The Power of Networking

By Anne Marie Gercke

Many students who are currently seeking summer internships or full-time jobs often plop down in my office letting out a frustrated sigh. “I’ve applied to 80+ jobs and haven’t gotten ONE interview!” some have exclaimed. “Is it my cover letter? Is it my resume? What am I doing wrong?”

Believe it or not, this can be a fairly common concern for job seekers, and my first question is always the same: “Well, what type of networking have you done?” The blank stares I get in return usually give me my answer.

Networking – as intimidating and overwhelming as the act may seem – is one of the major players in the game of getting a job. Shannon Kelly wrote a nice post on networking a while back. Think you don’t know any connections in the field you’re pursuing? Sure you do. You’re at Penn! Combine that and the age of drastically expanding technology and the opportunity to network is just a click away. Three readily available databases for you are Quakernet, LinkedIn and the Penn Internship Network. All are free, and can be used to reach out to current students and alumni to conduct informational interviews and establish a web of connections in a particular field. Here is how to leverage each database:

  1. Quakernet: This is our alumni database. Use it to conduct searches using filters like industry or geographical location (among others). Each profile will include pertinent information, such as employment history and the alum’s involvement at Penn, but most importantly, the person’s contact information. You can then reach out to the alum by email, being sure to properly introduce yourself and say where you found his/her contact information, and requesting the opportunity to chat either in person, over the phone or by email about his/her professional experience since leaving Penn. Even though you would never come out and say, “So, hey, how ‘bout a job?” by establishing positive rapport, you can add the alum to your network as a potential contact in the future. That alum may also put you in contact with a colleague of his/hers, who may put you in contact with another colleague, and so forth. You get the picture.
  2. LinkedIn: LinkedIn is valuable for many reasons, but the main two are the University of Pennsylvania Alumni Network (under ‘Groups’) and the Find Alumni tool (under the ‘Connections’ tab). The Alumni Network on LinkedIn has well over 32,000 members – that’s a lot of Penn grads, which means you have a lot of connections! The ‘Find Alumni’ tool also helps you run searches using filters like location, industry, organization name, major, etc. Understanding how to navigate this site to make connections (and to possibly cross check them with Quakernet to gain more information) may seem a little challenging at first, but that’s why Career Services is here to help. Come in for a walk-in or schedule an appointment and we can help you through the whole process!
  3. Penn Internship Network: Surprisingly, I find lot of students don’t know about this database, especially those who have yet to visit Career Services. As many of you know, every year we survey Penn students and ask about summer plans. We also ask if they will be willing to be a mentor/contact for other students interested in the same or similar field. Those who check “yes” are entered into the Penn Internship Network. This database is much more simplistic than the aforementioned systems, but we provide valuable information regarding students who had internships last summer. There are many filters to narrow the search – industry, major, location, job function (the list goes on) – and as a result you can learn a lot quickly. Most important, however, is that the students in the network are typically still on campus, so you can contact them (we also provide the email address) and ask for an informational interview, as well. Students you may unknowingly pass on Locust Walk every day could be your connection to your future! Plus, gaining knowledge from your peers can be a very helpful tool to navigating your own job search.

Once you start building your professional network, applying to jobs becomes more meaningful. Instead of just submitting your application into a company’s database and feeling frustrated by waiting weeks and hearing nothing, you may leverage Quakernet to see if any current alumni work at the company and then contact them before you submit your application. “Hi, my name’s __________ and I’m a <<year>> at Penn. I’m currently seeking employment at <<company>> and will be applying for the _________ position soon. I found your information in Quakernet/LinkedIn/Penn Internship Network and saw you worked/currently work there. Do you happen to have any advice for my application?” It’s helpful to include some information about why you are applying – what excites you about the company and why you feel you are a fit – to establish that positive rapport. By connecting with people ahead of time, you improve your chance of getting noticed. Worst case scenario, the person you reach out to won’t reply; best case scenario, he/she will ask for your resume to put on the hiring manager’s desk (you would never ask for this yourself – however, if the offer does come, take it). Most likely, the contact will give some helpful advice about what may be beneficial to include in your cover letter or skills to highlight in your resume that could help move your application to the top of the pile.

