After the Pomp and Circumstance…. Are You in the Mood for a Job Search?

image via Flickr and CarbonNYC

On Monday, I watched the great procession of graduates on Locust walk, and enjoyed the pervasive sense of pride at Penn. Graduation is a very special celebration – when we actually take the time to acknowledge the huge accomplishment it is to complete several years of academic training. Today is quiet on campus, a very dramatic difference from the pomp and circumstance of just two days ago.

And so I began to think…what will the coming weeks be like for the graduates who don’t yet know the next step in their career plans? This blog is for those newly minted alumni who might be feeling a little like procrastinating: don’t let graduation fade into a distant memory – you need this reminder that you can accomplish a great deal, and that you can learn new skills (like how to successfully job search) in the same way you learned the skills required to complete your academic programs. It is really important to stay motivated when you job search, and especially to focus on the things that help you maintain your self esteem.

Unfortunately, when job searching, a person’s “self worth” can take a hit – people often report to me their feeling demoralized or disappointed, especially when the process takes longer than expected or when the search includes rejections from desirable employers. For some graduates, the new release from school obligations actually adds another layer of challenge – a lack of structure in the day. Job seekers may begin to doubt their own productivity, or find there are fewer activities in the day to provide a sense of accomplishment. This quote from the Earl of Chesterfield just about sums up how I think procrastination works: “It is an undoubted truth, that the less one has to do, the less time one finds to do it in.”

In a tough economy, finding the job search to be a discouraging experience is understandable, and at the same time, you will genuinely benefit if you prioritize maintaining your self-esteem and sense of self-efficacy (knowing that you have the ability to make changes in your situation). As a job seeker, you are far better off if you are motivated to learn about new opportunities, face unknowns with confidence, and market yourself because you know that your skills and accomplishments are hard earned, and your ability to get things done will be valued by employers. This attitude is essential for persevering; and persevering is essential for a successful job search.

While you are in the process of looking for work, there are many things you can do to build or maintain self worth. Here are some ideas to get you started on writing your own list:

• Think about a time in school when you faced a new assignment or had to learn a new skill. What did you do to take steps to get it done? When you successfully faced a challenge, what did you learn about yourself?
• Do self assessment, so you understand not only what you are good at, but what you like to do. Some helpful worksheets are listed here.
• Make sure each day has some structure to it – keep busy and reward yourself when you do activities that contribute to your job search.
• Set small and/or measurable goals (I.E. contact 2 new people in my networking, apply to 2 jobs today)
• Continue doing hobbies that you enjoy.
• Exercise regularly – develop and/or maintain healthy habits.
• Review your accomplishments and successes from previous academic projects, internships and work experiences. Talk with former classmates, supervisors or coworkers and friends if you are having a hard time thinking of examples.
• Continue learning and gaining skills – take a noncredit class or workshop or read a book on your own. If you are in Philadelphia, check out the resources of the Philadelphia Free library, or the Career Services library.
• Keep networking and making connections with others. Here is a quick online presentation on networking, and more information and tips from the Career Services web site are here.
• Volunteer – helping others is a great way to know how valuable your efforts are. To find an organization that needs your help, start here.
• Avoid procrastinating, which paradoxically increases anxiety while you avoid the real work of job searching – here are some tips (replace the word “Academic” with “Job Seeker” for the full effect)
• Seek support. Meet with a career advisor (you knew I would say that, right?) – we are here to help, and will be around all summer.

By engaging in constructive activities and thinking about good experiences, you are fostering a positive attitude and strengthening self- esteem. Valuing your accomplishments – believing that you can succeed – can help you take more of the risks that are part of job searching and career planning. You be more open to opportunities that may come your way, at the same time you will be more prepared to take advantage of them. This may lead to an offer-in-hand sooner than you’d expect, and yet another reason to for a newly minted graduate to celebrate.

Don’t Try this At Home

As a career counselor I often hear the frustrations of job seekers who send out applications, who interview, who network…. and despite all these efforts, get little response from certain employers for their invested time. Particularly heartbreaking are stories from people who get through the interview process only to feel themselves in a “black hole” as employers delay (or avoid) letting them know their status in the search for candidates. Typically in this situation, no news isn’t good news, but there are some constructive tips for handling the ambiguity that is inherent in the job search process. I will share those ideas below, but first, a humor-filled moment (if you think shows like MTV’s Jackass are funny).

I recently read a fun article from the New York Times about a man who got his revenge for all the agonizing silence we job seekers have collectively experienced. Read his story here:

Now, that was action packed! But… I don’t recommend it for job seekers who are more interested in landing a job than pulling off a crazy stunt. Here are some effective, and reasonable actions you could try on your own:

1) Think ahead – if you are interviewed, find time at the end to ask the question “what is your timeline for making a decision?” and to state something like “I’ll get back in contact with you if I haven’t heard anything by this time, are you the best person to call?”. It is critical to have this information before leaving an in-person interview or putting the phone down for phone interviews. Asking about “next steps” means you are indicating your genuine interest in the job and puts a bit more control into your hands regarding the communications you have with the employer.

