A Thank You Note

by Beth Olson

This long overdue thank-you note goes to the dozens of people who helped me complete two tasks simultaneously when I graduated from college. They taught me about their worlds of work and the many career options within it, and they helped me find a job.

Perhaps because he was one of my favorite professors or perhaps because I felt desperate watching my friends interview and land jobs, but when Dr. Saunders suggested that I simply contact interesting professionals to see if I could meet with them and ask them about their jobs, I jumped at the strategy. I asked family members and professors and friends and alumni and my former supervisors if they knew anyone working in the city where I hoped to live, and I made a list.

I started contacting people on the list, wondering if they would think I was crazy or pushy. And people started saying yes. I had a place to stay in my city of choice, so I went there and started meeting with people at their work or for lunch or coffee. My list quickly became a tangled tree, as many of the people I met gave me names from their networks of colleagues, saying “tell them I sent you.” I kept track of the degrees of separation, noting which person had referred me to whom. Sometimes the people I met forwarded my request on to their colleagues ahead of me, and I occasionally received calls from people I had not yet met! (When that happened, I rifled through my notes while on the phone, trying to figure out the connection quickly.)

I met many people, and I learned how to interview them. I began a life-long interest in the world of work, learning about different career paths and different organizational structures and styles. I learned what people did in their professional lives, and I learned how they were connected to one another—both to people within their own career fields and without. I gathered information about what it might be like to work in particular companies/organizations and which jobs someone right of college might get (if only there were job openings).

And then, eventually, two different people—entirely unrelated to one another professionally, from opposite ends of the networking web I’d created—both heard about a job opening (not within either person’s company). One person contacted the potential employer directly and told them about me. The other person contacted me to tell about the job possibility. When I applied, I don’t know if this networking intersection strengthened my candidacy in the employer’s eyes, but I landed the job.

Many jobs later, I find this still to be one of the best job-search strategies. I have learned about different careers, companies, opportunities, and I have found friends, eventual colleagues, and mentors. And I have a library of stories of the people I’ve met along the way.

(For tips on using this strategy, feel free to check out our website resources.)

What Is Work?

by Beth Olson

Philadelphia is known for its Mural Arts Program. This project, initially begun in 1984, has shifted from an anti-graffiti effort to a creative array of educational, artistic, and community programs. Reorganized as the Mural Arts Program in 1996 to “create art that transforms public spaces and individual lives,” this organization boasts an extensive array of core values from teamwork to creativity to fair compensation. Over 3,000 murals have graced Philadelphia, and mural tours are high on the to-do lists of residents and visitors.

Currently the Mural Arts Program is hosting a series of forums inviting people to tell their stories of what work means to them. These stories will be used in the design of a new mural project throughout the city—offering views of what work means and celebrating all of us who work in Philadelphia. (There are two more forums—open to the public—scheduled for December 1 and 5. Check their website for information.)

I am curious about this extensive project and look forward to viewing the results. What does work mean for Philadelphians? What does work mean for the UPenn community? From my vantage point as a career counselor, I anticipate a plethora of assumptions and opinions.

For many, work is inextricably linked to monetary compensation. It’s what fuels the needs of our lives by enabling us to pay for our food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and healthcare.

For some, work is life’s calling—regardless of remuneration. It’s the passion, the purpose many find in their art, their research, their music, their teaching, their exploration, their service. They cannot not do it. It is not always one and the same with an income-generating job.

For some focused and lucky people, it’s both of the above—doing what they love and earning a living while doing it.

I expect that many of us are at neither end nor in a balanced center, but somewhere else along the scale—viewing work as an income, an obligation, a chance, a potential, a step, an end, time, a commitment, an achievement, a frustration, elusive, fulfilling, unfulfilling, prestigious, a resource, power, an opportunity, and on and on.

I can’t wait to see what the new murals communicate. In the meantime, to temper my curiosity, I invite you to provide your own take on “work” in a brief survey. If there are enough responses, I’ll share them in a future blog.

Now get back to work!

Philadelphia on a Half-Tank by Paul Santoleri Located at Penrose Avenue and Platt Bridge. © 1999 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

“Careers” for Alumni

by Beth Olson

Many of us—of any age—recall playing the board game Careers in one of its many versions. The goal is to obtain points in three areas—fame, fortune, and happiness. Players determine their own proportions of each for their individual “success formulas” at the beginning of the game.

In our real-life careers, these proportions are constantly changing as our priorities shift. To complicate matters, our very definitions of these goals also change. My current definition of “happiness” may bear some resemblance to what it did when I was fresh out of college, but it is also quite different now. All of which means that identifying desired career fields and searching for job opportunities within them is an ongoing and changing process throughout our lives—whether we are 24 or 48.

Game buffs might already know this, but this board game included an innovation unusual for its time. The game Careers—as in real life—has more than one objective. (See Larry Levy’s article from Counter magazine.) As we proceed down our individual post-graduation roads, our lives become more complicated and diverge from any preconceived “norm.” As our objectives change and multiply, who we are and how we describe ourselves also changes.

Not only do we change, but the landscape changes around us. There is not a single path or right answer to our pressing career and job-search questions. When we seek our next job, we must reacquaint ourselves with the expectations of our hoped-for employers, and we must reacquaint ourselves with the job-search process itself.

If you are a recent graduate seeking a second job in your current career field, you know what it took to find your first job. You are already familiar with the steps that may lead to job-search success: how to network, with whom, where, how to introduce yourself, resume formats, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, interview protocol.

Alumni who are looking for a job in a different field will need to research all these steps. How are jobs advertised in this field? Are they advertised or shared by word of mouth? What are the strongest professional associations in this field? What is the industry “lingo” for the skills needed in this new profession? How should you format your resume?

And alumni who are returning to the job market after many years will find that the job-search process itself has changed. Resumes in our fast-paced world should be focused and streamlined. Social media play a major role in the game now, and online profiles may be as important as resumes. Employers will often not respond to your online application (due to the sheer volume of online applications). Being focused on what you want next is at least (if not more) important than what you’ve done.

Career Services has many resources and suggestions for students in their initial job searches, and much of this information is applicable to alumni. Review the information on our website at: http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/alumni/. This page includes articles on

Remember that you’re the expert on explaining who you are. If you’re staying in your current field, you’re an expert on that field as well and have access to information, people, and resources specific to your field (and perhaps more applicable than the broad range of general resources at the Career Center).

Networking is still the name of the game, and you are better situated to do this now than when you were a new graduate or just entering the workforce. As a graduate of Penn, you have the benefit of access to other Penn alumni—a great way to learn about different career fields, meet people, and explore options.

Some job-search skills are the same for anyone—students, alumni with experience, alumni reentering the job market. Critical strategies for all include thoroughly researching and understanding the career field of interest to you; networking with people in that industry; being able to articulate what you want in a focused and concise statement; creating tailored documents (resumes and cover letters). There are strategy resources at http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/undergrad/findingjobs.html and job postings at http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/pennlink_jobseekers.html.

Just like students who don’t yet know what they want to do, alumni in transition who haven’t identified a career field and are still determining what they want to do next should focus on career exploration. Check out the tips at http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/discovery/ and begin your research to determine what type of job/career field you’re seeking.

Regardless of where you are at in your career game and what your “success formula” is, Career Services has resources to help you in your job-search process.