The “Be – Attitudes” of Professionalism

By Dr. Esther Ra, Career Advisor in Nursing, Education, & Social Policy & Practice

It is a new year and many of our Penn students have come back with gusto to begin the semester and that spring job search! If that predicament describes you, I want to draw
your attention to the Penn 7 Career Competencies. Are you familiar with them? Have you put
some thought into how you are growing in these elements at Penn and beyond?

Among the Penn 7, I often address competencies related to Professionalism and Work Ethic
with students in my office. Whether an undergraduate or graduate student, the “professional”
piece of this competency can be a quagmire and where I usually field an array questions.

Please note that these “be-attitudes” are principles that should not be limited to a job search,
but implemented and displayed all throughout your career and frankly, in all other areas of life!

1. Be Punctual. Be on time. I can take this a step further and say, be a little early. If you are meeting an employer for an interview, be five minutes early. Respecting another person’s time shows care that you are aware and mindful of others. This also applies to phone meetings and Skype meetings. If tardiness cannot be helped (i.e. unforeseen circumstances), call in advance and give notice for your lateness.

2. Be Prepared. Before meeting with potential employers, do your research. It is your due diligence. I have had students skip this step and unfortunately, it has backfired terribly. This is a big mistake, resulting in wasted efforts and time on both the part of you and the employer. For example, if you gather information on the employer and their mission, it will give you a sense of their raison d’etre. If the principles of the company does not agree with your own, eliminate it from your potential job search list. Furthermore, come ready to ask good questions about the employer’s current work and organization. Employers like smart questions and will remember if you appeared ready to engage. Be current on the employers’ research endeavors and news. Did you check their Twitter account to see what has been trending? Have they been noted in the news lately for new research? Be sure to check all media outlets, including social media, to get the scoop on the employer. This is a crucial element in displaying professionalism on the job market.

3. Be Respectful. When interacting with potential employers or even professional contacts for networking, be sure to speak to them with respect. This sounds like a given, but it is a great reminder to not let your guard down. For example, DO send thank you emails after meeting with employers. Thank them for their time and energy spent on talking with you. DO refer to them by their title, unless they otherwise say so (ex. Professor, Doctor, etc.). DO NOT bombard employers or professional contacts with the same request by way of email and phone in the same day. Give employers and professional contacts the space to respond, even if it is not within 24 hours. Chances are, they are quite busy individuals. Many are willing to respond, but also have other hats they are wearing in their work and family lives. Be respectful of this and DO NOT demand or overstep boundaries.

4. Be ethical. Employers are always searching to find reliable employees with integrity. Many of the behavioral questions asked during the interview process try to gauge this competency. How did you handle difficult situations? Are you trustworthy? Did you CHOOSE to make the right decision in your previous workplace? Are you wise and fair with your time? Do you own your mistakes? Do you keep work information confidential? Do your part to be an employee who is known for their integrity. Be fair to others, to yourself, and to your employer. It will not go unnoticed.

5. Be you. Above all, BE YOU. Be the best version of you. Penn students are without a doubt exceptionally hard working, innovative, and unique. The professors and administrators here all desire for your continued success. Use the resources around you and push yourself to be the best YOU, you can be. If you need anything, we are here to help you.

Ways to Practice Professionalism at Penn:

1. Be on time for class and appointments. No explanation needed.

2. Be courteous. Address people appropriately. When addressing professors and administrators appropriately in emails and in person, address them as Professor X or Dr. Z, unless they indicate otherwise. DO NOT assume their title or that they want to be called by their first name.

3. Be there or be square. When you say you will be present at an event, be there. If you will not be able to make it, give notice of your cancellation. DO NOT be a “no show” and brush it off as no big deal. People remember “no shows” and it does not reflect well. If you have to be absent from class, for example, own your absence, and send your professor a note of apology with the valid reason why you have to miss class. Do the same with appointments across campus, whether it be at CAPS, Career Services, or at Health Services. Your cancellation could be an opportunity for another student who may need that appointment.

