Add value to your experience at Penn…and beyond

One of the best ways to prepare for life after Penn – as well as to help you make the most of your time at Penn – is to find a mentor.

One of the best ways to prepare for life after Penn – as well as to help you make the most of your time at Penn – is to find a mentor.  Mentoring opportunities can arise in many ways – for example, discovering that you really connect and enjoy talking with your faculty advisor – or be born out of more formal programs for undergraduates and Alumni such as those profiled on the Career Services Networking and Mentoring webpage.

The Penn Engineering Mentoring Program is one such program, pairing first year students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science with SEAS Alums.   Participant Praveen Bains (EAS ’13) has kindly shared her experience in connecting with her mentor below, illustrating some of the many ways such a relationship can add value to your experience at Penn…and beyond.

Pondering Majors: The Penn Engineering Mentoring Program
By Praveen Bains, EAS ’13

I remember when I first applied to the University of Pennsylvania and came upon the question that asked for your major. At the time, I was definitely uncertain as to what I wanted to do with my life, but I ended up checking the box next to “Bioengineering” and thinking “I’ll just figure it out later.”

Later came in the form of second semester, when I still hadn’t decided if Bioengineering was for me. In an effort to figure out what to do, I signed up for The Penn Engineering Mentoring Program.  [Open to SEAS freshmen, students can apply and select potential mentors from a database of SEAS Alumni volunteers.] After reading through the possible mentors and selecting a few of them, I was paired with a Penn Bioengineering alum, Julie, who was currently working as a patent lawyer in New York City. It was an ideal match, since I had been considering attending law school and pursuing patent law upon graduation from Penn.

I sent an initial contact email to Julie, introducing myself to her and giving a brief background on my career ponderings.  A few days later I was greeted by an enthusiastic response from her; she introduced herself and encouraged me to ask her any questions. From there we corresponded by email for the rest of the semester, mainly discussing her role as a patent lawyer, but also about the random happenings in our lives. It was a very casual and comfortable conversation. She was even in the midst of planning her wedding, but still found time to respond.

During the summer, we decided to set up a conference call of sorts. I was a little nervous initially, since we had built the mentor-mentee relationship via email; I wasn’t sure how she would be on the phone, or how I would come across. But the talking session was a success. We chatted for an hour over my motivations for becoming a Bioengineer, the differences between Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering (which I was considering at the time), and her own career path. Julie proved to be an invaluable resource. After talking with her, I realized that patent law was not the right fit for me, and that Chemical Engineering would be a better base for my future career.

Last summer I officially switched my major from Bioengineering to Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. It was a huge relief to finally have my path set. I am very grateful to Julie for helping me with my decision, and for being open to my questions.

Stay tuned for future posts from some of our esteemed Alumni Mentors!

Technology Careers 101: A Whole World Beyond Google, Facebook, and Apple Awaits You

by Brandi Durkac

Social media, cloud computing, and mobile devices… oh my!  Just by reading this blog, you have already demonstrated expertise and interest in using social media (what a blog is), the cloud (where the blog sits in cyberspace), and mobile devices (most likely how you accessed the blog).  If you are an avid user of technology and are interested in exploring careers in the technology sector, you may have a great predisposition to thrive in the fast-paced, ever-changing, and potentially lucrative world of technology.

Although there are a myriad of opportunities for programmers and coders, you don’t need to be a computer science major to work at a technology company.  Nor do you need to limit your search to only brand-named giants like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple.  Some of the fastest-growing tech companies are not household names but are shaping emerging technologies in the cloud computing, biotechnology, solar energy, nanotechnology, software security, and social media.  Check out Forbes latest annual report on the 25 fastest-growing tech companies.

Helpful Tips:

1) Where to Start:  There are pros and cons to working in medium-to-large companies versus in smaller, start-up environments.  Industry-leading Silicon Valley companies like Google, Apple, Oracle, Cisco, Genentech, and, as well as established goliaths like IBM, Dell, Microsoft, and, have formal college recruiting targeted towards undergraduates.  In addition to product development, some of these companies also offer internships in sales & business development, marketing, and customer support as a great way to get in the door.  These larger companies often provide excellent training programs and opportunities for lateral and upward mobility in the organization.  However, if an enormous corporate setting isn’t for you, there are also start-ups and smaller, fast-growing companies that are eager to find talented, motivated young people to help them build their company.  Emerging enterprise social software companies like Lithium Technologies, Jive Software, LivePerson, Mzinga, and Drupal offer exciting opportunities in a fun, more intimate work environments that may be better suited for you.

