Buon viaggio!

by Sue Russoniello

By the time you read this blog post, I’ll be in Italy for the first time.  Usually my preparation for a vacation means rushing around at the last minute, throwing in everything I think I might need, which means I over pack and/or forget something vital.  I have vowed that this trip is going to be different.  Since we’ll be traveling by train and carrying our own luggage from place to place, I’ve checked the weather, carefully considered the activities we’ve planned, and tried to line up a minimal collection of the right clothes and accessories.

As I started making a list for my trip, I thought of other aspects of life where I (and you) should make a concerted effort to plan ahead.  For instance, maybe your search for a summer internship, full time job or graduate school applications could use some tweaking. Perhaps you approach important things in your life the same way I pack for vacation — on the day of an interview you throw on a suit, grab your resume and rush out the door thinking you’re ready.



Even now my palms begin to sweat when I remember one particular interview I had many years ago.  When I got out of bed that morning, I discovered that it was snowing, and began to panic.  I not only had to dress more carefully than usual, but also had to find my boots.   Once I got out of the house, I discovered that traffic was horrendous, parking in the city a challenge; I arrived late, rushing up to the receptionist who was waiting for me.  She had to wait even longer while I awkwardly exchanged boots for dress shoes and attempted to smooth my hair, feeling discombobulated rather than calm and prepared.

You’ll not be surprised to hear that the interview went terribly.  I was so rattled by then, that when I was asked what my then boss would say about me that would make the interviewer want to hire me, (not a terribly difficult or unusual question) I totally froze.  Instead of having the composure to carefully promote myself, the few ideas I babbled about just emphasized my lack of readiness and self confidence. I was embarrassed and just wanted it all to be over.  On the way home I beat myself up with a dozen things I should have said, and tried to incorporate them into my thank you note.  But of course it was too late.  In these situations you don’t get a do over, and needless to say, I did not get the job offer.

So what should I have done differently? Why didn’t I plan ahead — listen to the weather report, lay out my clothes (including my boots and gloves) the night before and set an earlier alarm?  I should have anticipated the slow traffic and arrived with enough spare time to be able to organize my thoughts as well as my appearance.  Setting aside some time to review the job description, my resume and sample interview questions would have helped my chances of landing the job.   If only I had scheduled an appointment with a Career Counselor which would have armed me with the self confidence I needed to put my best self forward.

I encourage you to learn from my mistakes.  Career Services is open all year, even during the summer, so please call us for assistance with your job or internship search, or graduate school admissions process.

I realize that advance preparation for events, whether it’s a vacation or a job interview, is well worth the time and effort invested.  It usually leads to a better outcome, better feelings about yourself, and a much more relaxed and enjoyable journey.


Parents, This One’s For You

The summer is over! Your son or daughter has already moved into his or her dorm or apartment. Is this your first child’s freshman year and the family’s maiden voyage to college? Or perhaps it is your youngest child’s senior year and this is old hat. No matter what your exact scenario is, you are probably feeling nostalgic as you breath in this dryer, cooler September air and think about all the “Kodak moments” along the road that has led your young person to Penn.

Now that your son or daughter is off to school, take a moment to focus on how you will fit into the decisions he or she will need to make in the next few years. Your child (yes, they’ll always be our “children”, no matter how old they are) has stepped up to the next phase of their development, and their entrance to adulthood. Having two sons of my own who are in their late twenties, I know the thoughts running through your heads. Who is checking that they are getting enough sleep, making good friends and behaving responsibly? You’re wondering about their classes. Are they keeping up with the work load and connecting with their professors? At the same time, especially in light of the current economic times, are they setting themselves up to find internships or jobs in a lucrative industry or getting into the right graduate or professional school? Things are not as they were when WE were in college, and there is so much more information available to help with these decisions.

Besides being a parent, I have worked in Career Services for fourteen years and have watched this process from both sides. I sympathize with the concerned parents who call Career Services to see what we do for their son or daughter and also what they can do to help. Some parents just want general information on the current job market and the process. Others ask for more specific information such as passwords for our job posting system so they can look for jobs or internships that will be “right” for their son or daughter.