4. Be respectful to all, even to those you do not necessarily gravitate towards. This should go without explanation, however, sometimes we all need reminding; in your working life there will be varying viewpoints on topics (including politics), differing philosophies in carrying out projects, and general opinions you do not care for or want to discuss. While such circumstances require careful navigation, you should never “fall out” of respect. Be calm when addressing differences; DO NOT take matters personally, and smile.

5. Be thankful. Say thank you. This is a gesture, which is often forgotten, but so very simple. After meeting with a professor, email them to say thank you. After meeting with classmates for a group project, email to say thank you for the efforts to all that contributed. A simple thank you goes a very long way. Though we may be in the digital era with email thank yous, I can assure you that simple, handwritten thank you notes are not obsolete. Thanking someone shows respect and appreciation for an action taken or time spent. Everyone likes to be recognized. Saying thank you shows endless class and never goes out of style.

There you have the “be-attitudes.” Now, go and practice them!

For the Record: 3 Ways You Should Be Tracking Your Accomplishments

Nadine Goldberg, Graduate Assistant

I’m constantly blown away by how active Penn students are. You’re involved in work-study jobs, student orgs, athletic teams, and more. But are you tracking your accomplishments? Set yourself up for success in your next job or internship search by documenting your successes along the way. Here’s how:


1) Tell Me About a Time When…

Whether you’re writing a cover letter or preparing for behavioral interview questions, your job or internship search will challenge you to recall specific success stories from your previous professional and extracurricular experiences – and it really can be a challenge! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve racked my brain before an interview trying to recall a compelling anecdote from an experience that happened a few years back.

Save yourself the trouble by recording your success stories in the moment, while they’re freshest in your memory. When it’s time to write that cover letter or prepare for that interview, you’ll have a handy dandy cheat sheet all ready to go!

2) The Numbers Don’t Lie

Nearly every time I review a resume, I find myself suggesting that the student add quantifying detail to demonstrate the size of their impact. If you were managing a budget for an organization, how large was it? If you coordinated an event, how many people participated? If you were running a social media account, by what percentage did you grow its following?

The trouble is, it can be nearly impossible to remember these numbers if you haven’t been tracking them. How many students attended the lecture I organized two years ago? No clue! Make your life easier by recording quantifying detail about your professional and extracurricular experiences as they happen.

Also be sure to record baseline numbers when you start in a new role so that you can quantify any growth you initiate – How many people were following your organization’s Facebook page when you took the reins? How many people attended the event you’ll be planning in previous years?

3) The Proof is in the Pudding

When it comes to tracking your accomplishments, it’s alright to be a pack-rat. Hang on to any tangible outputs or records of your accomplishments. Did your event get written up in the DP, or did something you wrote get published? Save the links to the articles. Did you design a flyer that you’re proud of or develop great materials for a workshop? Hold on to the files. When it’s time to update your Linkedin profile, these materials will make great content! Just be sure to confirm that your organization will allow you to share them publically.

Are You Career Competent?

Dr. Joseph Barber, Associate Director

You may not have been asked this specific question in a job interview. But fundamentally all interview questions are trying to help the interviewer to define your career competence. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has recently highlighted the idea of career competencies and career readiness in a push to help colleges and universities work with their students in ways that encourage a successful transition from the academic environment to the workplace. That includes the process of moving from being a graduate student or postdoc to a being faculty member within academe, as well as entering into career fields in business, non-profits, government, and beyond.

You can view the NACE competencies here and read about how these competencies were developed through an interactive process involving both career services professionals and human resources/recruiting staff at more than 600 different employers. As such, they represent both what career services professionals should be helping graduate students and postdocs achieve (or at least talk about effectively), and what employers are broadly looking for in some of their ideal candidates.

I like the idea of competencies. They give people professional development goals to work towards. They help students and postdocs understand that it takes a wide diversity of skills to be successful in any work situation. They demonstrate that there are always news skills to be learned and new situations in which to apply pre-existing skills.