Also don’t underestimate the old school form of networking: word of mouth. A few months ago, I attended a Christmas party in my hometown. I ended up chatting with a girl, Priscilla, who graduated high school with my brother – I hadn’t seen her in years. She told me she had graduated in spring 2013 from Thomas Jefferson University with a nursing degree and was still looking for a job in Philadelphia. I put my Career Services knowledge to good use and asked her questions about how she was conducting her search – when I mentioned the networking piece, she admitted she “wasn’t good at that.” I told her she was networking right then – with me! I also told her that I would put her in touch with my college roommate, now a nurse at HUP, since she’s been in the field for years and may have good advice. Once that happened, my roommate, Laura, put Priscilla in touch with her good friend, a hiring manager at Hahnemann University Hospital, and lo and behold, by mid-February Priscilla had a great job at that very hospital! After months of applying online and hearing nothing, she did a little networking and things moved in her favor in a matter of weeks. Even though every networking endeavor will not have that great of an outcome (because you will have to work for it), it does show that the process works when done right.

So start doing some research on Quakernet, LinkedIn and the Penn Internship Network if you haven’t already! Talk to your friends and family, and ask them to talk to theirs! Don’t be afraid to connect with people, because remember – you aren’t asking for help, you are asking for information, the cheapest yet most valuable job search tool out there!

As always, we are here in Career Services to help with your search process – stop in to see us!


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Working with the end (of the year) in mind

Dr. Joseph Barber

In thinking about what careers you might explore when you graduate with your PhD, or once you finish your postdoc, it would certainly be helpful to know where others have gone before you. Those people who have made it through your programs before share a lot in common with you.

  • They had passion around a similar subject area.
  • They experience the same types of faculty support
  • They had access to similar networks of contacts and career resources
  • They faced much the same type of job market
  • They also wanted to find a role that would engage them intellectually, challenge them mentally, and support their continued professional development and personal lifestyle.

The career options they have pursued might be those that you would also find interesting. The skills they use in their careers might be similar to the skills you current use in your research. Traveling down well-beaten paths is not the only way to reach a successful career destination, but it can certainly be an effective one. This is especially true when people in these different career fields are willing to share their experiences and insights with you to help you come to a more informed decision about your career path, or to prepare yourself for a specific path more effectively.

Let’s review the different levels at which you can seek information about career options, and find contacts through networking to help you find some of the answers that you are seeking.

The Penn connection

Penn has a rich history of engaged alumni, and current students can continue to make marvelous connections with a wide range of professionals in different careers by making use of the Penn alumni searchable database – QuakerNet. This is not a resource for asking people whether they have a job for you, but can be a great place to make connections to help you learn more about what it is like to work in a certain role, in a particular company, within a broad industry, and so on. Simply by asking people what they do, and what skills they use to do it, you can absorb some of the language you might be able to use to describe your past experiences in terms that your future employer might better understand – to use their language to make your skills relevant. If you are looking for a New Year’s resolution, then make sure that you put “set-up more informational interviews” at the very top of your list.

By now, you have hopefully been exposed to the potential that LinkedIn can offer you in terms of making connections with people like you doing interesting and wonderful things in many career fields. I know some people are a little resistant to this resource for many different reasons, but if you just see it as a powerful career exploration tool, then it can help you overcome some of these concerns.

