Leveraging Your Talent(s) – Career Lessons from AGT

By Dr. Claire Klieger

Summer comes with many pleasures—beach weather, baseball games, ice cream, and in my household…gathering as a family each week to watch America’s Got Talent. We’ve been faithfully watching the show for years, and like the judges, we never cease to be amazed that there are still acts (and talents) the likes of which we have never seen before, including this season a hand balancing act involving an 86 year old man, an impossibly in sync Indian dance troupe featuring human trampolines & acrobatics, or inexplicably incredible close-up magic. What’s more, there seems to be an audience for a wide range of talents. For instance, those acts that involve pushing the limits of human tolerance for pain by swallowing razors, putting a hook through one’s nose, or being hit with a sledgehammer while on a bed of nails may not be my cup of tea, but there is certainly audience somewhere excited to see it.  

Finding career success involves something similar—figuring out the things that you are naturally good at and learning how to best present them to the right audience. So, here are my 5 career lessons from AGT:

  1. Understand your (transferable) strengths. In all my years as a career advisor, I’ve never once met someone who didn’t have innate abilities. However, many individuals don’t realize how talented they are. Frequently one’s talents come so naturally to them that they may not even think of them as skills. Take varsity athletes. Sure, they know that they are good at the particular sport that they play but what they often fail to recognize is that the traits that make them successful in athletics (a drive for excellence, good teamwork, endurance, the ability to perform well under pressure) are also attributes that are valuable to employers in almost any professional setting. The trick then, is figuring out the qualities and skills behind the successes in your life.
  2. Be personable – it wins over the judges. Simon Cowell tells contestants all the time that presence and personality are just as important as the talent itself. Similarly, in the working world, being seen as a thoughtful, compassionate, respectful (and fun!) colleague will help you win over others in the office. 
  3. Find your compelling story. It’s no real surprise that most of the “golden buzzer” moments, when a judge selects an act from auditions to go straight through to the live shows, involve not only spectacular displays of talent but also a human interest story that truly pulls at your heart strings. Now, a sob story is not something that I’m suggesting is needed (or even necessarily appropriate) for professional settings, particularly interviews. However, the ability to successfully package your story (your background, what makes you tick as a professional, and how you can add value to your prospective work environment) is critical to appearing like the ideal fit for the job.  
  4. Be open to (and act on) critical feedback. Each season, some of the strongest and most enduring acts are typically ones that heed the critical advice of the judges on the show. In your career, you too will be more successful if you not only seek out critical feedback but demonstrate that you can positively incorporate it into your professional actions. 
  5. Stretch yourself (no, not in the AGT human contortionist style way). With each successive round, the AGT judges expect acts to “step up their game.” To achieve long-term career success, one must also continue to adapt over time, to both sharpen their skills and learn new ones to stay nimble on the job market. 

The secret to career success is nurturing your talents through positions ideally situated to work with your strengths. So, even if, like me, there is no way in a million years you could ever be a successful contestant on AGT, it’s still worth asking yourself: What am I really good at?  What is easy for me? What engages, stimulates, and moves me? The answers to these questions may help you on the way to finding a career path that lets you achieve your own “golden buzzer” moments in life. 

Managing your job search messaging from the conscious to the subconscious

By Dr. Joseph Barber

The career exploration and job search processes are very active, fully-conscious experiences. It is important to be intentional, proactive, and to communicate in very direct ways your career goals to yourself (yes, sometimes you still need convincing too) and others. Throughout the process, however, there are some occasions when paying attention to communication happening at a more subconscious level is also important. Sometimes you can use this to your advantage, other times, you want to make sure that it is not putting you at a disadvantage. Here are some examples:


When you reach out to someone to request an informational interview (an opportunity to learn form them about their job and experiences getting to where they are today so that you can use this information as you possibly apply for similar jobs), there are a handful of reasons why they may say yes to your request to chat:

  1. They are an awfully nice person, and love chatting with new people
  2. They benefited from someone helping them in a similar way in the past, and are happy to pay it forward with you
  3. They are actually looking for a possible candidate for a role that might match your experiences and interests
  4. Someone has recommended them to you as a great person to speak with

Points #1-3 are specific to your contact’s needs and interests – you won’t have any influence here. Point #4 involves an external party, however, and this begins to create a situation where you can have an impact. In terms of networking, if I can reach out to a contact and bring in a third party into my introduction (e.g., Julie says that you will be a good person to reach out to with my questions), then I am giving my new contact a good reason to respond to my outreach because they probably don’t want to lose any of the social reputation that they now feel that they have (albeit at a subconscious level). After all, if Julie recommends them as a great person to talk with, she can also change her opinion and feel the opposite if she hears that they don’t actually take the time to chat to people she recommends. Leveraging this type of subconscious social pressure by reaching out to people you know so that you can then reach out to people that they know is an effective networking strategy. This won’t guarantee that people will respond to you, but it certainly increases the likelihood that they will.