That said, I’m not sure I like the word “competency” as much — at least when thinking about the way graduate students and postdocs think about themselves. Unfortunately, much in the same way that the word “pedagogy” doesn’t find much love outside of academe (most people would call it “teaching”), the word “competency” doesn’t get much day-to-day use when it comes to the interactions that faculty members and students/postdocs have with one another. In fact, it can feel like a very foreign concept. No one has ever made an appointment with me to talk about their competencies.

One definition of competency I found online described the term as “the ability to do something successfully or efficiently.” As definitions go, it is a short one but not entirely helpful. Most people would probably agree that a competency is a positive attribute — something you want more of. No matter what you are doing, you will probably be better off if you are doing it more competently. However, you can’t make someone more competent just by giving them something like knowledge — there is no magical competency pill. A competency is something that needs to be practiced so that it can be used effectively in a wide range of appropriate situations, and at all the right times.

At Penn, we have been thinking about how the NACE competencies can be adapted for the different student and postdoc populations we serve through Career Services. We are considering how they might inform the future programming we develop as well as the way we work with students one-on-one with our advising. We are also thinking about how these career competencies have value to our colleagues in other student service offices on the campus as they work with students in their various capacities.

Here are the NACE career readiness competencies:

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Oral/written communication
  3. Teamwork/collaboration
  4. Information technology application
  5. Leadership
  6. Professionalism and work ethic
  7. Career management

One of the first changes we made to this list at Penn was to integrate the idea of applying information technology into the other competencies rather than having it stand alone. We decided that telling students that it is important for them to use technology to accomplish a task and solve problems would likely trigger blank stares flavored with a distinct essence of disbelief. No one is going to sound cool and trendy telling students that using technology is important — especially since many may not actually know that there is any alternative. (And, yes, it is always important to sound somewhat cool and trendy to be seen as credible by some students — at least as cool and trendy as someone can who uses the words “cool” and “trendy.”)

We also added a “self-management and personal wellness” competency to emphasize concepts such as resiliency in the face of challenges, mistakes and failures. Students and postdocs should know that it is OK to make some mistakes, that failure often creates different opportunities, and that it is both professional and important to ask for help in pretty much any scenario.

Here are the career competencies we have developed so far: 

Self-management and personal wellness. Build personal and professional development strategies and goals with a clear focus on effectively managing stress and balancing work/life commitments.

  • Assess personal feelings and effectively keep emotions in perspective.
  • Showcase empathy and understanding with others.
  • Cultivate and foster habits of wellness to increase focus, productivity and impact.
  • Develop and demonstrate resiliency within a professional setting and other stressful situations.
  • Gain awareness of available wellness resources and support and ask for help when needed.

Active listening and effective communication.  Accurately receive and interpret verbal and non-verbal messages from direct reports, peers, colleagues, and supervisors. Clearly and effectively articulate thoughts and to varied audiences in writing and in presentation.

  • Adapt speaking approaches to suit different audiences.
  • Communicate effectively and professionally through diverse channels (social media, emails, verbal communication).
  • Express ideas in a coherent manner.
  • Write/edit letters, position papers, proposals, web content and complex technical reports clearly and effectively.

Critical thinking and problem solving. Exercise sound reasoning to analyze issues, make decisions, overcome problems, address ambiguity and find relevant information.

  • Obtain, interpret, and use knowledge, facts, and data to resolve problems.
  • Demonstrate creativity, originality and inventiveness.
  • Easily adapt new technologies and applications to address work challenges and apply computing skills to solve problems.

Teamwork and collaboration. Build collaborative relationships with colleagues and clients representing diverse cultures, races, ages, genders, religions, lifestyles, disciplines, and viewpoints.

  • Assume various roles within a team structure.
  • Effectively manage and negotiate different personalities in order to reach a common goal.
  • Understand how to problem solve when encountering challenging workplace dynamics. 

