It’s that marvelous time of the year—Final Exams—when I will confess that I’m relieved that I’m not a student anymore. Thinking back to my first semester of college (well over 30 years ago!), I remember the stress of my first final exam period. Living in a freshman women’s dorm (and oh yes, it was single sex back then), the panic was palpable. So how did I handle it? My best friend suggested that we stop studying and bake cookies!
Holly and I took a long study break to buy ingredients and headed for the dorm kitchen. We crafted cookie “ornaments,” personalized with the names of the women on our floor and other selected campus friends. We threaded ribbons through the holes we poked through each cookie. Then we raced around the dorm and the campus, delivering our edible ornaments.
Thankfully I managed to do well that term, and Holly has enjoyed a successful legal career. Apparently there were no ill effects from our study break. The fresh air and cookies renewed our energy. What’s the point of my silly story and how in the world does it relate to you? Hopefully you’ll agree that a “life well lived” includes more than a fabulous career. Friendships, family, and the pursuit of other interests are vital ingredients in true success.
So while I applaud and admire the devotion to everything Penn students do so well—academics, extracurriculars, service, and job search—I urge you to seek balance in your life. Recognize when it’s time to catch your breath, hang out with friends or family, and bake! In this spirit, my holiday gift to you is a study break, courtesy of Jimmy Buffett and the Zac Brown Band. Take it away, boys!
Sometimes students talk to career counselors as if they were making a confession. We often hear “I don’t want to be a doctor (or lawyer)” in almost a whisper so their parents in Long Island or LA can’t hear them. But sometimes, instead of a whisper, it’s a confident voice accompanied by averted eyes, as if to say, “I know this is crazy but…,” coming from a student who has made up his or her mind, but isn’t sure how friends and family will take the decision. She wants to join the Peace Corps, he wants to write a screenplay, she wants to go to culinary school, or he wants to do conservation work in Alaska. In any case, I love meeting with these types of students because instead of committing to a future career they feel lukewarm about, almost guaranteeing themselves a future case of the Sunday evening blues, they’ve identified something they really care about and enjoy. The next step is simply (or not so simply) helping them find a way to make a living while pursuing their passion. Pursuing a career in the nonprofit sector can be one great way to pursue your passion while making a living.
Yes, you can support yourself and make a living while working for a nonprofit. It’s true salaries in nonprofits tend to be quite a bit lower than salaries in the for-profit and even government sectors, but once you’ve reassessed your budgetary needs (Netflix is probably cheaper than cable; cooking is healthier and cheaper than ordering out; having a roommate means more money in your pocket, etc.), you can quickly realize you can make ends meet. And often, once you’ve proved yourself as a competent professional in a nonprofit, especially if you work for an organization that offers tuition assistance for graduate school, your salary will increase. All the while you’ll be supporting a cause you really care about, working with people who care about the same issues, and usually having a pretty great work-life balance.
For more information about pursuing a nonprofit job, attend tomorrow’s workshop:
NONPROFIT CAREERS 101 workshop (Wednesday, November 17, 5:00-6:00pm, Civic House Living Room)
This event is designed to help you better understand the non-profit sector and assist you in navigating the job search in the public interest. The session will demystify some of the myths about careers in the public interest as well as help you better determine which job opportunities to pursue, and how best to go about attaining them. The session will also introduce you to resources both on campus and the web. (CO-SPONSORED BY CAREER SERVICES & CIVIC HOUSE)
My 7th grade English teacher, Mrs. Frezeman, assigned us a quotation to memorize and 10 vocabulary words to learn every week. The quotations especially made a deep impression on me, and I find myself reflecting on them in many of life’s circumstances even as I advance through middle age.
Today I’d like to share with you an excerpt of the sage advice that Polonius gave his son, Laertes, in Hamlet. I suspect you’ve heard it before:
…This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man…
– William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3.
You might be wondering why I’d choose this particular passage to share with you now. I guess I’ve been struck by how challenging it is for students to stay true to themselves throughout the career/job search process. In a still-struggling economy, it may be even more tempting to convince ourselves that we could be happy doing something in which we have little or no interest just because there are jobs available in that field. As a parent of young adult children, I have been guilty of urging my children to “get a job,” and indeed both my son and daughter have been known to “settle” for a decent salary and health insurance.
