Leveraging Your Talent(s) – Career Lessons from AGT

By Dr. Claire Klieger

Summer comes with many pleasures—beach weather, baseball games, ice cream, and in my household…gathering as a family each week to watch America’s Got Talent. We’ve been faithfully watching the show for years, and like the judges, we never cease to be amazed that there are still acts (and talents) the likes of which we have never seen before, including this season a hand balancing act involving an 86 year old man, an impossibly in sync Indian dance troupe featuring human trampolines & acrobatics, or inexplicably incredible close-up magic. What’s more, there seems to be an audience for a wide range of talents. For instance, those acts that involve pushing the limits of human tolerance for pain by swallowing razors, putting a hook through one’s nose, or being hit with a sledgehammer while on a bed of nails may not be my cup of tea, but there is certainly audience somewhere excited to see it.  

Finding career success involves something similar—figuring out the things that you are naturally good at and learning how to best present them to the right audience. So, here are my 5 career lessons from AGT:

  1. Understand your (transferable) strengths. In all my years as a career advisor, I’ve never once met someone who didn’t have innate abilities. However, many individuals don’t realize how talented they are. Frequently one’s talents come so naturally to them that they may not even think of them as skills. Take varsity athletes. Sure, they know that they are good at the particular sport that they play but what they often fail to recognize is that the traits that make them successful in athletics (a drive for excellence, good teamwork, endurance, the ability to perform well under pressure) are also attributes that are valuable to employers in almost any professional setting. The trick then, is figuring out the qualities and skills behind the successes in your life.
  2. Be personable – it wins over the judges. Simon Cowell tells contestants all the time that presence and personality are just as important as the talent itself. Similarly, in the working world, being seen as a thoughtful, compassionate, respectful (and fun!) colleague will help you win over others in the office. 
  3. Find your compelling story. It’s no real surprise that most of the “golden buzzer” moments, when a judge selects an act from auditions to go straight through to the live shows, involve not only spectacular displays of talent but also a human interest story that truly pulls at your heart strings. Now, a sob story is not something that I’m suggesting is needed (or even necessarily appropriate) for professional settings, particularly interviews. However, the ability to successfully package your story (your background, what makes you tick as a professional, and how you can add value to your prospective work environment) is critical to appearing like the ideal fit for the job.  
  4. Be open to (and act on) critical feedback. Each season, some of the strongest and most enduring acts are typically ones that heed the critical advice of the judges on the show. In your career, you too will be more successful if you not only seek out critical feedback but demonstrate that you can positively incorporate it into your professional actions. 
  5. Stretch yourself (no, not in the AGT human contortionist style way). With each successive round, the AGT judges expect acts to “step up their game.” To achieve long-term career success, one must also continue to adapt over time, to both sharpen their skills and learn new ones to stay nimble on the job market. 

The secret to career success is nurturing your talents through positions ideally situated to work with your strengths. So, even if, like me, there is no way in a million years you could ever be a successful contestant on AGT, it’s still worth asking yourself: What am I really good at?  What is easy for me? What engages, stimulates, and moves me? The answers to these questions may help you on the way to finding a career path that lets you achieve your own “golden buzzer” moments in life. 

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!


“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.


“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”.