Trying It On

fittingroomsWhen 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!

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Plan Ahead!

PlanAheadI 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?

summersearchStart 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
Be Curious
Pursue Interests
Become an Expert Communicator
Be Amazed
Tell Stories
Send Fan Mail
Be a Sleuth
Get Experience
Start Now!

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Time Travel to a Career

JJF_7912.jpgPerhaps 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?

timemachineThen, 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.”

Start (Up) Your Career!

startup-signYou have amazing energy and ideas. The students I meet with every day as a career counselor here at Penn are all interested in startups—setting something in motion. The project I have the privilege to see them starting is the enterprise of themselves and their own careers.

For those interested in managing their own careers and willing to take some risk, working for a startup can be an exciting plunge into a growing enterprise. The tasks may vary greatly, and one’s efforts may greatly influence the future of the organization. Startups can be found in every type of industry (tech, nonprofit, the arts, business, consumer goods, healthcare, and on and on), and they hire people for many roles (leadership, programming, marketing, business development, sales, design, HR, and more).

I asked some fabulous speakers (who have volunteered to speak at Penn) about their careers with startups. In order to offer you their advice, I asked them each: “If you could reach back in time, what advice would you give yourself as a college student regarding startup/career opportunities?”

So (drumroll please), take some advice from what might be your future:

“While I’m pretty fresh out of school, and I think I did a generally good job at this, I’d encourage myself, and any college student, to take even more risks, push the edge, challenge assumptions, break rules, and explore. It’s general advice I’d give to a student, but it applies specifically to pursuing a career in technology as an entrepreneur, because what we essentially do is explore, find opportunities, and fill them.”
Joe Cohen (Wharton)—Lore (formerly Coursekit)

“Often, people have told me they think startups are ‘too risky.’ For someone in school or just graduating from college, however, I really don’t think there is any risk in working for a startup. The upside is enormous—you’ll learn more broadly and get much more responsibility than you might at a big company—and if things don’t work out, as long as you’re talented and work hard, you’ll always be able to find something new to do. The job offer from Google will be there in three years or in five years, but your needs and desire for work / life balance may change as you grow older, so you might as well work at a startup while you’re young, hungry, and driven.”
Andrew Kortina—Venmo

“If you want to join a startup, the best time is when you are graduating. This is for a few reasons
•     You have the least to lose.
•     You’ll learn in dog years. A good year at a good startup is equivalent to seven at a BigCo from a learning experience.
•     You won’t lose your edge as one inevitably does by working at larger, slow-moving organizations.
And worst case, if things don’t work out at the startup, you can always get a job at BigCo as they are always looking for smart people—especially Penn grads.”
Anand Sanwal—CB Insights

“Optimize for ‘learning’ over every other consideration! The first few years after college are essentially a real world continuation of your education. They are formative years that lay the foundation for the next 30 years of your career. Your learnings should be focused on two things: 1) building a reasonably broad set of complimentary capacities that you will leverage over the long haul; and 2) exploring different types of roles and environments to help you discover your true passion.”
Ben Siscovick (College)—IA Ventures

“Don’t think that you have to do finance or consulting just because that’s the ‘natural’ path for Penn students. There are tons of opportunities in tech and startups, tons of companies that can use smart graduates like you, and I promise you that if you don’t do the ‘standard’ finance path, your work and life will be much more fulfilling than the alternative.”
Lee Yanco—AppNexus

Thank you to these speakers and their fellow panelists at some of our recent and future panels:
“NYC Tech Talent Draft”—September 19, 2012
“Navigating the Startup Career”—January 29, 2013
“NYC Tech Talent Draft”—February 21, 2013
and to those companies planning to attend our upcoming Start-Up Career Fair on February 21!