Making the Most of Professional Conferences

By Sharon Fleshman

This is the season in which many of my colleagues and I go to conferences for professional development. To that end, I have some quick thoughts on how to be more intentional before, during and after these events.

Join the planning committee. Perhaps you have ideas for a theme or can assist with logistics. If so, your role in planning a conference would allow you to utilize your skills in new ways and collaborate with others outside of your workplace, resulting in a stronger network and broader exposure.

Present on a topic. If you are developing an area of expertise acknowledged by your colleagues, faculty, or classmates, chances are that you can propose to facilitate a workshop or present a paper. If others have knowledge that would enhance the presentation, invite them to co-present.

Share best practices. During a conference that I attended recently, there was time allotted for some who presented on initiatives or efforts that were successful in their contexts.  Sharing best practices can also happen informally in between workshops or over a meal.  Forums such as email lists or LinkedIn groups can be used to extend the exchange of ideas beyond the conference.

Identify next steps. After a conference, it is tempting to take your notes and handouts and file them somewhere with the best of intentions of pulling them out later.  Instead, be sure to debrief and strategize with your colleagues shortly after the conference.  Finally, determine two or three action items that can be implemented based on your primary takeaways from the event.

Keep It Moving: Maintaining Momentum in Your Career

By Sharon Fleshman

Whether you want to get a running start at your new job, invigorate your current career, or make a complete shift, being proactive is always a wise move.  Consider the following strategies and commit to moving forward with at least one action step by the end of the summer.

Conduct Self-Assessment: What do you want and what can you offer?

  • Reflect on past experiences and accomplishments and consider where you were energized and made impact.
  • Assess your skills, interests, personality traits and values using informal worksheets or career inventories.
  • Read about careers and job announcements and see what resonates with you.
  • Read more about self-assessment here.

Build Your Network: With whom should you exchange insight and information?

  • Conduct informational interviews via resources such as the Penn Alumni Career Network and LinkedIn.
  • Join a professional association or career-related group.
  • Set up a LinkedIn profile.
  • Become active in your alumni organization and online groups.

Plan for Professional Development: What do you need to learn and strengthen?

  • Attend a career-related seminar or conference.
  • Take a class.
  • Apply to get a certificate or another degree.
  • Participate in a project that will help you develop targeted skills and broaden your exposure.
  • Read more about professional development here.

Cultivate Professional Presence:  How can you find new opportunities to apply, share, and highlight your skills, strengths and expertise?

  • Join a committee in your office or in a professional association.
  • Write an article for a blog or newsletter.
  • Initiate or participate in a social media discussion on LinkedIn or Twitter.
  • Present at a meeting or conference.
  • Volunteer at an organization of interest.

Reading Days

By Sharon Fleshman

When I speak of “reading days”, I’m not referring to those days between the last day of classes and finals.  I’m talking about setting aside some time to catch up on reading of the non-academic variety.  This is something I’m definitely anticipating as I wrap up a class that I’ve been taking and the pace in my office slows a bit.

After finals, after graduation or at some point during the summer, consider blocking off a few hours a week to read and reflect on developments in your field.  Think of several newspapers, magazines or trade journals that are respected in your current (or targeted) industry.    Commit to regularly skimming these periodicals for articles that intrigue you and provide you with updates and trends.  For online resources, make sure to bookmark the websites for quick access.  You may even want to take a break from your screen; pick up a relevant newspaper or magazine and note items of interest.  Either way, this practice has two primary benefits:

You stay informed about your field.  If you are seeking employment, your growing awareness of your field will likely enhance your conversations during job interviews or networking meetings.  Once you are employed in your field of choice, continuing to be well-read will facilitate your professional development.

You uncover hidden jobs.  For example, you could be reading the business section of a regional newspaper and see that a division of a given company is expanding. As you peruse a website geared toward the non-profit sector, you might find that an organization has received funding for a new project.   Both of these scenarios would present opportunities for you to investigate the possibility of applying to jobs that haven’t been posted yet.

