Light your fire

It’s that time of year. Many of you may be in the final months of your degree program. We’ve all been there – you’re sitting in class when you hear someone nearby sharing details about their latest interview or the number of job offers they’ve received. As classmates chime in with their own experiences, you begin to think about that list of job search “to dos” you haven’t quite tackled yet. While you could spend the semester changing seats to stay out of earshot of these conversations, the better option is to focus your attention on your own plans. If this is the first time you are pursuing employment, the task can seem daunting. Where do you begin? How about starting with that resume and cover letter?

When I first sat down to write a cover letter as an undergrad, I stared at the computer screen a few minutes before determining that the apartment must be cleaned! Needless to say, while my apartment was spotless the cursor stood on a blank page on the computer screen for weeks. I would never have thought that cleaning would be preferable to writing a cover letter! It wasn’t until I found a position of interest and scrambled to put together a so-so document that I realized that I couldn’t keep procrastinating. What a relief it was when I actually sat down and got to work!

Developing your written materials may seem like an arduous task, but you can do it! Why not get these easy check-off items done so you can focus your attention on more important aspects of the job search – exploring your interests, researching organizations and companies, building relationships/connecting with others, and applying to positions!

To jump start the job search process, here are a few easy tips for getting the resume and cover letters done!

1)     Attend an upcoming Career Services workshop on resume and cover letter writing.  You will leave well-informed and armed with resources and knowledge to develop those necessary documents.

2)     Review resume and cover letter writing tips as well as sample documents on the Career Services website. These documents serve as helpful guides as you prepare your own.

3)     Set a deadline for yourself.  In fact, why not schedule an appointment with a career counselor to have your resume and cover letter reviewed? You’ll have a date set when you know you must have these drafts written! Please please please be sure you’ve put forth a valiant effort before coming to the appointment. It will be well worth your time.

Best of luck this semester. Just think, the more efficient you are in developing your job search materials, the more time you’ll have for enjoying life at Penn. You may even find the time to clean your apartment…if you feel like it.


Tune out before you turn in

As many of us are pulled in various directions by life’s demands it can be challenging to find quiet moments in our day to recharge. The pace at which information is exchanged and available makes it all the more difficult to slow down without missing something! If you’re like me, when I do find a moment of downtime I begin to think, “I should be getting something done.”

The much-discussed opinion piece, “The Busy Trap,” by Tim Reider that recently appeared in The New York Times addressed this topic of busyness. Reider argues that being busy causes us to miss out on much needed idle time that is good for the brain. He goes on to say that this idleness “is necessary for getting any work done.” The article created quite a buzz, but it got me thinking. Do I typically benefit from taking a step back from a project or decision? Do I often return to the task refreshed and with new ideas? Yes.

College or graduate school is a busy time. You are immersed in classes, campus life, and decision-making on various levels. It can be a struggle to allow yourself the time to “just be,” let alone sleep. Add on the desire to figure out what you want to do with your life or even assess career interests, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by everything you have to get done.

However, I do believe it is important to find uninterrupted idle time. At the very least, as you wind down from your day, allow yourself the opportunity to find a quiet moment to recharge. Place your cell phone across the room. Close your laptop for a few minutes. It may end up being a “2-for-1.” You take extra care of yourself and, in turn, discover something (a new idea, interest, etc.) that you may have missed had you kept going and going and going….

Searching for Some Clarity

by Sarah Hastings

I’ve been there.  As a career counselor, I often meet with students and alumni who ask questions about career planning and the job search that I also had at different points throughout my education and career.  When I think back to my own indecision as an undergraduate, I remember finding it helpful at times to hear that someone else was uncertain about what to do next.  Sometimes I felt like I was the only one!  So, if it makes you feel better…

When I left for college in the early 90s, I had very clear career goals.  I was going to be a pediatrician!  I liked science and math in high school and knew I wanted a career in medicine.  If that isn’t convincing enough for you, then you should know this dream went as far back as my childhood.  Medical school, here I come!

As I forged ahead and began the premed coursework, my gut was telling me that it wasn’t going to be the right fit for me after all.  Actually, it wasn’t just my gut telling me, it was also my head, arms, the stars, the moon…get the picture?  I didn’t need a palm reader, I could see my future and organic chemistry was not in it.

I then went on what you could call a crash course in exploring what I “wanted to be.” I applied to the university’s education school, studied for and took the LSAT, and even researched culinary schools.  All along I wondered, when is my “Ah ha!” moment going to come?  I told myself that I had to figure it out by my senior year.  It didn’t take long to realize that the way I was going about my search was pretty exhausting and wasn’t giving me the insight I had hoped.  I also realized that by talking to people about my interests and learning from others, I could gather a whole lot more information that helped me make decisions (aka networking).

By graduation I hadn’t exactly found my calling, but I knew what I wanted to do for the next year and that was good enough for me, and felt great.  I left the country!  Through the BUNAC program (, I secured a six-month work visa in the UK.  Before leaving for that adventure, I was able to secure a position working for an investment firm in London.  Networking enabled me to connect with an alum who owned that company.  I was hired, psychology major and all.  Those six months were fantastic.  When my work visa expired there, I moved to Galway, Ireland so that I could continue to live and work abroad.  I found a job as a server in a restaurant and lived above a pub.

I didn’t make much of a salary that year abroad, but I gained unique experience that I feel paved the way for me in my future endeavors.  I was also better prepared to explore my interests and more open-minded about what those might be.

Not knowing what to do next is ok, even though it doesn’t always feel so great.  Accept the challenge of finding answers and use that as motivation to explore.  Talk to others, share your interests, and connect with the Penn network.  I encourage you to also keep an open mind about what you find.  What interests you along the way may be unexpected.  Take it from an almost doctor turned lawyer, who wanted to be a nurse, and then considered teaching as well as becoming a professional chef, that clarity will come.