Retirement

Dr. John F. Tuton, Career Advisor

I’ve been thinking about retirement a lot lately, partly because one of my long-term colleagues at Career Services retired earlier this year and two others are about to retire this summer.  And, full disclosure, I’m old enough to “retire” myself, if I wanted to.  But the main reason retirement is on my mind is that I’ve been meeting with more and more Penn alumni who are approaching retirement age themselves and have come to me for advice.

But before I get into that, why should I even be blogging about “retiring” on this website when most of you who are reading this are probably younger than 30 and looking forward to a future career that may span over 40 more years?  How can you possibly look 40 years ahead, when it’s not at all certain what the future will be for any of us?  And how realistic is it to even consider retirement as a reality, when your first priority right now is launching your career, not ending it? 

My answer comes from the thoughts that senior alumni have shared with me, and even though they vary, there is a surprising consistency to what they’ve said.  When I met with the first one or two, I started the conversation by asking, “What sorts of skills do you have?” hoping to get some information that I’d want to see on a CV or resume.  But their answers went far beyond “job” skills, and included much more personal qualities, like curiosity, empathy, creativity and perseverance.  And when they shared these “skills”, they clearly were excited about claiming them, and I got the message that these were qualities that they truly enjoyed using and, from the examples they gave me, had become quite adept at doing so. 

So my “skills” question went well beyond a simple list of technical abilities, and became an exercise in affirming what they felt were their strengths and how rewarding it had been for them to put them to good use.  And because their enthusiasm was pretty obvious, it led to another question, “Why are these skills so important to you?”  Their answers were even more revealing, and ranged from “Because they’ve helped me solve a difficult problem…understand what someone needs…deal with setbacks…see things in a new way.”   And this led to lots of discussion and clarification about their basic motivations, what they valued most in their lives, and what their deepest concerns were.

Digging a little deeper soon led to a third question: “What helped you along the way?”  And here I discovered all sorts of information about the particulars of their relationships with the superiors, colleagues, family members and friends who had valued their “skills” and respected their motivations and concerns.  Out of all of this came a detailed picture of their ideal “environment” – the people and the places – that had supported the best use of their skills and honored the values and concerns that were most important to them.

From all this, it was possible to create a “template” for what they wanted to do next, why they wanted to do it and where might be the best setting to do it in, and the rest of our meetings were devoted to strategizing about specific opportunities that they might want to pursue. 

So here’s why I’m writing this blog for those of you who are under 30 and see retirement only as a vague concept in the distant future.  Because knowing your “what, why and where” is as important at the beginning of your career as it is for the alums who I’ve worked with who are at the tail end of theirs.  And the good news is that you already started to define your “what, why and where” the moment you discovered a particular job posting.  Choosing a job that fits your resume and skill set, creating a cover letter that communicates your interest and enthusiasm, and even answering an interview question like “Why do you want to work here?”—these are all opportunities to state your “what, why and where” in ways that will work best for you.  And if your application leads to you being hired, your next step is to continually keep track of what you do best, why you do it and where is the best, most supportive environment to do it in, so that your future career path becomes clearer and more fulfilling, no matter how far it may go. 

 

 

From Penn to DaVita

by Olivia Blaber, COL ’17

At Penn, many students are compelled to have a plan towards career success mapped out freshmen year. Deviating from your path can be a frightening move. However, taking a risk and allowing yourself the opportunity to grow and explore can be just as rewarding as it may seem daunting.

I came into Penn positive I wanted to be a doctor and had mapped out how I would get there. However, my junior year I took a healthcare management class that opened my eyes to the array of opportunities to affect change in healthcare. I wanted to explore those opportunities outside of a clinical roles. Still, I was wary that it would not be the best way to position myself for medical school, and I was even more concerned that it would lead me to change my path entirely.

I scoured PennLink (the job board prior to Handshake) for a healthcare related business opportunity and landed on the analyst position with the Redwoods Leadership Development Program at DaVita. This fortuitous find could not have been more impactful. To me, three things ultimately differentiated this experience. The first was that DaVita, as an enterprise, shared my passion for improving patient care. Second, the Redwoods Program afforded us immense exposure to senior leadership and high impact projects. Finally, the support network and emphasis on personal growth and development far exceeded my expectations.

I was weary that at a large, for-profit company the experience of individual patients would become obsolete. However, part of DaVita’s mission is to be the Provider of Choice and its first core value is Service Excellence. What I learned was that these words are more than just a tag line, but a compass driving the direction of business decision. I was surprised to learn that the CEO, Kent Thiry, begins every earnings call with clinical outcomes and by the amount of times I was in strategy meetings where patient impact was the first consideration.

