) Go the extra mile. It is important to make the very best of any internship situation.  If you do not have enough work of your own to do, look around to figure out who could use help; then offer it. You never know who is going to be grateful for your offer to crunch some numbers, design a flyer, summarize a set of articles, or run an experiment, etc. If you identify a need, you could gently offer an idea (and volunteer to see it through) that might be useful.

4) Put in the time (and be on time). Understand what your expected hours are. Whatever they may be, if you want to stand out, be prepared to arrive a little early and possibly stay late. Whatever you do, don’t create the impression that you’re checking your watch so that you can bolt out the door at 5 (or whenever the business day ends where you work).

5) Be professional. This is important for demeanor as well as dress. Also, be cognizant of your online communications. Keep your work emails professional—write in full sentences and avoid using acronyms or emoticons. Employers often complain that interns, used to texting, do not understand well how to draft professional emails.

6) Treat everyone pleasantly, regardless of status. Focus less on becoming chummy with your fellow interns and more on being pleasant with everyone. This could be as simple as greeting people at the beginning and end of each day and remembering to smile. Also, be careful not to look like as though you are only interested in making a good impression with senior level colleagues in positions of power.

If you follow these simply steps, you greatly increase the chances that those working around you will not only see you as a great intern, but may even start asking themselves, “what would we do without you?!”

The Mindful Job Search

By Sharon Fleshman

Mindfulness programs seem to be increasingly prevalent on university campuses and in the workplace.  In fact, Penn has offered a number of these programs for students and staff.  It might be tempting to reduce mindfulness to sitting in a quiet space and breathing deeply, yet it can be much more. 

Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

How can mindfulness be applied to the job search? Let’s consider the potential of being mindful as a practice that can enhance the interviewing process.

Prepare positive impact stories

One of the challenges that mindfulness confronts is our tendency to ruminate over past occurrences (usually negative ones) and to worry about the future. What if you could intentionally focus on times when you have made a positive impact on a person or situation? Form a mental picture of someone you helped and tell yourself the narrative of the person’s situation, your actions, and the results.  Imagine that person’s response if someone else was asking them about you.  Journaling your stories and reading them over would likely solidify your positive memories even more and pave the way for increased gratitude. These exercises can not only boost your confidence, but help prepare you to answer behavioral questions in an interview and show how your positive impact can continue in the future.  Even “negative” events such as mistakes or conflicts can be reframed for focus on positive impact if you learned vital lessons and experienced growth as a result.

Press the pause button

Often the job search feels like a job in of itself, and for that reason, it is crucial to give yourself space to replenish.   For more on this, check out my previous article.  Though mindfulness is not limited to sitting quietly in a contemplative stance, regularly taking time to just breathe and embrace the silence can reap future benefits, even in interviewing.  Briefly pressing the pause button during an interview can help you navigate thoughtful or challenging questions and decrease use of filler words (e.g., um, uh, you know, etc.)

Practice paying attention

Imagine a moment when you are talking with a friend on your phone, then you hear the chime from a text message, and then a notification for an Instagram post, and then…. Paying attention to one thing at a time has never been so challenging. Mindfulness exercises can help you focus your attention on activities as simple as breathing, munching on an apple, or watching a squirrel scurry up a tree. This practice allows you to be present in the moment, which will serve you well for interviewing.  For example, it is wise to prepare for interviews by considering how you would answer anticipated questions, but you don’t want to be preoccupied with recalling scripted responses.  With mindfulness, you can be prepared and interact with your interviewers in a genuine and engaging way. 

Please note that a mindfulness program will be offered on-campus for Penn students in the fall. To further discuss how you can use mindfulness in a practical way to enhance your job search, feel free to set up a time to speak with a career advisor.

Career mythbusting, and interesting facts about vegetables and Vulcans

Dr. Joseph Barber

As we conclude this academic year, let me take this opportunity to clarify some common areas of career confusion relating to the job search. But first, some interesting facts to start us off. Did you know that May is the only month that spells a vegetable backwards? I was going to say that May is also the only month that spells another actual word backwards, but then we would be forgetting about April. “What is a Lirpa?” you might ask yourself. Go ahead, look it up, and you will be ready to impress the next Trekkie you meet at a party. OK, and now onto some areas of career confusion and other assorted myths.

