Have you missed these posts from the Carpe Careers blog?

Dr. Joseph Barber, Associate Director

The Carpe Careers blog on the Inside Higher Ed website is written by PhD career advisors for PhD students and postdocs, and covers all of the key information you need to know about as you are considering your career options and professional development strategies. Here are just a few of the posts from the last few months that you’ll want to read:

Professional identity and skills development

Your attitude is an important part of how you are evaluated by colleagues and employers. Keep a clear focus on being optimistic by having strategies to combat pessimism, and follow the advice of the author who states, “Don’t be a Professional Downer”. Professionalism is also key, and the process of “Ensuring Professional Success” is closely link to the steps you can take to develop a professional reputation.

If you find your own research a little isolating sometimes, then finding opportunities to work in a team-based environment that is big on collaboration will be essential. Collaboration is “An Imperative for Graduate Students”.

The post “Exploring Your Skills” highlights approaches that PhD students have taken to discover and apply skills they may not be used to talking about or using by getting involved in experiences beyond their thesis research.

Several posts talk about the benefits of effective relationships with people who can support your research and your own professional developing. “Managing You Advisor” is obviously very important, but your advisor isn’t the only person who can or should support you.  You may also find it helpful to set up a “Job-Search Buddy System” with a group of your peers, or reach out to an even wider range of allies – after all, “It Takes a Village”.

One of the most sought after skills that employers are interested in across industries is critical thinking – including the idea of effective decision making. Practice your decision-making skills when it comes to your own career paths by reading about “How to Decide What to Do Next”.

If you are trying to make career decisions, then it helps if you are also “Cultivating a Career Calling” to understand the types of career paths that will resonate with the way you see yourself. You’ll find great steps you can take to do this within this post.

Applying and Interviewing

In your rush to apply for jobs that interest you, one author cautions that you should “Stay Inside the Lines” when it comes to actually submitting your application materials – and explains why this is important. It will also be important to understand the “Anatomy of a Job Ad” by closely scrutinizing what an employer has written, as this will be the best way to tailor your information to meet their needs.

Don’t forget to be an active listener as well as a great speaker during interviews, as both are involved in effective communication. Read “Interview Success Through Better Listening” to find out more.

If you are looking to ace your next interview, then make sure that you are comfortable with yourself. Preparing answers to questions you know will be asked will always be helpful, but for some questions there are “No Correct Answers”. The more comfortable you are with yourself, the better your performance during the interview will be, and you may find it helpful to think of “Interviewing as Performance Art”.

At the end of the application and interviewing process the goal is to get an offer on the table. Once an offer has been made, the process of negotiation can begin – and this should be done positively and confidently. Avoid some of the pitfalls of this process by understanding the different between your “Worth vs. Value in Job Negotiations”.

Mid-Summer Internship Advice

By: S. David Ross, Associate Director

Difficult to believe that August is almost here and the summer will be ending before you know it. For those of you working this summer, here are some things to consider before finishing your internship:

– Take some time to assess your performance thus far. Some employers have mid-summer performance reviews as a component of their internship programs while others do not. If you have a performance review soon, be prepared to share your accomplishments and contributions. If you have completed a performance review, be sure to implement the feedback and advice on improving your performance – you can also think of ways to take initiative beyond your required duties. And if you do not have a mid-summer performance review scheduled, consider asking your supervisor for a meeting – if that is not feasible, you may want to ask for feedback on your performance to date.

– Carefully continue to cultivate and expand your network at the organization. Be careful with this – do not attempt to simply meet as many people as you can at your office. Try to connect with your colleagues and show your interest in working at the organization by developing your network. Be sincere in your outreach and thankful for the time given from by co-workers. Consider meeting someone for lunch to ask questions and learn more.

– Think about what you want to accomplish during the remainder of your internship. Are you hoping to gain experience in a certain area? Do you want to work on a special project? Do you have an idea for something new and innovative? You may have a chance to accomplish more than you think before your internship ends so brainstorm some ideas now.

– Document your progress in your internship. It can be helpful to have a detailed list outlining what you worked on during your internship so that you can craft strong accomplishment statements on your resume. Be mindful of any confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements you signed with your employer not to share any sensitive information but certainly track your projects and duties carefully to help you recall important details in the future.

