Pay it Forward

By: David Ross

I’m sure we all can remember some point in our lives when we relied on the assistance of others as we progressed through an internship or job search. Even though we ultimately applied for those internship and job opportunities, interviewed for those positions and ultimately secured employment – at some point during the process someone else did us a favor. Whether referring us to a job opening, serving as a reference, agreeing to an informational interview or simply offering some advice, the kindness and generosity of others has helped all of us at some stage of our careers.

So I encourage you to “pay it forward” and consider how you can serve as a resource for others. If you are not able to directly hire or recommend someone for an opening, you can still be very helpful to those seeking opportunities in a variety of ways. In my experience, I have found people to be grateful for your time and willingness to offer your insight and advice. It may not seem like much and may take up time that could be spent doing other things, but you may be surprised how the time you do provide for others can be very helpful for them.

Don’t worry if you don’t have many influential contacts – something as simple as directing someone to the appropriate contact person or alerting someone to a new or upcoming internship or job opening you hear about can be extremely helpful. For those with busy schedules, it can be so easy to remain focused on our day-to-day routines and forget that other individuals may be searching for any tidbit of assistance we can provide. If you are unsure what assistance you can provide, I encourage you to take a moment to really think about some of the small things you can offer. For example, sharing your story and some of the lessons you’ve learned thus far can be very informative and illuminating for others.

Remember, at some point in the future you may seek someone else’s help as you transition from one position to the next. Who knows – someone that you help out now may “pay it forward” and be that person that returns the favor in the future.

Dear Seniors….The Best Is Yet To Come…….

By Barbara Hewitt

I vividly remember when I was finishing up college that people couldn’t wait to tell me that college was “the best years of your life.” Face it, when else do people have the opportunity to learn just for the sake of it, be surrounded by thousands of individuals close in age, and not have the burden of family obligations and mortgages? I wondered at the time if it would turn out to be true. It was pretty depressing to think that at 22 years old my future had a downhill trajectory.

As it turns out, 21 years after hearing those words, I believe they couldn’t be farther from the truth. Hopefully, as seniors who have spent the last four years at Penn, you have had wonderful experiences and will look back at your time at Penn fondly. I am confident, however, that the best is yet to come for the vast majority of you. Earning a degree from Penn is a huge accomplishment. You have all (well, most of you!) worked hard and grown tremendously during the last four years. You now have the opportunity to go out and apply the things that you have learned at Penn to make real change in the world whether through teaching children, discovering a new scientific breakthrough, or helping a business bring a new product to market. You will move on to different phases of your personal and professional lives, eventually mentoring and managing younger employees, finding life partners, and perhaps raising families of your own. Yes, your lives will change, but simply to something different, not something somehow inferior. Take advantage of the unexpected opportunities that come your way and don’t be afraid to take some risks. Many of the most successful alumni I meet are those who haven’t been afraid to veer off the beaten path.

As graduation approaches, all of us in Career Services wish you a wonderful journey on whatever path you choose to take in the years ahead….

Curiosity & Careers: How Informational Interviewing Can Build Your Network

By Sharon Fleshman

Wherever you are in the career planning process, it never hurts to chat with people in careers that have piqued your curiosity.  Informational interviewing is a great way to build your network, gather helpful insight on a career, and receive advice on moving into that career.  Assuming that they don’t have major time constraints, most people are glad to talk about the work they do and offer their own perspective on what it takes to be successful in their field.  Why not schedule some interviews during the summer?   Here are some tips to get you started:

1) Be open to the many opportunities to engage people.

You may want to start with Penn alumni, who are generally happy to help.  The Penn Alumni Career Network (PACNet) was designed expressly for the purpose of facilitating informational interviews. The alumni advisors have volunteered to speak with Penn students and other Penn alumni, so don’t be shy about contacting them. You can also identify alumni with careers of interest by way of LinkedIn alumni groups and Penn Regional Alumni clubs.

Don’t feel like you are limited to alumni.  It is often tempting to overlook those closest to you, such as family, friends of the family, and relatives of friends.  If you have a summer internship, check with your supervisor to see if you can sit down with managers and other employees who are working in other areas that interest you.  Peruse the website of an organization that you respect and see if you can locate staff biographies and identify those doing work that you could see yourself doing in the future; if any Penn alumni are working there, all the better.

