MAYBERRY R.F.D.- Looking Back and Looking Forward

By Anne Guldin Lucas


Most of our blog readers are probably too young to remember Mayberry R.F.D. (starring Andy Griffith and Ron Howard as a boy) on TV—unless it’s popular in reruns or in DVD collections.  Although my life wasn’t quite as hokey as it was for the characters in Mayberry, the 60s were indeed simpler times.  In my neighborhood, on summer evenings we literally sat on our porches playing cards, and drinking root beer floats or lemonade.  (Personally I never did care for Cherry Coke.)

Last weekend a longtime friend and his family visited us as they were passing through our area.  So please excuse me if this Baby Boomer becomes a bit nostalgic.  I promise there’s a point that will eventually relate to careers (sort of).

My friend arrived with his wife and the youngest of his three children—a 12-year-old daughter.  When my friend and I were twelve, we were neighbors, school mates, and members of the same swim team.  So we spent a lot of time together in our youth.  Since this friend and I have never lived in the same location since our college summers, it still feels strange to see him as an adult, with a wife and family.  I remember us as the same age as his 12-year-old daughter–braces and all!  (In fact, I got my braces off on the last day of 6th grade–the12th birthday of this same friend!)

Yet here we were last weekend—adults—middle-aged ones now, with jobs and families, sitting on the terrace of my house—MY house, not my parents’ house (or porch!).  Who could have imagined that we would actually grow up into reasonably responsible adults who owned homes, held jobs, and raised families?

Aha—that’s the point!  It happens to all of us.  Whether we had a plan when we graduated from college or whether it took years and some job changes, we do eventually grow up.  Whether it’s a straight line or a crooked path, somehow, we usually find our way to a good place—to jobs we enjoy and valued relationships that are so important to a life well lived.

During the past few weeks in my office at Penn I’ve met with triumphant students who are negotiating job offers and making plans to find apartments and move to new cities.  Congratulations to those of you who fit into this category; I know you’ve worked hard.  I’ve also met with students who feel as if they are the only one without a job and a definite plan for after graduation.  I can assure you that you are not alone in this situation.  You have also worked hard, making the most of your precious time at Penn, and you deserve to celebrate Commencement just as enthusiastically as your already employed peers.

MANY Penn seniors will wait until after graduation to begin or to resume a job search.  It’s okay.  In fact, despite the presence of Career Counselor Mother (obviously not to be confused with Tiger Mother) in their lives, neither of my young adult children had jobs upon graduation or had even begun their job searches at the time they walked up on the stage for their undergraduate diplomas.  They are now both gainfully employed, living independently, and one has even earned an MBA.  Believe me—you too will visit an old friend thirty or forty years from now and realize that amazingly, you found direction in your life—and the anxiety surrounding your first post-college job search will have faded into a blurred memory.

Although I have tried repeatedly to find a magic wand and crystal ball to aid me in helping you with your career exploration and decision making, there is ultimately no magic available to make this journey easier.  There may be serendipity along the way—and I wish you a healthy dose of it.  However, I suspect it will take some work and some self-analysis for you to merge your interests, talents, and experiences into a career choice and successful job search.

Please remember that you have lots of people to support you and cheer you on as you begin or continue on the journey to YOUR adulthood and independence—to YOUR own terrace or porch.  You know how to find us in Career Services.  Please reach out and let us know how we can help you get started on the path to your porch—and if you should happen to stumble upon a magic wand or crystal ball, feel free to bring that along too.  Maybe we can use it to look to a future with a little more Mayberry in it for us all!

Good luck with exams, hearty congratulations to the Class of 2011, and Happy Summer Vacation to all!

Lend a Helping Hand

by Anne Guldin Lucas

It was a simple gesture of protectiveness.  As two boys were walking along a narrow railroad underpass facing oncoming traffic, the taller boy pulled the shorter boy closer to him, away from the cars.  This isn’t a blog about pedestrian safety, although that’s a worthy topic.  Perhaps only a career counselor could find a career connection in that fleeting moment between two children.

What struck me about an older boy helping a younger boy was the essential importance of helping one another throughout our lifetimes—whether in navigating traffic or in building careers.  Helping others can come in many different forms, and obviously there are many diverse examples at Penn—such as tutoring and mentoring children in West Philadelphia, fundraising for victims of disasters, or serving other worthy causes and organizations.  I believe that most Penn students are involved with some sort of good works; it’s admirable and necessary to the well being of our vibrant community.

