Career Lessons from the Great British Baking Show: A Recipe for Professional Success

By Claire Klieger

I could spend hours (and have) binge watching the Great British Baking Show. When the world news gets me down, it’s my go-to avenue for escapism. And, when you have been working in Career Services as long as I have, you also can’t help but see career-related lessons in even your favorite form of distraction. So, here are five my GBBO-inspired career tips:

  1. Be prepared to work with the ingredients you have and limited instructions. Sometimes there just isn’t much of a recipe. Just a like technical challenge, you may often find yourself assigned a task at work with very little in the way of instructions. In some cases you may know exactly what the end product should look like but not how to get there and in others, you may not even know that. In either case, just as on the show, your supervisor will be expecting you to rely on your previous knowledge and experience to fill in some of the gaps yourself or figure things out on your own to get up to speed. That said, unlike on the show, it is okay to proactively seek clarification about expectations for the end product, including deadlines, to ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • “Keep Calm & Carry On.” There are plenty of times on the show when contestants encounter mishaps with their bakes. In other words, when it is clear that your pie has a “soggy bottom,” you still need to have the persistence to carry on and present the best product that you can.Similarly, on the job, it is important to be resilient. During times when you make mistakes, be able to take responsibility for them, do with you can to correct them in the moment (even if that sometimes means starting over) and move forward to produce the best outcome in the future.
  • “10 more minutes!” –  Know how to work under pressure and time constraints. Most of the bakers who attempted to assess the situation, make a plan, stay organized, prioritize what they were doing, and adapt with the remaining time left were often the most successful. These same strategies work well to remain calm under pressure when you know that you need to finish a project with a tight deadline.
  • Be your own Showstopper! My favorite part of every episode is the showstopper challenge where the constants get to plan out a bake catered around that week’s theme but with the freedom to design something in advance. Typically, the winners week after week demonstrate the same qualities: creativity, thoughtful planning (usually also practicing at home multiple times), the ability to set ambitious but also manageable goals, and, most importantly, chose a design that highlighted their specific skills. In your work, seek out opportunities that set you apart by shining a spotlight on your greatest strengths.   
  • Listen to constructive criticism and feedback – Paul Hollywood may be a tough judge, but he especially values when contestants incorporate his suggestions into future creations. This is, of course, also true of supervisors who greatly appreciate staff members who are willing to hear feedback without getting defensive and apply it to improving their performance on the job.

Career Lessons from Buddy the Elf

By Dr. Claire Klieger

‘Tis the season for holiday movies on tv, pretty much 24-7. One of my favorites is Elf. So, in the spirit of the season, here are some career takeaways from Buddy himself:

“I just like to smile; smiling’s my favorite.” Remembering to smile, especially in interviews, can shift the whole tone of the exchange. Similarly, smiling when you first meet someone in a business meeting helps to put them at ease. Smiling in a professional setting really should be your favorite!

via GIPHY

“I’m a cotton-headed ninny-muggins.”Admitting when you’ve made a mistake and taking ownership of it in the workplace goes a long way, especially when you can identify an issue when there is still time to correct it.

“So, good news—I saw a dog today.” Try to focus on the positive, both in your work place and in your job search. Taking stock of those “small wins” even in the everyday will power you through the more difficult days.

via GIPHY

“I’m in a store and I’m singing!” Be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and stretch yourself from time to time. Take on a new project, learn a different skill, be willing to explore a career path outside of Penn norms.

“You did it! Congratulations! World’s best cup of coffee! Great job, everybody!” Ok, so what makes this hilarious in the movie is that he’s celebrating mediocrity and every coffee shop in New York’s claim to have the greatest cup of coffee. That said, taking time to acknowledge others’ genuine successes is really good way to build rapport in the work place.

“I passed through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly-twirly gum drops, and then I walked through the Lincoln Tunnel.” Persistence, whether it’s traveling to find your human dad who lives in the Big Apple when you’ve been raised by elves at the North Pole, or on the job search, on that big project at work, is a great quality sure to serve you well.

Happy Holidays from all of us in Penn Career Services!

The most important interview question you’ll ever be asked

By Claire Klieger

Most interviewers make up their minds about a candidate within the first few minutes of an interview. There are a few key questions and responses that form an interviewer’s opinion of a candidate. In addition to the candidate’s introduction, the question that defines any interview is “why are you interested in this position?” While any candidate should be expecting this question, it is amazing how often people seem unprepared to adequately answer this seemingly straight forward question.

 

Why is this question so important? Any person who is invited to interview the employer believes is qualified to do the job. What sets someone apart, then, what makes a truly compelling candidate, is the ability to demonstrate genuine enthusiasm for both the role and the organization. This is because interviewers seek caring and dedicated colleagues, not individuals who are merely looking for a job, a resume builder, or paycheck, even if all of those things are of course also true. Thus, interviewers listen carefully to the answer candidates provide to the question “why are you interested in this role?” This question, often more than any other, may determine the fate of an interview performance.

 

What’s the best answer? While there is no single correct response to this question, the more specific the better. Answers that wax on about a role that ideally fits as the next logical step in a career trajectory fall short because there are always multiple other positions that could also fit that bill. Rather, focus on what it is about the organization’s work, mission, culture, or people that specifically resonates. If a candidate cannot answer that question, they are unlikely to be selected for the position.