Once you develop a list of potential contacts, send an e-mail message introducing yourself and stating how you became aware of the person’s work.  Mention that you have developed an interest in the contact’s career field and that you would like to talk with him/her for 30 minutes to glean insight and advice.  Informational interviews can be conducted by phone or in person, depending on what is most convenient.

2) Prepare well.

Once the informational interview is scheduled, make sure to read up on basic information about the career field as well as the organization at which your contact works.  Good preparation is key to asking thoughtful and focused questions that spark informative and engaging conversation and leave a great impression.  Helpful sample questions are available on the Career Services website and career counselors are available to help with preparation. Though you will not be going to a job interview, professionalism is still important. If you are meeting your contact in person, be clear on what attire is appropriate and where the contact’s office is located. If you are talking over the phone, you should be in a quiet place during the interview.  Be sure to send a thank you note after the interview, and keep in touch periodically.

3) Respect the boundaries.

It is crucial to remember that an informational interview is neither a job interview nor the venue to ask for one.  The purpose of an informational interview is to gather information and advice as well as more networking contacts.   That being said, a contact who is very impressed with you may choose to offer additional job search assistance at his or her discretion.

4) Enjoy!

Informational interviewing allows for an intentional conversation where there is relatively little pressure to convince someone that you are totally committed to a given career or the best fit for a job.  The process offers a great opportunity for you to learn from another’s experiences and get clarity regarding your own career goals. It can be one of the more enjoyable aspects of networking, even for those who typically see networking as a daunting task.

Making the Most of Your Internship

By Barbara Hewitt

Penn students will soon be leaving campus for internships all around the world. Some of you will work with large employers in very established internship programs, while others might be the first intern in a new start-up. Penn students work in for-profit, nonprofit and public sector jobs in all sorts of functional areas. While internships are a great way to explore a career of interest and gain valuable skills, the quality of internships can vary dramatically. However, there are steps you can take to ensure that the experience is as positive as possible.

Ideally, think hard about what you want to accomplish during an internship before you accept one. You may want to develop new skills, learn about a new industry, or perhaps make money to pay your fall tuition. (In fact, all three of these goals might be important to many of you!) Think about how many hours you can devote to the internship each week and how many weeks you would like to work. The more clear you are on these parameters the easier it will be to focus your search and prioritize your goals to find an internship that is a good fit. You should definitely have a discussion with your supervisor to clarify expectations regarding the types of assignments you will handle, your work schedule, and how you will be trained. Discussing these issues BEFORE you commit to the internship can help stave of problems and disappointments down the road.

When you actually report to work, realize that as an intern you are a representative of the organization. It is important that you make a good impression at all times by being professional and diligent, reporting to work on time, and following the office dress code. You should also be observant of the “unspoken rules” at work, as they are frequently more important to fitting in than the more formal written rules. For example, is it customary for people to take rigid lunch breaks at noon or is a more flexible break schedule acceptable? Do people refer to each other by their first names or are higher-ups addressed more formally? Are you able to check social media tools like Facebook when at work or is that frowned upon (or outright forbidden)?

Be sure that you know when assignments and projects are due and meet all deadlines, even if it means staying late. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – it will increase your knowledge of the organization and demonstrate your interest in learning as much as possible. You may want to check with your supervisor early in your internship to discuss his or her preferred method of communication. Some supervisors have an open door policy and encourage interns to stop by when they have questions. Other might prefer a more formal weekly meeting or request that you send an email when something comes up.

The attitude that you display as an intern is critical. Work hard to demonstrate a positive demeanor at work, as no one likes to work with a complaining, unhappy coworker…especially an intern who will only be in the office for a few months. Make the most of menial tasks by doing them well and without complaining. Virtually all internships (and jobs, for that matter) have some mundane components. If you are unhappy with most of your assignments, take the initiative and ask your supervisor about taking on different or additional responsibilities which interest you more. Generally, supervisors will be impressed with your initiative and drive. However, be sure not to do this too early in the internship. It is important to develop relationships with your supervisor and colleagues and gain an understanding of the organization before assuming that you will be entrusted with higher level assignments.