If you’d like to brainstorm ways to make the most of “reading days” for your career development or job search, contact a Career Services advisor or consult with a mentor in your field of interest.  In the meantime, be sure to also venture into other genres, such as novels, biographies, or essays, which can inspire and energize you for the road ahead.

Social Media This Summer

The semester officially ends in just a few more days, but we’re still going to be here at Career Services for you.  As the manager of our social media efforts, I’ll still be tweeting, posting on Facebook and LinkedIn, and adding pins to Pinterest.  This school year on our social media platforms I focused each week on different career paths or tips to help manage your search, like our Stress Busters focus this past week with finals. This summer is no different, as I’ll continue to have themes. Here’s a glimpse of some of our themes to look forward to this summer:

May 7th to May 11th – Alumni Resources & Staying in Touch.  This theme is to celebrate Alumni Weekend and all the commencement ceremonies, where our current students will officially become alumni of Penn.  Learn about resources you can utilize after you officially leave campus and how you can stay in touch with your fellow Quakers.

May 21st to May 25th – Summer Professional Development. A big part to any career, and any stage in that career, is professional development.  Summer classes start here at Penn on the 21st, so we’re going to look at how to manage an internship and summer classes. We’ll also highlight popular conferences, how to network at conferences and other ways to take advantage of the slower pace many industries experience from May through August.

July 2nd to July 6th – Federal Careers.  In celebration of the Fourth of July and our nation’s independence, we’re going to showcase the diverse paths that support our country.  We’ll include tips for applying to federal careers, the various programs to take advantage of and what skills you’ll need to succeed.

These are just a few of the themes for Summer 2012, so stay tuned to our social media platforms to see what else I’ll have in store for you!




On-the-Job Development

by Sharon Fleshman

Many of you will be starting new jobs in the next few months and you’ve probably already heard the term “on-the-job training” mentioned in one place or another.  I’m going to tweak the language a little bit and use the term “development” as some organizations are currently doing. There is a finite quality implied in “training” which typically has a beginning and end. On the other hand, I think that “development” points to more of a dynamic and continuous process.  The bottom line is that wherever you find yourself, you need to be proactive and responsible for your own development.   To that end, here are some steps that you can take:

Embrace the present. It’s good to plan ahead and envision the future, but you also need to make sure that you focus on the job that you have been hired for.  Take advantage of all of the resources at your disposal so that you get off to a strong start. Attend relevant training sessions offered or sponsored by your employer. Ask good questions and be on the lookout for potential mentors.  Be clear on the expectations regarding your role.

Assess.  Most employers have at least an annual review process for their employees, but you should not wait for your formal evaluation to assess your performance on the job. Ask yourself a few key questions periodically. How am I using my strengths and skills in a way that produces results and maximizes impact?  What are some areas for improvement for me to work on?  How should I elicit constructive feedback from my supervisor and peers? How can I best align my work responsibilities with my own work values and goals in this environment?

Network. I realize that we’ve already inundated you with encouragement to network, network, network, but the benefits of networking are not limited to searching for that first job. Building bridges to others on the job, through professional associations and by way of alumni networks can pave the way to progress at your current employer as well as future career opportunities.  While you’re at it, don’t forget that networking should be reciprocal, so look for ways to give good information, advice and leads to those who have helped you as well as current students who will follow in your footsteps.

Broaden your horizons. Once you have established a solid track record in performing your current job responsibilities, it’s time to develop in other areas that can expose you to new people and possibilities. Think about skill sets that you need to move forward in your career.  Is training available in those areas?  Perhaps you can participate in special projects or committees that involve staff from different functions or departments.  Remember that similar opportunities also exist outside of your job; professional associations and volunteer work are two potential contexts for your career development.

As you transition from your time at Penn, I hope that you’ll see your first (or next) job as an opportunity to continue your journey of lifelong learning.