Take Time to Reflect

By: Erica Marks

As my time at Penn comes to a close, I find that I am still moving at full speed. In my short, one-year Masters program I am constantly consumed by courses, work and creating a plan for life after Penn. How is it that there are only two short months until graduation? Where has the time gone?

After a week (and weekend) of an exhausting amount of paper writing, I realized what I needed – reflection. Like so many overbooked Penn students, I was operating at an unsustainably fast pace. So I decided I would try it out. How had I not thought of this before? I looked up the definition, Webster’s claims that reflection is, “ a thought, idea or opinion formed; or a remark made as a result of meditation.” It sounded so simple, like something I could accomplish at yoga class. Kill two birds with one stone, you know.

And then it hit me like a brick. Reflection isn’t something that I can multi-task. It can’t be checked off my to-do list. If I couldn’t schedule it, how was I going to do it? Taking time to sleep is difficult enough. The thought of taking time to reflect (when its not conveniently coupled with another task) seems absurd. There is so much pressure to know what you are doing next, there is no time to stop and live in the present.

Taking time to reflect means slowing down enough to stop, enjoy the adventure and figure out what is really important to YOU. Learn what you like and dislike. Do something for fun… for you. All of this reflection may actually help you plan for the future, weird.

I learned something this weekend, in my reflections. You can have ideas about what you want, but you cannot plan your life to a tee. Some of the most important decisions and opportunities will come to you in ways in which you cannot predict. So take some time reflect. And I don’t mean during yoga class.

If You Don’t Ask… The Answer Is Always No

By Erica Marks

If you don’t ask… the answer is always no.

Ask for help. Ask for what you want. Ask for an honest opinion.

Of course, there are times when you will be told no. It may be the answer regardless. But one way to guarantee you never get a yes, is to avoid asking altogether. You can leave it to chance or make the opportunity your own.

As we embark on the spring semester, we are four months closer to the end of our degree-seeking journey while simultaneously entrenched in the job-hunting journey. It’s exciting and overwhelming, all at the same time. Where am I going next? How am I going to get there? Am I making the right decision? All you can do is pose the question. Ideally, this simple action will allow you not only to maintain sanity but to leave these journeys to start yet another. (Figurative new journey = your career.)

Don't Be Afraid to Ask

Below are three of the most important things, in my opinion, for which to ask. The scenarios are by far not exhaustive; however, they demonstrate quite nicely how easy it can be to ask questions.

Ask for help. Copying machine giving you trouble? Not sure how to get the boss’ attention? Ask a colleague. More than likely the same person will be able to answer both questions. Killing two birds with one stone (or question).

Ask for what you want. A promotion? A raise? A summer internship? It may be hard to raise the tough questions in your office, but its up to you. It is highly unlikely that your boss is randomly thinking, “Hmm… in a few months, I think I’ll give Sally a raise. And a new office.” If it’s the internship you want and the email address of the VP that you need – the same principle applies – ask. Are you sensing a pattern?

Ask for an honest opinion. Report could use proofreading? Does your resume need some work? In this case, the possibilities for asking questions are endless! You could ask a colleague, a friend, a family member OR even Career Services.

If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place.

It Won’t Even Cost You a Trip to the Cleaners: How to Have Phone Interview Success

By Erica Marks

It’s me again, the office Teach for America (TFA) alum. And I’ve got more advice to share from my experience. To fulfill my duty as good alumna who continues to work toward our mission of educational equity, I conduct phone interviews. Yes, the awkward, first round phone screen – that’s me on the other end (well not necessarily in your case, there are many us).

Phone interviews have some inherent challenges, namely, the loss of nonverbal cues. Yikes. I can’t see your smiling face or notice your body language. All I have is your voice and my rubric to fill out based on it. As the next round of phone interviews begin and recruiting continues all around campus, I am offering some words of wisdom.

Choose a quiet place. Nothing is worse than the interviewer over hearing your roommate play Wii bowling or your mom calling down the hall to see if your underwear needs washed. Find a quiet place and notify everyone in advance. I even recommend a good ol’ “do not disturb” sign on the door.

Check your reception. Do you have all your bars? Only one? This is a huge problem that is easily preventable. Choose a location that is not only quiet, but that ensures you’ll both be able to clearly hear each other (public phone booths are not recommended).

Turn off call-waiting. The beeps in your ear can be distracting and frustrating. Before your call time, disable the function. If you’re receiving the call, use the options in your phone to turn it off. If you are the caller, you can type *70 into your phone to temporarily turn it off.

Take pre-interview precautions. Getting up and moving around during the interview can be distracting for you and cause noise on the other end. Before the interview starts, set yourself up for success. Use the bathroom. Get a glass of water; you will be talking your face off, potentially resulting in a dry throat. And set up any materials you may need.

Get your documents ready. Having your resume on hand is a great resource. Remember, we can’t see you, so you can refer back to it as necessary. For any interview you should practice answering questions and for this type of interview, you can have those answers in front of you! Warning: you will not have time to read a paragraph, but you can skim a list.

Interruptions happen. The important thing to remember is not to sweat them. Try not to giggle uncontrollably or apologize profusely. Try to prevent them by listening carefully, annunciating your words and not rambling on and on. The last one is tricky – it’s hard to gauge if you’ve gone too far because you can’t see the interviewers reaction.

You may not need the dry cleaners, but you will need clean clothes. Most people think that phone interviews are great because you get to sit around in your pajamas. The truth is that dressing up a little can help. When dressed for success, people tend to act and speak more professionally.

Happy Interviewing!

P.S. some wonderful colleague’s of mine wrote on a blog on this topic a while ago, you can check it out in the archives: http://ulife.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/blog/?m=200911

FYI: TFA (Teach for America)

by Erica Marks

“One day all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.”

Before joining the corps, the mission statement (above) was all I knew of Teach for America. Did I want to help? Sure. Did it seem easy? More or less. In the end, looking back on two strenuous, but fulfilling years, I feel like I did the mission some justice.

As an undergraduate business major at Pitt, I truthfully had no idea what I was going to do and where I was going to end up. I was applying for jobs that appealed to my major, but that didn’t appeal to me.  It was during this time of soul-searching, that I came across an opportunity that I knew nothing about, but seemed like it may give my career more purpose.  After a lengthy, three-part application process, I made the cut.

My assignment: Up and move to Charlotte (you rank your cities, I was thrilled about Charlotte, not the move) and take on an entire class of 1st graders with zero experience.

My preparation: Make a pit stop in Atlanta for a 5 week, intensive, hands on boot camp, teaching summer school.  The end goal of which was to get my group of students into the glory land of 6th grade (very happy to report that they made it).

My experience: From day one in the classroom, I knew I had underestimated my role.  To start, 20 six-years olds depended on ME to make them ready-minded 2nd graders, while simultaneously teaching them everything about everything.  Did I accomplish this? According to the data, yes. Was it simple? By no means. Did I fall in love with all 20 of these little rascals? 18 (not all of them were angels). It is now crystal clear to me why teachers have a summer vacation.

My motivation: The moments when the missing pieces of the puzzle fell into place; when Ke’Shaun stopped writing his letters backwards (even the word pizza was incomprehensible), when Raeven told me she wanted to be an author (that girl loved telling tales), when Maia became a math whiz and champion of Addition Wars (the kids preferred this game to recess, she was the fastest adder in the class!) and when Sade’s mom told me she wanted to be a teacher just like me.

My aftermath: In hindsight, all jokes aside, Teach for America has been my single-most meaningful experience to date. Do I recommend it? Yes, to those who want to be the change that shapes the minds of our youth and the force that strengthens our education system.