An internship provides a great opportunity to take advantage of being on the “inside” of an organization by talking to other employees and making contacts. You may want to arrange informational interviews to learn more about other departments in the organization. Collect business cards as they often come in handy when networking for a full-time job down the road.

Hopefully the internship will be a stepping stone to additional professional opportunities. Save copies of things you create for future reference (web pages, flyers, press releases, articles, etc.). Learn as much as you can from your experience by seeking and accepting feedback about your performance, including constructive criticism. Try not to be defensive when a supervisor suggests ways to improve your performance. Request an exit interview to discuss the internship as a whole. Before leaving, ask for a letter of recommendation. Open a credentials file with Interfolio to house the letter if you haven’t already done so.

At the end of the summer, write a thank you note to your supervisor for his or her guidance. Hopefully your experience was a good one, and you have developed a relationship that will continue into the future. Keep in touch with your co-workers and supervisor after leaving the site, as they can often be very helpful as you begin a full-time job search.

Most of all ENJOY your experience. Internships provide a unique opportunity to experience a new work environment and career – take full advantage, as summers during college are limited commodity!
(Blog entry based on Career Services “Tips on Making the Most of Your Internship” website.)

Telling The Story: A Narrative Approach to Interviewing

by Sharon Fleshman

Once upon a time — those words signaled the start of many stories that captivated us, particularly in our younger days. Whether it is meant to scare, delight, convince or teach, there’s something about a good story that can pull listeners in. As it relates to a job search, a narrative approach can be used to present your career interests and qualifications in compelling and creative ways. Consider the following tips for incorporating “story” into your interviews:

1) Prepare for the “Tell me about yourself” question. Indeed, your answer to this can set the tone for the entire conversation and should make clear why you are sitting in front of the interviewer. Don’t default to just stating “I’m a senior at Penn majoring in…” Trace relevant themes in your background. For instance, suppose you are applying to a position in international development. You may not have a track record in that field per se, but perhaps you can help your interviewer connect the dots regarding your international experiences. You should also identify the defining moments that helped you discern your interest in a given career. For the international development example, you could talk about what occurred during your travels that caused you to become interested in development work.

2) Make sure your stories illustrate relevant skills and accomplishments. Go through your resume and develop the stories that emerge from your experiences. Your stories should have a “plot” with a beginning, middle and end that speaks to the job description. A good way to structure such a story may be to start with the situation at hand, proceed with discussing the actions you took to address the situation, and then end with the result that came from your actions. This approach is especially useful for behavioral questions (“Give me an example of how you served a difficult customer”) or other questions (“What are your strengths?”) where the interviewer wants evidence to back up what you claim to be true. You may not know exactly what you’ll be asked, but anticipate the types of skills that employers seek. Prepare to address areas such as problem solving, teamwork, leadership ability, strengths, weaknesses, and working with difficult customers/clients. Whether you played a key role in increasing membership, improving operations, boosting morale, or strengthening your own performance, you can build a story around the impact you made.

3) Keep it professional and positive. Stories for job interviews should not sound like autobiographies as much as snapshots of experiences that demonstrate that you are a great fit for the position. For instance, discussing resolution of conflict on a team for a group project is likely better than reminiscing about how you broke up a fight between two housemates. Look for the most pertinent highlights from your previous jobs/internships, volunteer experience, study abroad, extracurricular activities and class projects. Also, make sure you maintain a positive attitude. Even if you have to discuss a negative situation, resist the temptation to cast yourself as a hero and others as villains. Stick with sharing what you learned and how you developed in the process.

4) Practice. Storytelling flows from the human condition. It is very natural for us to reflect on what has happened on a given day and “tell the story” to those closest to us. However, applying this tendency to the job search may not feel as natural, so it is good to practice with those who are willing and able to offer helpful feedback. Career Services counselors are available to help you with mock interviews.

Use of stories in the job search can also be applied (in a more concise way) to resume and cover letter writing, as noted in the book Tell Me About Yourself: Storytelling to Get Jobs and Propel Your Career, written by Katharine Hansen and available in the Career Services library. Using storytelling will not only help you to prepare well, but will build your self-awareness and confidence along the way to a positive “The End.”