“I’ll never get a job!” – Cognitive Distortions, A Career Short List

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a theory and practice of psychology that focuses on how we think and perceive our world, and how these perceptions can change our experiences.  This field has identified common mistakes people make (more information from Wikipedia here.) These types of thinking errors are called cognitive distortions.

I want to write about cognitive distortions as they relate to your career.  You would not guess how many times I have heard a student say “there are no jobs in my field” or “it is impossible to find an internship now” – something along those lines. Of course, the student and I both know that the statement is generalizing, may even be hyperbolic.  Yes it is hard to find work, but are there NO job openings whatsoever, even since the economic downturn in 2008?  I haven’t met a single person who would take their own emphatic statement as the full truth.

So what’s wrong about making an exaggerated exclamation?  Well… the problem is that we often start to believe our own distortions, or use the feeling associated with them to guide our behavior.  Even if you know there are SOME jobs out there for you, if you go with the feeling such a statement might generate or enforce (frustration, helplessness) you are bound to stop trying when in fact, persevering in your networking or other job search efforts might be the name of the game.   My suggestion is to be aware of the messages you convey to yourself – think about if they are helping you, or may be making things worse.

Below are a few statements that may seem familiar, the cognitive distortion involved (From: Burns, David D., MD. 1989. The Feeling Good Handbook. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.), and an alternative that might be more helpful:

“I am so frustrated – there are no jobs in my field.” Emotional reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.” Possible alternative: “I feel frustrated right now.  I am going to focus on sticking to my strategy and getting some support from Career Services.”

I can’t believe I messed up that one question at the interview, I am sure that ruined my chances of getting to the second round.Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.  Possible alternative: “My answer to that one question kind of stank, but the rest of the interview went pretty well.  I need to practice in case I get that question again.”

“If I can’t become a professor I am going to have to wait tables – what else is there for PhDs?” All-or-nothing thinking: You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure. Possible alternative: “I don’t know what I am qualified for besides being an academic; maybe I should explore my options.”

“Nothing came of my contacts at that career fair, I don’t know how I am ever going to get a job.” Overgeneralization: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. Possible alternative: “That career fair was a disappointment, so I am going to look into other strategies for my job search.”

“I still haven’t heard back regarding the job application. I must have done something wrong.”  Personalization: You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event for which, in fact, you were not primarily responsible. Possible alternative:  “There are many factors that affect a hiring decision, I wonder if they need more time to decide or more information from me.”

When you are job searching, as in other parts of your life, your attitude can affect your outcomes.  Make sure you are serving yourself well when you reflect on your own thoughts and behaviors.  If you are interested in learning more about cognitive therapy and working on cognitive distortions, I suggest you read books by Dr. David Burns, Dr. Aaron Beck, and learn about the work at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Cognitive Therapy .

Lessons you can learn from Rudolph (and friends) about your Career Path

By Anne Reedstrom & Claire Klieger

‘Tis the season for many holiday specials, including one of our favorites, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, which has a surprising number of career parallels–okay, maybe only if you’re someone who works in Career Services which, after a time, causes you to see career parallels in everything.

  1. “What’s the matter with misfits?” Don’t let others define who you are or what to do. Like Hermey’s desire to be a dentist (if you share that desire, go talk to Anne & friends) despite his  family history of toy making, you should give yourself permission to look at a wide variety of options. Even though it may feel like most students at Penn go into banking, consulting, and other “business” careers, in reality there are lots of students who choose a seemingly less traveled path (and they don’t even have to run away from home to make it happen).
  2. Don’t hide on the island of misfit toys. These self-banished  toys felt like no one would want them because they were different but, ultimately, they realized their value. In other words, there is a home (or job) for everyone, whether you are a pink spotted elephant, an ostrich riding cowboy or a visual studies major. It’s okay if you don’t yet know where you fit best. And, instead of relying on the King of the Misfits, you can use career services (and our exploration page) to help you discover options that will be right for you.
  3. Embrace your red shiny nose.Some of you may feel similar pressure from parents or peers to adopt a particular career path, just as Rudolph’s father wants him to wear a false nose to better conform to traditional reindeer norms. What he discovers, however, is that accepting what makes you special allows you to identify your own strengths and the path which will let you best capitalize on them.

    courtesy of Rankin/Bass
  4. Remember that “Bumbles bounce!” While you might not be able to survive a fall off a cliff like this famous abominable snowman, you can recover more easily than you might think from setbacks such as a bad academic semester, switching career tracks, or a challenging job search.  You may aspire to different goals than professional Christmas tree topper, but you all have many skills which, regardless of where or how you have learned them, are transferable to many different working environments.