Wearing my parent’s hat, I empathize with you being tempted to do the leg work for your busy children so you can give them a list of things they should do next in their job search. It’s what you’ve probably done up to this point with respect to important decisions they have had to make. Wearing my Career Services hat, I see young, independent people wanting to make their own way and looking for jobs of their own choosing which aren’t necessarily what you think they want. From these combined experiences I am respectfully asking you to give them space to conduct their internship, job and/or graduate school searches themselves. They want (and need) to begin to do things for themselves and learn to use their time wisely. Isn’t this the ultimate goal of parenthood — guiding our sons and daughters to become self-confident, capable young adults? This is the time in our children’s lives when they first feel independent and able to try something new on their own. You may be in for some surprises of the directions they choose, but that’s good. It means they are spreading their wings and trying new things.

When I think back, I wonder why I was surprised when my older son moved to Wyoming to become a chef where he’d be using his creativity and ability to interact with people. And a few years later, our second son moved to Alaska to use his geology background and technical skills. Both of them moved to places where they could pursue jobs of their dreams and have the ability to ski, hike, and canoe whenever they wanted to with people around them who also loved those activities. Not surprising at all, these were the things we did with them on family vacations as they were growing up. They took jobs where they would work hard and play hard, and be self supporting and happy. Actually, once the initial shock wore off, we were proud of each of them for being self-assured enough to leave their friends and family for places unknown and new adventures. I will not deny that you will feel a bit of loneliness during this transition, because you will. Your relationship with your child is changing; he or she doesn’t need you in the same ways they have before. Take heart knowing they’re doing what they should be doing, which will help you adjust. Focusing on our sons’ happiness and successes, (and biting our tongue a lot!) helped us survive. How happy were we when our younger son, after three years in Alaska, announced he was moving back to the East Coast to pursue a graduate degree as we had hoped he would. We patted ourselves on the back, then, as that was his own decision and on his own time table, as well.

My message is this… Parents, listen to your children and give them room to grow. Harry S. Truman said: “I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” Don’t back out of your son or daughter’s life, just back up a bit. Encourage them to try something new. Be open to discussions about the breadth of options in front of them. Take note of what makes your child’s eyes light up and respect his or her need to pursue these things; they might choose a specific job that they love, or they might choose to live in a place that lets them enjoy certain activities outside of their work. Give them the freedom and support to try something different and come to their own conclusions about what is right for them. Remember that “success” means different things to different people, even our own children. My son doesn’t make a lot of money, but he thrives on being able to walk his dog in the Teton National Forest and go skiing before work or floating down the Snake River in his canoe any day he wants.

By all means, browse the Career Services website and learn what you can about the opportunities available to our students. Visit us during Family Weekend. Be aware of all the programs and workshops, career fairs and counseling sessions we offer our students. If you think your son or daughter needs a bit more guidance as they go forward, remind them that we are here to help. Guide them gently in ways to ask for help, but let them be the ones to do the asking.
In the end you know that your sons and daughters will make appropriate decisions, find good jobs and have great lives. Give them the gift of letting them make these decisions for themselves. Even if it means they’ll pursue an industry or move to a location you might not have chosen for them, or on the exact time table you would have suggested.
I’ll tell you, though we’d love to see our sons more often, we’ve had some fabulous vacations visiting them in the places they have chosen to live.

Decisions, Decisions!

By carefully considering the information you have and asking yourself some hard questions, you might find that you already have a very satisfactory answer in your grasp.

Sometimes you need to make an important job decision in a short period of time.  That phone call offering you a job comes in, but with a fairly short deadline for accepting or declining the offer.  Your first inclination is to focus on the deadline, frantically trying to figure out how to evaluate this offer.  You think you should call all the organizations you’ve applied to, asking them to rush their decision-making process for you, because you want to see all of your options laid out on the table.  However, if you take a moment to calmly review the information you already have, you might be able to come to an intelligent, well thought out determination without bothering the very people upon whom you want to make the best impression.

Our son (let’s call him “Chris”) applied for summer internships related to his field of study.  One Friday morning Chris called to say he’d just received an offer from University X , but they needed him to let them know his decision by Monday at noon.  The other organizations which had expressed an interest in his application had given the following Friday as the date they would let him know.  Chris excitedly said he was going to call the other employers.  He was going to ask them if he was in the running, and then call the friend who had forwarded his resume with a good referral to one of these organization to see if he could do anything to help Chris with this endeavor.

