Exploring Careers? Check the Obituaries…

One exercise I have seen suggested in career counseling books and workshops is that to learn what really matters to you, you should try writing your own epitaph.  The idea is that you can see what you want to be remembered for, and as a result become more focused in your career exploration and job search.

I know it sounds creepy, perhaps this blog might have been better timed in a month for Halloween, when talk of the dead and the undead is more socially acceptable. But I will venture forth in sharing a Sunday ritual I have had for years (not eating eye-of-newt, I promise):  I sit down in the morning and pore through the Sunday New York Times Obituaries.   As a career counselor, I have always found the profiles of people in their long career spans to be very compelling.  I can’t think of a better place to learn about the variety of careers available, nor to really illustrate the varying roles of fate, of ambition, of goals achieved and how unanticipated experiences have changed the course of people’s lives. When you read obituaries you also see how a personality, for example a style of leadership or capacity for empathy, can play a huge role in the nature of someone’s achievements.

While reading the obit articles can be sad because the lives described are at their ends, it is also thrilling to be reminded how much people can accomplish for society in how many ways.  If you are currently exploring your options, this is an unconventional, but inspiring approach to learn about the world of work.  These are some of the people profiled this week:

Entertainment/Communications Careers

Founding Force of the Big East Conference

Gavitt harnessed the burgeoning power of televised sports coverage with his nascent league to produce a powerful conference.

Man Who Shaped Miniature Golf

Mr. Lomma and his brother Alphonse are widely credited with having shaped the game’s familiar postwar incarnation

Painter and a Creator of Pop Art

Mr. Hamilton, whose sly, trenchant take on consumer culture and advertising made him a pioneering figure in Pop Art, was known for his cover design of the Beatles’ “White Album.”

Political Careers

Leader in Gay Rights Fight

Mr. Evans helped form and lead the movement that coalesced after gay people and their supporters protested a 1969 police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village gay bar.

Antiwar Leader in 1960s

Mr. Oglesby led Students for a Democratic Society as it publicly opposed the Vietnam War, and his speech “Let Us Shape the Future” is considered a landmark of American political rhetoric.

Charles Percy, Former Ill. Senator

Mr. Percy was a moderate Republican who clashed with President Richard M. Nixon over the Watergate scandal.

Education Careers

Man Who Fought Standardized Tests

Dr. Perrone’s ideas on flexible teaching methods led to a loose network of public alternative schools in New York, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Cultural Musicologist

Christopher Small, a New Zealand-born writer and musicologist who argued that music is above all an active ritual involving those who play and listen to it

Judge and a Scholar

Mr. Asch, a judge with a Ph.D. in sociology, wrote scholarly works about civil liberties and made notable decisions about landlord-tenant law and gay employment.

Hi Tech Careers

Early Chronicler of Video Games

Mr. Kunkel helped start the first published gaming column in 1978, and later the first video game magazine.

Pioneer of E-Books

Mr. Hart began the digital library Project Gutenberg after a July 4 fireworks display, when he typed up the Declaration of Independence and made it available for download.

Builder of Cargo Container

Mr. Tantlinger is credited with creating, in the 1950s, the first commercially viable modern shipping container, which changed the way nations do business.

And, for the thrillseekers…

Daring Italian Mountaineer

Mr. Bonatti was a member of the Italian team that conquered K2 in northern Pakistan

Air and Land Daredevil

Ms. Skelton was a three-time national aerobatic women’s flight champion when she turned to race-car driving, then went on to exceed 300 m.p.h. in a jet-powered car.

What do you want to be remembered for?  I’ll close with a quote from my colleague John Tuton: “…our society focuses so much on the outward trappings of success like salary and possessions when folks are alive, but I’ve never seen a dollar sign on a tombstone.”

Sit. Stay. Good Job!

This Friday, June 24th is the 12th annual Take Your Dog to Work Day.  Employees across the nation will collectively bedazzle their furry best friends with tours of their cubicle, the water cooler and perhaps even the view from the corner office. If your number one priority is a Fido or FiFi-friendly company culture, how would you know where to look for work?    To find a good fit with your next position and organization (no matter what your priorities happen to be, pet-friendly is just one example), take advantage of Career Services’ resources to help current students and alumni learn more about the places that they might work.

Researching employers with Career Services’ online resources

Researching potential employers is a critical element of every job search.  It is extremely important at the beginning when you need to identify your options, and necessary during the application and interview stage, to help you communicate the match between a prospective employer’s needs and your relevant skills, values and accomplishments.  Before you are called to interview, do your best to find out the following about the organization:

Mission; product/service (i.e., what is the purpose of this company/organization?)
Sector: non-profit, private (for-profit), public (government agency)
Structure and management
Financial health
“Clients” and competitors  (i.e., who receives the services of this company, and who else is targeting this group with their services
Company/organization culture
The hiring process

Career Services offers several online resources through our library subscriptions pages to help you research potential employers.  You must log in with your PennKey and password to access the subscriptions, which are listed alphabetically.  For those interested in exploring industries such as consulting, healthcare, and investment banking, Wetfeet.com and Vault.com are particularly useful.  These reference resources allow you to read overviews of various major industries, discover the “major players” (i.e., biggest, influential companies), and learn more about typical position types within each industry.