2) Getting in the Door:  There is no better way to get into technology companies than to use technology!  A great place to start is with the Penn alumni network on LinkedIn and QuakerNet.  See if you can find an alumnus/alumna working at these companies who would be willing to schedule an informational interview with you.  If they think you would be a good fit and can help you, the good news is that you may also help them.  Many companies offer referral bonuses to current employees that help recruit talented individuals to join the organization.  Do your homework ahead of time to learn about what the company does and what jobs might be available on these companies’ websites.

3) Finding Your Niche:  Remember that where you start is not likely where you will end up.  The goal is to get in the door at a company that is financially stable and can offer you room to grow.  The technology world is constantly changing – remember how quickly MySpace went from hot to not? – which will always present new and exciting opportunities for you.  The more exposure you can get to different departments and functions within the company, the better off you will be.  You will need to decide which side of the company you are better suited for:  internal-facing operations and product development or external-facing sales, marketing, and support.  I found sales to be a great first career for me to gain exposure to many departments in a company, to learn how companies make decisions, and to build a strong foundation of transferrable business skills that will be useful in any career, including working in higher education.

4) How To Learn More:    You may be wondering about the best way to start learning technology jargon and industry lingo.  I would recommend a combination of YouTube videos, industry publications, and helpful websites, such as Inc., Wired, Fast Company, and InfoWorld to bring you up to speed. has published several excellent YouTube videos on cloud computing, which provide an easy-to-understand definition of “the stack” – the hardware infrastructure, database servers, application servers, web servers, user interfaces, and application interfaces upon which any software application runs — and explain why most companies are moving towards cloud computing platforms.  100 Best Companies to Work For is another great resource to help focus your search.

The sky is the limit!  Reach for the clouds and you just may end up working in one.

About the author:  Brandi received a B.S. in Economics and Spanish from the University of Virginia.  She spent ten years working in Silicon Valley at Kana Software, Inc. and, Inc. and is now completing her M.S.Ed. in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania.

Guest Perspective: Be Your Own Boss as an Independent Consultant

by David Goldstein

Independent consulting has been my career choice for entrepreneurial rewards without all the risks of offering products.   As a “software guy” I couch this in terms of a software background, but everything mentioned can be applied to consulting in diverse fields, from finance to movie costuming.  I compare this career to two others’ of mine: software engineer and entrepreneur.  I discuss consulting in terms of expectations, realities and the skills needed.  Because consulting requires specialized expertise, this career may be your second or third job out of school, instead of your first.

What does an independent consultant do ?

I provide  contractual services to organizations independent of large consulting firms.  Both independent consultants and consulting organizations charge a premium for their services – but independent consultants are their own boss, keep more of the fees they generate and “wear many hats.”  One of the greatest advantages that I have found is your clients can be all over the country, from Richmond, VA to Oakland, CA. I have consulted for many organizations in the Fortune 500.  The key is to be aware that engagements can end at any time; this is a high-risk, high reward career path.

What does it take to be an independent consultant?

The key elements are expertise, professionalism and business savvy.  Your expertise determines what the client would pay, your professionalism keeps engagements going, and your business savvy affects the percentage of that amount you keep.

My expertise comes from a computer science Ph.D.  Each client – as well as hobbies, volunteer work and other endeavors – also provide valuable expertise.  For example, working at Freddie Mac provides credibility in the mortgage business.  Expertise within a field can be as valuable technical skills.

Business skills are important for anyone but are essential for consultants.  Everyone should be able communicate with executives, speak publicly, and write well. Consultant’s skills also include entrepreneurial skills to acquire and manage business, such as contract writing, accounting, marketing, and negotiating.

What are the rewards of independent consulting?

Consulting can offer a great salary, which should be a part of any high-risk career path. Robert Half’s “Salary Guide 2011” gives the median income for a software engineer at $92,750 per year.  A staff consultant’s corresponding income is $75,500 and a senior consultant’s is $99,250.  As a consultant with specialized skills in (1) Business Process Modeling and (2) Business Rules Management Systems I have always billed at several times these salaries.

All of these characteristics are applicable to consultants in other fields.  For example, my friends in finance report that consulting rates as independent consultants range from $150/hr to $1000/hr.