First, we congratulated him on having a concrete offer on the table.  It sounded fabulous, and the first offer is always a relief to receive, even if you end up doing something else.  We wanted him to realize this was a good thing to savor and be proud of, as the panic of making a quick decision seemed to be overwhelming him.  We advised him to stop a minute and go through the information he already had which included start and end date, living arrangements, compensation, scope of the research project and duties.

The following questions came to our minds:

  • If he received more than one offer, how would he rank this one in comparison;
  • would he be happy spending his summer at this unique location to which he’d have to travel and where he would know no one else;
  • would the compensation let him live away from home for the summer and still have money left for the school year;
  • was it a good match for his interests;
  • what were the things that bothered him about this opportunity?

Then we asked him:

  • what he would gain from calling the other employers;
  • what was the specific information he wished he had before he could make an informed decision;
  • would he be causing the friend some embarrassment if he pushed on Chris’s behalf and then Chris didn’t accept that position;
  • could he ask his advisor for some guidance?  After all, he worked in this field and had originally brought this opportunity to Chris’s attention.

At the end of this conversation, our son was able to focus on the comfort of having a good, solid offer for summer employment.  He was in control of himself with some concrete things to think about and went off to find his advisor.

We spoke with Chris again later in the day.  His advisor helped him realize that this offer was a wonderful opportunity, an experience out of the ordinary he would like to try.  It would only be ten weeks, after all, not a lifetime.  Even if it turned out to be less than the ideal summer, he would meet new people and be part of a team working on an interesting project within his field.  He’d experience working within a large southern state university in contrast to the small eastern college he attended.  This could be valuable information to help guide him toward his potential goal of becoming a professor himself.

After accepting the offer with University X, he called the other employers to thank them for their consideration of his application and to advise them that they should take his name out of the applicant pool.  They congratulated him and thanked him for letting them know.  He also called the friend to tell him about the offer, telling him how much he appreciated his support, and explaining why this was a unique opportunity.  Proactively following up with the other organizations and taking his name out of their pool of candidates was the right thing to do.  It added to their positive impression of him, leaving the door open for future contact.

Chris was glad he had taken the advice to first of all enjoy the good feeling of receiving a nice internship offer.  It gave him confidence that spring weekend as he geared up to take final exams.  He was relieved to have his summer plans in order so he could finish the year focusing completely on his schoolwork.  Chris also learned some valuable tools for making decisions: even with a deadline looming, take time to gather your thoughts and the information you already have; calmly weigh the pros and cons.  In an ideal world you would have all your offers on the table at the same time to really compare and contrast them.  By carefully considering the information you have and asking yourself some hard questions, you might find, like Chris did, that you already have a very satisfactory answer in your grasp.

You might, of course, find that you still need more information, or that the first offer is not a good fit for you.  If so, organize the specific questions you will ask when you contact the employers; be polite and professional with everyone you speak with, from the receptionist to the recruiter.  Be prepared for the possibility that the employer might not be available or willing to speak with you, or give you the information you seek.

In the end, Chris had a wonderful summer.  This opportunity had not been his first choice when he submitted applications, but it turned out to be a good choice.  He has stayed in touch with the professor, who was happy to write a letter of recommendation when Chris was applying to graduate school a few years later.  As with many fields of study, he has found it to be a very small world.  People he works with now in his graduate studies know the professor at University X and have told him they are impressed he had the opportunity and training afforded by that internship.

Carefulling considering the information he already had and taking a chance at this unique offer worked well for him.  He is also very glad that he left good impressions with the other organizations along the way.

“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” — Benjamin Franklin

by Sue Russoniello

The news is really frustrating to read these days. Everywhere you look there are headlines about people and organizations behaving badly — ponzi schemes; inadequately funded pension funds; the sub-prime mortgage debacle; society’s leaders cheating on their spouses and families or abusing their constituents; sports heroes using illegal drugs to enhance their performance; the lack of cleanup plans for the oil spill disaster in the Gulf, to mention a few.

Closer to home we have all seen a classmate or colleague cheat on a test or job application, take credit for something they didn’t do or shoplift even the smallest item. I’m sure you can think of numerous other examples in your own lives and in the headlines. I find it exhausting to be bombarded daily by news of people behaving in unethical, self serving fashion.