  • Professional recruiters only spend an average of 8 seconds reading your resume

I am sure some data have been collected on this, but I am also positive that these data are unlikely to be representative of all industries, and all jobs, and all people. It is the kind of statement that attracts people’s attention, though, and there is some element of truth to this. The reality is that different people will read your application materials at different points along the process, and each person will be looking for something specific from your document. But it is true, that all of these people have busy jobs, lots to do, and so just can’t spend an awful lot of time trying to figure out if your experiences as described might be a good fit for a position. Moreover, the first person who reads your application might not be a person at all. More and more companies are using application tracking systems and software to compare keywords from resumes against keywords from the job descriptions. In a mere fraction of a second, these systems can give a score that addresses how many keywords, skills, and concepts from the job ad are covered in your materials. If there is too low a match rate, then a real person is probably never going to read your materials at all. Your job in your resume is to demonstrate to a very specific population of people at one organization interested in filling one particular role that you have something of value to bring to that specific role. So yes, you need a tailored and customized resume for each job application so that in the short time that someone does spend reading the document, that it really addresses their needs. This leads us to myth #2.

  • But I thought only cover letters need to be customized for each separate job

Cover letters also need to be customized. If you only customize your cover letter, and no-one reads it, then have you actually customized anything at all? That’s a philosophical question for you. Not everyone will read a cover letter. Some application tracking systems won’t scan cover letters in their analysis. Now, don’t get me wrong, you want people to read your cover letter. You want them to read both the letter and the resume. Each document provides something rather different. The resume focuses on relevant skills for the job, and presents them as short, punchy, bullets that illustrate the relevant, takeaway skills in action, provide enough context to make the skills make sense, and ideally point to outcomes that show how effective the skills are. The cover letter takes the most relevant of these and tells more narrative stories that have some aspect of humanity integrated within. So, in a resume you might state:

Created a new experimental protocol in partnership with a bioengineer from a separate lab that resulted in a run time that halved the experimental timeline, and produced sufficient data for a publication now in press.

In a cover letter, you might tell the story behind this bullet point experience, structuring your story using the STAR format (situation, task/challenge, action, result):

In my last experiment, I was trying to get data from my cell-lines using the standard lab protocols, but realized that there wouldn’t be enough time to complete it before my funding ran out. I tried all sorts of approached before I reached out to a bioengineer from another lab at Penn who I had heard give a talk about a new filtration technique she was developing for her research. I was able to collaborate with her to modify her approach to my cell-lines, and actually double the experimental yield. It was really exciting to try an untried, innovative approach, and I really enjoyed the collaboration I established. My advisor has now started using our modified protocol on his own research, and we now have a paper in press. I am looking forward to bringing my creative problem solving to this new role, as I know this quick thinking is essential in a lean start-up environment.

Words such as “enjoy” or “excited by” are hard to use in a resume, but are more easily integrated into the cover letter. A one-page cover letter that has a couple of interesting and unique stories that contain just the right amount of drama and emotion will always be engaging to the reader.

  • You will never get a job by applying online – you have to network to get a job

Well…, networking will absolutely maximize your potential to get a job – and the job you want – but plenty of people I have worked with have received interviews and offers after applying directly to a job posted online. Companies wouldn’t waste their time posting jobs on LinkedIn, Indeed.com, their own websites, or a host of other websites if these were just for show. In fact, in most companies, you do have to apply online to be officially tracked within their applicant tracking system. For most companies, there is a candidate hiring process that they need to follow, and specific steps you and they need to take. Networking helps you along this process, but it doesn’t replace it in most cases. Applying online with a generic resume might not get you through the applicant tracking robots, and a cover letter that doesn’t engage the reader might not get you the interview, but that doesn’t mean that this is the fault of the online application system.

  • If the employer has answered all of the questions you had prepared ahead of time during the interview, it is OK to say that you don’t have any more questions when asked at the end

If time allows, you should always ask questions – always. In every interview that I have been part of (as an interviewer), the people who don’t ask any questions at the end, or who only ask one, or who ask a weak question, are always seen as least favourable candidates at the end of the process. Saying that you don’t have any questions basically tells the interviewer that you are disinterested. If you are applying for a new job, you can’t possible know everything there is to know about it, and so take every opportunity to ask smart, engaging questions about the specific role that you are interviewing for. Here are a few examples:

  1. Over the first 3-6 months, what will be the main priorities for the person in this role?
  2. How does this role fit into the team structure in this office – if I were in this role, would I be working with the same team over time, or on different teams for each project?
  3. What types of professional training opportunities are available for the person in this role?
  4. What are some of the most exciting challenges that the person in this role might face in this work?
  • You should only go to Career Services if you have a specific question, and only if you are an undergraduate

No, you can come at any time, and we will help you identify some of the questions you should be asking if you are having a hard time figuring out what they are. Career Services is also divided into teams, and you will find career advisors who work specifically with undergraduates, and some who only work with graduate students and postdocs. So, if you didn’t take the opportunity to stop by during Lirpa, we look forward to seeing you later in Yam! We are open all summer long!