Leadership and project management. Develop professional, working relationships with colleagues, peers, and supervisors/advisors, and leverage the strengths of others to achieve common goals.

  • Develop a strategically conceptualized plan to identify and achieve goals.
  • Utilize interpersonal skills to coach, develop, motivate and gain buy-in from others.
  • Organize, prioritize and delegate work.
  • Identify opportunity areas to more successfully achieve goals.
  • Leverage diverse talent pool to maximize team results.


Professionalism and work ethic. Demonstrate personal accountability and effective work habits (e.g., punctuality, working productively with others and time/workload management), and understand the impact of non-verbal communication on professional image.

  • Demonstrate integrity and behave ethically.
  • Make responsible decisions that consider the interests of the larger community.
  • Assume responsibility when mistakes are made and learn from them in future situations.
  • Communicate with colleagues in language appropriate for the work. environment and suitable for a diverse environment.
  • Go above and beyond to make positive impressions.
  • Understand data privacy and security issues particular to the workplace. 

Career Management. Identify and express one’s skills, strengths, knowledge and experiences relevant to both the desired position and career goals, and identify areas necessary for professional growth.

  • Assess current role and how it will lead to future prospects.
  • Understand and take necessary steps to find and pursue opportunities.
  • Articulate impact on workplace by effectively communicating and illustrating skills, competencies, knowledge and experiences.
  • Self-advocate for professional development and advancement.
  • Understand current industry’s market and relationship to the overall economy.

Many higher education institutions have developed their own customized competencies for their students, and we hope that this approach at Penn will be similarly helpful for us as administrative staff as well as to the students and postdocs we serve. It is clear that the role of career advisers is not necessarily to assist them in gaining all of these competencies. Many fall outside of the reach of a career services office. But we can certainly play a key part in helping students and postdocs understand the importance of these traits from the prospective of employers, to point them towards experiences that help them develop and practice these competencies, and perhaps most important, to help them be able to communicate the competencies they do have in clear, illustrative and relevant ways during their job search and career development. I will describe possible ways to gain and then demonstrate some of these competencies in a future post.

Using Dirty Diapers to Illustrate Transferable Skills

Dr. Joseph Barber

I have been thinking about skills and competencies quite a bit just recently. This was triggered first by the fact that my introductory period working at Career Services recently ended. Many jobs have a 3-4 month introductory period, after which your progress is evaluated. All being well, this introductory period evaluation is a time to focus on future goals to reach for, and skills that should be acquired or put into action. In my case, the good news is that I passed the evaluation, and so here I am today! Ok, so it wasn’t really an exam where there are simple questions that need to be answered, of course, but an assessment of how effective I have been doing what is required of me in this role as career counselor for graduate students and postdocs. The only way to pass this kind of assessment is to illustrate the skills that I have by putting them into action to achieve measurable outcomes. Remember this last sentence, because this is really the key to being successful with any job application and interview. I’ll get back to this in a moment.

The second reason I have been thinking about competencies is based on the fact that I have just become a first-time parent. I’m a dad…, and all of a sudden I feel completely incompetent in terms of this enormous responsibility. Right now I dealing with the basics: burping, changing, rocking, changing, carrying, changing…, and this is already proving quite the challenge. I haven’t even got to the point where I need to figure out when to buy her first cell phone, how to teach her to drive, or how to convince her not to date boys from rock bands. Strange as it might seem, however, many of the skills I have been using here at Career Services are the same skills that I am trying to use when caring for a baby, and the same skills that most employers are going to find attractive.

I am talking about those elusive “transferable skills”. These are skills that you gain from one experience (let’s say completing a PhD in English), that you can go ahead and use in a totally different experience (for example, getting a job outside of academia as a development director at a non-profit organization). Your work on the writings of Oscar Wilde may not seem to have much application outside of university research, but what’s most important are the skills you put into action that allowed you to perform all aspects of this research effectively.