There may be a point in one’s job search where some compromise is necessary, of course. No job is perfect, and as most new graduates learn, work is called “work” for a reason! Sometimes we accidentally find our true calling by working in a field which turns out to be interesting after all. Despite the possibility of a happy accident, I urge you to approach your career exploration and job search with honesty and big dreams. Give yourself the opportunity to aim for a job for which you feel a sincere interest—even passion. You are most likely to succeed when you’re doing something you enjoy—and unlikely to succeed in even the most profitable endeavor if you are mismatched for that position.
It’s important to be yourself (“your best self” as we career folks like to say) throughout the job search process. Let your voice shine through your cover letters. As you can imagine, I am reviewing a lot of cover letters right now, and I am always thrilled when I read a student’s “story” of why s/he has been called to the field of (fill in the blank). Employers too read hundreds (thousands?) of cover letters, and they can sift out the sincere from the forced. So please carefully consider your passions and then give voice to these passions in your cover letter.
Continue to be true to yourself, your values, and your ambitions throughout the search process. You will sparkle in your interviews too if you present yourself authentically. I’m fond of reading the “Corner Office” interviews in the Sunday business section of the New York Times. Inevitably these successful CEOs emphasize that during the hiring process they want to know who a person really is—not just the polished-up version too often presented. These CEOs accept that all people will fail and strongly believe that people should take risks and learn and grow from their failures. One recent interviewee even remarked that he’s worried if someone claims never to have failed because he doesn’t know how that person will handle it when s/he finally, inevitably, does fail.
Thus, I suggest that you open yourself up in the interviewing process. No, this doesn’t mean that you should approach your interviewer like your therapist. Rather, you should, in a professional fashion, be yourself and tell your unique story. When the fit is right, you’ll get the job. If your cards are on the table and you don’t get the offer, it’s likely that it wouldn’t be a good match anyway. Move on, and it will work out well in the end.
My thanks to William Shakespeare and Mrs. Frezeman for reminding us “To thine own self be true.” Also, I can’t resist a note to the seniors out there. Please remember to enjoy and make the most of your senior year! There’s more going on at Penn than OCR and your job search. Your senior year is a precious time in your life that you will never have again. Best wishes for a spectacular senior year and genuine job search!
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
– Romeo & Juliet, Act II, Scene ii.
When I first left college and moved out on my own, I shared a house with four other people just outside New York City’s Lincoln Tunnel. Though it wasn’t that long ago – these were the days before everyone had a cellphone and we still relied on a land line house phone for the majority of our calls.
We had several phones – one downstairs, one in the hall and one in my bedroom. Only one person had a room downstairs, so that phone went mostly unused. The phone in the hall had a terrible habit of puling the jack out of the wall every time you picked it up, so that phone mostly went unused. That meant almost everyone used the phone in my room all the time…and the phone rang a lot.
One morning, I was enjoying a rare day off of work and trying to take full advantage of sleeping in. The house was empty and I was in slumberland when…RING. RING. RING. RING. Ugh. I groggily reached for the phone. A very chipper woman was on the other end.
Voice: Hello! May I speak with Pete please?
Me: I don’t think he’s home at the moment. Can I take a message?
Voice: This is his boss, I just wanted to run some new assignments by him. It’s rather lengthy. Maybe I’ll just e-mail him…do you have his e-mail address?
Ooooh. This was a tougher question than it seemed. I DID have Pete’s e-mail address, but I dared not say it. You see, Pete had a fairly unusual e-mail address, which was taken from the lyric of a song he wrote – a sort of in joke between his friends and fans of his band. I wanted to make sure Pete got his assignment, but I also didn’t want to cost him his job if his boss took offense at his e-mail address. I decided to take a chance.
Me: Well, I do have it, but it’s odd. His e-mail is SATANandTHEBOY@hotmai…”
I was cut off by riotous laughter.
Voice: That’s hysterical. And that’s so Pete.
