Ways to Build Your Leadership Skills

Tiffany Franklin, Associate Director

Photo credit: iStockPhoto - marchmeena29

Now that summer is finally here and you are starting the internships you have worked so hard to secure, it’s the perfect time to consider ways you can make the most of this opportunity and build your leadership skills. Focusing on your professional development while you are in entry-level roles will help you gain skills that not only help your current team, but could also position for opportunities in the future, whether with your current organization or a new one. Just as athletes train throughout the year to improve their performance during the season, you can use this summer to design your leadership strategy.

It’s helpful to consider the qualities that make a strong leader: emotional intelligence, strategic risk taking, effective communication, relationship building, flexibility, problem solving, resilience, vision, and the ability to listen and take purposeful action. Great leaders possess a solid grasp of fundamentals in their field, yet they also surround themselves with people who make up for what they lack. They are constantly learning and envisioning what could be, but not ignoring current realities and historical context. They excel at conceptualizing a path and empowering a team to bring that vision to life.

Reading a list like that sounds like a tall order, especially when you’re in your first internship, but you have been building many of these skills for years through coursework, activities, sports, volunteer work, summer jobs, and more. Here are ways to cultivate your leadership skills. Notice that many of them do not involve an actual leadership title right now – instead, it’s about focusing on what you are learning.

  • Leading/Contributing to projects: Volunteer for more responsibilities. Seek out opportunities for impact and ones that may not seem glorious, but are important for building the foundational knowledge.
  • Build your network: Look for opportunities to work across your company; look into affinity groups or other ways to become involved in your company’s community beyond your own department.

  • Learning opportunities: Does your office host lunch and learns, webinars, or speaker series? Attend these both for the content and to meet more people.

  • Seek out mentors: Express genuine interest in colleagues and what they do. These initial conversations can turn into regular coffee chats and may help you find a mentor within the company or new work friends.
  • Leadership within professional associations: Become involved with your industry’s professional associations. The rates for student memberships are usually reasonable. Volunteer to help plan an upcoming event or help with the next conference. This will greatly expand your professional circle, can be a lot of fun, and a perfect way to learn from others in the field.
  • Learn as much as possible about your field and leadership in general: Read industry publications and remain informed on current events. Look at the syllabi from top MBA programs like Wharton and see which books their students are reading about leadership – check those out and discuss what you learn in your networking.

Taking these steps will help you build valuable skills to benefit you throughout your career. Enjoy your summer and remember that Career Services is here to help you with this process.

Effective Networking Tactics: Time for Introductions?

Here we go again – another blog post on networking…how will this be different?  Well, let me start with a short anecdote:

Recently, I attended an event and had a conversation about networking. We talked about different approaches and tactics – one idea that emerged from that discussion focused on asking for introductions from mutual acquaintances to connect with other professionals you may not know.

You may be familiar with the term “cold-call” or “cold-email” – basically an effort to contact someone you don’t know, commonly used in the context of networking or inquiring about job or internship opportunities.

While there are different opinions on the success of cold-calling and cold-emailing, I encourage you to try asking for introductions to people you want to meet from individuals you already know as part of the networking process.

Think about individuals you know and their existing contacts – one way to explore this could be through LinkedIn 2nd or 3rd degree connections. If you want to connect with someone else that shares a mutual connection with you, consider asking the mutual connection for an introduction. In some cases, introductions from individuals that are trusted can lead to a higher volume of responses and initiate meaningful conversations.

That being said, always be mindful of quality over quantity. Don’t simply focus on the number of conversations you have – the quality of your conversations is most important. And always be authentic with your introduction requests and conversations. Think carefully why you want to be introduced to someone and how a conversation with that particular individual would be helpful.

Let me know how you fare with asking for introductions from mutual contacts as you attempt to expand your network.

Do you have any examples of situations where an introduction from a mutual contact was beneficial for networking purposes?  Feel free to share them below.

Looking for more tips on networking?  Check out a few online videos and social media networking tips here: https://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices//networking/howto.php

The Psychology of Networking

Dr. Joseph Barber, Senior Associate Director

With my Ph.D. in animal behavior, I have been specifically trained to identify and analyze subtle changes in the behavior of animals that I observe. The fact that I spent my time watching chickens for my Ph.D. will become relevant in a moment as I start talking about networking.

As an animal behaviorist, I have developed testable hypotheses about why behavior changes, and what internal or external factors lead to such changes. As a career adviser, I still use this scientific knowledge when it comes to human behavior — we are just another type of animal, after all.