Further, the exposure my intern cohort had to senior leadership from every arm of the enterprise was incredible. The open dialogue channels with leaders who shared lessons learned from their careers was invaluable as I grappled with how to navigate the beginning of my own career journey. Even more exciting for me, was the opportunity to work closely with members of the leadership team. As an intern on the corporate strategy team I worked on a project to develop a five year growth strategy for one of DaVita’s smaller strategic business unit. The learning curve was steep at first but resulted in the confidence to actively contribute in working sessions with the business unit’s CEO.
Finally, the support network developed by the Redwoods team was a resource I had not expected to receive in the corporate world. The summer started with a comprehensive training period that ranged in topics from a business overview to honing hard skills in excel. Support did not cease when training did, but rather the Redwoods team was constantly setting up career development sessions and checking in to make sure our development goals were being met. Outside of the formal Redwoods team, everyone I encountered at DaVita was excited to offer up their career learnings and help me think through my options.

At the end of the experience, I had accomplished my goal of branching out from my initial career path. But I had also learned that I had an appetite for the challenge that strategy work presents and an excitement about systematically transforming healthcare. I was not content to let the learning end there and reflecting upon the differentiating qualities of the Redwoods program, I decided to come back full-time. In my role today, I am constantly challenged to push the bounds of my comfort zone and continue to be rewarded with increased aptitude and confidence.

What I learned at Penn that led to a career in Presentation Design

by Amy Singh, COL ’14

Back several years ago when I was a freshman at Penn, I had no clue what I wanted to do after graduation. I was completely ready to pursue my major in Japanese and minor in Fine Arts, but beyond that I didn’t know what my future path would be. I was considering everything from teaching, to translation work to going back to grad school to study Japanese in more depth, but the best answer I could’ve given you at the time would be that I really wanted to do something creative, that allowed me to combine my arts background with my interest in writing. Little did I know I would end up doing exactly that at an international UK-based company called BrightCarbon.

Welcome to the world of presentation design. In the world of niche industries and jobs, this is one that many people don’t realize exists. Ironically, there are tons of people working in marketing, sales and training whose main task is creating presentations for their teams, bosses or clients. People working in these fields may have different backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common, which is that most likely they have limited training when it comes to creating PowerPoint presentations. Because of this, many companies desire assistance with creating compelling, visual presentations, which is where the Presentation Design agency comes in. Part of this assistance is physically creating the slides themselves, but there are other aspects that come into play. For example, there’s also developing presentation messaging (similar to writing a script) to help companies position themselves as industry leaders, sell products, and explain concepts. And the last role at BrightCarbon is the role of Visualization Consultants like myself, which involves taking messaging and coming up with visuals for slides that communicate those messages well. Since this last role is what I am most familiar with, I wanted to dig a little deeper and get into what specific skills I learned at Penn that helped me become a Visualization Consultant, and what skills are useful to build if you are interested in a similar type of position.

The skills I use on a daily basis range from customer relationship management to reading comprehension to writing to more technical and Microsoft Office-related. Because this is a wide range of skills, the relevant classes are also varied, ranging from English to fine arts to business to technology-related. When combined, having some expertise in each of these areas will give you a great basis for working in presentation creation.

Writing

The most obvious skill that has helped immensely with my day-to-day is a solid foundation in writing. The type of writing that I use is different from writing a short story in Japanese for example, but nonetheless is related to the type of writing skills you build at Penn. When you learn how to structure arguments for a piece of writing with an introduction, main points and conclusion, you are inadvertently learning how to write an effective presentation. So many sales presentations we see are poorly structured, and follow a ‘We-we-we’ theme, meaning that they focus solely on how great the presenter is, and don’t actually get into what the value is for end users. In addition, more often than not content is disorganized, arguments are repetitive or presentations become too chart-heavy and end up being ineffective. A lot of these issues would be avoided if the messaging adhered to a solid structure, the same way a good story does, which is one of the things I got a solid understanding of between my various college seminar classes I took at Penn.

Reading comprehension

Another really important skill that I use every time I come up with visuals for a slide is analyzing text and thinking critically about what its key messages are. Because the average presentation will have 20 or more slides chock-full with text, going through each slide in detail could end up taking a lot of time. However, by putting into practice some of the methods I used at Penn (for example, breaking down information by highlighting the key sections, and skimming instead of reading) I’ve been able to shorten this time considerably. Being able to pick out key bits of information also helps with developing visuals for slides. Slides that are too information-heavy are not effective because the audience just ends up tuning out the presenter and reading the information on the slides. However, by focusing only on key points, you can create much clearer and effective presentations, that get your messages across to the audience. Many seminar classes in the college give you a taste of this type of reading analysis, which can make a significant difference in the effectiveness of your slides.

