The summer of … thinking about faculty jobs

Dr. Joseph Barber

As summer approaches, you may find yourself with just a little more time to work on some strategic career planning over and above just focusing on your ever-important research. The cyclical academic job cycle means that much of the application action for faculty jobs starting in Aug/Sept 2014 will be coming to an end soon. In some academic disciplines, positions for Aug/Sept 2015 will start appearing by the end of the summer. Take a look at this chart of Assistant Professor postings from www.indeed.com to get a sense of this cyclical nature:

In the time between the end of one cycle and the beginning of the next, take a moment to consider the advice offered by Penn PhD Alumni who are current faculty members in a wide range of institutions. They offered their advice for current students and postdocs as part of the 8-13 year out PhD Alumni Survey that Career Services coordinated in 2012. You can find some their advice below, and more of the data from this survey here.

Alumni Advice1

 

Send to Kindle

Consulting for PhDs and Postdocs: The Basics

If you are a PhD student or postdoc considering your career options, perhaps you’ve heard someone suggest that “consulting” might be a good fit for you. But what is this “consulting” thing, anyway? And how can an advanced degree candidate or holder like you begin to explore this field?

Here are some resources that can help you understand what consulting is and whether it could be right for you.

Career Services’ Guide to Consulting for PhDs and PostDocs

This guide provides a general introduction to consulting as a career and offers links to a number of resources for doctoral students and postdocs who might want to launch their career in the field. Remember: “Consulting” can refer to a wide variety of services, in a variety of industries, for a variety of clients.  Use this resource to investigate the kind of consulting that might be your best fit.

QuakerNet and LinkedIn 

These networking resources allow you to locate Penn alumni who work in consulting, so that you can ask them questions about their experiences in field and learn more about what opportunities are available. You can also search for specific firms that interest you, and then connect with Penn alumni who work (or have worked) with those firms.

Penn Graduate Consulting Group

The purpose of this group is to serve the members of the Penn graduate and post-doctoral community who share a common interest in learning about careers in management consulting. The group hosts events such as workshops, interview prep, and an annual case competition.

PBG Healthcare Consulting (formerly Penn Biotech Group)

Of interest to those who want to gain “hands-on” experience in the healthcare consulting sector, the Penn Biotech Group is a cross-disciplinary, student-run organization focused on addressing the challenges and obstacles facing the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries today.

Information Sessions on Campus by Consulting Companies

During much of the early fall and early spring, employers present “information sessions” on campus.  If you are signed up for our email listservs or PennLink, you will receive information regarding weekly presentations through On Campus Recruiting (OCR). While OCR is only available to current students and very recent graduates, the information sessions are open to all students and postdocs served by Career Services (unless otherwise specified).

InterviewStream

This online resource (accessed via Career Services’ subscription) lets you practice questions related to consulting using your webcam.

More Questions?

Career Services Advisors are happy to discuss your career options and plans at any stage of the process. Schedule an appointment by calling 215-898-7530, or attend our weekly walk-in hours.

Send to Kindle

Tough Interview Questions: Tell Me About A Time When You Failed At Something.

By: S. David Ross, Associate Director

It’s time for another feature on tough interview questions. This time, let’s consider the popular question – tell me about a time when you failed at something. Now, technically this is not a “question” but if you encounter this statement in an interview it can be difficult to share an experience that did not end well. However, with a well-thought out response, you can make a favorable impression on your interviewer.

There are several elements to articulating a strong response to this interview “question.”  First, keep your story fairly succinct – mention relevant details, but try not to get too focused on extraneous information.  Next, choose your example wisely.  Your story should be authentic but try not to give an example that may suggest or imply you will have difficultly performing the tasks required in the job.  The “trap” to this question is just that – describing a failure that is closely related to the duties or responsibilities of the position.  Providing an example of failure that is similar to a task you may be asked to perform on the job may cause great concern for the interviewer.  I would also suggest explicitly stating that you take some level of responsibility for the failure – the more you try to blame the outcome on extraneous factors out of your control, the less likely you will make a favorable impression with your answer.  Finally, be sure to indicate what you have learned from the experience and how that has improved your skill set, approach or thought process moving forward.  This is a sign of maturity which is always a great thing.