Crisis adverted. Pete got his assignment and his boss got a good laugh. Still, it was close. What if his boss had been a very religious person? Or just didn’t understand why someone would have the word Satan in their e-mail address – after all, it’s probably not the most professional sounding. That night, Pete informed me that he did, in fact, have a business e-mail that was just his name – simple, clear and no room for misinterpretation. I promised him I would only give that one out to potential employers in the future.
Flashforward to the present and my job in Career Services. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve retold the story of Pete and his e-mail to students who use their personal e-mail accounts on their resumes and job correspondents.
Imagine yourself as an employer. How would you feel if you got job applications from email handles such as “LAXGurl86,” “QTPie,” “PennDrinker”, “Partytime” or “KittenLover89”? Exaggerations, obviously, but not that far off from actual addresses that I’ve seen on resumes, cover letters or electronic correspondence.
Think before you send. Remember how much time you’ve put into making your job application look professional. Think about how hard you’ve proof read your resume and cover letter. An employer is going to take EVERYTHING you submit to them into account – including your e-mail address. The same goes for what you name any documents you attach. Don’t apply to Coca-Cola with an attachment called “Pepsi Resume.doc”!
Keep things simple. Use your Penn e-mail address or, if you’re using a personal account, a simple, professional account such that uses your name (eg. firstname.lastname@example.org). Be remembered by your name and for your outstanding resume – not your novelty e-mail address. Though Pete’s story has a happy ending – it was a lucky one. Not every employer is going to have a sense of humor.
We all know we should dress to impress when it comes to professional networking and interviewing, but what does that mean, exactly? We know it doesn’t mean jeans, t-shirts, or anything you’re likely to wear to an 8am class or a party on Friday night. But what should you wear to employer information sessions (which begin the night before classes for full-time OCR positions), alumni panels that include networking receptions, career fairs, or first or second round interviews? (The info session and employer links above provide some tips on what to wear to these events.)
If you’re planning to interview for post-grad jobs or internships in the upcoming year, you don’t need to buy a whole new wardrobe, but it’s a good idea to have a few key pieces of professional attire in your closet, or at least at your disposal (your roommate’s closet?) If have clean and pressed articles of these types of clothes that fall into the same color scheme (black, gray, dark grey, some neutral tones), you should be in good shape for recruiting season.
What to wear? The Basics
A dark suit, ladies can opt for pant or skirt suits
Dress pants, again dark shades are preferable
Dress shirt(s) in conservative colors (white, blue, other neutrals)
You can also add a professional looking sweater, ladies can go with a blouse
A blazer, if you can find one that works with one or two pairs of your dress pants
Dress/professional shoes that work with your color scheme (black shoes make a black/grey color base easy) with dark socks
For Men: a tie or a few
For Women: conservative (just above or below the knee) skirts or dresses can also work well.
Where to look for your new professional attire? Yes, you can easily spend a chunk of your hard earned summer cash on new clothes, but you don’t need to do so. Here are some suggestions for finding professional clothes while staying within your budget.
Hand-me-downs – check big sis, big brother or maybe even mom and dad’s closets. I’ve always been really fortunate to have a mother who dresses well and is about my size. I’ve also scored some great clothes from my sisters once they were gainfully employed and happy to pass on last season’s suit or shoes.
Discount stores – you can find great deals on suits, slacks, shirts, ties, blouses, and shoes at stores like TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and Kohl’s.
Sales at department stores and specialty stores – If you hit the sales right or remember to bring in those 20% coupons (which can sometimes be found online), you can purchase some of these wardrobe staples at great prices at stores like Macy’s, Ann Taylor, J. Crew, and Banana Republic.
Your friend’s closet – Most of us have friends who seem to have endless closets of really great clothes, and some of those friends are also willing to share. When I was in college one of my suitemates worked at Ann Taylor so she had a closet full of stylish professional clothes. Several friends treated her closet like a library for interview clothes. Unfortunately for me she was 5’8 and I was 5’2. She was also finance major and I was an English major, so at the time I was more than a little intimidated by her career path focus and interview confidence… but that’s another blog story.