Consulting also offers frequent change, which exposes you to a lot of people and businesses.  I’ve met people from around the country.  I understand many industries well; I could pursue a career in banking, insurance or other client fields if need be.

Independent consulting also hones many entrepreneurial skills.  My small software firm sold its products in the U.S. and abroad, but being a consultant has taught me a lot about building software and businesses.  Consultants see numerous firms create, sell and service products.  Thousands of things can destroy a company: learning from other’s errors is important for building a company that makes products, instead of mistakes.

What challenges independent consultants?

An independent consultant trades many things  for increased income.  Some of these factors include:

  • Travel: Many students relish the thought of travel.  However, most consultants would prefer to see their bedroom and spouses on weekends instead of hotel rooms and co-workers.
  • Stability: Independent consulting is very susceptible to economic trends.  Consultants can find it difficult to get their desired rate.  Most contracts are also “at will”, whereby either party can end an engagement at any time: bad corporate news, office politics, leadership changes, etc. can end an engagement.  Traditional consulting firms allot overhead for non-contract time and independent consultants should have a “rainy day” fund.
  • Bureaucracy: Every company has policies and systems for accomplishing mundane tasks, such as time tracking and purchasing.  While employees learn such policies and systems once, a consultant may need to learn many such systems each year.  Similarly, when working through third parties consultants may have to deal with extra levels of paperwork.  Even simply getting a client may involve dozens or hundreds of pages of documentation.

These three factors mean consultants need patience and self-confidence to overcome being on the road, worrying about engagements, and dealing with bureaucracy.

Independent consulting is a good high-risk, high-reward career path for many individuals. All consulting practices involve travel, flexibility, and workplace variety.  Working independently offers more compensation at the cost of stability, bureaucracy and other factors.  Bright, savvy professionals often choose independent consulting for its entrepreneurial feel and high income.


About the author:

David Goldstein received his M.S.E. from University of Pennsylvania and his Ph.D. from the University of Texas – Arlington.  He was a professor at several universities, most notably North Carolina A&T State University.  He has run several small businesses and is currently an independent consultant.  He specializes in building large financial systems using Business Rules Management Systems and Business Process Management tools. David serves as the associate director of Penn’s SEAS alumni board.


Guest Perspective: Advice From A Recent Grad

by Sara Fleisher, W ’09

While studying marketing and management as an undergraduate at Wharton, I was never quite sure where I would end up after graduation.  I thought about going into advertising, retail, project management, marketing, management consulting – anything and everything in those related fields. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to explore each and every one of these areas through Penn Career Services’ career fairs and information sessions.

It was during Career Link in the fall of my senior year that I first discovered Rosetta. It was a smaller company that I hadn’t really heard of before, but the work they were doing really resonated with me. It was the combination of consulting, marketing, and agency work that won me over. Following Career Link, I attended the Rosetta information session in Huntsman Hall where I had the opportunity to speak more one-on-one with some consultants. Talking to current employees allowed me to get a feel for the culture at Rosetta, which I have since learned is a major reason why it is a great place to work. Before I even had the opportunity to interview, I knew Rosetta was the place for me.

After an on-campus interview and then a super day of interviews, both case and behavioral, I received my offer from Rosetta. With very little hesitation, I accepted and eagerly looked forward to starting in August 2009.

In my 16 months since starting at Rosetta, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a variety of clients – B2B, healthcare, etc. and projects – strategy, marketing campaigns, quantitative and qualitative research, database building, and product and sales rep tracking. New opportunities and projects constantly pop up, always keeping me on my toes. I have also planned and participated in many internal projects including holiday parties, happy hours, and enhancing our staffing and career development programs. Activities like these foster a strong culture and make working at Rosetta even more enjoyable.

If I could offer any advice to those undergraduates planning their future careers, I would firstly say utilize Penn Career Services as much as you can, not only for career fairs, but for resume and career guidance as well. I would also recommend talking to current employees at whatever companies you are considering (and even some you aren’t), as they can give you the best view into the culture, work-life balance, and overall job satisfaction at the firm. Lastly, choose a company like you chose Penn: a place where you can see yourself growing and succeeding in a comfortable environment.

