Spring Cleaning Your Career Journey

Jingy Yen, Associate Director

Spring Break is right around the corner! It’s almost time for a well-deserved break, and I hope you take full advantage of the time off to get outside, sleep in and binge watch your favorite TV show. Spring Break is also a great time to do some spring cleaning, for your home and for your life! Here are some things to do to get organized and come back from the break fully charged.

1. Update things

Consider updating things like your LinkedIn profile or resume with any new responsibilities or activities you’ve gained since you last updated. Take a look at the formatting, are there any changes you want to make?

2. Get organized

It’s easy to apply for all sorts of things as you stumble across them, and then quickly forget what you did or who you even contacted. Figure out a way to keep track of all your target companies, networking conversations and applications to achieve a more tailored approach. You can do this via old school excel spreadsheet, or by using a tool like CareerShift to organize your search.

3. Reflect and respond

Take time to think about what you’ve been doing in your career journey, and what some of the successes and failures have been. Have your interests shifted? Are there new things you want to explore, or things you want to stop pursuing? How about your extracurricular involvements? Do you feel passionate about what you are doing inside and outside of the classroom? Take these reflections and respond by turning them into concrete actions that can help propel your search.

While you are traveling to fun places, soaking up sun on the beach, or just relishing in a midday nap, I will be living vicariously through you! Career Services is still open over Spring Break, and we would be happy to chat over the phone or virtually about any questions you may have along your career journey. Happy spring cleaning!

After the Exhale: Making the Most of Your Winter Break (Revisited)

by Sharon Fleshman

Once again, it is that time of year so I have updated my previous tips for career planning during winter break. Many of you are likely anticipating that last paper or exam and that sigh of relief.  Therefore, the following tips should be seen as less like a “checklist” to complete and more like a “menu” from which you can choose what is most useful for you to accomplish during your downtime.  

Reflect: 

Think about your experiences at Penn so far. What have been some of your most energizing projects? Such projects may have taken place in the context of an internship, field placement, clinical rotation, class project, or a student organization.  Write a quick summary of each project, what you accomplished, and what you enjoyed. Are there any common elements that you see from these projects that point to skills, values, and strengths?   These reflections are not only helpful for improving your resumes, cover letters and interviews, but will also allow you to identify careers that may suit you going forward. Career Services has self-assessment resources that can help facilitate this process.

Research:

Winter break is a great time to research careers, industries, employers and job/internship opportunities.  Make sure to peruse the Career Services website for online resources. For example, we have a variety of resources by career field available. Online versions of newspapers, trade publications and other periodicals are other good sources for industry research. Websites for professional associations and regional chambers of commerce can also provide helpful career, industry and employer information. Make sure that you update your Career Interests profile and look up relevant jobs and upcoming career fairs on Handshake.

Reach out:

Don’t forget that you already have quite a network which includes family, friends, alumni, current supervisors, and professors.  Don’t be hesitant about reaching out to your network for insight and consider how you can help others in your network as well.  Helpful resources for this include QuakerNet, LinkedIn, regional alumni clubs, and professional associations related to your field of interest.  Another recently added resource for this is CareerShift, and more information on this tool is offered in a previous blog post written by my colleague Natty Leach.

In addition to networking and information interviewing, you can make connections with others while getting direct exposure to a career.  For instance, volunteering is an excellent way to accomplish this with hands-on involvement. Perhaps you can assist someone in a field of interest in a short-term project. Another means of exposure is shadowing, which allows you to accompany someone in a career of interest during the course of a work day. 

Regroup:

As you assess your career goals and progress you’ve made so far, you may decide that you need to make some adjustments. To do this, consider an approach with “flexible focus” by determining what is most important concerning your career plans and where you can be more flexible. For instance, you may be committed to a particular industry but may decide to expand your geographical options. Invite others to strategize with you.  Once you have revisited your goals, it is time to document your plan of action with concrete, timely and measurable steps. Such a goal could sound something like, “I will conduct informational interviews with at least two people each month after break.”

Finally, the most important tip of all: RELAX!

Wrap Up Your Interview with Smart, Well-Prepared Questions

This entry was written by Blair Canner, a Graduate Assistant working in Career Services this year.

Picture this: you have just spent the last half an hour answering every question thrown at you. Walk me through your resume? What are your strengths? Tell me about a time you failed. Finally the interviewer looks at you and asks “Do you have any questions for me?”

While you may be inclined to shake your head and end the interview as soon as possible, having questions prepared will prove your interest not just in the role but in the opinions of the interviewer.

While any question is technically fair game, you should use this time as an opportunity to:

  • Reemphasize your fit in the job

Asking what qualities are most common in successful employees gives you one final opportunity to demonstrate that you possess those critical skills. Alternatively, ask what skills the team is seeking in a new hire. Specifically connecting your experiences and skills to their needs will reemphasize that you’re the right candidate for the job.