From our island of misfits to yours, enjoy your holidays, watch many cheesy holiday specials (Anne recommends Year Without a Santa Claus), and come back to campus refreshed and ready for 2012.


5 things you can learn from Thanksgiving to help you in your job search

Dr. Joseph Barber

1)      Don’t use pepper spray…, ever. No matter how much you want a job – pepper spraying the other candidates will not help you get it. You might have heard about the Wal-Mart incident. There will always be highly qualified candidates applying for the job you want, but it is not worth thinking about these people too much. You can’t do anything to about their qualifications and experiences; you can only maximize the effectiveness of your own. Make sure the way you describe your experiences speaks to the requirements of the position. If you want more information on this, then read some of these posts.

2)      Keep your focus. Who knows why this newscaster did what she did – but she assumed that the camera was not watching and that her gesture would go unnoticed. Whether you are attending a social function during an on-campus interview, or chatting with friends in a café after meeting with recruiters as part of OCR, don’t let your professional guard down. Read this post for more on this.

3)      Ignore silly names and labels. After Thanksgiving we have “Black Friday”, and then “Small Business Saturday”, and then “Sunday”, and then “Cyber Monday”. It is all a little silly, if you ask me. However, it does give me the opportunity to talk about the benefits of thinking about your career in terms of what you are doing rather than at what company or institution you might be doing it. Job titles and company names are just labels – what you do on a day-to-day basis may be much more relevant. There are some of you who think you might like to work for a big company, be it a consulting firm or investment bank, but who might enjoy using your skills in a similar way for a smaller-scale organization. This could mean working in a start-up rather than for a more established company. This could mean working for a non-profit instead of a corporate giant. This could mean working for yourself rather than for someone else. Your career path is yours to choose, to a certain extent, and if you can gain satisfaction from the application of your skills and knowledge in a variety of different settings, then you might find many more opportunities out there.

4)      There’s always a sale at Macy’s. Has anyone else noticed this? I’m not complaining, mind you, but the constant sale does seem to play a significant role in Macy’s business model. Perhaps they had an even bigger sale over the Thanksgiving period, but chances are that anything you missed out on during this time (if you are afeard of shopping during this heinously busy time like me) you’ll be able to find on sale at some other random point in time when it is much less busy. Depending on the careers you are interested in, you might find that there can be seasonal fluctuations in the number of job opportunities available. Let’s say you want to apply for academic jobs as an assistant professor, then applications are often due starting from September – depending on your discipline. By January and February, the number of open positions may be significantly less. Does this mean that you should stop looking? No. Set up email alerts on some of the job aggregator sites (e.g., for academic jobs take a look at www.indeed.com; www.higheredjobs.com; http://chronicle.com/section/Jobs/61/), and you’ll always be informed of openings as they arise. More importantly, keep a dialogue going with people in your network who might hear of opportunities as they arise. It is possible that a search committee will not be able to agree on a person to hire for a full-time position, and will find themselves scrambling to fill a more temporary position for the year before they conduct the search again. This could be a great opportunity to get a foot in the door, and search committees may often look more favorably on people they know (i.e., internal candidates, even in visiting professor positions) than on unknown entities when it comes to filling the full-time position. So, keep your eyes out for sales outside of the traditional sale periods – you never know what you might find.