Business

As with any job, being business savvy comes in real handy. At Penn, some of the most useful classes for a career in presentation creation would be at Wharton. For example, marketing would come in handy for making sales presentations, since these presentations involve selling products and knowing how to communicate their value to end users. To add onto that, learning how to manage customer relationships is useful and knowing how to figure out what customers want and how to delight them with great customer service can never hurt. In general, learning how to communicate effectively in written and spoken word is crucial to collaborating on a presentation, which is definitely something that you can develop in different Wharton classes.

Graphic design

For people interested in working on presentations, taking a class in digital design can be useful down the road. If your main task is to create tons of PowerPoint slides, knowing how to lay them out, what colors look good together, and how to alter images in Photoshop can be very useful. Most people will say that they don’t have time to learn these types of skills, but if you learn how to do these kinds of things once, you will be able to make huge impact on the quality of slides you create. Introductory design classes at Penn will teach you design foundations which can be used to for things like using images effectively in your presentations, creating engaging PowerPoint templates and laying out your content so that it’s intuitive. This will make your presentations look one-thousand times better and also makes them much more effective. (To learn more about how to do great PowerPoint design, check out this article!)

Technology

The last important foundation for making presentations is to get a good handle on your weapon of choice, namely Microsoft PowerPoint. I learned many of the basics from a class I took in high school that focused on learning Microsoft Office, however, by the time I started working in PowerPoint full time there was still a lot more I had to learn. The best methods for learning all there is to know about how to use PowerPoint to its full potential would be to take online classes like BrightCarbon’s PowerPoint Master Classes, which can help you master a lot of the rarely-taught features of PowerPoint. Once you get in the swing of using more of PowerPoint’s functionality, it begins to come to you naturally and you can create more advanced and more effective presentations quicker and more easily.

Conclusion

I never thought I would end up making PowerPoints for a living, but you’d be surprised how many people do just that. These people might have different titles, like ‘brand manager’ or ‘product marketing manager’ or even ‘visualization consultant’, but in the end there are many careers where you may end up creating presentations frequently. Presentation design really is a lesser-known but massive industry with lots of job opportunities for designers and liberal arts graduates in general, and it really is great, as long as you don’t mind staring at PowerPoint for hours at a time. No matter what your degree may be, having a foundation in certain areas, namely writing, reading comprehension, business and design as well as technical skill (or the ability to learn) can take you very far in developing high quality, visually-effective presentations, and will help you shine among others as a presentation master.

Amy Singh is a self-proclaimed PowerPoint wizard and Visualization Consultant at BrightCarbon, an international (UK-based) presentation agency. After graduating from the college in 2014, she now spends most of her days planning her next Disney World vacation and also sharing the joys of PowerPoint with others.

Tomorrow on @PennCareerDay: Jeff Barg, COL ’02/MCP ’10 – PA Horticultural Society

Be sure to follow @PennCareerDay tomorrow for great insights from another Penn alum about their career path and a typical day at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society!

Jeffrey Barg is Associate Director for Planning and External Policy Relations at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.  At PHS, he develops and maintains the organizational policy agenda and government relations at the federal, state and local level, and manages projects related to urban greening, creative placemaking, vacant land reclamation, urban agriculture, community and neighborhood gardens, landscape studies and more.

Prior to his work with PHS, Jeff worked with the Penn Institute for Urban Research at the Consortium for Building Energy Innovation at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.  Before that, he had a long career in journalism as managing editor for Philadelphia Weekly.

Jeff holds a BA in American History and a Master of City Planning, both from University of Pennsylvania.  (Editors note: He also plays a mean blues guitar.)

 

Tomorrow on @PennCareerDay: Hannah Greene, COL/SP2 ’16 from Impact Amplifier

Tomorrow, October 5th, we’re handing over our @PennCareerDay account to another great alumna to give you a glimpse of their post-Penn work life!

hgreeneHannah Greene is a 2016 graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Social Policy and Practice, where she earned both her BA in Political Science and MS in Nonprofit Leadership, respectively. In the months following graduation, she has been working at a Cape Town, South Africa based impact investment firm called Impact Amplifier (IA). Though her prior experience had been mostly with nonprofits such as the United Nations Foundation in her hometown of Washington, DC, she has grown to appreciate the hybridization of the social impact sector, bringing for-profit firms such as IA into the conversation of creating shared value with traditional NGOs. While at Penn, Hannah was involved with Pi Sigma Alpha, Chi Omega, The Environ Group, Penn Symposium on Contemporary China and Penn Sustainability Review. She is looking forward to sharing more about the incredible experience of working within the social impact sector in Africa.

Be sure you’re following @PennCareerDay to learn all about Hannah!