Don’t Try this At Home

As a career counselor I often hear the frustrations of job seekers who send out applications, who interview, who network…. and despite all these efforts, get little response from certain employers for their invested time. Particularly heartbreaking are stories from people who get through the interview process only to feel themselves in a “black hole” as employers delay (or avoid) letting them know their status in the search for candidates. Typically in this situation, no news isn’t good news, but there are some constructive tips for handling the ambiguity that is inherent in the job search process. I will share those ideas below, but first, a humor-filled moment (if you think shows like MTV’s Jackass are funny).

I recently read a fun article from the New York Times about a man who got his revenge for all the agonizing silence we job seekers have collectively experienced. Read his story here:

Now, that was action packed! But… I don’t recommend it for job seekers who are more interested in landing a job than pulling off a crazy stunt. Here are some effective, and reasonable actions you could try on your own:

1) Think ahead – if you are interviewed, find time at the end to ask the question “what is your timeline for making a decision?” and to state something like “I’ll get back in contact with you if I haven’t heard anything by this time, are you the best person to call?”. It is critical to have this information before leaving an in-person interview or putting the phone down for phone interviews. Asking about “next steps” means you are indicating your genuine interest in the job and puts a bit more control into your hands regarding the communications you have with the employer.

2) Exercise patience – remind yourself that ambiguity really is part of the job seeking process. Keep putting yourself out there, get feedback from a career advisor regarding your job search strategies if that would be helpful.

3) Be proactive in a polite way – whether or not you interview, it generally is fine to follow up your application either by phone or email, to see how the employer’s search for a candidate is going, and/or to let them know you remain interested in the opportunity. (A caveat: if a job application says “no phone calls please” then you ought to follow the expressed preference of the organization.) Ultimately, if an employer is unresponsive to your effort to check in, then stay open to hearing from them, but move your job search energies into other endeavors.

4) Remember, it isn’t all about you – sometimes employers don’t get back to you because they are busy, because they have been inundated with applications, because they have many people who are involved in the decision making process, because there are formalities that prevent them from responding to your inquiries. You might be their first choice, but they haven’t had a chance to get back to you in a timely way. You might be the second choice – which means you still have a chance at the job if their initial offer is turned down. You may not be selected at this time. The point is, you do not know what is happening on the employers’ side. Give them the benefit of the doubt, but don’t take it personally.

5) Remember, it isn’t all about this one opportunity – as hard as it is to put effort out in the form of applications and interviews, the measure of success is not all-or-nothing: getting an offer of employment is not the only way to measure a successful job search. Each time you write an application, go through an interview, and meet people in the field, you are strengthening the skill sets that will serve you well in your future. Don’t forget, many people change jobs every 3-5 years. You will be using those job seeking skills again and again.

Airport Test

by Helen Cheung

Would you be interesting company in an airport for four hours?
Would you be interesting company in an airport for four hours?

“What was the last book you read?”
“Tell me about the worst team you were on.”
“How did you choose your major?”

Underlying these innocent and common job interview questions is a bigger question that either makes or breaks the deal of a job offer: “What is it going to be like to be stuck with you for a 4 hour layover in an airport?”  Your job might not require travel or social skills, but managers would prefer to hire interesting people who get along with others.  Also, they want coworkers who fit the culture of the organization.

If you search for “Airport Testonline, you will find tons of great advice for job interviews you can use to help you pass the test. You can also do practice interviews with a Career Services counselor to get feedback on the impression you make on others. However, this isn’t a test you should cram for.  You can’t simply memorize some answers and come across as likeable and interesting. You can work on storytelling skills but you have to have stories to tell in the first place.

How do you prepare for the Airport Test then?  For starters, practice your team skills in your daily life.  Whether coordinating a meal schedule with your roommates or going on a camping trip with friends, you have to deal with people and overcome challenges.  Second, you can read widely and live fully.  It is much easier to talk to someone who cares about something than someone who doesn’t so get comfortable discussing your interests.  Third, learn to be interested in people and learn to make life easier for them.  The Airport Test is not just about you; it is about the interviewer, your potential coworker.  So, the more you practice caring for others in your daily life, the more you naturally put your interviewer at ease so that they won’t wish for an “eject” button.