At some point in our lives, we all fail at something.  For some people, the instinct may be to simply forget about it and it can certainly be difficult to talk about the situation at a later time.  If you are ever asked to discuss a time you have failed at something during an interview, keep the aforementioned tips in mind so you can be confident in the delivery of your answer.

Send to Kindle

Do you really have to talk about your weaknesses?

Dr. Joseph Barber

It is a hard question. You are pretty sure it is going to come up, but like most other people, you are probably not very comfortable with any of the answers you have been thinking about for this question. No-one wants to talk about weaknesses in an interview setting, after all. So, here are just some of the suggestions that I have for people thinking about this question.

First of all, there are different types of weakness question you might get an in interview, and some of the common ones include:

  • What is your greatest weakness?
  • If we spoke to your supervisor today, what would they say is your greatest weakness?
  • Based on the job description, what can’t you do, or where do you lack experiences or skills?
  • What are your skill competencies that you need to work on if you were selected for this position?

It is definitely a good idea to have a well-thought out answer that you might be able to use for these types of questions. Each of these questions is slightly different, and can be tackled in slightly different ways, but there are also some general approaches that can be useful for each one. Let’s start with the general advice first.

Pause, think, and respond: If you are asked the much nicer “what is your greatest strength?” question, then I would advise answering quickly and confidently, without much of a pause, and definitely without any “ummm-ing” or “ahhh-ing”. You should definitely know what the greatest (and most relevant) strength is that you bring to a job to which you are applying. In essence, the answer to this question is one of the main reasons you have for someone hiring you. When it comes to weaknesses, you don’t want it to seem like you have so many, and that they are so obvious, that you can immediately think of 4 or 5. Even if you have a well-rehearsed answer to this question, take a thoughtful moment before answering.

Don’t linger: For any negative-leaning question, your goal is to spend as little time as possible talking about negative aspects of yourself. Be able to talk concisely about your answer, and when you have said what you need to say, practice the art of not talking. Practice how to stop talking confidently. Practice being comfortable with a little bit of silence as the interviewer prepares to ask their next question. Your brain and mouth will be tempted to fill in silence with anything, and in most cases, this filler will make what might have been a great answer into a much more wishy-washy type of answer.

Don’t be a cliché: If your greatest weakness is one of the following, then you are probably coming across as a bit of a cliché, and not showing an employer that you can effectively self-assess your skills or develop as a professional:

  • You are a perfectionist
  • You work too hard on your projects
  • You are just never satisfied and always want to be better or do better
  • You have never really had any weakness
  • Kryptonite
  • Chocolate
  • Garlic

You want to identify an honest weakness, making sure not to pick an area that would be an obvious obstacle to you being able to perform the job for which you are interviewing. Think about tangible skills or knowledge areas…, because the trick to this type of weakness question is to be able to end you answer on a more positive, upbeat note.

End on a positive note: See…, I told you. Ending on a positive note does not mean saying “ahhh, but that actually means that it is also my greatest strength”. Your actual weakness might be a useful attribute in certain settings, but have you been able to work on it so that it is helpful (or at least not unhelpful) in all professional settings? If you end your weakness answer by saying that your weakness is something you hope to address in the future, and you’ll work hard on improving, then you are basically saying that the weakness you have identified is and will always be a weakness. After all, if you haven’t addressed this yet, what is going to change in the near future that will make it more likely that you will? So, your main goal is to show that you have been working on whatever weakness you have identified, and to provide an example of how this approach has allowed you to be successful in the work that you have done without the weakness holding you back.

I’ll end today by just mentioning some of the specific strategies you might be able to use to answer the four specific questions that I listed above. There is no right way to answer these questions, though, so incorporate this advice with all of the other advice you are sure to have read about when preparing for your interviews.

What is your greatest weakness? Try to actually answer the question “what WAS your greatest weakness?” by separating your weakness from you by time. You might say “when I first started by PhD I found that I wasn’t good at communicating my ideas to people from different disciplines, and it made it difficult for me to…”. Of course, now that you might be at the end of your PhD, you can say “…but since then, I have taken the opportunity to work in cross-functional groups to be able to better practice my ability to translate my work for others, and in my latest collaboration, I am working closely with researchers from three disciplines, and we have a successfully co-authored paper in press”. Even though you are not really answering the question being asked, I think this approach is close enough to satisfy the interviewers. Also, if they ask for one weakness, don’t give them four! I’ve seen this happen in several mock interviews.

