Retirement

Dr. John F. Tuton, Career Advisor

I’ve been thinking about retirement a lot lately, partly because one of my long-term colleagues at Career Services retired earlier this year and two others are about to retire this summer.  And, full disclosure, I’m old enough to “retire” myself, if I wanted to.  But the main reason retirement is on my mind is that I’ve been meeting with more and more Penn alumni who are approaching retirement age themselves and have come to me for advice.

But before I get into that, why should I even be blogging about “retiring” on this website when most of you who are reading this are probably younger than 30 and looking forward to a future career that may span over 40 more years?  How can you possibly look 40 years ahead, when it’s not at all certain what the future will be for any of us?  And how realistic is it to even consider retirement as a reality, when your first priority right now is launching your career, not ending it? 

My answer comes from the thoughts that senior alumni have shared with me, and even though they vary, there is a surprising consistency to what they’ve said.  When I met with the first one or two, I started the conversation by asking, “What sorts of skills do you have?” hoping to get some information that I’d want to see on a CV or resume.  But their answers went far beyond “job” skills, and included much more personal qualities, like curiosity, empathy, creativity and perseverance.  And when they shared these “skills”, they clearly were excited about claiming them, and I got the message that these were qualities that they truly enjoyed using and, from the examples they gave me, had become quite adept at doing so. 

So my “skills” question went well beyond a simple list of technical abilities, and became an exercise in affirming what they felt were their strengths and how rewarding it had been for them to put them to good use.  And because their enthusiasm was pretty obvious, it led to another question, “Why are these skills so important to you?”  Their answers were even more revealing, and ranged from “Because they’ve helped me solve a difficult problem…understand what someone needs…deal with setbacks…see things in a new way.”   And this led to lots of discussion and clarification about their basic motivations, what they valued most in their lives, and what their deepest concerns were.

Digging a little deeper soon led to a third question: “What helped you along the way?”  And here I discovered all sorts of information about the particulars of their relationships with the superiors, colleagues, family members and friends who had valued their “skills” and respected their motivations and concerns.  Out of all of this came a detailed picture of their ideal “environment” – the people and the places – that had supported the best use of their skills and honored the values and concerns that were most important to them.

From all this, it was possible to create a “template” for what they wanted to do next, why they wanted to do it and where might be the best setting to do it in, and the rest of our meetings were devoted to strategizing about specific opportunities that they might want to pursue. 

So here’s why I’m writing this blog for those of you who are under 30 and see retirement only as a vague concept in the distant future.  Because knowing your “what, why and where” is as important at the beginning of your career as it is for the alums who I’ve worked with who are at the tail end of theirs.  And the good news is that you already started to define your “what, why and where” the moment you discovered a particular job posting.  Choosing a job that fits your resume and skill set, creating a cover letter that communicates your interest and enthusiasm, and even answering an interview question like “Why do you want to work here?”—these are all opportunities to state your “what, why and where” in ways that will work best for you.  And if your application leads to you being hired, your next step is to continually keep track of what you do best, why you do it and where is the best, most supportive environment to do it in, so that your future career path becomes clearer and more fulfilling, no matter how far it may go. 

 

 

What I learned at Penn that led to a career in Presentation Design

by Amy Singh, COL ’14

Back several years ago when I was a freshman at Penn, I had no clue what I wanted to do after graduation. I was completely ready to pursue my major in Japanese and minor in Fine Arts, but beyond that I didn’t know what my future path would be. I was considering everything from teaching, to translation work to going back to grad school to study Japanese in more depth, but the best answer I could’ve given you at the time would be that I really wanted to do something creative, that allowed me to combine my arts background with my interest in writing. Little did I know I would end up doing exactly that at an international UK-based company called BrightCarbon.

Welcome to the world of presentation design. In the world of niche industries and jobs, this is one that many people don’t realize exists. Ironically, there are tons of people working in marketing, sales and training whose main task is creating presentations for their teams, bosses or clients. People working in these fields may have different backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common, which is that most likely they have limited training when it comes to creating PowerPoint presentations. Because of this, many companies desire assistance with creating compelling, visual presentations, which is where the Presentation Design agency comes in. Part of this assistance is physically creating the slides themselves, but there are other aspects that come into play. For example, there’s also developing presentation messaging (similar to writing a script) to help companies position themselves as industry leaders, sell products, and explain concepts. And the last role at BrightCarbon is the role of Visualization Consultants like myself, which involves taking messaging and coming up with visuals for slides that communicate those messages well. Since this last role is what I am most familiar with, I wanted to dig a little deeper and get into what specific skills I learned at Penn that helped me become a Visualization Consultant, and what skills are useful to build if you are interested in a similar type of position.

