Posts by Beth:
I’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.
When you buy a new shirt, do you usually try it on first to see if it fits? Or do you purchase it, take it home, try it on, and take it back to exchange because it doesn’t fit (or the color isn’t right or it makes you look like a turnip)? There are many reasons not to try something on: not enough time, just don’t care, the fitting rooms are full, wanting to try it on with something we already have at home. But trying something on ahead of time can definitely save time and prevent us from making mistakes.
At Career Services, we try to provide opportunities for our students to “try on” careers ahead of time to see if they fit. Depending on one’s school and year, there are several programs to help students “try on” a career—mentoring programs, externships (job shadowing), practice interviews at Career Services or as part of Mock Interview Day, employers’ programs such as coffee chats or practice interviews, exploration events sponsored by employers or industries, and networking events with professionals and alumni. We encourage you to participate in one of these programs or create this type of opportunity on your own.
Talking with a mentor can provide excellent insight into a particular career path. Several students who have participated in the mentoring program for first-year students in engineering provided comments:
“[My mentor] always replies . . . with deep insights and thoughts. I [have learned] a lot from [my mentor’s] personal experience.” (Bioengineering Student)
“I would recommend this program to other students because it is a great way to connect with a professional. Their opinions and experience go a long way in helping your decision making and career goals.” (Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering Student)
“The program allowed me to explore career paths in more depth and more quickly than I could have hoped for in any other way.” (Electrical Engineering Student)
“There is so much that one can learn from someone who has been through the whole process of going from undergraduate to having a stable career. The interaction is rich with insights. . . . I was very unclear about where I wanted to proceed with my career. Based on my background and interests, my mentor advised me on a lot of issues and was very honest with suggestions for possible career paths.” (Materials Science & Engineering MSE Student)
Wharton undergrads have the opportunity to do an externship, in which they “shadow” their hosts at work for a behind-the-scenes experience.
“I really enjoyed going to the office, experiencing the culture, and meeting the employees. [My host] was great, and I learned a lot about the company.” (Wharton Sophomore)
“My externship went very well. [My host] put me in touch with two buyers, and I learned a lot about the ins and outs of being a buyer.” (Wharton Sophomore)
You can also create these types of opportunities on your own through networking, which is simply “talking to people.” If one of your friends has a relative working in a career field that interests you, ask if you could talk with that person. If you are prepared and ask insightful questions, you could learn a lot about that type of work, and your conversation might lead to a mentoring relationship or a shadowing (externship) opportunity. Don’t be afraid to ask for opportunities to “try on” a career for an hour, a day, or a week!
I love September. The cooler air but still warm days, the hint of coming autumn, the beginning of a new academic year—all of these invigorate me. My favorite part, however, is the return of you! Yes, you, the students. I work here at Penn because of how interesting and intelligent you are.
Each of you brings energy and passion to your studies as well as your activities. That’s why you’re here. You also demonstrate diligence in preparing for your career, which is why the lines are sometimes out the door the week or two prior to our career fairs, such as last week’s CareerLink and Engineering Career Day. But I’m always disappointed when, the week following a career fair (or the start of a recruiting season or a networking event), you disappear. The lines for walk-in sessions and the calls to schedule career-advising appointments dwindle—even though there is still work to be done: cover letters, career exploration, resume updates, company research, self-assessment, networking, follow-ups.
So here’s a dare: Plan ahead so you’re ready before the next career deadline. Avoid the long line to have a resume critiqued just before a career fair. Do your best to submit internship/job applications before they’re due to avoid online systems that sometimes crash in the last hours prior to a deadline. Start exploring the internship possibilities that fit your skills and interests instead of waiting until your parents ask what you’re planning to do next summer. Find out how and when the employers in the career field of your choice hire, so you won’t worry that you’re behind your friends as they find jobs.
We’re still here, and we look forward to meeting many of you and helping you plan and take steps to meet your career goals. Check our website to schedule an advising appointment or find out when we have walk-in sessions.
See you soon!
Start my job search now? Yes! Whether you will graduate next year or are an incoming student, it’s not too early to start developing your job-search skills. And note that I said “job-search skills,” not “job skills.”
“Job skills” include abilities necessary for a specific type of work (such as lab techniques, programming languages, art skills, knowledge of particular facts) as well as transferable “soft” skills (such as communication, collaboration, organizational skills).
“Job-search skills,” however, include knowing how to explore and find opportunities in the career field(s) of interest to you.
“Job-search skills” are not necessarily as challenging as they are time consuming. So, if you can start now, do! Devoting some time to developing competence in the following abilities will help you get ahead of the game (and make it easier to excel in these practices in the future). These suggestions for developing your job-search skills can also be rather fun!
Talk to People
Become an Expert Communicator
Send Fan Mail
Be a Sleuth
Perhaps you’ve seen posters around Philadelphia for the 2013 Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, or you’ve been lucky enough to attend one of their events. The ads for the “Time Travel Plaza” have captured my attention, and I keep wondering about what I would like to see and do—and the people I would want to meet—if I could actually travel through time.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how your great-great-grandparents lived? I think it would be fascinating to see how and where they lived, what their relationships were like, their awareness of the events of the day, and how they made a living.
So let me invite you to create your own time tunnel! To explore how people made a living, jot down who in your family’s history did what—as far as you know. Ask your parents or review any family documents you have.
Then add more details to your list. Ask yourself not only what they did, but why they did it. Where did they do their “work”? How did they complete their tasks?
If you know the person or have heard stories, can you ascertain anything about their psychological make-up? Did their personalities affect their career success? Positively or negatively? How did they define success? (Or did they?)
Add the circumstances of history. What was going on in the world at that time? How did most people live and how did they provide for themselves and their families? Did they work on their own? For someone else? Voluntarily? Where and how?
Consider biological implications. How did gender affect the livelihoods of the people on your list? Race? Health? Did they have choices or limitations based on their physical being?
As you populate your time tunnel, add historical or fictional characters to your list—especially to fill in gaps regarding certain eras and/or certain types of work. Have you included someone from the 1950s? The 1920s? The 1990s? Or even the 1750s or further back? Are there individuals on your list from work in industries as diverse as medicine, business, education, entertainment, government, agriculture, manufacturing, childcare, law, journalism, science, social work? Are there artists? Leaders? Laborers? People who worked within the systems of the day and those who worked outside them?
Then, walk through your tunnel and observe the work lives of the people in it. Does anything startle you? Impress you? Dismay you? Challenge you? Motivate you? Educate you? As you gain insight into what work meant for these people in your time tunnel, do you glean any new perspectives on what work means now in the twenty-first century? Perhaps you’ll formulate questions about what work might mean for you that will help you choose a career, change a career, or move ahead with confidence and determination in the career you’ve selected. Bon voyage!
With deference to and acknowledgement of the 2013 Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, and Professor Jim Larkin’s Penn class on “Self, Role, and Expectations in the Workplace.”