Most of the resumes you send when applying for jobs will first be “read” by Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) that matches your keywords to those from the job description to determine whether there is a high enough match for your application to be passed on to an actual human. For the time-being, it is likely that these robots are just doing their tasks in an objective manner without too much of a subconscious to worry about (at least I hope so!). However, when your resume makes it through to an actual person (thanks to all of the customizing you did before submitting it), it is time once again to think about how your language and formatting can affect what they think about you.

Small fonts and margins, and a lack of any white space in your resume will make it feel cramped, slightly intimidating, and possibly overwhelming – not concepts you want associated with you. On the other hand, resumes with too much spacing between lines, excessive margins, overly large fonts, all spread out over multiple pages will make it hard for the reader to picture all of your experiences at once. It will feel as if you are communicating too slowly and inefficiently.

Your resume will have an experience section. If you call it “Work Experience”, you may be limiting what you talk about to formal, paid positions. However, if you call it “Relevant Experience”, then not only do you create a subconscious signal to the reader that what they are going to being reading is relevant to them (you still need to make sure it is), but you can also include experiences that are not purely employment related. For example, you can talk about your research as a student or postdoc, or an independent project you worked on with outside collaborators, or the role your played as part of a student group or club. So long as the experience is relevant to the job you are applying to, in terms of the skills you are illustrating, then they can be concentrated together in this one section.

Occasionally, people will create a section in their resume that is called “Other Experience”.  The term “other” doesn’t leave the reader with much in the way of exciting imagery to associate with the experience or skills. Indeed, if the writer doesn’t know what these experiences or skills represent, then the reader is going to have a much harder time deciphering the value of a section that feels a little like a “stuff” section.

When it comes to writing bullet points in the resume, a commonly used phrase to describe experiences is “responsible for…”.

Responsible for coordinating a 300-person professional development event in coordination with 4 local universities

The challenge with this phrasing is that the reader has a couple of options in terms of what they will take away from this. If they, and their subconscious, are feeling generally optimistic, then they may feel that you have successfully taken on lots of responsibility – which is a positive. Alternatively, if they are feeling more pessimistic, they may note that while you were responsible for doing this, you didn’t actually state that you did it. Yes, you were meant to have done it…, but that is not quite the same thing. A more direct approach that minimizes the ability of the reader to take away alternatives meanings from the bullet point will be to focus on the actual skill used, and how successful it is.

Coordinated a 300-person professional development event in collaboration with senior administrators at 4 local universities, bringing in 14 employers and 22 alumni

Overusing verbs such as “helped”, “participated”, and “worked on” will also create a less tangible image of you in the mind of the reader, because it is hard to picture exactly what you may have been doing when you say “worked”. What specific images to these bullets create in your mind?

Worked on key projects that resulted in 20% increase in revenue

Participated in group projects related to research and development


Being the most confident version of yourself is a great goal to have during job interviews. One way to communicate confidence at the subconscious level is to ensure that you have strong beginnings and strong endings your answers. This is a common beginning of an answer people give to questions I pose in mock interviews:

“Ummm…., I think…”

Both of these utterances drain the impact that your answer will have. Here are some better responses:

“Yes…, I…”

“That’s a great question…, I…”

“I was actually thinking about this question this morning, and I…”

The questions you will ask during an interview are also important (because you are definitely going to ask some questions, right!?), and should be framed from an optimistic standpoint. Some students are tempted to ask a positive/negative question:

“What are some of the best and worst part of this job/employer?”

This might be a question better suited to an informational interview, rather than a job interview. In a job interview, none of your interviewers are likely to want to paint the job or their company in a negative light, and so you wouldn’t get valid information anyway. However, making people think about the negative aspects of their work life will make them experience a wave of negative emotional states inside, and your interviewer’s subconscious might associate you with these negative states since you were the one who triggered them. As the interviewers gather to discuss the final candidates, any negative feelings associated with you, even at a subconscious level, are not going to help your cause.