When you apply for jobs, employers not only need to see that you have skills, but that you can use those skills effectively. In your CV, resume, cover letter and interview, you need to be able to illustrate your skills in action by using real-life examples that show just how effective they are. Anyone can say that they are a good problem-solver. By showing how you solved a problem, and why solving that problem was ultimately important, you are much more convincing. It doesn’t really matter what the problem was, so long as you can show how you identified and addressed it.

To see an example of illustrating skills, and to show that transferable skills really are transferable, let’s look at what I am spending most of my time doing right now (career counseling and child care), and see how I can market these experiences effectively.  Here are some of the most important transferable skills that you should always be on the look out to put into action:


  • Career Services: Successfully coordinated panel discussion program by inviting three speakers to talk about alternative career options for scientists for an audience of 40 students.
  • Child care: Utilized on-line resources to improve effectiveness of baby swaddling technique, leading to a 20% reduction in infant ‘evil arm’ escapes, and maintenance of doctor-defined core body temperature.


  • Career Services: Gained working knowledge of Dreamweaver to update Career Services website, and added multimedia resources (Articulate presentation, audio clips, video interviews with alumni) to enhance experience for users.
  • Child care: Maximized daily productivity by utilizing quiet periods in early evening to powernap, leading to effective use of nighttime hours to provide child care with no decrease in day-time work output.


  • Career Services: Presented 4 workshops to groups of 10-25 students on career strategies, wrote 3 blogs, and assisted in the development of 4 PowerPoint presentations to effectively communicate career advice to wide diversity of graduate students and postdocs.
  • Child care: Maintain detailed logbook of feeding, pooping, and sleeping activities performed by child to provide pediatrician with accurate representation of daily activities.


  • Career Services: Collaborated with 6-person team to develop in-print and online program evaluation forms for use after each workshop and panel discussion given during spring semester, to assist in tailoring programs to meet the needs of students.
  • Child care: Complete efficient removal of soiled child packaging units by identifying behavioural precursors to child discomfort prior to loud audible indicators, resulting in additional 40 minutes of sleep for over-worked co-parent.

Project management

  • Career Services: Identified and contacted 4 alumni to request participation in video interviews during career fair; recorded and edited video footage to create podcast for Career Services website to assist students in developing strategies for maximizing outreach to employers.
  • Child care: Coordinate scheduling of 3 local family assets to assist in daily care of child, moving care resources to upper or lower levels of care facility to facilitate needs of volunteers of different age-ranges with varying locomotory abilities.


  • Career Services: Identified need for technology updates to allow office cameras to record complete mock interviews, and worked with office manager to order and acquire updated resources.
  • Child care: Developed stepwise process to systematically identify causal factors leading to infant crying, resulting in 30% reduction in Tylenol consumption needed to address noise-related cerebral discomfort.

Team work

  • Career Services: Partner with career counselor to develop interactive workshop on transferable skills by identifying program goals, creating group exercises, and framing discussion points based on experience of presenters.
  • Child care: Coordinate all daily activities with co-parent to effectively manage resource acquisition, consumption of nutrients, reorganization of living space, and financial responsibilities, leading to 50:50 division of labour, and 100% completion of household chores.


Well…, leadership skills are an important area for me to focus on in the future. Hopefully, when I coordinate the Biomedical & Life Sciences Career Fair as part of the Graduate Team here at Career Services, there will be plenty of opportunities to illustrate my leadership skills. From the baby perspective, I continue to work with my wife to develop our strategic plan for effective child-rearing. We can come up with all of the house rules we want (e.g., no computer or TV in the bedroom), but an illustration of leadership skills in this case will be sticking with these rules. I’m no fool…, I am expecting this to be a near impossible task!

Take a look at the list of transferable skills I have provided above, and try to look back at your own academic and non-academic experiences to see if you can come up with effective illustrations of you using these skills to achieve quantifiable outcomes. If you have trouble finding a good example for a particular skill, try looking for new and different experiences where you can put this skill into action (e.g., joining a club, volunteering). If you are interested in thinking more about transferable skills, then consider meeting with us here at Career Services