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Feeling a bit thinly spread – networking for researchers

Dr. Joseph Barber

Time is a funny old thing – we’re either wishing we had more of it, or wishing it would pass more quickly. We are never quite satisfied with what we have got. Time might be relative (and no, I don’t really know what this means), but we are relatively certain that it is also finite. The reason that I am thinking deep, philosophical thoughts this early on a Monday morning is that I just came across another social networking site for academics, scientists, and researchers. This one is called MyScienceWork ( This one can be added to the list of those that try to cater to the scientific, academic, or research communities in one way or another (e.g., LinkedIn,, ResearchGate, Vitae, Versatile PhD). The problem is, as this exciting list of social networking opportunities grows, the time available to use them seems to shrink (is that relativity?) There is certainly not enough time in any day to do study, complete research AND have a complete and updated profile on every single social networking site that pops up. This can leave people feeling a little guilty that they are not reaching their fullest networking potential. However, spread yourself too thinly, and you run the risk that you don’t get the most out of each platform you might use. So, my next few posts will take a brief stroll through some of the social networking sites that are especially relevant to academics and researchers. Let’s start with the biggest fish.


Still the biggest, and many would probably argue the best. This is very commonly used for research students at universities as they are making use of the alumni networks available to them. Researchers within industry (e.g., biotech, pharma, start-ups, life science consulting) also tend to use this site a lot. There are university faculty members on LinkedIn, but many represent more junior members of a department who are more familiar with social networking in the virtual world. There are certainly some faculty who actively shun LinkedIn and all it represents. I have heard of one faculty member who stated to a student that anyone who has a LinkedIn account would immediately not be taken seriously as someone who wanted to pursue an academic job as a tenure-track professor. That’s a little extreme, pretty short-sighted, and will certainly be a perspective that becomes the minority view over time.

LinkedIn has gotten a little more researcher friendly over time. You have been able to include publications on LinkedIn for a long time. However, it was only possible to list yourself as the first author for a long time (i.e., your name would always appear first in the list). Given the importance of whose name comes first in scientific circles, elevating oneself to first author would be very controversial! The good news is that this issue has been addressed. You can now position your name appropriately in the list of other authors – so go ahead, add a selection of your publications! There are also places throughout your profile where you can link to papers or upload documents. This can make it easier for people to access your work.

You can also go into more detail about some of the research projects you are involved with by actually listed them under the “Projects” category on your profile page. This way, you can provide a broader overview of your work in the “Experience” section, and a more in-depth summary of your unique research elsewhere. Combined with information you can add on your patents, courses taken, and the list of skills and expertise you have, you can get a lot of information across about your academic experience and research know-how. As for those skills that people can endorse you for, they are really a bit of a mixed kettle of fish. You can certainly list some great keywords that might help people find you on LinkedIn. Recruiters do search for people with hard-to-find skills and expertise, so if you have some of these, then mention them. The problem is that people will endorse your skills without even having any experience of you using them. It’s not a bad problem – it makes your skill look more effective when you have lots of people saying you have it – it just feels a little vacuous. What is worse, though, is people coming up with new skills that they think you have. I would not list “statistics” as one of the skills that I have, so please stop suggesting that I add this to my profile.

There are extra whistles and bells you can add to LinkedIn through third-party applications, but there seem to have been several recent changes to the profile page that integrate these more fully into the LinkedIn platform. If you want to share your last presentation, then you can upload this via SlideShare and link it to a particular experience or project on your profile page. There isn’t really anywhere obvious to list conferences or symposiums attended, or presentations or posters given, but with some creative use of the sections available to you, it is possible to get the most important information you want to share on your profile. Leave the rest of your conference-related experiences on your CV – they are probably not essential to your brand anyway.


LinkedIn lets you create a bit of a brand when it comes to presenting your work and knowledge. Your brand is the “you” that you want everyone else to see – your potential, your achievements, the length and breadth of your combined knowledge and experience. It can be hard to create a single brand that is equally attractive to the different people you might want to visit your profile (e.g., the search committee from a university, or consulting/biotech/science writing employers), and so you will lose a bit of the benefit of tailoring how you want to present yourself when you are keeping your career options open.


