Avoiding Job Scams

by Mylène Kerschner and Barbara Hewitt


Recession, job loss, unemployment, lay-offs: These are all words we’re familiar with in Career Services. Although Penn’s class of 2009 fared well despite the economy (see the career plans survey results here for the College, here for Wharton, here for Nursing, and Engineering will be coming soon), we know many of our current students and alumni are actively searching for employment in what feels like desperate times.  While it may be tempting to spring at every opportunity, we urge you to be vigilant. Does the job posting seem too good to be true? It may be. Phishing scams are as popular as ever, and many now are specifically targeted at the job-seeker. Before you submit sensitive information as part of an application, consider the following:

It is always good practice to do some investigative legwork before submitting your application to an employer – whether you’ve found the job through PennLink or Craigslist or on another job board.  A good rule of thumb is to go to the company’s website. Check that they actually have a web address, and that the one they’ve given actually matches the URL at the top of the page where you are directed. Also, look at the email where you are asked to send your documents. Does it look like a corporate email or does it appear to be a personal one (gmail, hotmail, etc.)? While sometimes smaller organizations do legitimately use personal emails to receive application materials, it does indicate that you should investigate the opportunity carefully. When you are initially applying, use common sense.  If you are uncomfortable providing any of the required information, contact the Career Services office for advice before proceeding.

Here are some good tips that the job is probably a scam:

  • You must give your credit card or bank account numbers, or copies of personal documents before you have an interview or are offered the job.  This type of personal information is not usually needed until an employer actually hires you.
  • You must send payment by wire service or courier.
  • You are offered a large payment or reward in exchange for allowing the use of your bank account – often for depositing checks or transferring money.
  • You receive an unexpectedly large check.

Watch out for scams trying to take advantage of your employment status, and avoid becoming a victim.

(For more information, CNN also ran a similar story in July 2009.  Click here to read the piece by Rachel Zupek.)

Return the Call

by Barbara Hewitt


During the last month I’ve received calls from three different employers complaining that they have not been able to get Penn students to return their phone calls. One wanted to invite a student for a second round interview. One only learned that two students no longer planned to actually attend their previously scheduled second round interviews when the employer took the time to reach out to reconfirm the date and time.  The last complaint came for an employer who had extended an offer to a student, but could not get the student to return follow-up phone calls from either recruiters or a relatively high level senior executive who had taken time out of his busy day to call the candidate.

Students often think they are simply “cogs in the machine” of the recruiting process – one of many individuals traipsing through the halls of organizations across America to interview in an attempt to land an offer.  They may not think that returning a phone call or answering an email promptly matters much in the big scheme of things.  Let me assure you it does.  Employers spend a tremendous amount of energy, time and money on college recruiting.  They work hard to find individuals who will be the right fit for their organizations.  They want to know that the students to whom they extend offers will be passionate about working for them and committed to the organization once they come on board.

If a candidate doesn’t have the common courtesy to return a phone call, it sends the message that he or she either does not know how to be professional, or really doesn’t care about the kind of impression s/he is making on the firm.  Employers in this situation may very well begin to think that they made the wrong decision in extending an offer. Real concerns about the candidate’s ability to work with colleagues and clients may arise.  I have seen employers withdraw offers after such negative experiences with candidates.

I understand why students sometimes hesitate to return employers’ calls.  Often they are very busy.  Perhaps they are worried that they will receive undue pressure to accept an offer before they are ready to do so.  They may feel they have had all their questions answered and won’t know what to say when the inevitable “What questions can I answer for you?” comes up. Never-the-less, in order to be perceived as professional and courteous, it is important to respond and respond quickly to employers when they reach out.  You don’t want to come across as disinterested in a position when in fact you might be.

On the other hand, if you have decided an opportunity is not the right fit for you, or if you have accepted another offer, let any employers with whom you have outstanding applications or offers know as soon as possible. They will appreciate your honesty and it will help them move forward to find alternate candidates for the position.  You never know – a few years down the road you might again be considering opportunities with the same employer, and you certainly want to leave a positive lingering impression.

Thoughts on Black Friday

by Barbara Hewitt

Unfortunately, my five-year old daughter made it to the mailbox before I did and quickly claimed the American Girl catalog which had arrived that day.  (Don’t ask me how we got on their mailing list…I have no idea why the publication mysteriously appeared in our box.)  Jordan and her seven-year old sister Sierra were absolutely thrilled with the many options presented to them in the catalog and spent over an hour deciding which would be the best choice for them. They then interrupted my bath to formally present their choices to me. (As any mother knows, this is the ONLY time a mom gets a few minutes to herself, so the interruption wasn’t entirely welcome to begin with!)

May have been fun in 1909, but in 2009 there are so many fancy alternatives!
This doll may have been fun in 1909, but in 2009 there are so many fancy alternatives!