I have seen advice that asking the “what does an ideal candidate look like from your perspective?” question at the end of the interview gives you a last chance to convince the interviewer that you can be that candidate. There is certainly some truth to this. There is also a risk that by answering the question out loud, the interviewers create an ideal image in their head that no longer matches you and your skills and experiences. Asking this question may undo some of your hard work from the interview, and leave the interviewer wishing for more – even if they had been happy that you could do the job based on what you had already answered moments before. They wouldn’t be interviewing you if they thought you couldn’t do the job. You should spend the interview providing illustrations of your skills in use so that they can see what value you bring, and then skip this question.

And asking questions that force your interviewer to do some of your work for you will also leave them feeling a little deflated about the experience. For example:

“What questions haven’t I asked that you think it would be important for me to ask?”

The job search process is a great time for you to market the best, most confident version of yourself with dynamic examples, lots of energy, and good dose of optimism. Doing this in the right way will ensure that you are leaving the best impression on the conscious and subconscious of your future employers.

Curtain Call

J. Michael DeAngelis, Senior Digital Resources Manager

Penn alum Harold Prince (COL ’48) passed away today at age 91. Prince was a legendary theater producer and director, responsible for such classics as West Side Story, Cabaret, Company, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Evita, The Phantom of the Opera, Parade and many many others.

I had the great pleasure of meeting Harold Prince about ten years ago right here on campus. He had come, as he did on more than one occasion, to speak to the Penn community about his career and take questions from students. I had the additional luck of attending a reception after and I recall the twinkle in his eye as he reunited with some of his fellow classmates, by then all in their mid-80s, but giggling in the way that only friends from undergrad do.

During his Q&A session, I asked him what made a good book to a musical, since he had previously said it was the most important ingredient. “I don’t know,” he said, “I just know that if you don’t have a good one, you’re dead.” Back at the reception, I introduced myself as the person who asked about books, explaining that I had just been published as playwright for the first time by Samuel French, Inc. His eyes lit up and he suddenly seemed ten years younger, throwing his arm around me: “ME TOO! I wrote one play and it’s with Sam French! Keep it up. Don’t stop!”

I could have lived in that moment forever. Here was a living legend, tossing his arm around me as if we were absolute peers. I’ve carried that gratitude with me since then and I hope that I’ve been able to pass that on. I’m no Hal Prince, but I’ve been lucky in my career and I feel I owe it to those striking out on a similar path to make them feel welcome and encourage them, as Mr. Prince did for me, to not stop.

No matter what your career path, I ask today that you follow in the steps of Harold Prince. Be bold in your ventures, be kind in their execution and be supportive of those who want to follow in your footsteps.

Podcast Inspiration

Robin Chakrabarti, Operations Coordinator

It’s peak summertime! One of my favorite parts of summer is having the time to start new habits I’ve been putting off, and building the momentum to continue them into the school year. Something that has positively influenced my life recently is listening to more podcasts, specifically podcasts that help me develop more self-awareness or teach me something new. Here is a small selection of the podcasts that have inspired me the most over the last few years!

(Of course, these are all in addition to our own CS Radio – which returns for its fifth season in September!)

Oprah’s Master Class
Do you want to learn from some of the world’s most impactful people? Would you like an autobiography distilled into something you can consume during a workout or during your lunch? Oprah Winfrey’s Master Class features powerful stories from iconic entertainers, musicians, actors, and more as they guide us through key turning points and difficult decisions they made on their personal journeys. At times when I’m feeling unmotivated or am simply looking for a moving story, I find tremendous inspiration in learning about the lives of others, all of which keeps Master Class in heavy rotation on my phone.

The Marie Forleo Podcast
Marie Forleo is a businesswoman, life coach, author, and former dancer, and combines her many talents and bubbling personality to host a fun, energetic podcast on building a business for aspiring entrepreneurs. Forleo and her team interview top businesspeople and create a radiant show atmosphere that seamlessly weaves sketch comedy into professional advice and is sure to make you spit out your coffee laughing. (The show is even better on YouTube where you can watch her hilarious skits).

With topics like “Networking Basics: 8 Tips to Networking Without Being Fake” and “How to Use Social Media so it Doesn’t Overwhelm Your Life,” Forleo brings positivity and personable professionalism to entrepreneurship that is a welcome addition to the typical alpha-male, hustle-and-grind entrepreneur mentality broadcasted on most platforms.