We also subscribe to ReferenceUSA, which provides contact information as well as specific company data for United States businesses in particular (as well as some Canadian and other international businesses).  If you use the advanced search option, you can get information on credit ratings, company histories, executives’ names, and even the company’s local “competitors”.

For international students, GoinGlobal and H1VisaJobs offer databases which can help you identify the companies who have applied to the federal government in 2010 for H1Visas (this gives you a head start if you know a company is willing to hire international candidates, or is familiar with H1 Visa hiring procedures.)

Use networking as a tool to find out employer or industry information you can’t get through your online research.  If you are a current Penn student or alumnus/a, be sure to use PACNet (our online networking database) to identify alumni who can give you the “inside scoop” on a particular organization or field.

Once you use these resources to research an employer, you will be better able to:

Connect your accomplishments to the performance criteria that the organization is looking for.
Identify the most important skills, qualifications and experiences that are in demand in a given industry.
Assess an organization’s potential workplace needs and how you can contribute given your work style.
Show how your goals match those of the company (given its mission, size, structure, and market specialization).
Understand how your values match those of the organization; and how the environment will help you be productive.

Employer research makes for a more effective job search, and in fact for a better fit once you land an offer and start your new position.   You (and possibly your pet) will be glad you put the effort in.

Post Script:  How would you know where to look for work, if your number one priority is a Fido or FiFi friendly company culture?  While there are plenty of  websites focused on pet-friendly employers –  unfortunately it seems the number of corporate pet friendly employers is pretty limited, with Amazon.com rating as one of the top.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Ears

by Rosanne Lurie

Though few of us have had occasions to paraphrase Shakespeare’s inspiring (and parodied) valedictory speech, we all have the opportunity to impress future employers with a well thought through valediction. I am referring to the closing lines we write in emails and letters, you know the ones like:

• Sincerely yours,


• Take care,

• Have a great day,

• All the best,

According to Wikipedia, “A valediction (derivation from Latin vale dicere, ‘to say farewell’), or complimentary close in American English, is an expression used to say farewell, especially a word or phrase used to end a letter or message, or the act of saying parting words- whether brief, or extensive.” In its more day-to-day form, a valediction is not inspiring bit of dramatic oratory, but a chance for you to impart a final tone to whomever you are writing to – one of intimacy, formality, or in the case of a potential employer, one of professionalism. We career advisors spend a fair amount of time reading cover letters and emails from eager candidates who work hard to craft documents that will impress hiring managers. I want to remind you that your valediction counts. There are formal ones and informal ones, appropriate for different readers. The standard for writing to someone you don’t know (but want to work for) shouldn’t vary much from one of the following:

• Sincerely yours,

• Sincerely,

Other, less commonly used, but generally accepted professional valedictions are:

• Best regards,

• Regards,

• Cordially,

• Yours truly,

Your valediction reminds an employer that you understand the writing standards of the working world, and that you yourself are professional in your communications. Language and communication evolves, so there are no hard and fast rules but rather conventions you can learn which will help you make the impression that you would fit well in the employer’s world. Here are some recommendations:

1) Stay away from anything that sounds emotive or implies intimacy (Love – Warm regards – Take care) or something too casual (Best wishes – Cheers – Have a nice day).

2) International students in particular may make a poor impression inadvertently, when they write letters with valedictions which are appropriate at home. Mostly I have seen more honorifics in these students’ letters, which are not used in conventional business letters in the USA. This means that “With greatest honor” or “With deep respect” or “Most humbly submitted” sound formal, but in fact are not quite what is called for in professional correspondence. As a result, these letters show a lack of understanding, not the respect they intend. If you are unsure about writing cover letters or other job search correspondence, look at the samples and guidelines provided on the Career Services website, or ask an advisor.

3) Additionally, when you are emailing, do not skip the valediction. “Sent by my iPhone” does not help your cause, unless you are applying to Apple for a job (and even then, maybe not). More often than ever, people close their letters/messages with just an automated signature or their name. This may be okay in informal correspondence but not when you are writing to an employer or recruiter.

Your impact, with a valediction, is to bring thoughtful closure to your message. And, with that said, I will sign off –

GLHF (good luck, have fun),

– Rosanne

Your Career: It’s a Family Affair

“Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family” (Anthony Brandt)

One of the most interesting classes I took in graduate school included a project where students created a “family tree” of relatives’ professions, going as far back as possible in their family history.  The goal behind the exercise was to learn about family impact on individuals’ career choices.  Sometimes family influence, especially parental expectations, has an obvious impact: ie “I am paying for your Penn education to get you the best pre-med training possible” – other times, it is much more subtle – ie “We just want you to be fulfilled and productive.”

