Guest Blog: A Career in Conservation

Today’s guest blog is by Eddie McKenna (’04 College, Anthropology & Communication), now an employee with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Communications Division.

Penn Career Services has been a key university resource for me when I have needed it most, particularly for resume reviews and mock interviews.  It is a pleasure to be part of that resource myself for other Penn students and alumni and I hope everyone takes full advantage.

I work for Texas Parks and Wildlife, the agency responsible for the management and conservation of fish and wildlife populations in Texas as well as 93 state parks and historic sites. In PA it might be the equivalent of Pennsylvania State Parks, Pennsylvania Game Commission, and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission all rolled together.

Although I am not a park ranger or a biologist by training, my work does revolve around conserving natural resources and offering recreational opportunities to one and all.  My Penn anthropology and communications majors serve me well. This was not my first job out of college, but it has certainly become my favorite.

I would encourage Penn students and alumni to consider public service careers, to know what they want from a career and express it to others, and to pursue their dream employment environments based on the people and the places rather than the starting salary.

Advice from a Penn alum on finding an internship in UK (guest blog)

By Mark Pasha, 2008 Wharton alum who concentrated in Finance and Real Estate, now at Real Estate UK Asset Recovery, RBS

My Recruiting Experience for an Internship in London

Recruiting for a position overseas can be a very fiddly process especially as an undergrad in the US. Most overseas companies focus their resources on the markets closest to home, and so opportunities can seem sparse. Moreover, there are usually fewer positions outside the US advertised through PennLink, which means that one must take a slightly more proactive role when conducting a job search.

My principal recruiting experience was for an internship in the finance / consulting world in London for the summer of 2007 and I was fortunate enough to be able to accept a position at RBS.

From my recruiting experience, a few lessons stand out.

1. Using PennLink
Firstly, although positions for jobs in London (or abroad in general) are not as widely listed on PennLink, one can still use the system as a reference for what types of positions to look for overseas. Especially for internships and entry level positions, many companies listing positions at Penn for US locations will most likely have similar positions / programmes in their overseas offices. I found it very useful to be able to use PennLink as an index for potential jobs and then visit each company’s websites to learn more about the specific opportunities they offer abroad. If there was a position overseas, then I was usually able to apply for it directly through the company’s website.

2. Following up online applications
However, doing just a web application did not always cut it, as sometimes applicants from the US get lost amongst the masses of domestic applications. As there is limited scope for face to face meetings at career fairs and presentations etc, I found that the next best thing was trying to follow up an application by emailing someone at the firm, be it an HR contact, or someone else via another avenue (perhaps a Penn alumnus). I found this to be a massively important step in getting the application on the firms radar and ultimately getting an interview. The mode of contact did not have to be anything formal, simply a few questions about applying from overseas in an email, however starting a dialogue with someone always proved most helpful indeed.

3. Interviews
I did the majority of my interviews over the phone and was never asked to fly to London (although I know of a couple of people who were asked to). I did have one interview via video conference, which, whilst a bit odd at first, was probably a better experience than the phone interviews. It is easy to arrange through Career Services and I think most firms are happy to do it if you present the option to them.

The nature of interviews, depends more on the firm than the location. However, from my London experience, I found there to be a slightly more qualitative element than I had expected. There was definitely a little less emphasis on technical finance and accounting etc. based questions. I remember getting some brainteasers / logic problems, some simple maths problems, questions about the state of the market, as well as the typical resume based questions. Overall, I think the interview practice at Penn is perfect preparation as the processes (at least in the UK and the US) are not too dissimilar.

4. Timing
This is more of a London specific point, but a lot of people will say that the London recruiting timetable starts later than the US because universities go back later and so one can start recruiting later. Whilst it is true that universities start later in the year, I would not recommend putting off starting ones job search because of this. The range of application deadlines is very broad, with some deadlines the same as in the US. To avoid the pressures of meeting unknown or last minute deadlines, it is best to prepare early (even if that just means casually scoping out potential opportunities and deadlines over the summer or at the beginning of the school year). As a rule of thumb though, if one follows a similar timescale to US on campus recruiting, one should avoid any problems.

Editor’s note:  Special thanks to Mark Pasha for providing his perspective and advice! For resources and tips for working abroad, visit Careers Services’ International Opportunities page.

A Quaker in the Middle East – guest blog continued

By Maura Connell, B.A. Cultural Anthropology ‘08, and now Human Resources Coordinator, Hill International

This post from a Penn alum who is working in Dubai is continued from yesterday.

When I got on the plane in July 2008 I did not think I would be gone for longer than one year. In July 2009 I moved within Hill to their Gulf headquarters office in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, a 45-minute plane ride from Doha, Qatar. I am no longer recruiting but am now a regional HR Coordinator, overseeing employee programs and new hire mobilization and orientation for the Gulf region, which includes offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Bahrain, Kuwait, Riyadh, and Jeddah. Tentatively

Living overseas and especially working overseas is very different from visiting, even from an extended study abroad trip, and I really love it. For all the challenges it presents and all of the frustrations related to being in an unfamiliar place, those same challenges and frustrations are what make life abroad interesting and exciting. Those are the same things that I will miss when I leave. The thought of working in an office where everyone speaks the same language, where people aren’t traveling internationally on a regular basis, where you don’t debate walking to the Indian or the Lebanese restaurant for lunch is a disappointingly bland thought. I would put money on my settling in the States at some point, but the more I travel and work overseas the more I relish the exposure.