The skills I use on a daily basis range from customer relationship management to reading comprehension to writing to more technical and Microsoft Office-related. Because this is a wide range of skills, the relevant classes are also varied, ranging from English to fine arts to business to technology-related. When combined, having some expertise in each of these areas will give you a great basis for working in presentation creation.

Writing

The most obvious skill that has helped immensely with my day-to-day is a solid foundation in writing. The type of writing that I use is different from writing a short story in Japanese for example, but nonetheless is related to the type of writing skills you build at Penn. When you learn how to structure arguments for a piece of writing with an introduction, main points and conclusion, you are inadvertently learning how to write an effective presentation. So many sales presentations we see are poorly structured, and follow a ‘We-we-we’ theme, meaning that they focus solely on how great the presenter is, and don’t actually get into what the value is for end users. In addition, more often than not content is disorganized, arguments are repetitive or presentations become too chart-heavy and end up being ineffective. A lot of these issues would be avoided if the messaging adhered to a solid structure, the same way a good story does, which is one of the things I got a solid understanding of between my various college seminar classes I took at Penn.

Reading comprehension

Another really important skill that I use every time I come up with visuals for a slide is analyzing text and thinking critically about what its key messages are. Because the average presentation will have 20 or more slides chock-full with text, going through each slide in detail could end up taking a lot of time. However, by putting into practice some of the methods I used at Penn (for example, breaking down information by highlighting the key sections, and skimming instead of reading) I’ve been able to shorten this time considerably. Being able to pick out key bits of information also helps with developing visuals for slides. Slides that are too information-heavy are not effective because the audience just ends up tuning out the presenter and reading the information on the slides. However, by focusing only on key points, you can create much clearer and effective presentations, that get your messages across to the audience. Many seminar classes in the college give you a taste of this type of reading analysis, which can make a significant difference in the effectiveness of your slides.

Business

As with any job, being business savvy comes in real handy. At Penn, some of the most useful classes for a career in presentation creation would be at Wharton. For example, marketing would come in handy for making sales presentations, since these presentations involve selling products and knowing how to communicate their value to end users. To add onto that, learning how to manage customer relationships is useful and knowing how to figure out what customers want and how to delight them with great customer service can never hurt. In general, learning how to communicate effectively in written and spoken word is crucial to collaborating on a presentation, which is definitely something that you can develop in different Wharton classes.

Graphic design

For people interested in working on presentations, taking a class in digital design can be useful down the road. If your main task is to create tons of PowerPoint slides, knowing how to lay them out, what colors look good together, and how to alter images in Photoshop can be very useful. Most people will say that they don’t have time to learn these types of skills, but if you learn how to do these kinds of things once, you will be able to make huge impact on the quality of slides you create. Introductory design classes at Penn will teach you design foundations which can be used to for things like using images effectively in your presentations, creating engaging PowerPoint templates and laying out your content so that it’s intuitive. This will make your presentations look one-thousand times better and also makes them much more effective. (To learn more about how to do great PowerPoint design, check out this article!)

Technology

The last important foundation for making presentations is to get a good handle on your weapon of choice, namely Microsoft PowerPoint. I learned many of the basics from a class I took in high school that focused on learning Microsoft Office, however, by the time I started working in PowerPoint full time there was still a lot more I had to learn. The best methods for learning all there is to know about how to use PowerPoint to its full potential would be to take online classes like BrightCarbon’s PowerPoint Master Classes, which can help you master a lot of the rarely-taught features of PowerPoint. Once you get in the swing of using more of PowerPoint’s functionality, it begins to come to you naturally and you can create more advanced and more effective presentations quicker and more easily.

Conclusion

I never thought I would end up making PowerPoints for a living, but you’d be surprised how many people do just that. These people might have different titles, like ‘brand manager’ or ‘product marketing manager’ or even ‘visualization consultant’, but in the end there are many careers where you may end up creating presentations frequently. Presentation design really is a lesser-known but massive industry with lots of job opportunities for designers and liberal arts graduates in general, and it really is great, as long as you don’t mind staring at PowerPoint for hours at a time. No matter what your degree may be, having a foundation in certain areas, namely writing, reading comprehension, business and design as well as technical skill (or the ability to learn) can take you very far in developing high quality, visually-effective presentations, and will help you shine among others as a presentation master.

Amy Singh is a self-proclaimed PowerPoint wizard and Visualization Consultant at BrightCarbon, an international (UK-based) presentation agency. After graduating from the college in 2014, she now spends most of her days planning her next Disney World vacation and also sharing the joys of PowerPoint with others.

Practical Learning At Its Best

Josh Oppenheimer – COL’13, MPA ’13, L’16

It’s usually hard waking up at 4:30 in the morning. But, not when you have to catch a train from Philly for a meeting in Washington . . . at The White House.

