Introductions and FAQ

Dr. Esther Ra, Career Counselor

Hello and happy spring! If you find yourself giddy with a bounce in your step while walking along Locust Walk, we welcome your spring fever. As Doug Larson said, “Spring is the when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush.” I have found that certainly to be true this time of year, when Locust Walk is swarmed with banners announcing end-of-the-year activities, and the campus is abuzz with pre-finals jitters. I hope that despite the semester drawing to a close and the inevitable stress that accompanies this juncture, you can take a moment to breath in the sweet, spring air and bask in the warmth of the sun.

Please allow me to introduce myself. I am the newest advisor to students in the schools of Nursing, Education, and Social Policy and Social Work. I am a proud alum of Penn, graduating with my doctorate in Language and Literacy Education from the Graduate School of Education. During my doctoral studies, I had the privilege of working with teachers in the Penn-assisted schools, helping to lift all facets of literacy in K-2 classrooms through professional development. I also worked in the higher education classroom teaching graduate students. Before coming to Penn, I earned my master’s in Curriculum and Teaching from Teachers College, Columbia University and my Certificate in ESL from Biola University and went on to teach elementary grades in public and private schools in New York City and New Jersey. In addition, after college, I lived and worked in Seoul, Korea teaching English as a Foreign Language. My formidable undergraduate years were spent at Barnard College, Columbia University majoring in English and minoring in Sociology. Yes, I am a Big Apple enthusiast and I still miss “the city that never sleeps.” Currently, I am also an Adjunct Professor, teaching research courses to literacy/ESL teachers at Cabrini University. In a nutshell, that’s me.

Now, to address one of the most frequently asked questions I encounter as an advisor:

FAQ: Should I include all my volunteer work and extra-curricular activities on my resume and/or CV?

Answer: Yes and no. When included and written appropriately, such information can be of high interest to most employers. How one has developed transferrable skills outside of paid employment opportunities, and the kinds of experiences one has chosen to gain shows a potential employer your interests, passions, and causes you hold in high regard.

According to a LinkedIn survey, 41% of hiring managers found that the opportunities gained in volunteering and extra-curricular activities were equally important as direct work experiences[1]. Many times, graduate students have shared with me that they they opted to leave out their volunteer work and campus leadership positions, because it either did not seem related to the job they were applying to or rather seemed out of place on their resume.  Also, they felt that their resumes were too lengthy and these extra-curricular activities seemed to be the least important. This is a common mistake and in doing so, without realizing it, students are censoring their experiences to only show for what directly relates to the job they hope to obtain. If it was required that individuals only put direct experience for a job posting on their resume, it is quite likely that so many would not be able to land an interview, much less be offered a job. When written appropriately, volunteer and extra-curricular activities, can illuminate important transferable skills that can be used in any given position.

Moreover, any transferable skills gained through volunteer opportunities and through campus and community involvement can include an array of leadership, interpersonal, organization, or communication skills. For example, collaborating on a team, or self-management on a project, or relating with specific populations of people are all skill sets that you can apply to in any given job. These are also skill sets that need to be developed over time and nurtured through experience. Universally, they can be valuable in most fields and industries.

In addition, the volunteer experiences and community involvement pieces on a resume may set an individual apart from the stack of other resumes read by potential employers. Undeniably, these particular sections on the resume create colors, rather than appear so black and white. Many times such experiences can spark a point of interest or commonality with an interviewer and strikingly create an unexpected connection with a potential employer.

As a career advisor and teacher educator, I have gained innumerable transferable skills over the years. I appreciate that on interviews I have been asked about the professional book club I initiated as a lead teacher in my district, or been asked to share about my campus student leadership roles. Notably, I have also had the opportunity to share about my favorite work experiences as a volunteer on a Native reserve in Saskatchewan, Canada, or as a volunteer curriculum developer in Padang, Indonesia. Furthermore, though not directly related, I have also had the extraordinary experience of volunteering in Bomet, Kenya on an American hospital compound working on public health initiatives. While none of these positions were paid or even directly related, I gained valuable interpersonal skills, cross-cultural communication, as well as leadership and project management experience. These experiences also conveyed to employers my continued interest in international development work in education and beyond.