If we spoke to your supervisor today, what would they say is your greatest weakness? For this question, you can’t really focus on what has happened in the past. You will need to think about what your supervisor might actually say, because they might actually say this in their recommendation letter too. In this case, pick something that your supervisor said that you could do better, rather than something that you do poorly. So, “my advisor recently told me that to be a better problem-solver I should try to incorporate even more perspectives into the way I look at the problem in front of me…”. Obviously, you’ll need to talk about some honest feedback you received relevant to you. The way to end this on a positive note is to talk about the ways you have been thinking about to do be better. So rather than just saying “…and I hope to work on this in the future…”, you might try to come up with a specific example of what you could to that would illustrate that you have given this some thought. You could also state that you really valued hearing this feedback from your advisor, because you respect their expertise and judgment, and that you believe that good mentoring is very important for professional development (again, only if you actually feel this). This has a positive feel to it.

Based on the job description, what can’t you do, or where do you lack experiences or skills? Don’t start off with “although I can’t do X and Y, I can do Z”. Instead, start off talking about being able to do “Z”. You could also mention that you are quick learner, and provide an example of this skill in action (both the learning and the application of that knowledge/skill). Talk about how much you are looking forward to working with and learning from your future colleagues and mentors to get up to speed on all of the skills and knowledge areas they are looking for.

What are your skill competencies that you need to work on if you were selected for this position? This isn’t actually such a negative question. This is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your understanding of what skills are needed for the position, what you know the organization already provides in terms of training, mentoring, hands-on experience, and so on, and for you to show that you are eager to grow as a professional within the role.

As always, feel free to schedule an appointment with an advisor if you have questions about how to answer tough interview questions like these. You’ll also want to schedule a 1-hour mock interview before your next actual interview – you will find it very helpful!

Send to Kindle

“Career Planning Isn’t Like Drawing a Map”: Insights from Penn PhDs 8-13 Years After Graduation

Career Services’ interest in our students doesn’t stop at graduation. In fact, we’ve surveyed recipients of Penn PhDs awarded between 1998 and 2003 to find out where they’ve gone in their careers (both academic and non-academic) and what advice they have for current graduate students and postdocs. We recently analyzed a lot of our data and posted the results to our 8-13 Year Out PhD Survey website. All of it is worth a read, but here are a few tantalizing tidbits:

The best laid plans

  • When they entered their PhD programs, 47% of respondents expected to go directly into a faculty job upon graduation, while another 18% expected to conduct postdoctoral research in academia upon graduating.
  • Approximately 24% of respondents indicated they did not originally intend to pursue higher education positions, and their career plans included industry, public sector and nonprofit work.
  • Interestingly, while the majority had some idea of what they would pursue after their education, 5% had no plan in mind.
  • At 8-13 years after degree, 69% of respondents say that they are doing what they originally expected; 31% saw their original plans change.
    • TAKEAWAY: Attitudes about the various career fields open to people with PhDs can change over time—this is perfectly normal. You should take advantage of your time and the resources at Penn to explore different career fields of interest. Once you have done the background research on career options, it can be just as helpful to eliminate a career field from your list of possibilities as it is to add one. Career Services can help you to explore different careers, help provide you with approaches that can connect you with alumni in different industries, or support you as you aim for the career that you have always wanted.

Where in the world are Penn PhD’s?

  • About 56% of respondents report working in higher education (either as faculty or administrators). The next-largest industry represented is healthcare (11.5%), but there is great breadth to the career fields represented by the remaining 32.5% of PhDs.
  • PhD alumni who work as faculty report working in 40 of the 50 United States and 18 other countries.
  • 51% of the faculty positions held by respondents are located in six US states: Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, California, Virginia, and Florida.
  • Of respondents who are faculty in the US, 54% work in public institutions and 46% work in private, not-for-profit institutions.

If They Were in Your Shoes…

Respondents shared extensive advice for current grad students. Advice for those who aspire to faculty positions is currently posted; check back soon for advice on other industries. The major themes: (1) Publish; (2) Choose advisors and mentors carefully and use them as a resource for research and professional ambitions; (3) Cultivate and maintain relationships with faculty, Penn alums, and scholars and students from other institutions; (4) Get teaching experience; (5) Start thinking about your career plans now. You can begin by reviewing the resources available at Career Services and making an appointment to speak with an advisor!

Send to Kindle