During the fall semester of my 3L year at Penn Law, I enrolled in an administrative law class that examined how the various federal agencies in our government operate, and what – if anything – could be done to make them more efficient. My class had previously spent a day in Philadelphia, meeting with Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) from the Social Security Administration and counsel for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 3. Now, we were off to meet with policy leaders in our nation’s capital.

While I knew that the administrative state was large and bureaucratic – cue the presidential candidates listing which agencies they would eliminate if they were elected President – I never knew how large it really was. Our first stop was on Capitol Hill, where we met with staffers working on administrative reform bills. Sometimes, sweeping change needs to come from the top, which is why Congress is currently debating how best to reign-in what some call “rouge” agencies.

Sometimes, though, effective change must arise from within.

After our meetings on Capitol Hill, we traversed Pennsylvania Avenue and – once passing through the black gates at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – met with an official in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. OIRA – as it’s more commonly known in the “alphabet soup” that makes up the D.C. lingo – is itself an agency that oversees and keeps in line the countless other federal agencies. That’s right, there’s an agency for the agencies! Like a coxswain on a crew boat, OIRA is tasked with making sure agencies’ policies line-up with one another and that the federal bureaucracy stays in-sync with itself.

As we finished up our day and headed back to Union Station to catch our train, I (almost literally) ran into a man whose old office we had just left. Peter Orszag, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), used to supervise OIRA’s day-to-day activities. An agency overseeing an agency overseeing lots of agencies…Oh, Washington.

Though it looks like it will take more than a simple nudge to reform our administrative state, I am so fortunate that Penn Law appreciates not only the need for theoretical-based classes where we learn through textbooks, but also practical, hands-on experiences that come when we get outside the classroom, whether that be through scheduled meetings or serendipitous occurrences waiting for our train.

Josh and Orszag

Q&A With A First-Year Medical Student: Lauren Kus, College ‘15

Lauen Kus, COL ’15, interviewed by Todd Rothman, Senior Associate Director

This is an interesting time of year for many pre-med students – some are well-entrenched in the interview (and “waiting game”) point of the admissions cycle, while others are gearing up to begin the application process for the upcoming admissions cycle this Spring.  With that in mind, I thought I would share some insights about the medical school application process – as well as the firsthand experience of the first semester of medical school – from a Penn alumna and my former advisee, Lauren Kus ’15.  As an undergraduate student, Lauren majored in Health & Societies (Concentration: Bioethics & Society) and minored in Biology.  She is currently in her first year at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Q:       What aspect of medical school and/or your medical school training have you enjoyed the most so far?

A:        The most enjoyable part about medical school so far for me has been studying subjects that have clear relevance to what I will be doing in my future career. As a pre-med, I felt like a lot of the classes we had to take seemed relatively disconnected from medicine and healthcare. Medical school is very different. Anatomy is notoriously the most daunting class for MS1s, but there was such a clear connection to clinical care that I always felt motivated to study it. You might be able to get through Orgo without fully understanding NMR, but you if you don’t understand the anatomy of the heart, you’ll be in trouble as a future physician. 

Q:       In what ways is medical school similar to being pre-med at Penn?  What has surprised you the most about being a medical student so far?

A:        Being pre-med at Penn prepares you well for time management in medical school. You’ll most likely be taking around 5 different classes or subjects. For example, my first semester I took Anatomy, Biochemistry, Cell & Molecular Biology, Genetics, and Intro to Clinical Medicine. It would have been very difficult to manage that course load without the preparation I had from being pre-med at Penn. So, one similarity is time spent studying. You will absolutely spend A LOT of time studying in medical school. For me, it was significantly more than I had even spent at Penn. That was what surprised me the most about being a med student. Just like all Penn pre-meds, I turned down lots of social activities or study breaks in order to get everything done that I needed to for my pre-med classes. I expected to spend about the same amount of time studying in medical school. This was not the case. However, unlike Penn, everyone in your class will be in the same boat. All your friends and classmates will have the same workload, and be forced to spend a significant amount of time studying. So I didn’t feel like I was missing out on other things the way I sometimes did at Penn.

Q:       What undergraduate course(s) and/or out-of-the-classroom experiences have proven to be the most useful to you in your first semester of medical school?

A:        Any class you can take as an undergraduate that you might have in medical school will be helpful. As an HSOC major, I didn’t take a lot of extra science classes. However, my friends in med school who were, for example, Biochemistry majors found some of our intro courses to be more familiar than they were for me. That being said, you absolutely don’t need to take classes ahead of time (I didn’t and it worked out!). Extracurricularly, the most useful experiences I had were those clinical volunteering and research experiences that required patient interaction. In my Intro to Clinical Medicine class, we are tested on patient interviewing skills. I found it much less stressful than some of my classmates who had less past interaction with patients. Getting comfortable with talking to patients, in any capacity, will absolutely prepare you well for your clinical encounters in med school. 

Q:       What has impressed you and/or surprised you most about your medical school classmates?