While endorsing all varieties of aid, the type of “helping others” I’m discussing here is more directly related to careers.  I’m referencing sharing career advice, an important way of giving back to Penn.  On Monday, March 14th, Rich Ross ’83, Chairman of Walt Disney Studios, will return to Penn for his 20th visit to address students interested in “Entertainment Careers.”  Rich’s devotion to his alma mater is exceptional and unprecedented.  Literally decades of Penn students have benefited from his expertise and experience, enjoying a good dose of humor in the mix.  If you’d like to attend Rich’s presentation, please check out this link and RSVP:

  • Entertainment Careers with Alum Rich Ross – Chairman of Walt Disney Studios
    Monday, March 14th, 4:30 pm – 6:00pm, Bodek Lounge, Houston Hall
    RSVP Here

Since there is only one Rich Ross as far as Penn is concerned, fortunately there are other ways for Penn students and alumni to make contributions related to career networking.  Did you realize that current students have volunteered to share information about their internships with fellow students through the Penn Internship Network and alumni have registered to share their career insights as mentors in PACNet, the Penn Alumni Career Network?  Please participate in these networks, as an advisor or as an information seeker, by using the links above.

Additionally, for students participating in campus organizations such as athletic teams or publications, the arts, or service clubs, why not reach out to alumni who shared your passion for these activities when they were students at Penn?  Many of our athletic teams do a terrific job of connecting today’s Penn athletes with their stars from yesteryear for mentoring.  If your team or club hasn’t tapped this vital resource, I urge you to initiate similar programs in your organization.  While meeting with a Penn undergrad recently, we fantasized about bringing together students interested in the business and creative sides of entertainment so that they can begin to forge productive relationships on campus, which they will then carry into the world beyond Penn.  I’m imagining the 2025 Academy Awards when the group receiving the Best Picture award mentions that “Our collaboration began at Penn!”

If you need advice or encouragement to take full advantage of the many networking opportunities available to you, please make an appointment to meet with a counselor in Career Services!  Let’s help one another learn about career options and move into rewarding, successful careers.  And thanks again to Rich Ross ’83 for making his 20th visit to Penn next week!

Held Hostage—and Ode to an Interview

by Anne Guldin Lucas, CAS Counselor, Penn Career Services

In honor of my son’s 31st birthday this weekend, I’m sharing a family story with you. In the summer of 1997, J.T. and I got in the car for an eight-hour drive to visit colleges. Since this was The Dark Ages, a time before Blackberrys and iPhones, most families listened to music or books on tape (yes, tape) during long trips. Remember, though, I am Career Counselor Mother, so naturally I insisted that we practice interviewing. J.T. was filled with joy at the prospect of eight hours in the car with his mother AND practicing potential admissions interview questions with me.

J.T. fielded my questions more expertly as the hours passed, and we only missed one turn. (This was also the Time Before Navigational Systems.) After arriving on campus. J.T. went for the interview while I sat in the Admissions waiting room, reading glossy college publications. (Somehow we survived without Kindles and iPads too.) Eventually J.T. entered the waiting room smiling, followed by a laughing Admissions counselor. Apparently J.T. had told her, in amazement, that she had asked him the very same questions that he and I practiced during our long car ride! Viewed as a capable and forthright young man, J.T. was accepted to that college and enrolled about a year later.

That college trip was almost 14 years ago, and yet to this day, J.T. remains confident in his interviewing skills. My MBA son knows that if he can just land the interview—through the powers of a strong resume, sparkling cover letter, and all-important networking, he stands a very good chance of acing the interview and winning the job offer.

No, I’m not recommending that you schedule a road trip with me–although that might be fun. Rather, I do recommend that you take advantage of our many Career Services resources to help you polish your interviewing skills. Check out our web site. Schedule a mock interview. In case you haven’t noticed, we also offer a new interview practice experience called Interview Stream. You can find it on our web site, in Penn Link.

If you have a web cam on your computer, you practice interviewing on your own time and then email the interview to family, friends—or even CS counselors—for review. I’m offering a prize to the first student who sends me his/her Interview Stream session. Please remember that since I grew up and even raised children during the Dark Ages, I may not know what to do with it. However, I will give it a shot!

In the meantime, I’d like to propose another deal. If, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day poetry, I make a fool of myself by closing with a few common-sense interview tips—in verse, will you please join this blog by sharing your favorite—and/or most dreadful—interview questions and stories?

Ode to an Interview

Yahoo—an interview!
Do your prep,
Comb your hair.
Got a tattoo?
Cover up there.

Get some rest
To do your best.
Get there on time,
Keep answers succinct,
No need to rhyme.

Relax and smile,
You’re doing great.
Stay positive in all you say,
The “fit” is the thing
That wins the day.

Practice makes perfect
So make an appointment.
CS counselors or Interview Stream
Will help you achieve
The job of your dreams.

Now it’s YOUR turn! Please submit
those “unique” interview questions and anecdotes. Blog away!