What I discovered on a trip back home last winter was a disappointment in knowing that so many people in the States would never have a significant experience abroad to expose them to different peoples and different ways of life. There is a quote from Mark Twain that reads, “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” and while some will always uphold discrimination regardless of their travels, I believe there is undeniable merit in opening one’s eyes through experience abroad.

Over the past 14-months I’ve gone from camel races to roof top bars at 5-star hotels to Indian dance clubs to desert camping to British social activity clubs to working next to Qataris to staff meetings at construction sites of towers that are defining the Doha skyline. I’ve had discussions and debates with my older Arab male bosses about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I’ve gotten my SCUBA certification and have dived in the Persian Gulf. I’ve stepped carefully to avoid camel dung and frozen my buns off while cooking a late night desert camp dinner by the Inland Sea bordering Saudi Arabia.  I’ve had homesick nights and all nighters talking with friends about the American Presidential election and its impact on us as young expatriates. I’ve attended events with ambassadors and foreign ministers, and have been privy to exclusive tours of world-class hotels before their grand opening. I cannot stress how much I enjoy being in a place that has such international influences.

And so I encourage you to explore the possibility of working outside the United States. After all, never has the prospect of applying for jobs abroad been more appealing than in today’s economy. But make sure before you jump in that you are ready for the unknown challenges that you are sure to encounter. If nothing else it is vital to be both flexible and open-minded whenever venturing beyond American borders. One of my favorite quotes and one that I have found to ring true in all new endeavors was said by a French marquise, Mme. De Deffand, that “the distance doesn’t matter- only the first step is difficult.”

Careers Services’ International Opportunities page is a good place to start.

A Quaker in the Middle East – guest blog from an alum

By Maura Connell, B.A. Cultural Anthropology ’08, and now Human Resources Coordinator, Hill International

I think I’m a little bit crazy. Just a little. Just enough to pack my life into three suitcases and move half way around the world to a place I had never been before. In my four years at Penn I studied abroad in South Africa, obtained a research fellowship at the African Department of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and worked at the Office of International Programs, all solid experiences relating to international culture and travel which I thought made me well suited to work oversees. I was excited to travel and thought I was more than ready for life abroad. Little did I know that there was nothing that could have prepared me for my international experiences since May 2008.

Hill International is a worldwide construction claims and project management company, and one of countless companies I applied to in the hopes of working abroad after graduation. For me, that was the defining factor of all my job applications- that I could and would be stationed abroad. I cared about little else and I applied literally to jobs on every continent save Antarctica. If the job I have now hadn’t worked out, my backup was a teaching position in Mongolia. The Hill recruiter interviewing me was perplexed by my social sciences background and the complete lack of construction related-anything on my resume. In asking me what I wanted to do, I said I would do anything (and cited clerical-type work I had done at previous jobs). In asking me where I wanted to go, I said I would go anywhere. I walked out of the interview having been told that I should go home and pack for Vietnam, but then I got a call the following week that the Vietnam project was off.

“But how would you like to go to Doha, Qatar?” I hesitated since quite honestly I’d heard of the place before and could tell you which continent it was on, but I knew little more about it. We talked, I did some research, we talked some more, and then one week later I was on a plane from PHL to DOH.

From July 2008 through July 2009 I was the Recruitment Coordinator for the Doha, Qatar office, solely responsible for the office’s staffing requirements. The Qatar staff was truly global, with 75 people representing close to 15 nationalities. I was the only American. I was also the only native English speaker. I was the first and only recruiter Qatar’s office had ever had (and me without any recruitment experience). I was one of only two women in an overwhelmingly male environment that did not have a secretarial position. And I was the youngest by about ten years.

It would be a lie to write that this past year has been easy or that the transition was relatively smooth. I experienced the common growing pains of a first job right out of college compounded with the cultural challenges of living and working in a foreign country where I knew no one and did not speak a word of the local Arabic language. When talking with friends in Philadelphia, D.C., and New York, they complained about their long hours or the boring content of their work while I worried about the language barriers I face daily and the vast cultural challenges of working for an American company in the Middle East. The differences in the challenges we face frustrated me at times. I often felt patronized at work and stifled in life outside of work in a country under monarchical Sharia law, where pork and alcohol are outlawed (there are a few exceptions, bars and a liquor store) and women, who must cover shoulders and knees at all times, are second class citizens. That said, my year in Doha was absolutely a fantastic experience…

Maura’s post  to be continued tomorrow…

Visit Careers Services’ International Opportunities page for resources and tips for working abroad.