What happened to the Class of 2010?

by Patricia Rose, Director of Career Services

We have almost wrapped up our survey of the career plans of the undergraduate class of 2010.  Despite a still sluggish economy, almost two thirds of the class reported that they were employed: 58% in full-time jobs, 4% in full-time post graduate internships, and 1% part-time.  Another 20% went directly to graduate school.  Only 10% reported that they were still seeking employment.   And 3% told us they were engaged in applying to graduate school.

The remaining 4% chose “other.”  Among this group are some who are pursuing acting careers, others who are traveling, one who is on a Fulbright, and another who is playing volleyball in France.   But the largest number of “others” are volunteering, both in this country and abroad.  This is not surprising, given the large number of Penn students who engage in volunteer activities over the course of their time here.

Those who are continuing their educations chose programs like law and medicine, PhD programs in a diverse range of fields:  Assyriology, Organic Chemistry, Ethnomusicology, Genomics, and Performance Studies;  masters’ programs in an equally diverse range of fields:  Urban Education, Economics of Development, Medical Physics, and Photography.  Some are even studying for diplomas in Pastry and Baking Arts and Gemology.

And of course, there are Penn people working in fields well beyond banking, consulting, engineering and nursing, whether they are teaching in Turkey or France, working for the federal government in Washington, D.C.  or as far away as Alaska in the Bureau of Land Management, earning a paycheck at the Elk Mountain Ranch in Colorado or the National Yiddish Book Center in Massachusetts, starting their careers at Major League Baseball or the National Basketball Association, to say nothing of those staying right here at Penn or the Penn Health System, which together employ more than fifty 2010 grads.

The fact is that  these graduates, like those who came before, are doing an incredible range of things, despite the bad economy and despite in many cases fierce competition.  We celebrate this range, and the choices they made.  We look forward to hearing from these graduates in the months and years ahead, and bringing some of them back to campus to speak to current students, who are faced with career decisions of their own.

Why Not to Go to Graduate School (Yet)

by Peter Stokes

Since I’m glad to have been to graduate school myself, and I’m now pleased to be able to counsel students as they make their graduate or professional school plans, I would have a hard time arguing here that grad school stinks and you should avoid it like the plague.  Nevertheless, I do think that grad school represents a serious commitment, and that what you should avoid is using grad school as a default option, casually and without due diligence.

If you’d prefer just to stay in school rather than even think about the tough job market, well, I do have some sympathy.  By all means take this moment to climb back into bed, pull the covers over your head, and let out a self-pitying groan.  (I’d like to say this is a strategy I am unfamiliar with.)

Assuming that you’ve now pulled yourself together and are reading again, however, consider that grad school may not in fact be such an ideal place to be, just yet.  Grad school demands sacrifices of time, effort, and usually money.  Your position will seem even less rosy if after making those sacrifices and earning that advanced degree, you find that your job prospects are limited because you lack experience in the field, or that you have an unnecessary or the wrong degree for what you really want to do.

If you love research—and are sure you will still love it after several years of working on a narrow topic—a Ph.D. might well be for you.  Or if you’ve got a very good idea of what profession you want to go into, and you’ve done your research and know that there is an advanced degree you need for it now—by all means get that application together.

What does doing your research mean here?  Well, you should know what grad school entails, how it will help you in your profession, and what it costs (both in real terms and in lost income)—and you should have done this preferably at least in part by speaking with people in the field you want to work in, who have made decisions like this themselves and are in a great position to advise you.

However, if you’re not sure yet what profession is for you, or if you’re unsure at this point if you’ll be able to sustain an interest in academic work, or if the kind of grad school you have in mind usually expects full-time work experience—then you should probably wait.  It is rarely a bad idea to take some time before going to grad school.  That time gives you a chance to find out more about your career options, and what kind of grad school might be appropriate.  Make sure you explore all your options for what to do after school.