  • Understand the culture from a personal point of view

If an interviewer has been at the company for a while, ask them what they like the most about the organization. Find out why they joined the company and what has convinced them to stay. If you’re interviewing with a specific team, ask about the team’s culture and find out if they hold any team-building events. Culture can differ across teams – make sure your team’s culture suits your work style.

  • Identify professional development opportunities

If this is one of your first jobs out of school, demonstrate your commitment to continuous development by asking about available training & mentoring opportunities. Does the organization offer formal support networks and do those networks hold events? What about continuing education – if you want to learn a new skill, are you expected to learn it on the job or are there courses available?

The final part of the interview is just as evaluative as the first 25 minutes. But in this case, it’s also an opportunity for you to determine if this company is the right fit for you. Preparing 5-10 questions in advance will help you come across as genuinely curious and invested in the job at hand.

Treat the job search like a class.

Jingy Yen, Career Counselor

When I was in college, I had trouble figuring out how to balance my time between my commitments, classes, and looking for jobs. I knew I had to sit down and think about applying for things, but after a long day of exams, meetings and projects this seemed almost impossible. My career advisor gave me some advice that I constantly pass on to my students – treat the job search like a class. By doing this, I was able to compartmentalize and the job search didn’t seem like a looming thing that I stressed about all day. To ensure successful implementation of this strategy, there are two easy steps to follow:

  1. Set aside designated time

Schedule time every week to work on your job, internship or graduate school search. This seems obvious, but the most important thing is to not schedule things over it. Treat it like a class by making it consistent and not something you can easily miss.

  1. Don’t worry about it the rest of the time

You know you will work on “career stuff” at a certain time every week, so don’t worry about it the rest of the week. This helped me tremendously because I didn’t feel the constant pressure of having to look for something when I knew I would have time to work on it later. Let yourself have some time off!

Of course there will be times that you have to do things outside of the designated time, like answer time sensitive emails or go to an interview (kind of like homework!). I found that by setting aside the time earlier in the week, I was able to proactively schedule these things, be more prepared and feel more organized throughout the entire process.

I’ve used this strategy for many other things in my life – so it doesn’t work just for career related things! Anytime you have a stressful issue that seems to take over everything, this can be a way to tackle it one step at a time.

What’s Your Story? The Power of a Career Narrative

by Sharon Fleshman

You may have career goals which seem clearly aligned with your background or you may be seeking a career transition.  Either way, you will want to develop a compelling career narrative which would include the following:

— An experience that exposed you to a given career and served as a catalyst for you to pursue that career.

— An experience in which you were energized and made a positive impact, confirming for you that a particular career or job is a good fit for you.

With these kinds of defining moments and accomplishments, you can connect the dots between your work history and the next step on your career path.  Consider the following scenarios and career narrative examples:

A student completing a BSN degree and planning to apply to Registered Nurse positions.  
“I became drawn to nursing in high school when volunteering at a pediatric hospital and shadowing a nurse.  I continue to enjoy community service work which allows me to mentor and empower children. In my recent clinical rotation in pediatrics, I was able to bring comfort and clarity to the anxious parent of a patient, which was noted by the parent and my supervisor. This affirmed my desire and ability to offer patient care that has a positive impact not only on children at the hospital but on their families as well.”

An alum who has worked as a teacher, returned to school to study policy, and plans to apply to policy research positions.
“As I worked as a teacher in public school, I began to ponder the best ways to assess student achievement in the classroom. As I did this, I also saw connections to broader and more systemic issues. This discovery led me to attend a graduate program which allowed me to cultivate skills in policy analysis and data analysis to complement my teaching background. I found that in my internship, my track record as an educator paved the way for me to build rapport with teachers and administrators whose participation was vital to my research.   I hope to leverage my mix of experiences and skills to conduct policy research and analysis that promotes increased equity and access in education.”

There are a number of contexts in which you can apply your career narrative:

Cover letters:  Cover letters allow you to address a specific employer about a specific job.  Therefore, you do not want to merely repeat what is on your resume. Instead, adapt and build upon your career narrative to highlight experiences that demonstrate why you are interested in and qualified for the job, and a good fit for the employer.

Career Fairs: Career fairs allow you to engage representatives from various employers, usually in brief conversations.   The career narrative, adapted to a particular employer, can offer a great way to introduce yourself and pave the way to ask a thoughtful question or two.

Networking: Whether you converse with your networking contact at a reception or an informational interview, your career narrative is a great tool to offer a bit about your background and career interests before you ask for perspective or advice.

Interviewing:  Many interviews open with the “Tell me about yourself” question, which can be a bit daunting.  Having a career narrative that connects your key experiences and career goals to the employer and the job will help you begin the interview with enthusiasm and confidence.

Feel free to make an appointment with a career advisor to discuss how to craft your career narrative. In the meantime, take a look at the following articles for more insight:

What’s Your Story? – by Herminia Ibarra and Kent Lineback, Harvard Business Review, January 2005

Younger Workers Need a Career Narrative by Heidi Gardner and Adam Zalisk, Harvard Business Review, February 15, 2013