A:        I am both impressed and surprised by the wide range of backgrounds that my classmates come from. As an HSOC major at Penn, I was exposed to a certain “type” of medical student. However, there is no one mold that all med students fit. Everyone comes from such unique backgrounds and my classmates have many different interests. This makes sense, I’ve realized, since all of us will end up going into different specialties! 

Q:       Looking back on your own pre-med preparation and the application process itself, what advice would you give to current applicants in the process?

A:        I would say – don’t rush! I applied without a gap year, and found it to be a pretty stressful process. Studying for the MCAT was rushed, and I missed out on a lot my junior year because of it. Senior fall was also a stressful time with applications and interviews. It worked out for me in the end, but I think if I did it over again I might take a gap year. Everyone is different, though, so you should do what works for you and aligns with your priorities. Additionally, I’d say if you’re not entirely sure about medicine, wait to apply. There’s not need to push it if you’re not sure that medicine is for you. I think it would be incredibly difficult to be motivated and successful if I wasn’t 110% sure that medicine was the career for me. Finally, and most importantly, enjoy Penn! My 4 years at Penn were some of the best. However, I think I spent a lot of it worrying about the next step instead of enjoying undergrad. Getting into medical school is a hard road, and being a medical student if tough. You’ll be a happier, healthier, and more successful medical student if you make sure not to burn out before you even make it there. 

 

My Career Path, from Accountant to Consultant to Professional Organizer

by Barbara Reich

My senior year at Penn was the first time ever that I didn’t have a plan. All I knew was what I didn’t want to do after graduation. I had explored career options within my major of psychology, eliminating one after another. I had considered law school, but concluded that a mountain of debt was too high a price for a degree that I didn’t really want. I thought about publishing, teaching, and advertising, but nothing felt quite right. Then, I heard about an Executive MBA program jointly sponsored by Price Waterhouse (now PriceWaterhouse Coopers) and New York University Stern School of Business. Depending on the semester, I would work or attend classes full or part time, and at the end of the program, I would have an MBA, no loans, and three years of work experience. I had never considered being an accountant, but I mailed a resume, secured an interview, took a train to New York City, and came back to Penn with a job offer. I was a little shell shocked, but it was a plan.

Unfortunately, the plan soon unraveled. I didn’t enjoy the business courses and had no passion for accounting. The months that I worked full time and went to school at night were brutal. I was staffed on a bank merger, working 12 hour days and weekends, leaving work to go to class, and returning to work afterward. I was exhausted and unhappy. And, since I had no time to even think about another job, I simply soldiered on, focusing on getting my MBA. At that time, I figured I could look to move internally to another area within PriceWaterhouse (an advantage of working at a large firm) while I came up with my next plan.

Before that happened though, fate intervened. In one of my MBA classes, I worked on a group project with a woman who was a human resources management consultant. Her job sounded compelling to me, and by the time the class met again, I had updated my resume for her. A few months later, I had a job offer from her firm, the Hay Group. I found the work interesting, and the culture at the Hay Group to be congenial and inspiring. Yet, after five years, I decided to move to a smaller firm where I would have a larger role. That, it turns out, was one of those mistakes that work out for the best. I soon determined that there was no reason to bring my clients to another firm when I could run my own. So, Resourceful Consultants, LLC was born and just four months later, my twin daughter and son were born.

During the next two years, I worked part time, picking and choosing clients that fit my lifestyle. Then, one day, I got a call from a former Hay Group colleague. She had a client who wanted to hire someone to organize a home office. Her words were, “Don’t kill me, but I gave him your number. You should do this.” And, so I did, and I LOVED it. I started calling myself a professional organizer, told everyone I knew, and soon had my second client. That person referred a friend, and each of those friends referred friends, and my business began to grow. Soon, I was meeting with two clients a day, five days a week, helping them organize their homes, offices and lives. In 2011, the NY Times wrote a two-page story about me and my business, and that’s when things really took off. Today, I’m the author of a book (Secrets of an Organized Mom), and have appeared on The Today Show, Inside Edition, Good Morning America, Fox News, and New York 1. In addition to the NY Times, I’ve also been in the New York Post, Real Simple, InStyle, People StyleWatch, Family Circle, Better Homes and Gardens, AARP Magazine, and O Magazine among other publications.

When I entered my senior year of college, I had never taken an accounting course or heard of a professional organizer, so every job I ultimately held was unimaginable to me at the start of my search. I hope sharing my path will help others realize that it’s completely normal not to know exactly what you aspire to be. I’ve heard it said that if you do what you love, the money follows. I’ve also heard it said that if you love what you do, it’s not work. Both of those sentiments apply to my career, and I hope one day to yours.


More information about Barbara and her organization can be found at ResourcefulConsultants.com or Facebook.com/ResourcefulConsultants.