5)      Be thankful whether or not it is Thanksgiving. Don’t forget to thank those people who have helped you in your academic and professional careers – this can be a great way to get back in touch, and people always like to hear how their actions may have contributed in some small way to any successes you have had. Also, keep the people you have in mind as potential reference letter writers updated on your professional comings and goings. It is hard to write a good letter of reference for someone you have not thought about for five years. It is almost impossible to write one for a student who took your course in the past, but didn’t say or contribute much, and who expressed no obvious enthusiasm or passion for the subject being taught either during or after the course. Maintaining your network of contacts is very important throughout the year (especially during the summer!), as these posts affirm.

The Holiday Onslaught Begins: Parallels between OCR & Christmas hype

By Claire Klieger


Walking into Wawa today and hearing “Silver Bells” reminds me that yet again, it’s time to launch into the holiday season, whether I’m “beginning to feel a lot like Christmas” or not. I mean, don’t get me wrong; I like Christmas as much as the next Yule-tider, but can’t we take our time and celebrate one holiday at time?

Courtesy of Laughter is Good for the Soul

This year I even started to see holiday decorations for sale in stores before Halloween. As I was thinking about this, it struck me that there are actually some parallels between the early onset of Christmas mania and the OCR phenomenon on Penn’s campus. So, here they are:

It happens before I’m necessarily ready for it. We all know it—each year those songs come on during your grocery store or CVS runs earlier and earlier and OCR can feel the same way. Whether you’re talking full time positions or summer internships, OCR starts the first week of classes before you’ve even had a chance to catch your breath. And for seniors, especially, how many of you are really ready to start your post-graduation job search the second you step foot back on campus? It can be a little overwhelming.


It’s not for everyone. On-campus recruiting is great and offers lots of really wonderful opportunities for students in a convenient package but just like figgy pudding, fruit cake or the Justin Bieber Christmas album, it may not appeal to everyone. Employers from only a few industries participate in this style of recruiting and so for students not interested in banking, consulting, consumer products, retail or tech, then OCR is not for you, which is just fine.


Via Flickr

It’s everywhere. The sea of suits that appear on campus in September and October are a little like light-up animatronic reindeer lawn ornaments or huge inflatable snow globes lining the neighborhoods of American suburbia—impossible to ignore. This can also make you feel like everyone must be interviewing and getting their job offers in the fall but that’s not the case. For students in the College, only 30% of the class of 2010 received their job offers by the end of December.


Sometimes the best deals happen last minute. I’m not sure how this idea gets planted and spreads but there is a fairly pervasive notion among Penn students that if you don’t have a job by a certain date (often winter break) or if you don’t get a job through OCR, you won’t be left with anything “good,” interesting, or otherwise prestigious. The truth is that there are many really interesting things out there and just like that great holiday gift that you scored on clearance the day before Christmas Eve, often some of the coolest positions get posted closer to or even after graduation.


So sit back, relax, and roast those chestnuts over an open fire at your own pace. Even in this economy, jobs are out there and neat opportunities will be there for you to apply to whenever you happen to get into the spirit of the job hunting season. When you’re ready to deck the halls with your resume, we’ll be here to help you make your list, check it twice, and find employers who are not naughty, but nice.  Oh wait, I mean gobble, gobble!

A Day in the Life: Business Development at a Tech Startup

Technology and entrepreneurship goes hand in hand these days.  What better way to learn about the variety of opportunities available with startups than through a Penn alum? On Thursday, November 3rd we welcome Adam Levin to @PennCareerDay on Twitter to talk about his day in business development at a cutting-edge technology company, Meebo.   Adam’s contributions to @PennCareerDay is one of highlighted resources featured October 31st through November 5th on Startups.  To learn more about Adam, read his bio below and follow him on November 3rd.

As senior manager of Business Development at Meebo, Adam leads a team focusing on audience growth and large scale revenue opportunities for Meebo’s partners. Since joining Meebo, Adam has worked with premium partners and large media networks to help build out key content verticals. Before joining Meebo, Adam spent his summer internship in business school at Silver Lake Partners’ credit hedge where he invested in tech securities. Prior to business school, Adam spent two years working in Investment Banking at Goldman Sachs; he specialized in leveraged buyouts and capital markets transactions in the industrials and business services sectors. Adam earned a BA in 2005 from the College of Arts and Sciences where he majored in English and an MBA from Wharton in 2009 with a concentration in management.