The other benefit of LinkedIn comes in terms of the huge amounts of information you can gather. For example, there are 30,000 members who have proactively joined the Penn Alumni LinkedIn Group. When you join groups, you can search the membership by keyword to find specific types of people you might want to connect with to help you answer your questions. You can even join in conversations and ask your questions to the whole group. Over 100,000 people are grouped together by LinkedIn as having the “University of Pennsylvania” written somewhere in their education section. There is plenty that you can do with this population by using the “find alumni” tool. Both these approaches will help you gather information about the types of positions/employers that might be relevant to you based on where people with similar academic experiences have gone with their careers. If you are in the exploring career options phase, then this type of information can be extremely valuable.

You can actively “follow” organizations, and this will help you to keep updated on news and current affairs about a company that might help you with either your continued networking or even your applications or interviews. Whether you are interested in industry postdocs or full-time non-faculty positions, you can find lists of opportunities under the “careers” tab on most company pages. You might even see the names of some HR/recruiting staff listed, together with people you might know who are associated with that organization. Combined with industry insights you can gain by following “channels”, “publishers”, and “influencers”, there is an endless supply of information you can expose yourself to each day, and this can be a great use of your time. I’m not saying there is enough time to actually digest any of it, though, but it is there for the taking…, especially if you don’t need to sleep.

Time…, it’s a tricky thing. Perhaps it is not a thing at all…, which in my mind just makes it even trickier.

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Seasons and Career Transitions

By Sharon Fleshman

Leaves in Fall Color on GroundMy favorite seasons tend to be spring and summer. There is something gratifying about the warmer weather as well as seeing the sprouting of new life and the manifestation of trees and flowers in full bloom.   However, I am particularly drawn to autumn this year.  As I walked behind Steinberg-Dietrich Hall last week, I noticed the beauty of a stream of leaves floating to the ground, almost like raindrops in slow motion.  In the past, I have focused on the falling leaves as a loss of sorts, and it is.  Yet there is also the sense that seemingly barren branches have made room for something new.  And so it goes with seasons.

As seasons and transitions go hand in hand, careers can experience a similar dynamic as well.  If you are conducting a job search with a particular goal in mind, you may need to make room for a different result than anticipated.  You could be exploring the possibility of a new role, industry or context, whether by choice or necessity.  Perhaps you are simply seeking a new paradigm with which to do your current work in a fresh way. Whatever transition you are contemplating, you can facilitate the process in a number of ways — reflecting on past experience, casting vision for the future, conducting informational interviews, speaking with mentors, or meeting with an advisor at Career Services.

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The Complexity of Career Planning

puzzlepiecesI’m currently studying complexity theory, the way “patterns emerge through the interaction of many agents.”* Because the actors and issues and environment continually change, patterns also change as they emerge, stabilize, and then perhaps dissipate. Observation and flexibility are the keys here.

This seems particularly applicable to planning and navigating careers. Since everything is in flux—organizations, technology, economies, the environment, politics, relationships, and YOU—we’re aiming at moving targets. Preparation for a career can take years as we study, develop skills, and gain experience. When we finally get “there,” the “there” has likely changed.

So in order to prepare for the evolving and complex landscape of the future, developing the skills of observing, learning, and adapting is critical. “Probing” is key. Your liberal arts education at the University of Pennsylvania provides a foundation for this perspective. I encourage you to observe, question, discuss, and engage as often as possible. In the realm of career planning, this means opening up to a range of options. If you have already identified a career goal, plan for it and pursue it while simultaneously continuing to learn about other opportunities and how they are similar to or differ from your initial focus. If you are exploring career options or haven’t yet begun to do so, jump in and learn about career possibilities in every setting. Pay attention to the work that people do and ask them questions about it. Whatever it is that you enjoy doing, do it! And talk to others who also do it to see if/how they’ve used their skills in professional settings.

The best tactic, the one that will help you adapt to how the future unfolds, is to explore.


*From Kurtz, C.F., Snowden, D. J. “The New Dynamics of Strategy: Sense-Making in a Complex and Complicated World,” in IBM Systems Journal (42:3), 2003.

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