This Is Halloween

by J. Michael DeAngelis

Author’s note: A version of this blog originally appeared in 2012.  I was unfortunately reminded of this particular entry today after hearing about some very poor behavior from a student during their job search process.  Perhaps Halloween just brings out the worst in some people?

When I was little, I had what I think was the greatest record collection a four year old could have. One of the crown jewels of my collection was a Walt Disney’s Trick or Treat, which retold one of the great Donald Duck cartoons of all time:

Oh, Donald, you irascible mallard!

“But Michael,” I can hear you say, “what does this have to do with Career Services?” Well, there’s a lot that we can learn from Donald, especially when it comes to attitude. Donald thinks pretty highly of himself. His refusal to give Huey, Dewey and Louie any candy stems not just from selfishness, but from a feeling of superiority. The unabashed glee that Donald has in outsmarting his nephews and Witch Hazel is comically evident throughout, but what’s funny in a cartoon is often destructive in real life.

Now, obviously, I don’t think that any of you are planning to stick firecrackers in your recruiter’s suitcase. Still, I have seen many people on the job hunt sabotage themselves because, consciously or un, they exude a Donald Duck like attitude. I see this not only here at Penn, but also in my second career in the theater arts.

There is a very fine but distinct line between having confidence and being smug. For example, I was recently looking to hire a small staff to work with me on a project outside of Career Services. A young woman came to interview for a position and, on paper, she seemed perfect. Her resume was good and she seemed enthusiastic about the project. Within in minutes, however, my feelings had changed. She spent the entire interview talking about how she and her friends had been “robbed” at a local awards ceremony. She began by saying that she was smarter than anyone on the awards committee and that her level of experience should have made her their top consultant. I was immediately turned off. Talk about overselling yourself. Worse, she continued by openly bad mouthing those who had won awards – including people I considered friends. If she hadn’t done so already, this sunk her. A real Donald Duck.

Be proud of what you’ve done. Feel free to speak of your talents and achievements. Wow potential employers with everything you bring to the table…but be mindful of ego and hubris. In the interview room, don’t be a Donald Duck or, as the song says, “your nightmares will come true.”

What to do if you receive an exploding offer?

This week marks the beginning of on-campus interviewing for internships. Each day we will host employers who will be interviewing hundreds of students every day. Inevitably, some of those students will receive pressure to accept right away. Here are some things to keep in mind.

1. “Can you let us know what your thoughts are by Friday?” If a recruiter says this, he wants you to check in and let him know where you are in your interviewing process. He may want you to say yes by that date, but notice that he has not said the offer is only good until Friday. A comment such as this is common, but it is not the same thing as an exploding offer.

2. “We can only honor this offer until February 10. If you can’t commit by then we will offer the job to someone else.” This is an exploding offer. If the employer is one you have interviewed with through on campus recruiting, they are not following our offer policy, which clearly states that offers are to remain open for one week or until February 24, whichever comes later. Feel free to push back politely. Better yet, consult with your advisor here in Career Services. We can help you strategize and decide how best to ask for more time. If you prefer, we can with your permission call the employer on your behalf.

3. For some research on exploding offers, please see Wharton Professor Adam Grant’s excellent recent post, “It’s Time to Eliminate Exploding Offers”:

Good luck with your interviews!

Toast for the New Advisor Serving Penn’s Grad Students and Postdocs

Andrew Karas has joined Career Services as an Associate Director on the advising team that works with graduate students, postdocs, and alumni of graduate programs. Before joining Penn’s Career Services, Andrew taught introductory writing courses at Yale and Harvard. He holds an AB in literature from Harvard and a PhD in English from Yale. As an introduction, we decided to ask him a few questions:

What did you enjoy most about your PhD program?
I feel very lucky to have attended the program I did. Yale’s English department, and its graduate school more generally, is a collegial, stimulating, and well-resourced place.  A real standout for me, though, was my teaching experience. Working with eager, engaged students on interesting material: I’m not sure it gets much better than that. And it’s precisely that kind of personal engagement that I look forward to carrying over to my new position.

What drew you to work as a career advisor for graduate students?
I believe that the skills and experience acquired while obtaining a PhD or other advanced degree are applicable to a wide range of career options, limited only by an individual’s interests and passions. As part of my own career search, I undertook a number of informational interviews (and even some job interviews) in diverse fields. I ultimately decided that I wanted to remain a part of the academic community, and this position clicked as a way to build on my experiences and take on a new challenge.