One of the most interesting career-related situations that is rich with behavior is networking. It is a social behavior, which tend to be some of the most complex behaviors we see in the animal kingdom. If I were trying to create a behavioral ethogram (a well-defined list of behaviors that observers can use when collecting data on behavior), I might define networking along the lines of a social, affiliative interaction involving direct or indirect physical or vocal communication between at least two individuals

If that is all networking is, then why can it seem so stressful to many of us? In terms of how I, and the many introverts like me, perceive networking, I might change the definition slightly to state: a social affiliative interaction involving direct or indirect physical or vocal communication between at least two individuals that results in a measurable stress response — and one individual (or possibly even both) running back to their room, hiding under their covers and vowing never to do it again.

That’s not a scientific definition, but it is an accurate description of how many people experience networking events. That is how I experience them when faced with meeting lots of new people in a short, concentrated space of time (hello, every conference I have attended). Given that I studied chickens, perhaps my interest in understanding the struggles to network effectively makes a little more sense. If chickens were actually a cowardly species (they are not — read this), then I would certainly associate myself with them when it comes to networking.

But chickens are not cowardly in the least. They are highly social, superinquisitive, and have been shown in research to identify up to 90 other chickens they have interacted with as familiar. They are probably much better networkers than I will ever be — if they didn’t peck the living daylights out of unfamiliar birds they meet and tread in their own poop, that is. So, if chickens can actually be effective networkers in their own way, then there is also plenty of hope for those of us who find some parts of the networking experience draining and overwhelming at times. Here are some best practices for introverts based in the science of animal behavior, more or less:

Keep your social groups small. Speaking with another person where the ratio is one to one rather than one to many is always going to be easier to manage. You will find that this networking approach suddenly just feels like having a conversation and is not bad at all. It is OK to avoid large networking events, or find opportunities for small groups conversations within them, and it is great to prioritize one-on-one informational interviews with people in career fields that interest you.

Focus on the needs of others to distract you from any negative emotional states. One of the key approaches to any networking outreach is to make sure the person with whom you are interacting feels positive about that interaction. I have talked about the fear response I get if someone asks if they can “just grab a coffee” here. If someone I didn’t know reached out and asked if I could forward their résumé on to a hiring manager in my office, it would first make me feel a little awkward — how can I say no politely other than just ignoring the request? — and then perhaps a little angry. Why am I now spending so much time worrying about how to say no? Why would this person put me in a position to be angry at myself? All of these negative feelings become connected with the person who reached out to me.

So how do you make people feel positive? You value them for who they are and appreciate what they are willing to share, and you thank them — authentically and often. For example, if someone were to reach out to me and ask what some of the trends are in the field of career professionalism for Ph.D.s and postdocs, I would need to give this some serious thought. Serious thought takes time, and even after a lot of this time, I still wouldn’t be able to come up with a very satisfying answer for this high-level question. The question is a neutral one — it doesn’t make me feel bad, but it doesn’t leave me feeling positive.

Now, if I was asked what I have done at Penn to focus on career professionalism for Ph.D.s, it wouldn’t require deep thinking. It would give me an opportunity to talk about something I have invested lots of time in already and that am likely to be engaged by. If the person I am talking to finds hearing about the approaches I have taken here to be interesting and valuable, then that is going to make me feel good.

Positively reinforce behaviors you want to see more frequently. If you have given your dog or cat a treat immediately after they have performed a behavior you like and want to see more of, then you are engaged in the process of positive reinforcement training. Once an animal makes a connection between a behavior and the reward, the behavior will occur more often.

You can train most animals in this way. If you want people you meet through your networking outreach to continue to provide you with great insight, then make sure that you positively reinforce them, too. Always send a thank-you note or email to people who have taken the time to speak with you within 24 hours after meeting them. This works just as effectively after speaking with employers at a career fair or an actual job interview. The longer you wait, the less effective the reinforcement is.

If a contact you have met suggests someone else you can speak with, go ahead and do so. Thank your new contact after you have met them, and then get back in contact with your initial contact to tell them how helpful your conversation was with the person they recommended. Everyone likes to be thanked. If you are authentic in your thanks, you might find that your contact is more willing to suggest someone else that they know as your next outreach contact.

Use your social connectors effectively. People often ask me how they can tap in to the many second-degree connections that they have on LinkedIn. (Second-degree connections are people whom you don’t know but someone whom you know does know). That is a fantastic way to grow your networking and make the sometimes scary step of reaching out to new people much more effective.