2) Exercise patience – remind yourself that ambiguity really is part of the job seeking process. Keep putting yourself out there, get feedback from a career advisor regarding your job search strategies if that would be helpful.

3) Be proactive in a polite way – whether or not you interview, it generally is fine to follow up your application either by phone or email, to see how the employer’s search for a candidate is going, and/or to let them know you remain interested in the opportunity. (A caveat: if a job application says “no phone calls please” then you ought to follow the expressed preference of the organization.) Ultimately, if an employer is unresponsive to your effort to check in, then stay open to hearing from them, but move your job search energies into other endeavors.

4) Remember, it isn’t all about you – sometimes employers don’t get back to you because they are busy, because they have been inundated with applications, because they have many people who are involved in the decision making process, because there are formalities that prevent them from responding to your inquiries. You might be their first choice, but they haven’t had a chance to get back to you in a timely way. You might be the second choice – which means you still have a chance at the job if their initial offer is turned down. You may not be selected at this time. The point is, you do not know what is happening on the employers’ side. Give them the benefit of the doubt, but don’t take it personally.

5) Remember, it isn’t all about this one opportunity – as hard as it is to put effort out in the form of applications and interviews, the measure of success is not all-or-nothing: getting an offer of employment is not the only way to measure a successful job search. Each time you write an application, go through an interview, and meet people in the field, you are strengthening the skill sets that will serve you well in your future. Don’t forget, many people change jobs every 3-5 years. You will be using those job seeking skills again and again.

How (not) to talk about THE BAD TIMES

by Rosanne Lurie

If you are paying close attention to Career Services (and likely others) you have probably gotten the message that internships are the hottest ticket to a career.  Many, many Penn students pursue internships during the course of their time at school; and with great success, as internships often provide valuable experiences and connections.  But what happens when your internship was a dud?  What if your responsibilities bored you, were confusing or too hard, or your supervisor was a difficult or indifferent boss?

We know that supervisors who were not good managers, or work experiences that were less than positive, are a tricky subject when you are actively networking or interviewing.  How should you handle the topic of a difficult work experience while going forward in your job search?  Here are a few constructive approaches:

1)      What can you say about yourself handling a difficult situation, if the supervisor you had did not manage you the way you would have wished or the position was not a good fit?  How did you meet the challenge or do problem solving? What were you able to do to improve the situation?

2)      How have people in your network handled their challenging or negative experiences? Learning from others can help you manage your own take on your situation.  Here’s one person’s response to a bad internship

3)      When in a job interview, NEVER say outright negatives about your internship or blame your former supervisor for your troubles.  A prospective employer will assume you might be a difficult employee, or possibly speak about them negatively, and will not be inclined to risk hiring you.   Also, blaming others can indicate that you aren’t taking responsibility for your own actions.

4)      Consider carefully the qualities you would want in a manager. When you are interviewing, communicate this in a positive way.  “Once a project is explained to me, I can work very independently;” rather than “ I don’t like it when I feel like my boss is breathing down my neck.”  Be aware of which environments will help you excel.

5)      If you need a reference, but are not sure that a former supervisor will give you a good one, then ask another coworker to be your reference – someone who will speak about your accomplishments.  Coach them about which of your skills to emphasize – documents such as your resume and descriptions of jobs can help.

In sum, there are ways that you can respond to bad experiences that offer better outcomes than dwelling on them.  By managing your perceptions, evaluating your responses, demonstrating your skills when faced with challenges, and identifying supportive individuals to serve as references, you will sail forward in your career.

More advice can be found in these useful links:

If You’re Out of Work or Think You Might Lose Your Job

by Rosanne Lurie

It seems like there is insurance for everything people value. Rumor had it that Jennifer Lopez insured her “celebrity assets,” (i.e. derierre) and musicians Liberace, French pianist Richard Clayderman and Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards all are known to have insured their hands. So when we can easily put a value on our ability to be productive in the working world,  it’s hard to understand why we can’t take out protection for ourselves if we lose our jobs, or remain job-seekers longer than we planned.  The New York Times recently posted a fascinating article with discussion about why private unemployment insurance is not more prevalent.  Additionally, the article suggests how to keep your finances afloat while not working or underemployed, with important resources on housing (both rent and mortgage relief) and student loans.

Unfortunately, unexpected job loss can precipitate the kind of financial pressure that often results in hasty job choices, and increased likelihood of future job loss because of a poor match in goals and fit (jobseekers are “desperate, but not serious”).   Considering how many companies are doing credit checks as part of the screening process, getting your finances in order is crucial to your job search, and ultimately, it lets you be free to choose the best fit for you.