On Purpose with Jay Shetty
Jay Shetty is a former monk who is making wisdom go viral. I first learned about him from his captivating interview on Impact Theory. In his podcast, On Purpose, Shetty hosts thoughtful and vulnerable conversations with CEO’s, actors, artists, doctors, and public figures including Lilly Singh, Charlamagne tha God, Arianna Huffington, and Gary Vaynerchuk.

I especially like the show’s shorter podcasts focused on practical life skills in topics ranging from mental health to communication, which you can start implementing to immediately experience positive results. Some titles include “7 Ways to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others” and “4 Types of Negative People & 3 Ways to Deal With Them.” For those looking to develop more self-awareness, I highly recommend this podcast.

TED Radio Hour
Anytime I listen to TED Radio Hour, I feel like I read a book. For anyone who enjoys Ted Talks but wishes they were even longer, this is a great choice! Each episode finds common themes across different Ted Talks and ties them into larger pieces about concepts such as “Future Consequences,” “Prevention,” and “Jumpstarting Creativity.” Episodes run close to an hour long and are jam packed with interesting stories and information—TED Radio Hour is a great substitute to watching TV at night.

Man Up
In an era where we are slowly learning not to place celebrities and leaders on pedestals, especially powerful men, and are holding more public figures accountable for their actions, we also need a broader, more inclusive, conversation on American masculinity and an understanding of how we can raise children to grow up to be better adults. Man Up is a podcast from Slate Writer Aymann Ismail who hosts conversations about where we as a culture get our ideas of masculinity. Ismail examines the intersections of race, class, gender (including trans perspectives), sexuality, faith, and tradition and the impacts these have on our understandings of masculinity. He explores these conceptions within the backdrop of modern topics including parenting, workplace culture, health, and sex education as well as pressing and historic issues like Islamophobia, transphobia, anti-blackness, and police brutality. These conversations are both insightful and accessible, and since they clock in under 30 minutes, they are perfect for commuting and mealtimes.

The Countdown Begins!

Kevin Haines, Associate Director

Can you believe it’s already late July? I hope you’ve been having an incredible summer, whether you’re working, traveling, or just relaxing! While there’s still plenty of time left to enjoy your summer days and activities, now is the time to slowly begin thinking about returning to campus and all that Fall 2019 will have to offer. August 27th, the first day of classes (sorry to remind you!), will be here before you know it, so how can you start to prepare for your return? Here’s a quick list of things to consider (while still enjoying whatever it is you’re doing this summer):

  1. Classes: Make sure you review the classes you chose for Fall 2019 and look up any others that may be of interest to you incase you decide to switch any. Always have some back-ups in case you aren’t yet ready, or have a change of heart, for any of the original classes you picked out.
  2. Housing: I’m sure (or at least hope!) that you have your housing situated since you’ll be returning in about a month. Make sure all loose ends are tied up, questions for landlords are prepared, bills/rent money is situated. Additionally, create a list of things you need to bring back with you/purchase for your place to make move-in weekend easier for you!
  3. Resumes/Cover Letters: Have you updated your resume and cover letter yet with any jobs/internships you have/had this summer? I highly suggest doing that ASAP and then submitting your resume (and cover letter if you have one) to Career Services for review. You can always wait until you’re back on campus, however, September is a very busy month, especially the first 2-3 weeks of the semester! If you want to make sure that you have your resume and/or cover letter ready to go for September, take some time to update it now and email it or schedule an appointment to meet or talk with Career Services. Once you have that all reviewed and edited, you can focus other things that will come your way at the start of the semester!
  4. Study Abroad: Thinking you’ll want to study abroad Spring 20202? Be sure to do some research and look into programs that interest you before chatting with Penn Abroad. Then, schedule an appointment to talk with the appropriate Penn Abroad advisor. Typically, application deadlines are September 15, with some being October 1 (however, deadline dates vary, so check out their website!).
  5. Career Fairs/Campus Events: Take an hour or so to do some research before classes begin as to when career fairs and important campus events that interest you will take place. Knowing these dates and having a plan will make your semester go a lot smoother!
  6. Work-Study: Returning in the Fall with a work-study position? Now is the time to start thinking of your schedule, including your class schedule, to figure out what hours you’ll be able to work. Looking at future dates will be helpful to note which days you might need to take off work for important events, such as an interview, career fair, etc.
  7. Advisor Meeting: Check in with your advisor to see if there are any outstanding items you need to take care of or be aware of for Fall 2019.

Have a wonderful rest of your summer! Career Services looks forward to seeing you in September!