Let’s say I want to reach out to James, who works as a senior scientist in a biotech firm I am interested in. I don’t know James, but I see that I am connected to Magda on LinkedIn, and Magda is connected to James. I can leverage my existing relationship with Magda in one of three ways to establish a connection with James. I could ask Magda to share the email she has for James. First-degree connections on LinkedIn can see each other’s email addresses. With this email, I could reach out directly, but that could still be a hit-or-miss approach if I don’t leverage my social connections. Or I could ask Magda to introduce me to James. Magda might send an email to James directly, copying me in and asking if James would be able to speak with me. That is the most effective approach, but it requires the most effort from Magda. As a third alternative and good middle-ground approach is to ask Magda if I can use her name when reach out to James. For example, I might write:

“Hi, James, I saw on LinkedIn that we both know Magda Patel. I worked with her for a couple of years at Penn in the student consulting club. I contacted Magda, and she highly recommend that I reach out to you and said that you would be a great person to ask about some of the genetic sequencing projects at your company. This is an area I am very interested in exploring in terms of industry career paths, and so I would love to hear a little about your experience in this field. Can I send you a couple of quick questions by email or set up a time to chat on the phone, if that is easier? This would be so helpful in my exploration of possible paths to focus on when I graduate next year.”

The reason that James might be more likely to respond to this email is that he might not want to lose his social standing and reputation that he now feels he has with other people — in this case, Magda. If Magda highly recommends him, and says he is such a great person to talk with, and then he turns down my request, it will result in an immediate loss of perceived status. If I reached out to James directly without involving Magda, he could easily ignore my outreach without feeling too bad. As soon as another person is involved, James is likely to be much more aware of how he is perceived both by me and the person whom he knows. The truth is, I may have just asked Magda if she recommended James and thought he would be great to reach out to, and she might have just said yes, but that is good enough to get the social connection process started.

So there you go: some easy to use, biologically sound, behavioral-based approaches to help you (and your chickens) with networking!

LinkedIn and Career Research

The fall semester is a good time to reflect on next steps in your job and internship searches. Career Services is here to assist you with navigating the process.  One of the most commonly asked questions from students is “How do I learn more about a particular field/company/speak with people who work there?”.  LinkedIn has become one of the most effective and efficient resources to facilitate introductions, create connections, and learn about employers, industries, and job opportunities.  Using LinkedIn as an information tool is an important aspect of your career exploration and job search.  It serves a variety of purposes such as:  branding yourself/skills, researching employers, as well as connecting with people who can share their insight on topics and career fields and answer your questions.  LinkedIn also provides a convenient and efficient way to network.  Networking is divided into two parts.  First, it can be viewed as an opportunity to gather information and second, it allows you to share information about yourself in order to achieve your career goals.  October is an excellent time to familiarize yourself with LinkedIn and start to establish some connections.  Some key aspects to remember when using LinkedIn:

    • When using LinkedIn, be sure to join the University of Pennsylvania Alumni Group. You’re eligible to be a part of this community while both a student and after you have graduated.
    • Remember that your profile is your brand. Therefore, you want to ensure it’s a professional looking photo (e.g. not from a social/party setting). The summary section on your profile is a narrative that describes your academic and professional background.
    • Linkedin enables you to learn about employers that interest you. You can elect to follow employers within the newsfeed in addition to identifying potential connections at that company who could share with you their advice and insight into their experience, culture and mission of the company, and the hiring process/recruiting process.
    • Connections may be defined as 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree. The category next to a person’s name indicates how you might know the person and who you may mutually be connected to. This is very useful to know since you could then potentially reach out to a mutual connection and ask for an “e-introduction” with the alumnus/alumna. In the message, you could ask for a 15-20 minute conversation to ask the alum about his/her role, experience at the company and advice he/she may have for you as you move forward with your job search.
  • We can help you with using LinkedIn as a networking tool so feel free to come in for an advising appointment at Career Services. Appointments can be made by calling 215-898-7531 or through Handshake.