As the spring semester winds down, the hustle and bustle of students wrapping up their classes and making plans for the summer are imminent. In the midst of the finals flurry, please take time to stop by Career Services and check in with one of the advisors. Come visit us and we are more than happy to help you frame your volunteer experiences to convey transferrable skills.

It is from experiences such as mine that we get our education of life.”- Mark Twain


How to Use Sample Resumes and CVs

Dianne Hull, Associate Director

One of the primary components of your job search tool kit is your resume or CV. But where to start if you have never written a resume or CV before or have not updated these documents in many years? The internet has thousands of samples to choose from, but where to start?

Career Services’ website has multiple samples of job search documents to help you get started on your written materials. The samples we have on our website are from real Penn students and alumni who have agreed to share their resume or CV with other Penn students. Spend time looking at the samples on our website that match your educational background. A resume for an undergraduate from one academic discipline will not look the same as a CV from a PhD student. We offer not only samples to help you get started, but also general advice about the types of information you want to include.

You want your resume or CV to speak about you as an individual, so use the samples as a guide and not a template. Look at multiple documents to help generate ideas about what types of information you might include on your resume or CV given both your educational background and your career focus.

Once you’ve written a rough draft of your resume or CV, bring it to Career Services for a critique. You can either make an appointment or come to walk-ins. See our schedule for the appointment and walk-in hours that apply to you. And once you have used your resume or CV to secure an internship or job, send it to us and we will add it to our samples!

Lingua Franca

by Julie Vick


Are you applying to a doctoral program because you feel teaching students and doing research would be an exciting career?  Perhaps you are already in a doctoral program and preparing to write your dissertation or maybe finishing it up.   Regardless of your stage, you are probably aware of the importance of learning the language of your discipline but did you also know that when you look for a job you need to learn the professional language of higher education?

Every occupation, whether it’s in an academic discipline or a professional field, has its own language and higher education is no exception.   An example you have probably come across is a “CV” as opposed to “resume.”

A CV, which stands for curriculum vitae, meaning “course of life” in Latin, is used by candidates seeking college and university teaching positions as well as by those applying for other research jobs and for fellowships.  A CV (which is also referred to as a “vita”) includes details about one’s academic work, including publications and presentations and is usually much lengthier than a résumé which should be tailored for a specific kind of job.  Of course, the purpose in preparing either is to interest a prospective employer enough to invite you for a personal interview.

As a career advisor who works with doctoral students, I co-author a column every 4-6 weeks for the Chronicle of Higher Education, a daily news website/weekly newspaper devoted to all aspects of higher education.  Because many Penn doctoral students and postdocs ask questions about terms and abbreviations used in the job search process I, with my co-writers have written three columns on the language of higher education that is important to master while applying for faculty jobs: If you want to find out the meaning of chalk talk, SLAC, soft money, ABD and degree in hand, as well as other terms, check out these articles: Learning the Lingo, Learning the Lingo, Part 2 and Learning the Lingo, Part 3.  And be sure to learn the language of your own field!

Celebrate your Successes!

Dr. Joseph Barber

As 2010 begins to wind down – I know, it is hard to believe the year is almost over – now is a good time to think about some of the personal and professional milestones you achieved in 2010. This is an important exercise for two main reasons: 1) you will need to be able to talk about your achievements any time you are on the job market (in your cover letter, resume/CV, and during interviews); and 2) it is important from a psychological perspective to celebrate your successes and not just focus on those aspects of your life that you don’t think are going so well. If you are like me, and can remember all of the awkward, embarrassing things that have happened to you throughout your life much better than all of the times where you were actually suave and confident, then focusing on the positive is very important.