In what ways has your background prepared you for this work?
My teaching experience is mainly in introductory-level writing courses, where I made extensive use of one-on-one conferences with my students to identify goals for their writing and concrete steps they could take to achieve those goals. Although the context and the audience are different in Career Services, the one-on-one engagement with bright, motivated people remains the same. Also, as I mentioned above, I’ve done a fair bit of both academic and non-academic career exploration myself, so I’ve “walked the walk” in that respect!

What have you enjoyed so far, as you have gotten familiar with Penn?
I’ve enjoyed getting to know my new colleagues in Career Services. They’re a really dedicated group, and together they bring a vast amount of experience, knowledge, and sensitivity to their work with students from across the university. I’ve also enjoyed learning some of the particularities of Penn’s unique culture (though I’m sure there are plenty more things I’ll pick up along the way). For example, my partner and I have tickets to a Penn football game later this fall, but I just recently learned about the tradition of throwing toast on the field after the third quarter. That sounds like something you really have to see to understand!

What are you looking forward to in the coming year?
Besides throwing toast onto Franklin Field? I am looking forward to meeting a lot of interesting, passionate people, hearing about their experiences and aspirations, and assisting any way I can as they take their next steps.

Timely Advice on Job Offers

Right about now, some of you may be actively interviewing for jobs and internships, or in the process of receiving and deciding on job offers.  A big mystery is knowing “what you are worth” and evaluating the offers to make sure you are getting fair compensation, and the work conditions that will make you happy to accept the offer.  You can read tips on our website, “Deciding on Job Offers,” or gather data from Career Plans Surveys (including salary information for recent graduates) or learn about negotiation strategies.  Below is a short collection of blog entries written by career services advisors that provide great advice to anyone at this stage of the job search:

OCR: Organize, Communicate, & Reap the Rewards

Maximilian Lamb, WH & SEAS '14
Maximilian Lamb, WH & SEAS ’14

Maximilian Lamb, WH & SEAS ’14

When I dove headfirst into the On Campus Recruiting season during this second semester of my junior year at Penn, I expected it to be completely different from my experience in securing an internship at a startup company last year. And believe me, it was. Always running around in a suit, constantly looking around the room and thinking, “I have to compete with these people?” and endless applications on PennLink definitely differentiated this year from the last. However, at a fundamental level I have finally realized that getting a job at a major investment bank or consulting firm versus a small startup is not as different as it might seem.

Common Skills for OCR and Startup Interviews
First, both recruiting processes require substantially developed skills and knowledge. These skills are the primary focus of the dreaded technical questions that require quick number-crunching and analytical thinking in any investment banking or consulting interview, as well as in engineering or science related fields such as computer science and biotechnology. But these skills are just as vital at a small company. Both large corporations and startups value hires that possess analytical skills, a quantitative background, creativity, a strong work ethic, and the list goes on and on. Industry knowledge is also crucial for every company I have ever considered for a summer internship in the past two years. In a large investment bank or consulting firm, knowledge of a specific industry not only demonstrates interest in the job that you are applying to, but it is essential to identifying future areas that will have a major impact. On the startup side, it is crucial to be aware of how a startup fits into the larger market, but this still requires overall industry knowledge.

Clear Communication is Key
Second, it is essential to be able to communicate the skills and knowledge in question. In client facing roles at IB and consulting firms, communicating clearly and effectively with a client is essential to the success of the entire firm. If you can’t accomplish this type of communication in an interview, an interviewer has no reason to trust that you will be able to do it in front of a customer or with other employees. The same goes for a startup, where communication with customers as well as fellow team members is essential to forming a cohesive and efficient organization.

Always Prepare to Reap the Rewards 
After considering the similarity of these two superficially different recruiting processes, On Campus Recruiting didn’t seem so scary after all. Granted, for large top tier investment banks and consulting companies, the competition can be more numerous, definitely more visible, and more often found in business formal, but this should not lead to increased anxiety for either process. At the end of the day, the best way to land that perfect job is to organize what you know, communicate your prowess and knowledge confidently, and reap the rewards of an OCR well done.