Networking for International Students

Dr. Esther H. Ra, Career Advisor for Nursing, Education, and Social Policy & Practice

According to Merriam Webster online, it defines networking as: Networking: noun net·work·ing \ˈnet-ˌwər-kiŋ\

1: the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business

Here at Penn, we are proud to have in our midst a diverse body of scholars who come from across the globe. It is not unusual to rub shoulders with a student with multi-lingual fluencies or who was born and educated overseas before arriving at Penn. Such students are wonderful assets to our Penn community and we, here at Career Services, have the pleasure of advising them on career-related topics and helping them to navigate the job search, whether it be in the United States or abroad. Many of the questions I often address with our international students pertain to the nuts and bolts of networking, which include: How do I start networking in a foreign country when I don’t know anyone? When and how should I say what I want to say and how should I proceed? Also, students have sometimes expressed self-consciousness in their English language skills when approaching Americans, who may be of higher status or individuals who they have never met. These are all valid concerns and make networking daunting even for a native English speaker, however, they should not deter students from reaching out and making connections with the community around them.

Why is Networking Important?

Why network? Do I have to reach out to individuals I do not know very well and strike up professional conversations with them? The answer is yes. Often, I will hear from students that they prefer not to bother others or be in such awkward situations, however, networking is essential to delving into the hidden job market. Without proactive networking, it is difficult to tap into the stream of positions that never even make it onto an organization’s website. According to LinkedIn, a study reveals that 85% of jobs are obtained through networking1. Many jobs are shared internally first to identify a qualified candidate before being posted publicly. If a qualified candidate is located prior to a job becoming public, often the positions are filled accordingly. Networking is instrumental to obtaining a desired job, so it is imperative to be intentional about reaching out.

The Greeting: Handshake, Eye contact, and Smile

Perhaps, one American civility that may be quite universal in all professional settings is the handshake. Typically, handshakes are used when greeting an individual for the first time and sometimes even thereafter for subsequent meetings. Some tips to remember are:

Be firm. When shaking a potential employer or interviewer’s hand, be sure to give it good shake. It need not be extremely vigorous, however, a weak handshake, often called “the dead fish handshake” can be remembered negatively and leave a bad impression. A firm handshake, one where a firm grasp of the palm and fingers occurs, connotes confidence and ability, while a weak handshake, one where the fingers do not grasp the other’s palm and fingers, connotes introversion and anxiety.

Make eye contact. When shaking an individual’s hand, be sure to make good eye contact. In some cultures, it may be rude to look directly into someone’s eye, however, in professional settings in the US, it is expected and acceptable to meet someone’s gaze, particularly when greeting them for the first time. When speaking, it is also important to make direct eye contact from time to time, to display feelings of interest and commitment to the conversation.

Share a smile. Generally speaking, Americans appreciate neighborliness and conversation. After shaking hands, making good eye contact, be open and share a welcoming smile. A warm smile can go a long way while networking, positioning yourself as friendly and accessible. Such a simple act can open doors for more casual conversations, as well as, light-hearted moments between potential interviewers, which can make the process seem less intimidating.

Informational Interviews

Take advantage of informational interviews, especially while at Penn. Do take the time to set up informational interviews with professors, colleagues, classmates, and alums. Yes, it takes a bit of legwork to find individuals to network with, but the gains after doing your initial research, will pay itself forward after graduation. Also, so many individuals, such as alums and professors, are very willing to help, one needs only to inquire. Many alums have often been in the same position and have expressed a willingness to speak to current students to help begin their networking journey. Please check out our resources on Penn’s Career website for more information on dos and don’ts of networking: http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/networking/howto.php

Resources for International Students

There are several sites I encourage international students to peruse: 1) Penn Career Services: http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/

Our website, of course, is chockful of practical and useful information for all students, including international students. The networking section outlines protocols that may help familiarize students with typical American networking interactions. We also have networking tips located in our video archives, which can also be accessed and viewed.  2) Another website that is extremely useful is GoinGlobal: http://www.goinglobal.com/

This is a comprehensive global website that helps the career search by country, profession, and topic.

3) Last, but not least, many of our international students have sought out the help of Marks Family Writing Center on Penn Campus: http://writing.upenn.edu/critical/wc/

The Center is a wonderful place to receive regular help on writing cover letters and any other correspondence. It is always recommended that students, international or not, receive feedback on their resume and cover letter, or any other communication. Of course, advisors in our office are always more than willing to look over your resume/CVs and cover letters. However, if you are not able to get the documents to us in time, be sure a classmate or family member can take a look before submitting an application.

If you are a Penn international student and need any help with career-related issues, please come in and visit us! Allow us to help you navigate the sometimes choppy waters of networking. Penn’s Career Services advisors are here to help. We look forward to meeting with you!