Let me talk about some of my recent successes. In terms of professional achievements, I was the primary point person for organizing the 2010 Biomedical & Life Sciences Career Fair at the end of September. I couldn’t have done this without the help of the rest of the graduate and postdoc team at Career Services, but this was a project that was most definitely on my to-do list. Working with my colleagues, and making use of all of the resources at my disposal (e.g., contact databases, LinkedIn, contacts I made through work), I was able to get 28 employers registered for the fair – and this was really the maximum number of employers that could fit in the space we had reserved. We also attracted 299 PhD students and postdocs to attend the fair, which is a great number even if it is irritatingly short of 300! If I hadn’t put in the hours working on this fair over the summer, then we wouldn’t have gotten as many employers or attendees. It was my actions that lead to this successful outcome. If I were writing about this experience in a resume, I might say something like:

  • Communicated effectively with CEOs, managers, scientists and recruiters at pharmaceutical companies and organizations seeking candidates with scientific backgrounds, resulting in 100% of career fair registration slots being filled by employers.
  • Coordinated actions of 4-person team to attract 299 PhD students and postdocs to attend fair, creating 4 posters/flyers as part of career fair announcements.

The first bullet above speaks to my ability to communicate with a wide range of people from different backgrounds. I am as comfortable speaking with scientists interested in finding particular candidates with certain types of research skills as I am talking with non-scientist recruiters looking to fill consulting positions. The second bullet focuses more on leadership/management skills, as well as sneaking in a mention of my creative skills. Both bullets use this formula: situation-skill-outcome. There was a situation where I used a specific skill to achieve a positive outcome. Use this formula in your resume and you will do a great job illustrating how effective your skills are (and not just saying that you have skills, and then relying on the employer to take your word for it). Only by taking the time to think carefully about what I achieved, and how I achieved it, can I highlight my skills in this way. So, when you are on the job market, celebrate your successes by thinking about all of the different skills you have used to achieve results (big results like getting a paper published, and small results like improving the efficiency of ordering supplies for your lab).

I am very happy that the career fair was a success. On a slightly more personal note, I am even happier that my own network of contacts played an important role in this success. If you have been to Career Services for an appointment or walk-in, chances are that you have been told how important building and maintaining your network are to your future careers. It is true – it really is. People can turn out to be great contacts for something that you never imagined they would be helpful for. Here are some of my networking experiences related to the career fair:

  • Got the names of two recruiters from a contact I had made with someone from Charles River Labs at a symposium I had spoken at 3-4 years ago. CRL did not end up registering for the fair, but I was able to add these new contacts into our employer database.
  • Reached out to a friend of mine from my undergraduate days who is a VP medical director at a medical writing firm in New York, resulting in her organization sending two representatives to the fair.
  • Followed up with a postdoc I had met with at Career Services who had mentioned in passing that she knew someone at a pharmaceutical company that I had been trying to connect with. I was able to get some contact details, and the company ended up registering for the fair.
  • My wife and I had a friend from Oxford stay at our house while he was visiting the US with his girlfriend over the summer. He is doing some website design work for Nature in the UK, and happened to know a good contact for me to reach out to in Nature Publishing’s New York office. Nature ended up registering for the fair.

Unlike the first three, my Oxonian friend has no connection with science at all. His PhD was in the humanities, and his current position in IT. Still, he was able to provide me with a contact for an organization that was on my high priority list. This was certainly a success worth celebrating.  Each contact in your network knows someone who knows someone who might just be the person you are looking to connect with. And who knows which organization your next contact’s significant other works for. Somewhere down the line you will find unexpected help from someone in your diverse network of contacts – especially if you take the time to maintain and build your relationships with them.

The more you focus on your successes, big and small, the more positive your outlook will become. This positive outlook will be reflected in your job application materials and in the way you come across in interviews – even if you are not consciously aware of this fact. People like to hire positive and confident people.

Celebrate your successes thus far in 2010, but don’t forget that there are still several weeks left for you to achieve even more. That is plenty of time for you to schedule an appointment at Career Services to see how we might be able to assist you. Making use of available resources to help you achieve your career goals is definitely a successful step in the right direction.