Finding Your Inner Incredible: 5 career lessons from Incredibles2

By Dr. Claire Klieger

 

1. Get in touch with your own special powers.

Baby “Jack Jack” spends much of the second Incredibles movie exploring and testing out all of his newfound powers, much to the excitement (and, at times, horror) of his family members. While you might not feel that your own strengths technical qualify as super-powers, your own innate talents can serve as valuable assets in the professional world. Even if you can’t shoot laser beams out of your eyes, travel between dimensions, or replicate yourself many times over, perhaps you are an excellent multi-tasker with great attention to detail. Or maybe your gift is to identify patterns or big picture trends quickly. If you find the right line of work (or work environment) that values your particular gifts, you are already well on your way to achieving success.

 

2. Be willing to go outside of your comfort zone, especially for the good of the organization.

Trying new things is how we learn and being willing to volunteer for jobs that need to be done, even you don’t think they are glamorous, is an important way to contribute and build up your reputation at an organization. Mr. Incredible may never have dreamed of swapping in his role of bread winner for that of stay at home parent, but he quickly discovers that the task is a lot more challenging that he anticipated. Despite his trepidation, he understands that his new role is vital for the overall success of the family and does his best to do it well. In the process, he learns to adapt and gains new skills.

 

3. Know when to ask for help.

Just like Mr. Incredible juggling the responsibilities of a stay at home parent, everyone can get in over their heads sometimes. One key to career success is to know when to ask for help and seek out sources of support (particularly from mentors) when possible. You may not have the luxury of calling up Frozone or Edna Mode in your hour of need, but do not be afraid to lean on others when you are overwhelmed.

 

4. Avoid unnecessary tussles with raccoons.

This was probably everyone’s favorite scene of the movie. What’s not to love about a super-powered baby taking on a raccoon in a territorial dispute?  Hilarity aside, when the dust settled after that epic battle, what do you really have? A big mess, an unclear winner, and a newfound rival.  Similarly, in real life there is rarely anything to be gained by rising to the bait of unnecessary territorial battles with colleagues. Oh, these squabbles, particularly if they are public, might prove entertaining to your professional peers, but you want to pick your battles very carefully. It will likely not help your professional reputation to be seen as overly territorial. A far better “super power” is to be a team player, but a team player who also knows how (and when) to protect your own interests.

5. Everyone needs a way to calm their fire.

While it is not practical to calm life’s frustrations with an endless supply of cookies…or a foam spewing, fire retardant suit for that matter, it is important to find a way to relieve stress and vent frustration.  You certainly want to avoid nuclear blow-ups at work. Whether it’s meditation, a kick boxing class, or a glass of wine with friends (preferably after work), incorporate ways to blow off steam and distance yourself from office stresses. And, again, avoid battles with office “raccoons”.

How to be Indispensable in the Workplace: 6 Tips for Internship Success

By Dr. Claire Klieger

Many students are getting ready to start summer internships next month so I thought it would be a good time to revisit a topic I blogged about a few years ago. Regardless of whether you will be in your dream internship or just trying out something new, it is important to create a positive impression. Future employers will often ask for references (even if your previous experience is completely unrelated) so you will want to be able to provide a list of contacts that you know will speak highly of your job performance. Here are six tips sure make you stand out on the job:

1) Volunteer for any work that needs doing, no matter how menial or uninteresting. Let’s face it, every internship may include some less than glamorous tasks, but the attitude you take towards completing these matters. Whether it’s making copies, picking up mail or (as in the case of one intern at the Eagles), counting the number of toilets in your facility, your willingness to say, “Sure, I can do that!” will be noticed and appreciated.

2) Make an effort to fit in. Fitting into any work environment depends upon understanding the culture. Pay attention to those around you. What is the dress code? Do people go out for lunch or eat at their desks? Do most people stay and work after hours or is everyone out the door at five? Also, take part in social activities provided by your organization to show that you are a team player and enthusiastic about your work. These kinds of events are also great networking opportunities.

3) Go the extra mile. It is important to make the very best of any internship situation.  If you do not have enough work of your own to do, look around to figure out who could use help; then offer it. You never know who is going to be grateful for your offer to crunch some numbers, design a flyer, summarize a set of articles, or run an experiment, etc. If you identify a need, you could gently offer an idea (and volunteer to see it through) that might be useful.

4) Put in the time (and be on time). Understand what your expected hours are. Whatever they may be, if you want to stand out, be prepared to arrive a little early and possibly stay late. Whatever you do, don’t create the impression that you’re checking your watch so that you can bolt out the door at 5 (or whenever the business day ends where you work).

5) Be professional. This is important for demeanor as well as dress. Also, be cognizant of your online communications. Keep your work emails professional—write in full sentences and avoid using acronyms or emoticons. Employers often complain that interns, used to texting, do not understand well how to draft professional emails.

6) Treat everyone pleasantly, regardless of status. Focus less on becoming chummy with your fellow interns and more on being pleasant with everyone. This could be as simple as greeting people at the beginning and end of each day and remembering to smile. Also, be careful not to look like as though you are only interested in making a good impression with senior level colleagues in positions of power.

If you follow these simply steps, you greatly increase the chances that those working around you will not only see you as a great intern, but may even start asking themselves, “what would we do without you?!”