New Staff Member: Helen Pho

Hello! I hope you’re enjoying the summer and having a chance to have fun, relax, and recharge! This summer has been great for me so far—I’ve explored different neighborhoods in Philadelphia, caught up on some TV shows that I was behind on, attended an amazing professional development conference in Houston, and, most importantly, began an exciting new role with Penn Career Services!

I joined the Graduate Student and Postdoc Advising Team as an Associate Director in May and have greatly enjoyed getting to know Penn and its community. Before starting this position, I worked at a higher education executive search firm where I recruited deans, provosts, and presidents for colleges and universities. Before that, I was a graduate student in the History Department at the University of Texas at Austin and wrote a dissertation examining the social, cultural, and economic impact of the American military presence in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Going back even further, I directed a summer program for first-generation students and was an admissions offer at Yale, my alma mater. At Penn, I’m excited to work with graduate students and postdocs to help them think creatively about their strengths, values, and career interests and to guide them in putting their best foot forward during their job searches.

A few fun facts about me:
• My first job in higher education was being a Peer Adviser at Yale’s Undergraduate Career Services, where I reviewed resumes and cover letters and spoke with students about job and internship opportunities. It was a job I loved, and I’m glad to return to the field of Career Services ten years later!
• I’m a huge basketball fan. I grew up in Oakland, CA and have been a Golden State Warriors fan for many years. Now that I live in Philly, I also cheer for the 76ers.
• I am obsessed with potato products! Baked potatoes, French fries, potato wedges, you name it!
I look forward to getting to know many of you in the future!

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


Career Services Welcomes Dianne Hull

Dianne Hull recently joined Penn’s Career Services as an Associate Director working with graduate students, postdocs and alumni of graduate programs.  Dianne has worked in career advising for more than 15 years, first as a human resources specialist with a consulting firm and later with students at Saint Joseph’s University and in the Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program at Bryn Mawr College.  Dianne earned a B.A. in Sociology from Lehigh University and a M.S.ED. from the University of Pennsylvania.

What interests you most about working with graduate students?

I love working with students who have a passion for what they are studying and it is exciting to be able to help them turn that passion into a career.  I learn something new each and every day about varying fields. 

In what ways has your background prepared you for this work?

In my most recent role, I worked with postbaccalaureate premedical students who were looking to change careers and go into medicine.  I worked with them as prospective students throughout the application and interview process to our program, and then assisted them as students while they applied to medical school and glide year jobs.  I have interviewed many candidates – some overconfident, some who were nervous, and many who had amazing experience but were challenged in translating their experiences in an interviewing setting.  I love working with students to help them create a narrative of their past experiences for job interviews.


What are you most looking forward to in the coming year?

My colleagues in Career Services are interesting people who are energized by helping students find their passion and putting it to workMy group which works with graduate students and postdocs work with such a diverse and interesting group of students who come from almost every academic discipline.  I’m excited to work with such a wide range of students and helping them to take the next steps in their career.