– Consider who you may want to ask for references for future employment opportunities. If you already have one or more individuals in mind that is helpful. If you are not sure who to ask at this point, consider the possibilities to avoid having to track down candidates at the last minute. You do not need to ask for references during the middle of your internship but it may be a good idea to start thinking about who to ask at a later date.

Using Marketing Principles as a Job Seeker

Dr. Joseph Barber, Associate Director

I am currently taking an “Introduction to marketing” course on Coursera as a way to think about the whole job search process in a slightly different way. Marketing is actually a very relevant topic when it comes to the process of career development. At some point as a job seeker, you are trying to encourage another entity (an employer) to purchase your product (your skills, experiences, and knowledge). To do this, you have to have a product worth buying, you have to know how to sell that product, and you have to know how to sell that product to a particular segment of customers. So far, some of the most pertinent topics covered in the course include the idea that no matter what the product is, it won’t be equally attractive to the entire customer base. In other words, some buyers will really like the product, some will respond to it fairly neutrally (they might buy it, but they might equally buy a similar product from another vendor), and some won’t find it attractive at all. In business, it generally makes the most sense to focus efforts on the subset of the population who really likes the product (taking a customer-centric approach and using a process of segmentation), rather than just hoping that everyone will find your product equally attractive (a product-centric approach). One of the career analogies here is quite clear. Sending out 50 versions of the same resume to 50 different companies (even if the job being applied for is similar – e.g., medical writer) won’t work as well as really taking the time to understand the differences between the employers, and targeting the most attractive and relevant ones with highly tailored application materials.

So far in the course, several marketing principles, assumptions, and theories have been shared, and I am still processing this information in my mind. It is interesting, though, to look for other areas of overlap between these concepts and what we focus on as career advisors. Here are three market-driven principles that were shared:

  1. Know your markets
  2. Customers have the final say
  3. Be the best at one of these three concepts (compared to the competition): operational excellence, performance superiority, and customer intimacy, but just good enough in the other two

Knowing the market is essential. The more you understand about who your customers are (and in career terms these are hiring employers), the easier it is to convince them that you have what they are looking for. If employers are the customers in this case, then they still get the final say. That means that there is little point in telling an employer about all of the great work you have done, and all of the super experiences that you have gained, if this information does not align with what the employer is looking for. For example, over the course of a 5-year PhD, a graduate student can gain a very wide range of transferable skills. However, one of the consequences of doing a PhD is often a lack of practice talking about these skills outside of the context of the very specific research field the student has been working on. In an interview for a non-faculty job, PhD students and postdocs have to be careful not to answer the question “so tell me about your research” by actually spending 5 minutes talking about the specifics of their research. Instead, they have to be able to answer “so tell me how you did your research”, because the answer to this question will be much more skills-focused. Additionally, having completed a 5 year PhD and a 5 year postdoc, there may be some expectation on the side of the candidate that these combined experiences by themselves should qualify them for a wide range of positions. This is not the case – the employer wants the candidates to be able to show how these experiences make them a good fit, and wants the candidate to be able to demonstrate this level of understanding.

And then the idea of being the best at one of the concepts listed above (operational excellence, performance superiority, and customer intimacy), but good enough at the other two, might be relevant to the job seeker as a way to show that there are different approaches to successfully landing a position. Performance superiority might represent the research skills a student has gained. Someone with 15 published papers and two grants might demonstrate performance superiority. Operational excellence might represent the number of connections that a candidate has in different career fields, or their knowledge of these fields and of what employers are looking for based on extensive research into their different career fields. Customer intimacy would represent the degree to which a candidate has actually initiated and then further developed relationships with contacts at different employers through collaborations or networking (taking the idea of knowing people to the more advanced level of having professional relationships with these people). Given this, the following scenarios demonstrate how excellence in any of these three areas can help. Someone might be hired because they are the best at what they do even if they don’t have a lot of contacts or professional relationships with employers, or even if they don’t know much about the business itself (they can easily be trained in that, for example). Another person might get hired because they have been able to craft a spectacular resume that shows that they understand the nature of the position to which they are applying, even if they are not the best candidate in terms of their accomplishments (the most accomplished individual who cannot articulate how their accomplishments are relevant might not get the job, after all). And finally, someone else might get hired even though they are not the most accomplished, and even if they don’t have a smart-looking, tailored resume, but because they have great working relationships with people at a specific company, and those future colleagues can easily see themselves working with the candidate for the foreseeable future (fit always plays a role in hiring decisions). You only need to be the best in one of these dimensions…, but it helps if you are not terrible at the other two.

