Strategic Self-Assessment

By Sharon Fleshman

Whether you are exploring careers, conducting a job search, or contemplating a career change, self-assessment can energize the process.  Begin by reflecting on your previous jobs, projects and activities. Don’t limit yourself to the experiences which seem most related to your immediate career goals.  Try to move beyond occupations and job titles. Take a look at your resume or CV and go line by line. Identify where you made the most impact and what gave you the greatest sense of fulfillment.

Next, you’ll want to pinpoint skills that emerge from these experiences. Chances are that these skills can transfer to a variety of career options.  For example, research skills could be applied to meaningful work in any number of areas such as academia, program evaluation for a non-profit, or marketing research for a corporation.

In addition to skills, think about what you valued in past experiences in which you found meaning and success. Identifying your work values will help you to consider the work environment which is the best fit for you.  In other words, you could perform the same job in two different settings but find that you thrive much more in one setting than the other.  What about your interests? Perhaps they would provide clues as to what’s next on your career path.  It may be that you decide to try out some career options by way of internships, volunteer work, or short-term projects to tease out all of this information. There’s nothing quite like hands-on experience to provide a fresh perspective.

Finally, you will need to consider the current priorities in your life and how they relate to your job search.  Are you willing to relocate or do personal commitments limit your geographical options? How do your immediate financial needs affect your choices?

You will find that self-assessment not only helps you identify potential career paths, but prepares you for next steps in the job search.  Your networking meetings will be more focused and fruitful because you have done your homework.  Your resumes, cover letters, and interviews will be more compelling because you have taken a thorough inventory of what energizes you, what matters to you, and what you have to offer.

In addition to our Career Discovery webpages, there are a number of tools and inventories that can help you facilitate the self-assessment process.  As always, Career Services advisors are available to provide guidance as well. Enjoy your summer!

MAYBERRY R.F.D.- Looking Back and Looking Forward

By Anne Guldin Lucas


Most of our blog readers are probably too young to remember Mayberry R.F.D. (starring Andy Griffith and Ron Howard as a boy) on TV—unless it’s popular in reruns or in DVD collections.  Although my life wasn’t quite as hokey as it was for the characters in Mayberry, the 60s were indeed simpler times.  In my neighborhood, on summer evenings we literally sat on our porches playing cards, and drinking root beer floats or lemonade.  (Personally I never did care for Cherry Coke.)

Last weekend a longtime friend and his family visited us as they were passing through our area.  So please excuse me if this Baby Boomer becomes a bit nostalgic.  I promise there’s a point that will eventually relate to careers (sort of).

My friend arrived with his wife and the youngest of his three children—a 12-year-old daughter.  When my friend and I were twelve, we were neighbors, school mates, and members of the same swim team.  So we spent a lot of time together in our youth.  Since this friend and I have never lived in the same location since our college summers, it still feels strange to see him as an adult, with a wife and family.  I remember us as the same age as his 12-year-old daughter–braces and all!  (In fact, I got my braces off on the last day of 6th grade–the12th birthday of this same friend!)

Yet here we were last weekend—adults—middle-aged ones now, with jobs and families, sitting on the terrace of my house—MY house, not my parents’ house (or porch!).  Who could have imagined that we would actually grow up into reasonably responsible adults who owned homes, held jobs, and raised families?

Aha—that’s the point!  It happens to all of us.  Whether we had a plan when we graduated from college or whether it took years and some job changes, we do eventually grow up.  Whether it’s a straight line or a crooked path, somehow, we usually find our way to a good place—to jobs we enjoy and valued relationships that are so important to a life well lived.

During the past few weeks in my office at Penn I’ve met with triumphant students who are negotiating job offers and making plans to find apartments and move to new cities.  Congratulations to those of you who fit into this category; I know you’ve worked hard.  I’ve also met with students who feel as if they are the only one without a job and a definite plan for after graduation.  I can assure you that you are not alone in this situation.  You have also worked hard, making the most of your precious time at Penn, and you deserve to celebrate Commencement just as enthusiastically as your already employed peers.

MANY Penn seniors will wait until after graduation to begin or to resume a job search.  It’s okay.  In fact, despite the presence of Career Counselor Mother (obviously not to be confused with Tiger Mother) in their lives, neither of my young adult children had jobs upon graduation or had even begun their job searches at the time they walked up on the stage for their undergraduate diplomas.  They are now both gainfully employed, living independently, and one has even earned an MBA.  Believe me—you too will visit an old friend thirty or forty years from now and realize that amazingly, you found direction in your life—and the anxiety surrounding your first post-college job search will have faded into a blurred memory.

Although I have tried repeatedly to find a magic wand and crystal ball to aid me in helping you with your career exploration and decision making, there is ultimately no magic available to make this journey easier.  There may be serendipity along the way—and I wish you a healthy dose of it.  However, I suspect it will take some work and some self-analysis for you to merge your interests, talents, and experiences into a career choice and successful job search.

