stick to the script.

I’m not talking movie script. I’m referring to the talking points you have in your back pocket if faced with a tough, anticipated question during a job interview. Do you have an employment gap in your background? Did you graduate with a low GPA? Did you make several job changes in the recent past? An important strategy for interviewing is to anticipate the types of questions that an employer may ask having reviewed your experiences. If there is an area of your background that concerns you, it’s best to assume that an employer may share that concern – and expect you to shed some light during an interview. Having a “script” prepared will allow you to address the question in a direct, concise way, and MOVE ON.

For instance, in the case of a lower GPA… “At the start of my freshman year, I jumped right into several student activities which were time intensive. I soon realized that selecting a few activities outside of my academic schedule was a better fit for me as I made the transition to Penn that first year. Ultimately, I was able to engage in several meaningful, long-term leadership activities at Penn while maintaining solid grades in the classroom. I look forward to sharing these experiences with you today.” In this example, the low GPA was addressed and the conversation was easily redirected.

I can’t stress enough the importance of preparing this brief “script” ahead of time. However, be sure that you don’t come off as rehearsed as you keep your talking points in mind. Follow these simple steps and you may just receive a standing ovation.

  1. Anticipate.
  2. Prepare talking points.
  3. Practice.
  4. Stick to the script.
  5. Move on.


The weather this weekend was beautiful. However, when the temperature dropped on Sunday, I noticed that it took me a little longer to “get up and go.” The chilly morning weather kept me indoors. This is a marked contrast to those early fall days when I raced outdoors to take advantage of the day – heading to the playground with my kids first thing, running errands, even being proactive with my to dos!

This glimpse of chilly weather has reminded me of the importance of preparing for those shorter, colder days. During the winter months, even though the outside world seems to slow down a bit life as a student remains busy. You may not only have class and assignments, but an internship, job, or even a job search to think about. Some days it may take a little more to motivate yourself and stray from the warmth of home to get to that early class or study group. I remember those days.

Even though it feels most natural to hibernate, take stock now of what you may need to stay healthy, connected, and productive this winter. Regardless of whether it’s a long-term project, the job search, or a personal goal, planning ahead is always a good thing. Find a friend or classmate who’s working towards a similar goal – someone who will get to that evening meeting with you or share the snowy walk to the library. If the job search is on your mind consider what you can tackle now to begin the winter on a strong note. By taking care and preparing, the semester can heat up, the days can cool down and you can take it all in stride.

small talk is a big deal

Speaking to an employer in a formal setting like an interview can certainly get our nerves going. But what about those less formal interactions or opportunities for “small talk?” Engaging with supervisors by the water cooler or reaching out to a colleague to learn about what they do in their role can feel equally daunting to many. However, small talk is an important aspect of networking and a valuable skill to develop. Here are two simple ways you can practice your small talk and make a big impression in the future. No suit required. The more confident you feel about what you have to say, the easier the process will become.

Leave yourself a voicemail.

  • This practice can be helpful as you prepare for a variety of professional interactions. For one, it’s a great way to run through your elevator pitch. We’ve all practiced in the mirror (right?), but listening to yourself on your voicemail can make a big impact. Jot down a few bullet points beforehand to guide you. What did you do well? Did you leave any main points out? Where do you get stuck? How long was the message? How many times did you say “um” or “like”…?
  • If you are planning to return a prospective employer’s phone call or hope to reach out to someone for an informational interview, call yourself first and leave a voicemail. Running through this process a few times will enable you to practice being concise and professional. Try jotting down a few speaking points if that is helpful. One word of warning here – just be sure you don’t sound too rehearsed!

Take a friend out for coffee.