Return the Call

by Barbara Hewitt


During the last month I’ve received calls from three different employers complaining that they have not been able to get Penn students to return their phone calls. One wanted to invite a student for a second round interview. One only learned that two students no longer planned to actually attend their previously scheduled second round interviews when the employer took the time to reach out to reconfirm the date and time.  The last complaint came for an employer who had extended an offer to a student, but could not get the student to return follow-up phone calls from either recruiters or a relatively high level senior executive who had taken time out of his busy day to call the candidate.

Students often think they are simply “cogs in the machine” of the recruiting process – one of many individuals traipsing through the halls of organizations across America to interview in an attempt to land an offer.  They may not think that returning a phone call or answering an email promptly matters much in the big scheme of things.  Let me assure you it does.  Employers spend a tremendous amount of energy, time and money on college recruiting.  They work hard to find individuals who will be the right fit for their organizations.  They want to know that the students to whom they extend offers will be passionate about working for them and committed to the organization once they come on board.

If a candidate doesn’t have the common courtesy to return a phone call, it sends the message that he or she either does not know how to be professional, or really doesn’t care about the kind of impression s/he is making on the firm.  Employers in this situation may very well begin to think that they made the wrong decision in extending an offer. Real concerns about the candidate’s ability to work with colleagues and clients may arise.  I have seen employers withdraw offers after such negative experiences with candidates.

I understand why students sometimes hesitate to return employers’ calls.  Often they are very busy.  Perhaps they are worried that they will receive undue pressure to accept an offer before they are ready to do so.  They may feel they have had all their questions answered and won’t know what to say when the inevitable “What questions can I answer for you?” comes up. Never-the-less, in order to be perceived as professional and courteous, it is important to respond and respond quickly to employers when they reach out.  You don’t want to come across as disinterested in a position when in fact you might be.

On the other hand, if you have decided an opportunity is not the right fit for you, or if you have accepted another offer, let any employers with whom you have outstanding applications or offers know as soon as possible. They will appreciate your honesty and it will help them move forward to find alternate candidates for the position.  You never know – a few years down the road you might again be considering opportunities with the same employer, and you certainly want to leave a positive lingering impression.

How (not) to talk about THE BAD TIMES

by Rosanne Lurie

If you are paying close attention to Career Services (and likely others) you have probably gotten the message that internships are the hottest ticket to a career.  Many, many Penn students pursue internships during the course of their time at school; and with great success, as internships often provide valuable experiences and connections.  But what happens when your internship was a dud?  What if your responsibilities bored you, were confusing or too hard, or your supervisor was a difficult or indifferent boss?

We know that supervisors who were not good managers, or work experiences that were less than positive, are a tricky subject when you are actively networking or interviewing.  How should you handle the topic of a difficult work experience while going forward in your job search?  Here are a few constructive approaches:

1)      What can you say about yourself handling a difficult situation, if the supervisor you had did not manage you the way you would have wished or the position was not a good fit?  How did you meet the challenge or do problem solving? What were you able to do to improve the situation?

2)      How have people in your network handled their challenging or negative experiences? Learning from others can help you manage your own take on your situation.  Here’s one person’s response to a bad internship

3)      When in a job interview, NEVER say outright negatives about your internship or blame your former supervisor for your troubles.  A prospective employer will assume you might be a difficult employee, or possibly speak about them negatively, and will not be inclined to risk hiring you.   Also, blaming others can indicate that you aren’t taking responsibility for your own actions.

4)      Consider carefully the qualities you would want in a manager. When you are interviewing, communicate this in a positive way.  “Once a project is explained to me, I can work very independently;” rather than “ I don’t like it when I feel like my boss is breathing down my neck.”  Be aware of which environments will help you excel.

5)      If you need a reference, but are not sure that a former supervisor will give you a good one, then ask another coworker to be your reference – someone who will speak about your accomplishments.  Coach them about which of your skills to emphasize – documents such as your resume and descriptions of jobs can help.

In sum, there are ways that you can respond to bad experiences that offer better outcomes than dwelling on them.  By managing your perceptions, evaluating your responses, demonstrating your skills when faced with challenges, and identifying supportive individuals to serve as references, you will sail forward in your career.

More advice can be found in these useful links: