How to be Indispensable in the Workplace: 6 Tips for Internship Success

By Dr. Claire Klieger

Many students are getting ready to start summer internships next month so I thought it would be a good time to revisit a topic I blogged about a few years ago. Regardless of whether you will be in your dream internship or just trying out something new, it is important to create a positive impression. Future employers will often ask for references (even if your previous experience is completely unrelated) so you will want to be able to provide a list of contacts that you know will speak highly of your job performance. Here are six tips sure make you stand out on the job:

1) Volunteer for any work that needs doing, no matter how menial or uninteresting. Let’s face it, every internship may include some less than glamorous tasks, but the attitude you take towards completing these matters. Whether it’s making copies, picking up mail or (as in the case of one intern at the Eagles), counting the number of toilets in your facility, your willingness to say, “Sure, I can do that!” will be noticed and appreciated.

2) Drink the cool aide. Fitting into any work environment depends upon understanding the culture. Pay attention to those around you. What is the dress code? Do people go out for lunch or eat at their desks? Do most people stay and work after hours or is everyone out the door at five? Also, take part in social activities provided by your organization to show that you are a team player and enthusiastic about your work. These kinds of events are also great networking opportunities.

3) Go the extra mile. It is important to make the very best of any internship situation.  If you do not have enough work of your own to do, look around to figure out who could use help; then offer it. You never know who is going to be grateful for your offer to crunch some numbers, design a flyer, summarize a set of articles, or run an experiment, etc. If you identify a need, you could gently offer an idea (and volunteer to see it through) that might be useful.

4) Put in the time (and be on time). Understand what your expected hours are. Whatever they may be, if you want to stand out, be prepared to arrive a little early and possibly stay late. Whatever you do, don’t create the impression that you’re checking your watch so that you can bolt out the door at 5 (or whenever the business day ends where you work).

5) Be professional. This is important for demeanor as well as dress. Also, be cognizant of your online communications. Keep your work emails professional—write in full sentences and avoid using acronyms or emoticons. Employers often complain that interns, used to texting, do not understand well how to draft professional emails.

6) Treat everyone pleasantly, regardless of status. Focus less on becoming chummy with your fellow interns and more on being pleasant with everyone. This could be as simple as greeting people at the beginning and end of each day and remembering to smile. Also, be careful not to look like as though you are only interested in making a good impression with senior level colleagues in positions of power.

If you follow these simply steps, you greatly increase the chances that those working around you will not only see you as a great intern, but may even start asking themselves, “what would we do without you?!”

How To Look More Awake

by Jingy Yen, Career Adviser

Before moving to Philadelphia and starting my job at Penn, I had a side gig doing bridal and special event makeup. I’ve always loved playing with makeup and trying the newest products, but it always felt very separate from my professional work as a career advisor. I’ve recently begun to realize that it doesn’t have to be! Although I spend most of my time advising on the best search strategies and fine tuning resumes, I also get many questions from students about professional attire and appearance, especially for interviews. So here are some tips and tricks I’ve curated through my experience working as both a career development professional AND a makeup artist:

How to look more awake:

By far the biggest problem I have when doing my makeup before an interview is figuring out how to look more refreshed and awake. This is my 3 pronged, sure fire way to look like you had a full nights sleep and are super enthusiastic about the job:

1. Mascara. If you are going to apply just one item, this would be it. Try a brown mascara for a more subtle look, especially if you have lighter hair. Pro tip: don’t pump your mascara wand, instead spin it around in the tube to get the product on the brush. Pumping it will dry out the product faster!

2. Under eye concealer. Cover up those bags! Use an orange based concealer to cover any blue or purple areas. Then, apply a concealer that is a shade lighter than your normal skin tone to brighten up the area. Focus the concealer in the area underneath the bag, not on the actual bag itself. Check out this video for some great techniques:

3. Use a nude or white eyeliner on your lower lashline, instead of black. Black tends to close the eye while or nude will help make it look bigger and more awake.

Be wary of Instagram trends

Okay, I’m guilty of this one. What can I say, I’m a fan of a thick brow and some intense highlighting action. But what I’ve learned from taking pictures for my makeup Instagram is that what looks good in a photo doesn’t always look good in person. You may look beautifully glowing in that perfectly angled snap, but it comes off as an oil slick to the employer sitting in front of you. Less is usually more in this case. This is why you always hear that you should wear dark colored suits with not a lot of patterns. You don’t want to be remembered for what you are wearing, and this is the same philosophy for makeup. So step away from the contouring and false lashes, and remember that neutrals are your friend!

You don’t have to wear makeup

This is one of the most common questions I get from students. Do I have to wear makeup? NO! You can wear as much or as little as you want, as long as it’s not distracting and still professional. The interview is not the time to try something drastically different from what you normally do. Definitely don’t feel any pressure to dress up or look a certain way. This brings me to my next point…

Above all, do what makes you feel the most confident
This is my philosophy on all things makeup and beauty. If you normally don’t wear makeup and know that you would be self-conscious about it, then don’t wear makeup to the interview. If you normally wear a full face of makeup and feel the most put together when you do, then rock it to the interview. It’s all about what is going to make you feel the most confident and sure about yourself. This attitude will come through in the way you talk about yourself and the answers to interview questions. This may seem like I’m telling you to ignore all my previous advice, but I think it’s more about finding the right balance and becoming the most polished version of yourself.

Handshaking – a guide to making the right impression

Dr. Joseph Barber

Take a moment to think about your handshake. When was the last time you shook someone’s hand? Why did you do it? Were you standing or sitting? Did the other person have a strong handshake? What impression did they make on you? Now, being very honest, rate your average handshake on a scale of 1-5 on the following criteria:

  • Firmness (with 5 being very firm)
  • Moistness (with 5 being very dry)
  • Confidence (with 5 being very confident)

How did you score? Some of you probably know you have a firm handshake because you have given this a lot of thought, but for those of you who haven’t thought about it, or who generally get creeped out by the prospect of touching another person dirty, sweaty hands, you might find it much harder to rank yourself across these categories. Now, in terms of moistness, this will generally be dependent on the situation and the environment. A handshake in the middle of summer just before a really important job interview is likely to be the perfect storm of moistness. Nervousness and moistness go hand-in-hand (you see what I did there!). In terms of confidence, this is really a combination of several variables: the confident thrusting forth of your hand to greet someone, the length and firmness of the shake, your body language while giving it, and the way you look into the eyes of your handshaking partner and introduce yourself with a strong tone of voice. Yes, the good, old-fashioned handshake can say a lot about you, and it is critical to get it right in order to make your first impressions count – whether at an interview or just meeting new people at your next conference or as part of your broader networking outreach.

Is a bad handshake such a bad thing? Yes…, and especially when the person whose hand you are shaking has a professionally firm one. A weak handshake automatically sets you apart in their mind, and gives them something negative to associate with you. People make up their minds about a new person they are meeting quickly, and once an initial impression has been made, it can become harder to change this perspective. A weak handshake followed by a great interview is not going to be a disaster, but a weak handshake followed by just a half-decent interview might leave your interviewers seeing your performance in a more negative light. A weak handshake can give people a bias towards seeing other negatives in you. You don’t want that to happen. A strong first impression can help you prevent that.

In the global world of work, it is important to know that different cultures have different ideas about handshakes. If you are an international student in the US, then the firm handshake is something you will need to learn and use, and a firm handshake is appropriate for greeting men and women. A firm handshake communicates a strong, confident personality. Please note, firm does not mean crushing. How firm is firm enough? Well, if you are trying to open a door, you need to grip the door handle firmly enough so that it doesn’t keep slipping out of your hand, right? In fact, you would look fairly foolish trying to open a door with a limp handshake grip. Since door handles are hard metal, there is no benefit to trying to squeeze the life out of them – you’ll just end up hurting yourself. So, the firmness of the grip you use when opening a door might be a good starting point for the firmness of a good handshake. If you still feel confused about the difference between firm and painfully crushing, find a friend or two and practice! Get feedback from them on what is weak, firm, or just too much.

Here is some general advice about implementing a successful handshake:

  • Where possible, stand up to shake hands.
  • If you are already standing and moving towards people, then you can start the handshaking gesture about five feet from your target.
  • Make sure you are facing the person, with good eye contact, and a confident greeting when you reach out – as this will prevent you from standing there with your hand out looking like you are directing traffic while they are still busy talking to someone else.
  • Dry hands are ideal. This means that if you are at a networking event or conference, don’t leave the bathroom until every part of your right hand is totally dry after washing them. Everyone has to pee, and so the likelihood that you will meet someone you wanted to chat with somewhere near the bathroom is actually very high. No matter how many times you swear to your handshaking partner that your hands are wet because you just washed them (not a great first impression to have to make this argument), somewhere deep inside their subconscious they will fear the worst!
  • As you are engaging hands, Keep your thumb pointing up – don’t try to engage with a palm up or palm down approach.
  • Move your hands forward and don’t grip or squeeze until the web of your hand (between the thumb and your first finger) has firmly engaged with the web of your partner’s hand. A strong forward motion helps you to lock your hands together.
  • Don’t bring you hand in from the side as if you are slapping someone on the back – this messes everything up!
  • The shake should last 2-5 seconds, with 1-3 up and downs, giving you enough time to say your name, listen to their name, and then respond back with their name (e.g., “It is great to meet you, Trevor”). Shake from your elbow; you don’t need to engage your shoulder to do any heavy lifting.
  • Maintain eye contact during the shake.
  • Finish one introduction and shake before you move onto the next one in a group setting where you are meeting more than one new person.
  • Shake at the beginning of a social interaction, and shake at the end. Just make sure that the parting shake is much better than the starting shake if you had any issues with the first one.

Your handshake is easy to improve, and with enough focus on the moment in time when you are meeting new people or reconnecting with people you already know, you will be able to make a good impression on people in your professional network.

Following up on the Career Fair “Love” Connection

By Claire Klieger

It’s February and love (Eagles, in particular) is in the air so I wanted to revisit and update this blog post from several years ago….

So you meet a great employer at a career fair (perhaps the spring career fair this past Friday) and it’s love at first handshake—sparks fly, resumes and business cards are exchanged and you feel like you’ve really made a connection. But just like coming down from the high of a great first date you ask yourself, now what? How do I follow up? Do I wait for him or her to call?  Do I email? Who initiates the next move? Similar to a budding romance, it’s about finding that balance between demonstrating interest and not coming off as desperate. Here are some tips and things to remember when following up with employers after a career fair:

Email a thank you note

Yes, even though the representative at the Career Fair may have spoken with dozens of students over the course of the day, this is one way to make yourself stand out. We hear all the time from employers that they really appreciate this kind of small gesture. Despite how it may seem, many applicants do not take the time to do this and so it does make a difference. Increasingly, employers rely on sophisticated tools to help them track contact with candidates and so not only will this gesture be welcomed by the contact, it may very well be officially noted as part of your online file with that employer.

 

Err on the side of being more formal

After a first date, you probably aren’t ready for someone to start addressing you as “Babe.” Similarly, some employers won’t feel that you know them well enough to refer to them by their first name. Unless during your initial conversation the recruiter specifically asked you to call him or her by their first name or introduced themselves using only their first name, you should still use a formal greeting (“Dear Mr., Ms., Dr., etc.”). Your email message should also avoid overly casual language, slang, acronyms (TTYL!), or emoticons.

 

What to say…

An email to an employer should be brief but detailed. Reiterate your interest in the organization and remind the recruiter of details you discussed at the fair. “Thank you for taking the time to speak with me at the Penn Career Fair on Friday. As I mentioned when we met, I’m really excited about this internship because as a health and societies major, it blends my interest in healthcare and communications. In particular, I enjoyed hearing about the kinds of projects that past interns have had a chance to work on and believe my leadership role as publicity chair for my sorority will enable me to…(reference what you will be doing in the position). I’m excited to submit my application online.” It could also just be thanking for them sharing some particular piece of advice or resource that resonated with you. Often, the best thank you emails are simply ones that show appreciation without an expectation of any follow-up or responses to questions.

 

Show that you really listened

You know how impressed you are if someone you’re interested in remembers something you mentioned (like a book you read that you enjoyed), unless, of course you have a stalker and then it’s just creepy. The same holds true for recruiters. If there was advice or information that a recruiter gave you at the fair (a professional association or recruiting website to check out), thank them for making that suggestion and show that you followed up on their advice. “Thanks so much for recommending ______. I spent some time looking at it this weekend and it’s a wonderful resource which I think will really help me….”

 

How long is too long?

Remember that recruiters are really busy and don’t have much time so they want to be able to get through your message quickly. Ideally, it should be no more than a few sentences. I think a good rule of thumb is whether or not the entire text of your message can be seen when the message is opened on a regular computer screen. If the message requires scrolling to finish reading, it’s probably too long.

 

Not getting a response doesn’t necessarily mean they “just aren’t that into you”

While some recruiters will respond to individual emails not everyone is good about replying. Don’t assume that if you don’t get a response that the recruiter isn’t interested in you as a candidate. They may just be too busy. That said, if it’s been more than a week since you initially emailed AND your message was something that required a response (like an answer to a question), it’s fine to follow-up with a second (even shorter) email referencing your initial email and asking they have had a chance to consider your question. After that second follow-up if you still don’t receive a response, it’s time to back off (remember, being labeled a stalker on the job market is no better than in the dating world). The “ball” is in their court and they will get back to you if (and sometimes only if) they are interested. Remember that all employers are on different timelines so it may take some time to get a response.

In the Spirit of the Holiday

Mylène Kerschner, Associate Director

In the spirit of the holiday that has just passed, I’d like to spend a few more moments thinking about giving thanks, especially in the context of the job or internship search. We know that we need to send a routine note of thanks following an interview, and an email is absolutely the best way to ensure that your message is received promptly. But what about thanking other people who have helped you along in your path to – and through – Penn? As a longer winter break approaches, think about taking a few moments to reach out to a high school teacher, a coach, or even a family friend to express appreciation. A handwritten note will likely surprise them, and will be sure to leave a fond impression.

I came across this article on themuse.com written by Ilan Mochari of Inc., and I thought it was so great, I wanted to share it here: https://www.themuse.com/advice/5-steps-to-an-utterly-perfect-thank-you-note

Ilan tackles some of the annoying obstacles that can impede the process of writing a handwritten note (the pressure to find the perfect card!), but also encourages you to be specific when composing a note of thanks, and to consider thanking someone with whom you haven’t spoken to or seen in some time.

Naturally, this could lead to grabbing coffee or lunch while you have some down time over break, and during that meeting you could continue a professional conversation about your path and your goals. We all know the value of a good informational interview, even with a close acquaintance.

Or, it could just make that person’s day during the hectic holiday season! And isn’t that a great reason to write, too?