My sons used to lament how they did something once and got caught, when all their friends did it “all the time” and never got caught. Why was life so unfair? We reminded them that they knew it was wrong, they were aware of the consequences and they did it anyway. If they got caught, there was no one to blame but themselves. Yes, life is sometimes unfair, and some people get away with behavior they shouldn’t. Others are prone to get caught. “It keeps you honest” my dad used to say.

Along with this lesson comes the realization that the most important thing you have to show for yourself, especially as a young adult, is your reputation. You should be doing everything in your power to build and preserve a good reputation. Also, at the end of the day you have to feel good about yourself. Have you ever laid awake in the wee hours of the morning fretting about something you did or said, whether it was cheating on an exam or lying to a potential employer or being mean to a friend, realizing the transgression of the day was not worth the pain it caused?

I want to believe that we can turn around the growing unethical direction in which our society seems to be going. If each and every one of us pauses to think about our words and our actions for just a fraction of a second, making sure we’re being honorable and good citizens, thinking about the effect of our words or actions, it will carry over to other aspects of our adult life.

Let’s start with the everyday things. Don’t cheat on tests. Don’t lie on resumes or applications. Don’t try to blame someone else for your mistakes, or take things that are not yours. Admit when you’ve done something wrong and accept the consequences for your actions. Work hard for what you want to achieve, and be proud of the honorable and honest way you achieved it. This will result in a more ethical world. The anger and frustration that makes one think, “everyone else does it, why shouldn’t I?” will diminish. It will certainly let you sleep better at night knowing that you have done the right thing, you have a good reputation among your colleagues and friends, and you are doing your small part to make this a better place to live.

Can you (and you, and you, and YOU?) hear me now?

by Sue Russoniello

You’ve heard all the job search advice about cleaning up your voice mail message and untagging Facebook photos of you at that incredible party last weekend.  Hopefully you’ve even followed that advice.  But have you thought about the conversations you have with friends while walking across campus, or on your cell phone while standing in line for coffee or working out at the gym?

Remember that there are people all around you and you don’t always know who they are. There was a man near me on the train one evening talking on his cell phone.  He had obviously had a bad day – I’m guessing even a bad week.  He was very loudly sharing this with a friend on his cell phone and, in turn, with every occupant of that train car.  This man was naming names and giving specific examples of things he didn’t like about his place of employment, his boss, his co-workers, his clients.  After about 10 solid minutes of this rant, no one on the train could possibly read their book or work their Sudokus and we were all exchanging glances with each other.  When I got up to leave, I SO BADLY wanted to suggest that he be careful during his next conversation that his boss’s wife wasn’t sitting in the next seat. Can you imagine if that really had been the case?!

Think everyone here wants to hear your conversation? Think again. (Image via Tarotastic on Flickr)

There were students next to me at a popular campus restaurant earlier this week conversing in the explicit vernacular of many college students about the OCR process — what they REALLY thought of the internship search, how they were as good as that #$%^&* loser George who got 8 @#$%^&* interviews, how they’d rather sit at home with their &*%$# parents (the ultimate bad Friday night) than listen to their @#$%^&* friends talk about their @#$%^&* job search.  On and on it went.  Think about this; if I was a recruiter grabbing a quick sandwich on my lunch break and I overheard this conversation, what image of them would have been left in my head?  What if you were one of these students and you went to your interview that afternoon and came face to face with me?   And you’re already lamenting how competitive these interviews are?  You may have just helped that recruiter make the very difficult decision between hiring you or the next guy.

To broaden the scenario, maybe I’m a professor you are about to start a class with and you need a letter of recommendation from me for your med school applications. Or I’m the administrative assistant to a person you’ve been dying to get an appointment with for job shadowing. There are any number of other nightmares waiting to haunt you in that sea of unknown faces that surround you daily.

The advice about emails applies to public conversations as well…..if you wouldn’t write it on a postcard, say it directly to the person you’re talking about, or use that language in front of your mother (yes, that pesky mom again) then perhaps you don’t want to share it while walking down Locust Walk, sitting on the trolley or waiting for your cheese steak.

Do yourselves a favor and don’t air critical opinions and inappropriate language in public.  Help that recruiter or professor think of you as the mature, polite person you are, ready to join the professional world.