Please remember that you have lots of people to support you and cheer you on as you begin or continue on the journey to YOUR adulthood and independence—to YOUR own terrace or porch.  You know how to find us in Career Services.  Please reach out and let us know how we can help you get started on the path to your porch—and if you should happen to stumble upon a magic wand or crystal ball, feel free to bring that along too.  Maybe we can use it to look to a future with a little more Mayberry in it for us all!

Good luck with exams, hearty congratulations to the Class of 2011, and Happy Summer Vacation to all!

“Careers” for Alumni

by Beth Olson

Many of us—of any age—recall playing the board game Careers in one of its many versions. The goal is to obtain points in three areas—fame, fortune, and happiness. Players determine their own proportions of each for their individual “success formulas” at the beginning of the game.

In our real-life careers, these proportions are constantly changing as our priorities shift. To complicate matters, our very definitions of these goals also change. My current definition of “happiness” may bear some resemblance to what it did when I was fresh out of college, but it is also quite different now. All of which means that identifying desired career fields and searching for job opportunities within them is an ongoing and changing process throughout our lives—whether we are 24 or 48.

Game buffs might already know this, but this board game included an innovation unusual for its time. The game Careers—as in real life—has more than one objective. (See Larry Levy’s article from Counter magazine.) As we proceed down our individual post-graduation roads, our lives become more complicated and diverge from any preconceived “norm.” As our objectives change and multiply, who we are and how we describe ourselves also changes.

Not only do we change, but the landscape changes around us. There is not a single path or right answer to our pressing career and job-search questions. When we seek our next job, we must reacquaint ourselves with the expectations of our hoped-for employers, and we must reacquaint ourselves with the job-search process itself.

If you are a recent graduate seeking a second job in your current career field, you know what it took to find your first job. You are already familiar with the steps that may lead to job-search success: how to network, with whom, where, how to introduce yourself, resume formats, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, interview protocol.

Alumni who are looking for a job in a different field will need to research all these steps. How are jobs advertised in this field? Are they advertised or shared by word of mouth? What are the strongest professional associations in this field? What is the industry “lingo” for the skills needed in this new profession? How should you format your resume?

And alumni who are returning to the job market after many years will find that the job-search process itself has changed. Resumes in our fast-paced world should be focused and streamlined. Social media play a major role in the game now, and online profiles may be as important as resumes. Employers will often not respond to your online application (due to the sheer volume of online applications). Being focused on what you want next is at least (if not more) important than what you’ve done.

Career Services has many resources and suggestions for students in their initial job searches, and much of this information is applicable to alumni. Review the information on our website at: This page includes articles on

Remember that you’re the expert on explaining who you are. If you’re staying in your current field, you’re an expert on that field as well and have access to information, people, and resources specific to your field (and perhaps more applicable than the broad range of general resources at the Career Center).

Networking is still the name of the game, and you are better situated to do this now than when you were a new graduate or just entering the workforce. As a graduate of Penn, you have the benefit of access to other Penn alumni—a great way to learn about different career fields, meet people, and explore options.

Some job-search skills are the same for anyone—students, alumni with experience, alumni reentering the job market. Critical strategies for all include thoroughly researching and understanding the career field of interest to you; networking with people in that industry; being able to articulate what you want in a focused and concise statement; creating tailored documents (resumes and cover letters). There are strategy resources at and job postings at

Just like students who don’t yet know what they want to do, alumni in transition who haven’t identified a career field and are still determining what they want to do next should focus on career exploration. Check out the tips at and begin your research to determine what type of job/career field you’re seeking.

Regardless of where you are at in your career game and what your “success formula” is, Career Services has resources to help you in your job-search process.

How Will You Lead the Way to Make a Difference?

By Peggy Curchack

We hear from so many of you that it’s really important to you to “make a difference” or “have influence.”  But what does this really mean?  And how do you get there?

Some of us get our greatest satisfaction from having very immediate impact on people:  doctors, lawyers, counselors, financial advisers, nurses, teachers, and all manner of artists – get to be there for the “that was spectacular” or the “aha” moment, or the “thank you, that makes me feel better.” We often see the result of our work quickly – in the reactions of our students, audiences, or clients.

Others want to have more influence on the “big picture” – we make our mark by being in positions to cause change to happen.  CEOs, Executive Directors of non-profits (like Penn), the Chairman of Walt Disney Studios (Penn alum Rich Ross!) – people in charge of departments or functions – get satisfaction from being in a position to steer an organization or influence outcomes.  Rather than working directly with a client (or audience or student), the work generally involves overseeing the work of others, planning, making key decisions.

The point is to play to your talents, and figure out what provides you with the most satisfaction.  This may change over the course of your career.  You may start out as a teacher, and end up as a Superintendent of Schools, or you may start out as a doctor, and end up as a medical administrator.  Or, you can go the other way:  at some point in your life you may find that managing is less gratifying than providing direct service.  Lots of academics, for example, start out in and ultimately return to the classroom, after serving in Congress, in the Foreign Service, as Provosts or even Presidents.