When I have a career counseling session with a student, I am aware that in some way their family is in the room with us.   Families influence what we value (money, prestige, productivity, intellectual achievement, helping others).  Families influence the geographic regions we think are open to us in our work.  Families influence what occupations we are exposed to: know any Resort and Panoramic Illustrators?  How might you know to pursue a career like that unless your parents were skiers or you were raised at 5,000ft?

This is part of my family tree:

What are the themes here?  Is it surprising I might be a career counselor at an institution like Penn?  Even though no one in my family has held my kind of job before, most of my family’s career paths involved teaching and “helping” positions working with people.  Skills required: strong communication, assessment and problem solving, empathy.   Most of my family worked for themselves in private practices or worked in educational institutions.  No one (in all three generations) chose to spend time in corporate environments. Another theme is the level of education in my family.  My family let me know that they expected educational achievement and success but beyond that I got no direct instruction on what I “should be” professionally.  Despite this apparent freedom to choose, it’s easy to see in my case, that “the apple falls not far from the tree.”

Have you thought about the ways in which you have skills, interests, and other experiences in common with your family?  What have you considered to be an option, but don’t know anyone who has done it before?  What choices have already been made for you?  How important is your family to your career plans?  These topics are great for you to explore on your own, or with a career advisor.

Here is a link for parents about career planning for Penn students.  If this really interests you, you may have a career in genealogy to consider….

Strutting the Right Stuff – Revealing Tips on Interview Attire

Are you still actively job searching and interviewing, even though the weather speaks more to sitting on the beach or a streetside café with a tall cold drink? During the summer it is so tempting to dress to be cool and comfortable, especially with July’s exceptional heat. Unfortunately when it comes to interviewing, it is a big mistake to confuse cool with casual, and I am offering you some reminders, or perhaps an introduction to interview attire. The main things to remember are this:

Research the Employer – There are typical expectations across-the-board in interviewing, such as dressing neatly, being clean and well-groomed, however, knowing the culture of the places where you send in applications is extremely important. Company cultures, and interview “dress codes” vary, so make the time to learn the norms from investigating an employer’s website, asking contacts in your network (know anyone who has worked there or for a similar organization?), or even undertaking a reconnaissance mission before your interview. If the latter is feasible, time your visit to the employer’s neighborhood around lunchtime, usually noon-1pm, to watch people come out of the building. In general, it is best to look slightly more formal for your interview than the typical day-to-day attire of an employee. Here is a really comprehensive overview from Career Services at Virginia Tech on how to dress for interviews, for both men and women. Here is a website (from North Dakota State University) with photos of interview clothes by industry/career field.

Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller
Generational Differences – Tattoos and multiple piercings, tight clothes, assymetrical haircuts are all par-for-the-course for Gen Y and Millenials, but remember the person who interviews you might be from a different generation and have a different sense of what is acceptable. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t “be yourself” but when in doubt, don’t take risks –tone down or cover up. If you want to enforce the qualities that represent professionalism, be careful that your clothes and accessories don’t distract your interviewer from who you are and your qualifications for the job. Here is more on the topic: Dress The Part: Proper Attire Aids In Job Search.
Interview Hottie? – Even on a super hot and humid summer day, you will still need to wear a suit for most “office” job interviews. You may wear short sleeves under the suit jacket, but do not go sleeveless. Linen is a fabric that breathes well, and may be nice for keeping cool while wearing your suit. Dress suits (or jacket and skirt) are acceptable for women. Avoid wearing open-toed shoes. I do not know why, but it is true that baring some toe is a bit risqué. Simple flats, or low heeled pumps are good for women.

Hygiene –There is a classic book on interviewing called Sweaty Palms: The Neglected Art of Being Interviewed. Unfortunately, in the summer “sweaty palms” can be a bit of an understatement. The truth is, that your grooming is as important, if not more so, than your attire. You do not need an Armani suit to make a good impression. Neat and clean are HUGE in conveying professionalism. Make sure that you are prepared to combat the heat with these simple tips:
• Allow PLENTY of time to get to your interview. You do not want to have jogged the last 5 blocks from the train because you were out of time. If you get to a site early, you can find a restroom (even going to the nearest Starbucks) and freshen up.
• If you are prone to sweaty palms, forehead, and the like, bring a hanky (like your grandparents had) in your pocket or purse, or buy some rice paper blotters (many cosmetic lines have this product). It is more polite to dab off sweat than to leave it beading on your body. Also, dusting with baby powder or corn starch can help you stay dry.
• Do wear sufficient deodorant; do not wear a lot of perfume or cologne. Don’t eat strong smelling foods just before you go to interview. Smells in general, even flowery or spicey ones, are distracting and will make your “I’m a great candidate” message harder to hear.

Want more tips on what to wear? Here are two more links I recommend:
• Penn’s Career Services’ blog on “Vampire Teeth and Other What Not to Wear” items for OCR Interviews
• This Luke Wilson look-alike is not as funny, but has some very good tips for men’s interview attire: http://video.about.com/mensfashion/Job-Interview-Attire-for-Men.htm