Life’s a Journey, Not a Destination

As a student at Penn, at times it can feel like you’re expected to have your whole life planned out from the moment you attend your first NSO event. It seems like most of the other students you talk to go in knowing what their career path will be after graduation; they already know their top 5 employers by sophomore year, have already had their internships at high-profile companies by their junior year, and then already have at least 3 offers by the end of first semester senor year. Although many students at Penn do have a concrete idea of what they want to do after graduation, along with a plan of how to get there, this should by no means be considered the “norm”. Many students do not have a direct career plan until junior or senior year, and some may not have an idea until after they graduate.

With spring semester moving quickly to the half-way point, it’s important to remember that if you do not have concrete career plans (especially for juniors and seniors) it is not a reason to panic, or feel that you are doing something wrong. Instead, use this as an opportunity to explore different fields through internships or volunteering. What can be perceived as having no direction in your career interests may actually be that you have very broad interests, which would enable you to be a good “fit” in a variety of different organizations or positions.

If you know what you want to do after graduation, that’s great. But if you are still figuring it out, that’s great too! Remember, in the words of Aerosmith, “Life’s a journey, not a destination”.

Unfamiliar Territory: Handling the Job Search as a First Generation College Student

Starting and navigating the job search can be stressful and a challenge for any student, but it can be even more so for those who are first generation college students. For someone who didn’t grow up around others who had been to college, terms like “industry” and “field” may be unfamiliar and confusing. Even knowing where to find positions that are suitable for someone with a college degree can be a challenge. Asking for help in navigating this new terrain can be difficult simply because you may not have a foundation for thinking about your future career, so it’s hard to know what questions to ask. For example, asking an advisor, “When should I begin applying for jobs after graduation?” will get the response, “It depends on what industry you are interested in.” However, this could then lead the student to ask, “What exactly is an industry, and how do I know which one I should go into?”

Although most students at Penn come from a background where their parents and other close associates have graduated college and are familiar with the post-graduation job search process, there are many students who don’t have the same support system, and face added stress and uncertainty in their job searches. From my own experience in this situation, I’ve found the following tips to be helpful:

Take Advantage of the Cultural Centers

Many students view the cultural centers at Penn as primarily a way to meet people from their own culture or background, or to learn about other cultures through fun and engaging activities and events. While this is true, cultural centers can also be a place of support in your job search as a first generation college student. It is likely that there are other students who are going through the same situation, and can share advice. The staffs of the cultural centers are also a good resource, as they have experience working with students who are first generation college students, and many of them are well-connected and may even be willing to share contacts with you.

Take Advantage of Penn Alumni

Connecting with alumni who have gone through the same process can help you get an idea of what a successful job search after college is like. Thanks to Penn’s diversity, there are actually a lot of alumni in various industries and positions who were first generation college students, and would be willing to share advice with you on how they got to where they are today, and to refer you to other contacts during your job search. With the new QuakerNet, you can search by multiple filters, including student involvement, and Penn-related and personal interests to easily find helpful alumni.

Take Advantage of Career Services

Once you have a better sense of what the job search process involves, Career Services can help you with the specifics of job searching, interviewing, and negotiating offers.

Summer Resume Renewal

Summer is the time to spend with friends and family, travel to exotic places, and procrastinate reading all the books you didn’t actually read during the academic year. For many students, summer also means summer jobs and internships. Now that the end of summer is looming ahead, this is a great time to start getting your resume together, especially for seniors and those interested in OCR. Even if you didn’t land that all-time dream internship or summer job, you can still use what you did do to make your resume stand out by highlighting transferable skills that are important in any industry, such as communication skills, multitasking, time management, project management, etc.  Even for those who did not participate in any academic or work related activities during the summer, there may be skills that you have picked up through your recreation or hobbies that can be added to your resume, such as writing skills, technical skills, or problem solving skills. Making a list of all the jobs/activities that you did during the summer, and then looking at what skills you used or learned is a great way to start accessing your transferable skills!

Career Services And Back Again: An Undergrad’s Tale

As someone who has had their Penn experience come full circle, I’ve been able to experience Career Services in two roles: as a student and a staff member.

As a student, I experienced Career Services in much the same way as most of my peers: the daily blast of emails on the Class of 2011 emailing list, the weekly workshops on every aspect and stage of the job search (from exploring career options to negotiating offers), the massive career fairs that pop up like mushrooms each semester, and, of course, the one-on-one advising appointments and walk-ins with advisors.

Now that I am a Career Services staff member, I am experiencing the full scope of what goes into all that Career Services does. I’ve experienced the early mornings and late evenings that go into setting up for the career fairs (not to mention all the prep work and details that have to be done such as catering, employer name tags, student handbooks, etc.), the hustle that comes with reserving rooms for workshops, the importance of coordinating advising appointments across multiple advisors, and the morning walks with recruiters to their OCR interviewing suites.

As a student, I took all of these for granted, and only saw them as fixtures of university life that just pop up automatically at the appointed time. But now that I am working behind the scenes, I see all the hard work that goes into each workshop, appointment, and event.