  •  Extend an invitation to a friend or classmate with similar career interests. “Hi Joe, are you free this week? I’d love to meet for a coffee and hear about how your internship is going.” Observing others as they speak about their own experiences can be helpful. Take mental notes on how he or she describes experiences or gives examples of highlights. What did you learn? If you run into him or her on campus, incorporate something from your meet-up into the conversation. “Hi Joe, thanks again for meeting up the other day. How’s that project going? I know you said you had a tight deadline! I’d love to hear how it turns out.” Think about how you can apply what you learn from these interactions to professional networking.
  • Perhaps your first language is not English and you are concerned about speaking and connecting professionally with others in your field of interest. Meet-up with a friend for coffee or a meal and make a pact to only speak English for the duration of your time together. Plan to read an article beforehand to discuss or agree on a career topic of interest to both of you. The first person to speak English pays for the coffee!


Last summer I wrote this blog about the importance of colleagues in our professional life. I reflected on these relationships at the time because of a reunion with beloved former colleagues of mine. It’s summer once again and I was recently reminded of this same theme as Career Services met for our yearly office retreat. While I carry a constant appreciation for our team, I was especially reminded of the strengths of our staff and the genuine respect we have for one another as we shared, reflected, and planned. I left our retreat thinking, “I am so lucky to work with these people!” The best part is I knew it would be this way. Why? My interview three years ago told me so…

We spend a majority of our waking hours at work, so who we clock those hours with on the job does matter. I would guess that most of us want to work with bright, driven, supportive people who strive to do their best. Strong leaders are probably at the top of this list, too. The interview serves as an important step for gathering information on not only the specifics of the position, but also the team you will be joining.

Many times we are so focused on nailing the interview that we overlook our own first impressions of those we meet, most importantly, supervisors and team members. Take advantage of the time spent with these people during the interview. They are a reflection of the organization. If a supervisor or manager appears negative and uninterested during the interview, then chances are that you will face these same qualities when you begin the job. Alternatively, do team members seem happy with their jobs? Do they refer to a strong team environment?

We won’t leave an interview knowing everything about everyone we meet. However, we will gain some degree of insight so that we can make an informed decision. Bring your own questions to the interview. If you interview with a supervisor or manager, be sure to ask about his or her supervision style. Inquire about a typical day on the job or specific challenges that a new hire may face in joining the group. If the answer is that the new hire will need to learn quickly without much guidance, then you have an idea of the type of supervision (or lack thereof) that you may receive. How will that suit you? Ask team members how long they have been with the organization and what they like best about the job. Do they speak highly of leadership? If they do, that’s a good sign. Do employees join the company and stay? Another good sign!

I bet many of us already make these observations and ask similar questions during an interview. If you haven’t been asking questions and observing, be sure to take note. Surround yourself with good people who care about your career and be that same person to others. You won’t regret it.


don’t blow your cover…letter!

If an employer has not previously met you, your application materials will shape his or her first impression of you. How you present yourself through your writing can make or break your candidacy. Take for instance the dreaded cover letter. Not only should your cover letter be error free, it should set the right “tone.” It’s easy to wrestle with how to highlight your qualifications without coming off as arrogant. After all, you want to show that you’re qualified for the job and someone who will make a great addition to the team! The first cover letter excerpt below illustrates the fine line between confidence and arrogance.

“As you will see from my resume, I have worked in the mental health field for many years and know that you will not find a candidate more knowledgeable about issues impacting children today. I am highly regarded in my current field placement and have been told by multiple supervisors that my skills will certainly be an asset to future organizations. “

Take two. With a bit of revising, an improved version reads something like this:

“With over five years of relevant experience working with children and families in the outpatient setting, I am confident that my clinical skills and passion for delivering quality mental health services will serve me well in the clinical social work position. Most recently, in my role as… “

As you’ll see in the second example, the applicant includes a brief statement of his own skills and interests rather than the praise of supervisors to begin highlighting his qualifications. Don’t forget that your references will do some talking, too. In a competitive job market you want to show you have the skills and experience as well as the ability to work well with others. As you create your own materials for the job search, be sure to review the sample documents and guides available on our website and schedule an appointment with a career advisor for assistance. We’re here all summer!