A Study Break

by Anne Guldin Lucas

It’s that marvelous time of the year—Final Exams—when I will confess that I’m relieved that I’m not a student anymore.  Thinking back to my first semester of college (well over 30 years ago!), I remember the stress of my first final exam period.  Living in a freshman women’s dorm (and oh yes, it was single sex back then), the panic was palpable.  So how did I handle it?  My best friend suggested that we stop studying and bake cookies!

Holly and I took a long study break to buy ingredients and headed for the dorm kitchen.  We crafted cookie “ornaments,” personalized with the names of the women on our floor and other selected campus friends.  We threaded ribbons through the holes we poked through each cookie.  Then we raced around the dorm and the campus, delivering our edible ornaments.

Thankfully I managed to do well that term, and Holly has enjoyed a successful legal career.  Apparently there were no ill effects from our study break.  The fresh air and cookies renewed our energy.   What’s the point of my silly story and how in the world does it relate to you?  Hopefully you’ll agree that a “life well lived” includes more than a fabulous career.  Friendships, family, and the pursuit of other interests are vital ingredients in true success.

So while I applaud and admire the devotion to everything Penn students do so well—academics, extracurriculars, service, and job search—I urge you to seek balance in your life.  Recognize when it’s time to catch your breath, hang out with friends or family, and bake!  In this spirit, my holiday gift to you is a study break, courtesy of Jimmy Buffett and the Zac Brown Band.  Take it away, boys!

To Thine Own Self Be True

by Anne Lucas

My 7th grade English teacher, Mrs. Frezeman, assigned us a quotation to memorize and 10 vocabulary words to learn every week.  The quotations especially made a deep impression on me, and I find myself reflecting on them in many of life’s circumstances even as I advance through middle age.

Today I’d like to share with you an excerpt of the sage advice that Polonius gave his son, Laertes, in Hamlet.  I suspect you’ve heard it before:

…This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man…

– William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3.

You might be wondering why I’d choose this particular passage to share with you now.  I guess I’ve been struck by how challenging it is for students to stay true to themselves throughout the career/job search process.  In a still-struggling economy, it may be even more tempting to convince ourselves that we could be happy doing something in which we have little or no interest just because there are jobs available in that field.  As a parent of young adult children, I have been guilty of urging my children to “get a job,” and indeed both my son and daughter have been known to “settle” for a decent salary and health insurance.

There may be a point in one’s job search where some compromise is necessary, of course.  No job is perfect, and as most new graduates learn, work is called “work” for a reason!  Sometimes we accidentally find our true calling by working in a field which turns out to be interesting after all.  Despite the possibility of a happy accident, I urge you to approach your career exploration and job search with honesty and big dreams.  Give yourself the opportunity to aim for a job for which you feel a sincere interest—even passion.  You are most likely to succeed when you’re doing something you enjoy—and unlikely to succeed in even the most profitable endeavor if you are mismatched for that position.

It’s important to be yourself (“your best self” as we career folks like to say) throughout the job search process.  Let your voice shine through your cover letters.  As you can imagine, I am reviewing a lot of cover letters right now,  and I am always thrilled when I read a student’s “story” of why s/he has been called to the field of (fill in the blank).  Employers too read hundreds (thousands?) of cover letters, and they can sift out the sincere from the forced.  So please carefully consider your passions and then give voice to these passions in your cover letter.

Continue to be true to yourself, your values, and your ambitions throughout the search process.  You will sparkle in your interviews too if you present yourself authentically.  I’m fond of reading the “Corner Office” interviews in the Sunday business section of the New York Times.  Inevitably these successful CEOs emphasize that during the hiring process they want to know who a person really is—not just the polished-up version too often presented.  These CEOs accept that all people will fail and strongly believe that people should take risks and learn and grow from their failures.  One recent interviewee even remarked that he’s worried if someone claims never to have failed because he doesn’t know how that person will handle it when s/he finally, inevitably, does fail.

Thus, I suggest that you open yourself up in the interviewing process.  No, this doesn’t mean that you should approach your interviewer like your therapist.  Rather, you should, in a professional fashion, be yourself and tell your unique story.  When the fit is right, you’ll get the job.  If your cards are on the table and you don’t get the offer, it’s likely that it wouldn’t be a good match anyway.  Move on, and it will work out well in the end.

My thanks to William Shakespeare and Mrs. Frezeman for reminding us “To thine own self be true.”  Also, I can’t resist a note to the seniors out there.  Please remember to enjoy and make the most of your senior year!  There’s more going on at Penn than OCR and your job search.  Your senior year is a precious time in your life that you will never have again.  Best wishes for a spectacular senior year and genuine job search!