You can do some preparation for graduate school while an undergraduate without applying.  You can take the appropriate standardized test (GRE, GMAT, etc.), and talk with potential recommenders (you might use Interfolio).  But if you’re worried that you’ll lose your motivation for grad school if you take some time before you go, don’t.  In my experience, and that of many others, you’ll find if you take some time to be something other than a student, that when you return, you’re all the more focused and ready and able to take advantage of the opportunity that graduate school can represent.

Two years later….

by Patrica Rose

About this time in 2008 we saw the economy implode.  Recruiting just about froze in place. Those who had summer offers were lucky: the employers honored them, and we urged students to accept them.   Other students were in for a hard time.  Even so, the class of 2009 landed on their feet.  They worked hard to get jobs or get into graduate programs.  Some ended up in positions that were not their first choice, but they are doing well nonetheless.  Others were liberated from the specter of more traditional employment and struck out on their own, to pursue a dream.  By the fall of 2009, only 11% of the class was still seeking employment.

A year ago this time things were a little better.  Employer activity on campus was more palpable.  The recruiters who came were serious about hiring, and not just going through the motions.  During the spring semester of 2010 things really took off.  Spring career fairs had an uptick in employer attendance.  Some employers who didn’t recruit in the fall returned to campus, with unexpected positions to fill.  On it went throughout the late spring and this summer, when we saw strong signups for fall career fairs and on-campus recruiting.  We breathed a sigh of relief:  things would be almost normal for the class of 2011.

But not so fast.  Over the past week or two there have ominous financial reports.  In particular, sales of existing homes were off 27%, and the number of first time filers for unemployment benefits was higher than expected.  More commentators are talking about a double dip: having emerged from the last recession, perhaps we are going to fall back into a second.  Something called the Hindenburg Omen may presage a stock market collapse.  Will the class of 2011 actually have an experience closer to that of the class of 2009?  If I could answer this question with any authority I would be in a different line of work.

If you are going to be graduating this spring (or before), what should you do?  First, you can’t control the economic forces swirling around us.  And we remain hopeful, after all, that all the employers visiting campus this fall will not just be going through the motions.  But if things do slow down, focus on the things you can control.  Take a leaf from the pages of the 2009 book.  Think seriously about what you want to do in your first post-Penn job.  If you need help figuring that out, see a counselor here at Career Services.  Make sure your supporting documents (resume, cover letter drafts) are ready to go.  For those of you interested in the large employers who recruit on campus, the year starts today, August 30, the first day you can submit resumes.  Employer information sessions begin the day before classes start.  The large career days are the second week of classes.  Recruiting starts September 28.  Those who get a slow start will miss out on real opportunities.

If you are applying to graduate or professional school, consult early with one of our pre-professional advisors.  Attend graduate school information sessions, beginning in September.  Be realistic about the schools on your list (our advisors can help with that too).   Ask for recommendations in plenty of time.  Make sure your applications are ready to go early.

Is all this making you nervous?  It’s still August, you say, and you’re right.  So sit back and enjoy this final week of summer.  Be confident.  You are at Penn, which will help, believe me.  Take advantage of all the resources that come with being a Quaker, especially those here in Career Services.  We look forward to working with you in the year ahead.  Here’s to the class of 2011!

What Am I Worth?

by Peggy Curchack

Here’s a question I received from a student a while back:  “Should I be willing to take a job for $25,000?  Isn’t that like insulting me, or inappropriate since I have a Penn degree?”

I see two different issues here:  one is “what is a reasonable salary?”  The other:  “doesn’t the fact that I have a degree from Penn enhance my worth?”  In this blog, I’ll address the salary issue.  Stay tuned for another blog about the “worth” of a Penn degree.

I maintain that no salary is insulting if it is within the boundaries of the industry standards.  Some fields traditionally have paid well (i-banking, consulting), others pay middling (web development, economic research), others pay terribly (women’s shelters, arts organizations, entry-level positions at ad agencies).  The fact that some of your classmates will be offered $60,000 in one industry doesn’t mean you’ve been dissed if you get offered $30,000 to teach in a private school – and take it!

It’s regrettable that there isn’t greater equity among salaries paid in different fields (or, at least, I think it’s regrettable), but that’s reality.

