Career Tips Through Life Experiences

Kevin Haines, Associate Director

Hello! My name is Kevin and I just started working at Career Services here at Penn about two months ago. Prior to working at Career Services, I worked at Penn Abroad where I advised students for their study abroad experiences along with summer internships. While Career Services and international education may seem like two opposite career paths, both jobs actually have a lot in common.

But let’s start from the beginning – Career Services was not a term I knew back in my freshman year of college. If I would have asked 22 year old Kevin back in May of 2000 something (I won’t give away my age that easily) where I saw myself in 2018, it would have definitely not been where I am today. And that is 100% O.K. Throughout the years after I graduated from PSU (We Are!), I wore a lot of hats in several organizations. I think one of the hardest things about college is not being exactly sure of what you want to do with the rest of your life. It’s a tough decision and one that arrives quickly. Here is one thing I think all students should know and understand: it’s alright to not know what you want to do after you graduate. I think I just heard a lot of gasps. But really, it’s okay. You may start a job and years later find yourself doing something you never dreamed of doing. It’s through your many life experiences that help shape the person you are and the future that awaits you. Here are some tips if you find yourself asking “what do I do next?” and have no idea where to start (whether you’re a freshman, senior, or alum!):

1. Your first job will not be your forever job.
Graduating from PSU, I thought I had it all figured out: I’d become a teacher and have summers off and live happily ever after. Wrong. Once I actually started teaching, it wasn’t until then that I realized I wanted something more. I learned a lot, and to this day enjoy being a teacher outside the classroom setting, but full-time teaching just wasn’t in the cards for me. So, all those student-teaching courses/semesters back in college only to find out that it wasn’t my passion – great. But here’s the thing: that’s normal and perfectly fine. Your first job out of college will not be the job you’re in for the rest of your life (for some maybe, but that’s not necessarily the case for everyone these days). You’ll never know exactly what you like until you try it. But isn’t that what college is all about? Blood, sweat, and tears for four, maybe five years studying non-stop, writing countless papers, taking quizzes/tests, joining clubs, volunteering, etc. to help land your dream job the day you graduate? Sure, but also in those four or five years you grow as a person and your mind changes at least six times a day about what you want to do when you get older. Take a breath, enjoy the moment you’re in, and know that in the end it will work out. You may have to go through a lot of jobs before you land the one that you wake up smiling and ready to start the day at, but until then, learn as much as you can and network. Which leads me to my second point of advice.

2. Network, network, network! It wasn’t until I lived abroad in Madrid for a year that I realized higher ed was my calling, specifically the study abroad field. After teaching college-level Spanish for a bit, I started reaching out to people in the study abroad field and setting up informational interviews with them to ask how they broke into the field and where they started. It was through emailing these people I had never met that I was setting up connections that would one day help me get into the field. This was something

I was nervous about. “Why would anyone want to chat with me, a stranger, about how they got into the field? I’m sure they have a million other things to do.” These were some of the things that went through my mind before reaching out. Don’t be shy – reach out to someone to ask about their job and/or company. This is how you get a tiny part of your foot in the door and your name remembered in case you choose to apply to where that person works. People who truly love what they do will find five minutes to talk on the phone or meet in person (treat them to coffee if that’s the case!) to discuss their field and position. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Attend networking events, talk to friends, use LinkedIn (definitely a game changer as you can easily search for companies you’re interested in and then see if you have any connections), email, etc. There are so many ways to network and by doing that, you are getting your name out there and learning more about a job or company that interests you.

3. Study/Intern Abroad or Intern locally (if you can!). Once I started working in the study abroad field, I was a coordinator then switched schools and became an advisor. It was through my own study abroad experiences that I figured out what it was that I wanted to do – help students get an international experience where they can learn about themselves, live in a new culture, and gain experiences that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. If I never studied abroad spring semester of my junior year, I would have never been able to get the learning and traveling experiences I’ve had. It can and will be an expensive semester. However, thankfully, nowadays there are ways to get funding to help with that, whether it’s through campus/outside scholarships, financial aid, work study jobs, other on-campus funding, or program grants. Even if it’s just a week, or a month, a semester, or a year, any international experience you have will benefit you somehow. I once had to call the cable/internet company in Madrid myself and use my Spanish to explain what I wanted and set up a time for them to come out and install everything. Now, I know that sounds like an extremely easy task and pretty silly, but my Spanish was very limited and I was sweating the entire phone call repeating words and phrases and saying a whole lot of “vale, muchas gracias.” Being forced to do that made me step outside my comfort zone and push myself. From something that small, to being mugged and then going to court to point out which person mugged me (talk about terrifying, and it was all in Spanish!), all of those life experiences made me grow more confident in myself and grow as a person. I’m thankful that I was able to study abroad and I continue to be a huge advocate of it. There is so much world out there to explore and see, and there’s no better time to do it than when you’re an undergrad. If studying abroad isn’t an option, but interning is a possibility, that’s equally as amazing. While I’ve never interned abroad, I managed the Global Internship Program (GIP) through Penn Abroad (for about a year and a half) and helped send so many students abroad to all parts of the world. What I would give to be able to live and work in Nepal, Botswana, Singapore, or any other country for 8 weeks! Adding a study abroad or internship experience to your resume makes your resume jump out more and shows employers that you are ambitious, adventurous, hard-working, and up for a challenge. Not sure how to add those experiences to your resume? Make an appointment at Career Services and we’ll be more than happy to help!

4. Utilize Career Services! I must admit, when I was an undergrad at PSU, I never once stepped foot in the career services office. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure I knew an office like that existed back in the year 20…whenever I was an undergrad. I think realizing something so resourceful as that office existed with internship opportunities, alumni I could have spoken to, workshops, career fairs, and career advisors, I would have had different summer opportunities. However, #noregrets. Since I’ve started working here at Career Services, I’ve been able to really see just how much information and how many resources we have for all students and alumni. Side note: just because it’s currently summer doesn’t mean you can’t get help from us! Sometimes, summer is the best time to meet with an advisor because it’s a lot quieter. Once the Fall semester arrives, the rush begins. If you need help with your resume, cover letter, mock interview, advice about a job, phone interview, or you just don’t know where to start with the whole job search process, we’re here for you. We’ve all been through it, so we understand what you’re going through. It’s our job and we are more than happy to help you. So, my advice for you is to stop staring at your computer screen trying to figure out a similar verb for “managed” or “worked” on your resume or how to address your employer – schedule an appointment and we’ll help you get through it!

I hope sharing some of my experiences has helped ease your mind a bit about planning for your future. Sometimes things work out differently than you thought they would, and that’s the beauty of it all – you’ll get where you need to be, just be patient, don’t give up, and believe in yourself. Until next time.