American Girl dolls seem wonderful. Each comes with a historical back story explained in an accompanying book about the doll.  The downside is that they cost almost $100 each, and of course there are loads of additional items which you can purchase for each doll.  While I already had some other things in mind for Christmas for the girls, I hadn’t planned on spending $200 for the dolls, and I explained this to them, much to their disappointment.  (It prompted them to search the house for change to contribute, resulting in a grand total of $1.73…only $198.27 to go!)

On this “Black Friday”, a day when every retailer in America is pushing for us to go out and single-handedly save the US economy,  I’ve thought a lot about the various values each of us gives preference to as we consider career options. Face it – with most careers we rarely “get it all.”  While the massive amount of  Black Friday advertising may seem innocuous, it can send the underlying message that to be successful and happy we need to own it all.   Whether it be a big house in a swanky neighborhood, luxury clothes that will make a statement at work, or even an American Girl doll….as the amount of perceived “needs” goes up so does the requirement to find a job that will support the desired lifestyle.  As our financial demands increase, our career options decrease, as the number of positions that will pay a high enough salary to cover all of our “needs” is reduced.

Maybe we could reconsider what we really "need" and instead think more about the things we value.
Maybe we could reconsider what we really "need" and instead think more about the things we value.

I love working at Penn.  The atmosphere is vibrant, the students are smart and motivated, my colleagues are indeed “collegial” and the benefits are wonderful.  However, an impressive signing bonus, hefty annual bonus, and huge paycheck are simply not part of the equation when working for a nonprofit organization. (Yes, Penn is a nonprofit!) That being said, my job provides the work life balance I need right now in my life, so that I can eat dinner most nights with my kids and take them to their swim lessons on the weekends.  To me, that’s worth more any day of the week than being able to buy every new toy that comes on the market.

How (not) to talk about THE BAD TIMES

by Rosanne Lurie

If you are paying close attention to Career Services (and likely others) you have probably gotten the message that internships are the hottest ticket to a career.  Many, many Penn students pursue internships during the course of their time at school; and with great success, as internships often provide valuable experiences and connections.  But what happens when your internship was a dud?  What if your responsibilities bored you, were confusing or too hard, or your supervisor was a difficult or indifferent boss?

We know that supervisors who were not good managers, or work experiences that were less than positive, are a tricky subject when you are actively networking or interviewing.  How should you handle the topic of a difficult work experience while going forward in your job search?  Here are a few constructive approaches:

1)      What can you say about yourself handling a difficult situation, if the supervisor you had did not manage you the way you would have wished or the position was not a good fit?  How did you meet the challenge or do problem solving? What were you able to do to improve the situation?

2)      How have people in your network handled their challenging or negative experiences? Learning from others can help you manage your own take on your situation.  Here’s one person’s response to a bad internship http://internships.about.com/od/internstories/a/rbottnerstory.htm.

3)      When in a job interview, NEVER say outright negatives about your internship or blame your former supervisor for your troubles.  A prospective employer will assume you might be a difficult employee, or possibly speak about them negatively, and will not be inclined to risk hiring you.   Also, blaming others can indicate that you aren’t taking responsibility for your own actions.

4)      Consider carefully the qualities you would want in a manager. When you are interviewing, communicate this in a positive way.  “Once a project is explained to me, I can work very independently;” rather than “ I don’t like it when I feel like my boss is breathing down my neck.”  Be aware of which environments will help you excel.

5)      If you need a reference, but are not sure that a former supervisor will give you a good one, then ask another coworker to be your reference – someone who will speak about your accomplishments.  Coach them about which of your skills to emphasize – documents such as your resume and descriptions of jobs can help.

In sum, there are ways that you can respond to bad experiences that offer better outcomes than dwelling on them.  By managing your perceptions, evaluating your responses, demonstrating your skills when faced with challenges, and identifying supportive individuals to serve as references, you will sail forward in your career.

More advice can be found in these useful links:



Help Your Network Grow

by Shannon C. Kelly

Here is a great example of how volunteering abroad can expand your network, with some design food for thought thrown in for good measure.  Anthropologie, the more sophisticated sister of Philly-based Urban Outfitters, just opened its first overseas location on Regent Street in London.  What is unique about this store is its living wall.   A living wall, or green wall according to Wikipedia, is a wall covered with vegetation. It can help reduce energy consumption and can be quite aesthetically pleasing (in line with Anthropologie’s eclectic sense of fashion).

Where does volunteering abroad tie in to this?  My supervisor from volunteering in the UK installed the wall.  One day on a break from our duties at the festival, we got into a discussion of green walls and he told me about his upcoming job for Anthropologie.  The conversation allowed me to learn about his career installing these walls and his experiences in the industry.  We have kept in touch and I even saw pictures of the wall before the New York Times posted their article (their picture is below).  As our director, Pat Rose, recently posted, you should never pass an opportunity to learn from someone and build your network.  After all, they could end up in the New York Times…

Anthropologies Living Wall in London
Anthropologie's Living Wall in London