Outside of the OCR Box

By Athena Burkett, Wh, ‘13

When junior year came along, I had all the same fears as everyone else. “Where will I work this summer?” “How will I find an internship that guarantees me a job next year?” “What does it mean if I don’t get a job through OCR?” These questions and so many more wailed through my head as I relentlessly studied Case In Point and researched companies I had no real interest in working for. Being a Whartonite, I felt I needed to get a job through OCR, or else my schooling and work thus far would be for naught.
I was trapped in the OCR box, and was seeing the wonderful things inside it, but completely neglecting the opportunities outside its walls.

Deep down I knew that this wasn’t the path I wanted to take. Consulting and banking are great jobs, they just weren’t great for me. That summer I took an internship with PennSEM (a Penn non-profit internship program). It was a wonderful opportunity to do quality business work with a non-profit agency. I learned a lot that summer, the biggest thing being that I liked using my business knowledge in non-traditional settings. Just because I wasn’t working in banking or consulting, that didn’t mean I wasn’t using all the valuable knowledge Wharton gave me.

teacherComing into senior year after that summer, I knew that OCR wouldn’t be my focus. I wanted to find a teaching job, so I decided to look through all the doors that Penn opens for its graduates. I scoured websites, went to Civic House and Career Services panels, attended NGO-Government Career fairs, and reached out to everyone I knew. Anything that came across my plate with the word “teach” or “non-profit” in it, I stopped to check it out. I placed myself on all the career list serves, and applied to a lot of teaching and non-profit leads I got through these sources. There are an incredible amount of resources available at Penn, but the key is to start early. It’s harder to do the research (there isn’t one nicely compiled database), but the process is the same – application, interview rounds, and (hopefully) offer. It’s well worth the work to find a job you really enjoy.

I had come across the Urban Teacher Center program at an NGO fair in the spring of my junior year, and I saw it mentioned again in a lot of Civic House and Netter Center list serves. The program combines a dual masters degree with real time teaching experience, and it sounded perfect for me. I applied to their first deadline, and accepted an offer in October. Just like many of my peers, I could finally stop worrying about what I was going to do next year, and enjoy my senior year.

I think the most important connection for me was realizing that just because I was in Wharton, it didn’t mean I had to succeed through OCR or be a failure. A different path was just as valid, even if not as popular. There is a great deal of stigma attached to those who don’t get a job through OCR, as they are often believed to have lost a competition. But it is important to understand that those of us who choose not to participate in OCR are not straying from the Wharton path, we’re simply choosing to use our powers for a different purpose. If you’re questioning whether or not consulting and banking (and thus, OCR) are right for you, I encourage you to resist the pressure to stay in the box. There are amazing opportunities outside those four walls, and I promise that one of them is waiting for you to seize it.

Alumni Perspective: Travel Can Help, Not Hurt, Your Job Prospects

Worried about how “time off” to travel may affect your career?

Perrin Bailey Photoby Perrin Bailey

“When will you be back?”

My boss’s wide eyes and raised brow fixed on me from across his broad desk.

“I’m not sure,” I confessed. “A year?”

In 2010, I quit my steady job planning media for Disney at a small agency, sold my furniture and packed an ungainly Kermit-green backpack.  In this my 25th year, I ultimately made my way to 25 countries across four continents.  This adventure became one of the most constructive and fulfilling things I’ve done.

My sister Sarah quit her hot marketing gig at HBO to join me on the road, and she thinks the trip was the best thing she’s ever done, too.

But what happened when we got back home to New York, you ask?

My former client referred me for an internal position at Disney Interactive, and HBO welcomed Sarah back.  HBO even awarded Sarah the promotion she had passed up to travel.

Sounds lucky, huh?  Perhaps.  But we did follow a strategy not only to make the most of our time abroad, but also to ensure a successful landing at the end of our flight. Here are the four steps that worked for us and I offer to you:

  1. Seek Relevant Experience.  I work in digital media and love journalism, so I auditioned for an online travel documentary to be produced by Jet Set Zero.  With JSZ I learned about production and contributed to social media promotions, rounding out my skill set to become a “digital expert.” This while traveling Italy with most expenses paid. How did we find this gig?  Networking.

    Talk to everyone you know in your industry and attend as many local events as you   can, in addition to researching opportunities directly.  You never know what may come up!

  2. Pinpoint Your Passion.  Did you discover new interests or develop existing ones while traveling? Great!  Apply to jobs that relate.  I’d become consumed with creating and consuming travel videos, so I applied to program YouTube’s new travel channel.  It was the one time Google invited me to interview.  (I wound up continuing my relationship with Disney, but both were stellar opportunities!)
  3. Present What You Learned.  Reflect on the skills you developed on the road (e.g. negotiating, financial planning, resilience) and be able to articulate them in interviews.  For a sampling of job-related skills you can gain on the road, please visit our blog, www.thesistersbailey.com.  (Hint: One way to present your experience is to start a blog.)
  4. Do Memorable Work Before You Leave.  If you tackle the tasks at hand, find ways to expand on your job description, and build strong relationships, clients and colleagues will remember you.  If your former job does not have an opening upon your return, these skills and relationships will help you make a connection elsewhere.

Yes, quitting a good job to travel is a big risk.  But it can be a big opportunity.  So if you think you want to do it, think about how you can get the most from it . . . and go for it!

Perrin currently develops integrated marketing campaigns at Disney Interactive in New York City.  For more travel and work tips from Perrin and her sister Sarah, please visit their blog www.TheSistersBailey.com.

Make Your Own Path: Career Advice from a Penn Alumnus

When career services asked me to write this blog post, my first thought was: who am I to give career advice?  I’ve worked for a total of 5 years and a few summer internships, and am still very much on the long path to figuring out what I want to be when I grow up.  But then, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was just the person to talk to college students and recent alumni.  First, I am a student myself, in my third year of graduate school. Second, at 29 I am not so far away in age that I can’t relate to anyone at the beginning of their careers.  Third, I’ve been lucky enough to have many experiences and jobs in different places, and the time to reflect on what has worked and what has not.  I have by no means figured it out, but I put together some advice that I hope will be useful.

1.    Nothing matters as much as your health, so protect and nurture it!

Many of the ideas for this blog post came from a twelve day, 220-mile hike on the Appalachian Trail that I took between my summer internship and the beginning of this academic year.  When my knee started to hurt on the second day of the trip, and the pain began to dominate my every thought, I reflected on how much we take our health for granted.  As simple as this may sound, guard your health carefully, eat well, and take care of yourself.  Career success means little to nothing if you can’t enjoy the fruits of your labor.

2.    Time is more important than money

Before you go off to become an investment banker or a management consultant, and commit to 80-hour workweeks for the rest of your 20s, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.  Jobs that consume most of your time and energy can be meaningful, challenging, and for some people, very enjoyable, but if you are planning on working primarily for the money, I would urge you to think again.  It is much more enjoyable to have time for friends, family, hobbies, travel, and adventure now when you’re young, than to have that time later, when you don’t have the energy or freedom.  Work hard, by all means, and save for the future, but remember to strike a balance.

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Paving the Road Less Traveled – tips for landing an international job

Profile Resume Picture Professional Head Shot Jessica GamburgWritten by Jessica Gamburg, a 2006 graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences, who is a Business Development Manager of One Acre Fund, an NGO based in sub-Saharan Africa. In the following blogs, she shares with Penn students her adventures since graduation and her advice for a rewarding international career.

I. Paving the Road Less Traveled

After graduating from UPenn in 2006, I landed a great job in finance.  Even though I was living a comfortable post-undergraduate life in the windy city, I didn’t choose to root myself in Chicago very long.   In the past 5 years, I’ve moved from the U.S. to Senegal, to Chile, to France, to Turkey. Now, I live in Kenya. In between living in those countries, I traveled to a dozen others.

While living abroad, I completed two years of service with the Peace Corps and obtained an MBA at HEC Paris. Later, I interned at the US Consulate in Istanbul. I’ve learned to speak Wolof and a bit of Turkish, and I’ve honed my French to a far greater degree than I ever thought possible during high school French class. How I got from Chicago to my current city, Nairobi, has nothing to do with happenstance. I’d like to offer a few insights and recommendations to those interested in pursuing a similar “international” lifestyle.

I left my lucrative job in finance after working two years in order to join the Peace Corps. The catalyst for this change was a mixture of low job satisfaction and a desire to live “outside the box”. My plan was to obtain a JD-MBA and apply for managerial roles in the non-profit/international development sector. It was an ambitious 5-year plan that involved some significant risk, but I was idealistic and energetic. I wanted to live a “richer” life, even though I knew Peace Corps salary and a double-masters tuition would leave me, speaking literally, much poorer. Five years later, I can say I accomplished (nearly) everything I set out to do (I never did end up doing the JD), and haven’t spent a single moment regretting my decision to leave the “normal” way of life behind.

Today, as the Business Development Manager of One Acre Fund, an NGO based in sub-Saharan Africa, I’m charged with securing grants, cooperative agreements, and contracts with large, institutional funders. To create this opportunity, I’ve worked hard (an understatement) and travelled far (a bigger understatement), and with the right plans and strong commitment you can too.

Every move I’ve made has been purposeful and targeted, always keeping the next step in mind. It was Tolkien who said, “Not all those who wander are lost”; but let’s face it, some wanderers are very very lost. When I set out on this journey, I decided I would never be aimless along it – that promise has kept me centered on building a career instead of launching into some kind of extended vacation, which can become a trap easily fallen into, especially for those seeking an abbreviated workweek.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve seen in landing an international job is the fact that all the job listings seem to require previous international experience. For most of us, this fact represents a catch-22.

Continue reading “Paving the Road Less Traveled – tips for landing an international job”

The Path Towards an Education Career has Many Routes

by Elizabeth Leonard

Anyone who regularly reads the New York Times will tell you that law schools have gotten a bad rap recently. It seems like every week there’s another article about how law school is overpriced, graduates have very few “real world” skills and a JD is no longer a fool-proof path to a lucrative career. I disagree.

As someone who practiced law for a measly two years after graduating from Penn Law, I seem to be a walking example of everything that’s wrong with law school. But, I argue (once a lawyer, always opinionated!) that Penn Law taught me a wide range of skills that are useful on a daily basis as I develop The Blue Bridge Project, a small educational company that provides service learning opportunities for high school students.

I started Blue Bridge Project because it is obvious that students who have international exposure are better prepared for professional success. Many high schools are integrating internationally focused classes into their curriculum like “Modern Islam” or “Comparative Political Systems” but classroom attention is not enough. Students who have the opportunity to travel develop a range of skills that cannot be taught in the classroom like: how to exhibit cultural sensitivity; how other people view the American lifestyle; and how political processes impact everyday people. Blue Bridge’s mission is to expose students to these issues so that they develop a more nuanced and well-rounded view of the world and start on the path to becoming global citizens.

  1. Confidence – A significant part of starting my own business was having the confidence to leave the security of a full-time job and quite literally, follow my dreams. In the first week of Civil Procedure, I was asked “what kinds of cases do federal courts hear?” At that point—and I am not kidding—I didn’t know the difference between the federal and state court systems! Despite not knowing the answer, I survived. Plowing through the toughest days of 1L year and enjoying the remaining two years of law school (yes, it’s true, I liked law school!) gave me the confidence that I could build this business. I continue to tap into that confidence during the most challenging times when I feel defeated and frustrated. There is a real emotional component to running a business and I developed an emotional endurance in law school that has really helped me.
  2. Critical thinking – Law school taught me how to thoughtfully sort through a lot of information and quickly distill key points. As an entrepreneur, I utilize this skill daily. On any given day I am thinking through the pros and cons of various insurance packages, writing web content, negotiating with service providers and drafting business contracts. This is not dissimilar from the experience of preparing for class during all three years of law school. I spent hours at the library sorting through cases and concepts; in order to preserve my sanity (and maintain a social life!) I learned to efficiently synthesize all of this material. I could not get through my to-do list every day if I hadn’t honed those skills in law school.
  3. Crisp writing and concise speaking– Law school taught me how to write clearly and speak concisely. I practiced these skills during legal writing seminars, mock-trials in clinical settings and on issue-spotting exams. I use these skills daily in my work as an entrepreneur, whether I am drafting a one-sentence blurb for BBP’s homepage or on the phone with a parent. The ability to clearly and concisely express yourself is critical to disseminate your message and this applies universally, whether you are advocating on behalf of your client in a mediation or making a presentation to parents about summer programs.

While my path towards building an education organization is untraditional, I have acquired so many skills along the way. Each person’s decision to pursue a graduate degree is highly personal and I am certainly not advocating that law school is the perfect choice for people who don’t want to be lawyers. But for me, I have no regrets about my JD and use it to my advantage on a daily basis.


JDandEducationElizabeth is the Founder and President of Blue Bridge Project (www.bluebridgeproject.com). BBP is the first international travel program to partner with local non-profits and offer post-trip guidance to help high school students apply their summer experience to their individual goals and future endeavors. Elizabeth has worked in high school student travel for over 8 years and has led students on trips around the world. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College, where she majored in International Relations and Spanish, and Penn Law School where she pursued public interest law. Elizabeth was the first recipient of the Penn Public Interest Fellowship and used her funding to advocate on behalf of people with disabilities as an attorney at Disability Rights Advocates.