Guest Perspective: How To Work Abroad

By Kate Thiers

This post comes from alumna Kate Thiers (Wharton undergrad 2000) who currently works in South Africa as a international healthcare recruiter.  She recently posted for @PennCareerDay on Twitter, for more on Kate click here and to read her Twitter Feed click here.

Working abroad is a privilege and something I have always wanted to do. Back in my junior and senior years at Penn, I would find myself sitting in front of my computer looking at jobs and trying to work out how it would be possible to work in London or Paris. I had no idea. It took me six years of working in Philadelphia before I finally made it to Oxford for my MBA, then to London to work with Siemens, and finally to Johannesburg to work with Africa Health Placements. I have learned along the way that it is easier than you think to get abroad: harder than accepting a US-based job but not the insurmountable feat it can seem when you are staring at job vacancies… again… on your laptop.

There are three main ways to get abroad. The first is the almost-accidental route I took – getting a second or advanced degree in an international university. Getting a visa to continue working in the country after graduation is usually relatively easy, depending on where you are. This route is pretty self explanatory and the school you are involved with will usually assist you. However, you should never completely depend on a second party to advise you on immigration rules unless it is an immigration agent. And they can be expensive. Your biggest challenge will be keeping on top of your personal visa situation and making sure you convert your student visa into a working visa. I did this upon graduating from Oxford in the UK – the rules have changed now but they are still accommodating to students with good degrees. The hardest part will be deciphering the process! But don’t be discouraged… it can be done with a good day’s worth of work, patience, and a dependable file of all your personal documents.

First tip: Always know your visa status and take complete responsibility for it.

Second tip: Keep an original copy (or certified copy) of your life with you. This includes birth certificate, passport, diplomas, transcripts, etc.

The second way to get abroad is to go and live in a country first; then look for work when you are there. This only admittedly works for some countries as you may not actually be allowed to do job interviews on a tourist visa. However, this is the route I took when coming to South Africa. My significant other is South African and we both decided it was time to make the move from London to Johannesburg. I showed up on a tourist visa, had a bit of a holiday (Johannesburg has the most amazing sunny days), and then looked for work. I found a job within three months and took complete responsibility for getting a residence visa and work visa once I had the offer. Sometimes your new company will help pay for your immigration paperwork but you will have to ask!

Third tip: Know the immigration rules of the country you would like to go to (i.e. is it allowable to interview on a tourist visa; will you need a residence visa as well as a work visa when you do find a job?)

The third way to get abroad is to find a job before you even leave the US. This is slightly harder as you have to research the job market for the country or countries you are interested in. Most companies will try to avoid the hassle of hiring a foreigner and dealing with their immigration paperwork. This is an unfortunate issue I faced in London once I started looking for work. The best advice I can give is to look for international companies specifically hiring for foreigners. Some global companies will have an international intern programme for example. Others will be hiring to gain the expertise of your home country, such as a company looking to expand to the US or looking to sell a new product in the US. Another option is to look for countries with a skills shortage in your area of expertise – although these will more likely be developing countries. Remember, when you write your cover letters or speak to potential employers, it is always a huge bonus if you have done your homework on how to get a visa. Contrary to what you might think, most employers will have no idea how the immigration process works for their own country.

Fourth tip: Look in a smart way for international jobs – don’t apply when it is clear they are not going to consider international candidates.

Fifth tip: Do your homework on your visa options before you even apply for the job.

The final issue to consider when you are thinking of working abroad is how you will live when you get there and what life will be like. For example, my younger sister was hired by a French company to teach in Paris for a year upon graduating from college. She had no idea how to evaluate what life would be like when she got there and most importantly, if she could afford to live on the salary they offered her. You can overcome these questions with a bit of research online. For example, look for flat advertisements on the London Gumtree website to investigate typical rental rates. Read up on normal living conventions: as an example, it is completely normal for Londoners to rent out a room of a two-bedroom flat. Who knew? It might seem like a weird setup for an American but it is a lot cheaper than renting your own flat. It is also completely normal in Johannesburg for people to have separate “cottages” on their properties and rent them out, also a much cheaper option than your own place. Once again, it requires you to do your homework and make sure that you are getting a good offer!

Final tip: Pretend you are actually going to live in your new city there next month. Find out rents and living costs online. What are typical and less expensive living arrangements? Where are the areas you should avoid? Expat blogs and online expat community sites are great for this kind of advice.

Visit our Career Exploration page dedicated to international opportunities for more information on ways to work abroad –