And while many of you have come to enjoy a level of comfort that you’d like to maintain, think hard about what you really need to be fulfilled and challenged.  One’s earnings and one’s “worth” are often equated, but not for any good reasons.  And certainly what you earn in your first job out of Penn is not what you’ll be earning forever and ever (though some fields never pay a lot).  People who hate their jobs are unhappy people, no matter what they earn.

For the number of you with truly daunting loans to pay back:  I wish I had simple words of wisdom, but I don’t.  However, think hard about whether your life will be over if you don’t live in, let’s say, NY.  A dollar goes way farther in Philly or Baltimore or Boulder than it does in Boston, SF, or NY.

The Walt Disney Company
©Walt Disney Company

Finally, a personal belief:  all kinds of people have ended up making good money doing things they are passionate about.  I like to fantasize about Jim Henson coming home from the University of Maryland one weekend and, responding to his grandmother’s question “What are you going to do with your life?” saying “I’m going to make puppets”.  If there is something you know you adore doing, and feel passionate about, do it – you might even find it remunerates better than you expect.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Mayor McCheese

by J. Michael DeAngelis

Have you ever stopped by my desk at Career Services? If you have, I bet you’ve said to yourself: “Man, that guy has it made. He’s got a nice desk with lots of little toys on it, a zillion electronic gizmos plugged into his computer and nice comfy chair with more adjustable levers than I can identify. Yes, that Michael DeAngelis must have the greatest job in the world.” It’s true – I have a really great job, one I enjoy coming to every day. Yet, unlike many of my colleagues I consider Career Services to merely be my “day job.”

Yes, much like Bruce Wayne/Batman, I lead a double life. By day, I’m your friendly neighborhood Career Services staff member, but by night, I’m an actor and a playwright. My degree and my training is in the theater arts, and I consider that to be my true career path. As many students in the arts know, it’s not an easy field to break in to, let alone support yourself in. Like many theater grads, I knew I would do whatever it took to stay afloat, even if that meant taking a non-theater day job.

But just because you’ve decided to take a day job, it doesn’t mean you have to end up working for this guy:

"Do you want fries with that?"

Here are a few tips that might help you, if you are considering taking a part time or full time job outside of your ultimate career path that doesn’t involve anthropomorphised hamburgers:

1. Try and find a job where your skills and training can be applied in a different way. For example, though I don’t typically write plays as part of my career services job, I do get to have a lot of fun writing these blog entries! This is what we refer to as a transferable skill. Your liberal arts education has given you lots of them – think about what you can bring to the table in a unique way.

2. Look for a job that will allow you to pursue your ultimate career goals. For me, Career Services is a steady 9-5 job on weekdays, which gives me my evenings and weekends to take theater jobs. Leaving work and heading right to a rehearsal or performance can lead to very long days, but also very exciting ones.

3. Be honest and up front about your goals. I don’t mean you should walk around looking like you’re going to quit the minute Hollywood calls, but let people you work with know about your “other life.” First and foremost, it’s the polite thing to do. Second, you never know what opportunities it will open up to you. Perhaps you’re in the fine arts. When it comes time to design a new company logo, you could be the first person they call! My colleagues have become not only supporters of my goals, but also my fan base!

4. Remember that your day job is still your JOB. If you are lucky enough to work someplace where you can pursue other goals on the side, it is your responsibility to be a productive and valued employee. It can sometimes be tricky, but I never allow my theater work to interfere with my day job. If you have a job with flex time and vacation days, use them to your advantage when juggling your second career. If it becomes too difficult managing a day job and a “night” job, it might be time to reevaluate. This is something we can help you with in Career Services.

There is a vast array of opportunities out there waiting for someone like you. Don’t rule out job possibilities just because they don’t fit squarely into your planned career. Stick to your goals, but don’t be afraid to explore jobs that are outside your set career plans. One day, as you’re accepting your Oscar, Grammy or Pulitzer, your colleagues will shout “We knew you when” and your blog posts will become instant collectibles! (The Collected Career Services Blogs of J. Michael DeAngelis out this fall in bookshops!)

And you’ll never have to say “Do you want fries with that?”