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:

No “Gobble”digook – Hidden Career Lessons in Thanksgiving Dinner

By Claire Klieger

Many people have a strategy for approaching and (in some cases) surviving the Thanksgiving Holiday. For some this involves calculating how to best consume as much food as possible without doubling over with stomach pains later; for others, it might be trying to avoid sitting next to that uncle who belches or the pesky relative who asks inappropriate questions about bodily functions or worse.  Here are some tips for successfully making it through Turkey Day that also apply to your job/internship search:

1) Be willing to try different dishes – Taste a little of everything on your plate.

Whenever we went to someone else’s house for a meal when I was little, my mom always told me and my brother to try a little of everything because it was polite. That’s still true and a good way to avoid potential family drama (I recommend tiny portions that are more easily concealed in a napkin if necessary). However, it’s also a good way to broaden your palate (Who knows? You might even like that Lime Jello cranberry soufflé ) and your job prospects.

More traditional than Lime Jello cranberry soufflé (courtesy of LarimdaME via Flickr)
More traditional than Lime Jello cranberry soufflé, but less exciting, too. (courtesy of LarimdaME via Flickr)

Cast a wide net and apply for opportunities that reflect a variety of your interests. If you’re willing to think outside of the box and be flexible in your search, you’re more likely to have more interesting options from which to choose. And just like questionable looking holiday dishes, sometimes really fantastic opportunities come about in the most unexpected ways.

2) Accept that there is more than one way to make Turkey (or stuffing or cranberry dishes, or mashed potatoes…) and everyone thinks their way is best.

You’ve probably noticed that you encounter something very similar when you ask for advice on your resume and it can be frustrating to hear often conflicting advice. Here’s how you sort it out—when someone gives you advice on your resume or cover letter, ask for the reasoning behind that suggestion. That way you can sort out the suggestions that seem logical (“deep frying a turkey sears in the juices”) from that which is merely personal preference (“I like living and cooking dangerously—what could be better than oil that’s hot enough to burn down your house?!”).

3) Pace yourself and have a game plan.

Most of us have learned the hard way that if you don’t have a strategy for eating at thanksgiving you’ll either be full before dessert or end up suffering later. You’ll be much less overwhelmed by your job or internship search if you give yourself a set of manageable goals/tasks to accomplish each week. Whether it’s updating a resume, identifying five organizations of interest, or contacting three Penn alums whom you can ask for advice (hello, PACNET!), setting and meeting these more “bite-size” (as we know, it’s all about portion size!) goals will keep you motivated.

4) Be polite to all of your relatives (even the ones you wish you saw less of).

Funny as it may seem at the time, you may live to regret that crack you made about Cousin Larry’s hair piece at the next family gathering. In your interactions with organizations about your search, it’s crucial to be polite and professional with everyone you encounter. Just because the receptionist or administrative assistant may not be sitting with you in the interview or making the final hiring decision doesn’t mean they aren’t part of the process.  If you are rude or complain (or gossip on your cell in the waiting room), you’re pretty much putting the nail in your own coffin.

Even coaches can be good references. Keep in touch!
Even coaches can be good references. Keep in touch! (courtesy of ektogamat via Flickr)

5) Give Thanks.

In addition to all of the eating and football on Thanksgiving, it’s also a great time to reflect on what you appreciate in your life.  Hopefully, for you there are people (professors, former supervisors, etc.) who taught you a lot and gave you great advice.  Maintain and build a career network by staying in touch with people and following up on advice that you’re given.  An email update on what’s new with you that also includes a heart-felt “thank you” can do wonders for your job search.

If You’re Out of Work or Think You Might Lose Your Job

by Rosanne Lurie

It seems like there is insurance for everything people value. Rumor had it that Jennifer Lopez insured her “celebrity assets,” (i.e. derierre) and musicians Liberace, French pianist Richard Clayderman and Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards all are known to have insured their hands. So when we can easily put a value on our ability to be productive in the working world,  it’s hard to understand why we can’t take out protection for ourselves if we lose our jobs, or remain job-seekers longer than we planned.  The New York Times recently posted a fascinating article with discussion about why private unemployment insurance is not more prevalent.  Additionally, the article suggests how to keep your finances afloat while not working or underemployed, with important resources on housing (both rent and mortgage relief) and student loans.

Unfortunately, unexpected job loss can precipitate the kind of financial pressure that often results in hasty job choices, and increased likelihood of future job loss because of a poor match in goals and fit (jobseekers are “desperate, but not serious”).   Considering how many companies are doing credit checks as part of the screening process, getting your finances in order is crucial to your job search, and ultimately, it lets you be free to choose the best fit for you.