For those of you who are in the process of trying to decide how you want to make a different, visit our Career Exploration page for advice and resources for assessing your values, strengths, and skills and figuring out which careers might be a good fit for you. And visit our Networking and Mentoring page to connect with alumni who can guide and inspire you.

Guest Perspective: How To Work Abroad

By Kate Thiers

This post comes from alumna Kate Thiers (Wharton undergrad 2000) who currently works in South Africa as a international healthcare recruiter.  She recently posted for @PennCareerDay on Twitter, for more on Kate click here and to read her Twitter Feed click here.

Working abroad is a privilege and something I have always wanted to do. Back in my junior and senior years at Penn, I would find myself sitting in front of my computer looking at jobs and trying to work out how it would be possible to work in London or Paris. I had no idea. It took me six years of working in Philadelphia before I finally made it to Oxford for my MBA, then to London to work with Siemens, and finally to Johannesburg to work with Africa Health Placements. I have learned along the way that it is easier than you think to get abroad: harder than accepting a US-based job but not the insurmountable feat it can seem when you are staring at job vacancies… again… on your laptop.

There are three main ways to get abroad. The first is the almost-accidental route I took – getting a second or advanced degree in an international university. Getting a visa to continue working in the country after graduation is usually relatively easy, depending on where you are. This route is pretty self explanatory and the school you are involved with will usually assist you. However, you should never completely depend on a second party to advise you on immigration rules unless it is an immigration agent. And they can be expensive. Your biggest challenge will be keeping on top of your personal visa situation and making sure you convert your student visa into a working visa. I did this upon graduating from Oxford in the UK – the rules have changed now but they are still accommodating to students with good degrees. The hardest part will be deciphering the process! But don’t be discouraged… it can be done with a good day’s worth of work, patience, and a dependable file of all your personal documents.

First tip: Always know your visa status and take complete responsibility for it.

Second tip: Keep an original copy (or certified copy) of your life with you. This includes birth certificate, passport, diplomas, transcripts, etc.

The second way to get abroad is to go and live in a country first; then look for work when you are there. This only admittedly works for some countries as you may not actually be allowed to do job interviews on a tourist visa. However, this is the route I took when coming to South Africa. My significant other is South African and we both decided it was time to make the move from London to Johannesburg. I showed up on a tourist visa, had a bit of a holiday (Johannesburg has the most amazing sunny days), and then looked for work. I found a job within three months and took complete responsibility for getting a residence visa and work visa once I had the offer. Sometimes your new company will help pay for your immigration paperwork but you will have to ask!

Third tip: Know the immigration rules of the country you would like to go to (i.e. is it allowable to interview on a tourist visa; will you need a residence visa as well as a work visa when you do find a job?)

The third way to get abroad is to find a job before you even leave the US. This is slightly harder as you have to research the job market for the country or countries you are interested in. Most companies will try to avoid the hassle of hiring a foreigner and dealing with their immigration paperwork. This is an unfortunate issue I faced in London once I started looking for work. The best advice I can give is to look for international companies specifically hiring for foreigners. Some global companies will have an international intern programme for example. Others will be hiring to gain the expertise of your home country, such as a company looking to expand to the US or looking to sell a new product in the US. Another option is to look for countries with a skills shortage in your area of expertise – although these will more likely be developing countries. Remember, when you write your cover letters or speak to potential employers, it is always a huge bonus if you have done your homework on how to get a visa. Contrary to what you might think, most employers will have no idea how the immigration process works for their own country.

Fourth tip: Look in a smart way for international jobs – don’t apply when it is clear they are not going to consider international candidates.

Fifth tip: Do your homework on your visa options before you even apply for the job.

The final issue to consider when you are thinking of working abroad is how you will live when you get there and what life will be like. For example, my younger sister was hired by a French company to teach in Paris for a year upon graduating from college. She had no idea how to evaluate what life would be like when she got there and most importantly, if she could afford to live on the salary they offered her. You can overcome these questions with a bit of research online. For example, look for flat advertisements on the London Gumtree website to investigate typical rental rates. Read up on normal living conventions: as an example, it is completely normal for Londoners to rent out a room of a two-bedroom flat. Who knew? It might seem like a weird setup for an American but it is a lot cheaper than renting your own flat. It is also completely normal in Johannesburg for people to have separate “cottages” on their properties and rent them out, also a much cheaper option than your own place. Once again, it requires you to do your homework and make sure that you are getting a good offer!

Final tip: Pretend you are actually going to live in your new city there next month. Find out rents and living costs online. What are typical and less expensive living arrangements? Where are the areas you should avoid? Expat blogs and online expat community sites are great for this kind of advice.

Visit our Career Exploration page dedicated to international opportunities for more information on ways to work abroad –