One other marketing topic that is directly relevant to the job search is the idea of brand positioning. One of the points mentioned in the course is the idea that a personal brand is not what you say about yourself, but represents what others say about you. You can come up with a really snappy brand statement about yourself, a well-craft narrative about what skills and experience you bring, but if this is not how the customers see you, then these statements won’t stick. This is another good reason to develop a broad professional network, and to cultivate this network carefully, and tend to it frequently. It will be people in this network who create your personal brand. You can help them through your interactions, through being able to articulate your unique selling proposition (the clear, simple, and unique benefits you bring), but beyond that, they will define your brand for you. When it comes to branding, the goal is to get consumers to notice the brand, but also to understand the information it represents. Just like with resumes, if there is too much information (and especially too much irrelevant information), the audience will likely block all of it out. Clear, concise, target-focused information should be at the heart of personal brands, resumes, and pretty much any form of communication.

I have obviously got more to learn about marketing, and hopefully will come across more ideas for how marketing principles can help individual job seekers. Interestingly, I think there will be information from this course that can also be used by institutional career centers at universities to better market themselves to their customers (the students and postdocs they serve). From branding, to segmentation and targeting, to customer-centricity, these are all relevant to how we as career advisors can better work with these populations.


Dianne Hull, Associate Director

The conclusion of an academic year is a perfect time to reflect on the past year and to make plans and goals for the future. Students at Penn have so many successes to celebrate, but sometimes students focus more on what didn’t work out for them than what DID.  The reality is that even the most successful people have failures and setbacks – countless of successful people weren’t admitted into their top choice graduate program, lost out on a summer internship that they really wanted, or were told their work just wasn’t good enough to be in a show.

There has been much talk on college campuses about what employers are looking for in job candidates. One of the top “competencies” employers are focused on is professionalism, of which a big part “is able to learn from his/her mistakes.”  And the key to this?  Resilience!  Resilience can take shape in so many forms, but primarily in the ability to build skills to endure challenges and hardships.  Challenge is inevitable in everyone’s personal and professional life, but truly successful people take these setbacks as an opportunity to learn and grow.

This spring, Penn’s Weigle Information Commons allowed students to highlight these challenges through their “Wall of Rejection,” where students were able to share the challenges they have experienced during this past academic year.

Something that may resonate with many students – a Princeton psychology professor who posted his “CV of failure” online.  He outlines degree programs which rejected him, grants and fellowships he did not receive, as well as his “meta-failure” – that his list of failures has received more attention than any of his academic work!

Since the challenges that students face at Penn may not disappear but simply shift as time goes on, take the time as a student to work on your skills of resiliency which will serve you well as a student and beyond.

Need helping building your portfolio?

Mariel Kirschen, PennDesign ’16

Portfolios are a great way to show off all the skills and practice you’ve gained throughout your education and past work experience.  They also provide an opportunity to brand yourself and exhibit your unique design aesthetic.  Alongside your resume, sharing your portfolio provides potential employers with further insight into who you are as a candidate.

Where to start?  For help with building a strong portfolio, there are loads of online resources that can help.  To make things easier, Career Services has compiled a variety of these resources on their website to help guide students:

  1. Penn and Beyond Blog: Show Me Your Skills!  How to Create a Portfolio that Stands Out to Recruiters 
  2. PennDesign Portfolio Resources: Links to resources for building your portfolio, online publishing resources, and sample portfolios
  3. Design Sheets – A Quick Overview
  4. Sample Portfolios from PennDesign students: We’re adding new reference portfolios to our website from alumni and current students.  For tips on how to use these samples to get started on your own, check out How to Use Sample Resume and CVs
  5. Your Teaching Portfolio – Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching

As always, students can make appointments with a Career Services Advisor for advice and feedback on portfolios.  To make an appointment, call 215-898-7530.

Mariel Kirschen is the Design Graduate Assistant for University of Pennsylvania’s Career Services office and graduate student in the School of Design.