Transferable Skills

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

Often, I will meet with graduate students who are in one of two predicaments: 1) They are enrolled in a program here at Penn, but they find that they would like to career change after obtaining their master’s OR 2) they are an alum of Penn and would like to change gears to work in a different field, because the field they went into is not appealing to them anymore for a myriad of reasons. Conversations around these topics occur often in my office and I’m here to say, we here at Career Services are happy to help in these types of situations!

One important factor to remember when you would like to career change is that you DO have transferable skillsets. Often, I have students come in and say, “I’m not sure what I can do because I’ve only just been teaching up until now” or “I’ve only been a nurse for the past 7 years.” Working in any field requires a unique set of skillsets that may include, but not limited to leadership, management, organizational, and interpersonal skills. Often, Penn students and alums may overlook what they are capable of or what could be possible for them because they cannot envision that what they have been doing could be all that useful in another field.

The following skillsets could be useful or transferable to many fields:

Leadership: Do you lead projects, meetings, classrooms, and caseloads? Do you take the initiative to start something from the ground up at your workplace? Do you try to grow in your position to create new ideas?

Management: Do you excel at multi-tasking? Do you manage other employees and their work well? Do you act as a problem-solver and a leader on your team? Are you a self-starter and a critical thinker?

Organizational: Are you talented in organizing events, paperwork, or files? Are you good at the nitty gritty details at work? Do you prioritize responsibilities and delegate work as appropriate? Are you efficient with your time?

Interpersonal: Are you collaborative and a team player? Do you work well with others? Do you offer empathy and a collegial nature at work? Have you worked with diverse personalities and in various roles?

All of these skillsets are valuable and portable for many fields. An advisor in our office can work with you to emphasize such relevant skillsets on your resume and also highlight it in your cover letter. We can also advise you through a mock interview to highlight your transferable skills when asked behavioral questions.

Another resource here at Career Services that could of be of great help are the Penn 7 Career Competencies. This is a great checklist of competencies and or transferable skills valuable to whichever field you hope to enter. These competencies are helpful for all stages of a career and are great target points to expand on to become an asset to the workplace you hope to join. Mastering these competencies can help maximize your opportunities for career paths and strengthen your candidacy for many fields of work. If you have further questions regarding the Penn 7 Career Competencies and how to work on honing your transferable skills, please come in and make an appointment to speak with an advisor. We would love to help you.

Squirrel Talk

What’s with all the squirrel fascination on the Penn campus? I mean, I get it – they’re everywhere… jumping out of trash cans, gathering up discarded sandwich wrappers and pestering any human with a morsel of food. But as a person who grew up just over the bridge in a small, squirrel-infested Jersey town, I felt baffled when I first started working at Penn. I watched intelligent adults, sometimes whole families, prowling through the grass near College Hall holding outstretched iPads or phones, trying to snap a photo of an unsuspecting mutant rat. It was entertaining for me, of course, and soon I was hoping to catch people photographing squirrels. In fact, I started taking photos myself. I coined the series, “Photos of People Taking Photos of Squirrels.” They got a respectable number of “likes” on Facebook.

Regardless of season, squirrels remain abundant on campus, as do the squirrel photographers. Over time, my intense befuddlement transformed into perplexed amusement, which then became simple curiosity. Why do I not share such fascination for this animal I’ve apparently taken for granted my entire life? I’d muse. What am I missing? The question burned at my brain. As a result, I started paying more attention to the little guys.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting on campus eating lunch down near Van Pelt, which has become a bit of a ritual for me. As usual, the crafty rodents were milling about, pilfering what they could. I noticed one squirrel in particular was collecting leaves with his little paws and strategically packing in them into a nearby nest in a tree. He’d collect one leaf, and then another, and then maybe another, at which point he’d stop and look me directly in the eye. It was practically robotic and at the time hilarious. I instinctively snapped a photo with my phone and studied the blurry picture, amused. In a following moment of self-awareness, I marveled that I had become the person taking photos of squirrels.

Part of success in the work place is achieved by seeing something from a fresh perspective, often another person’s perspective. By doing this, the successful employee or intern can often avoid detrimental conflict and more effectively solve problems. It’s not a skill that everyone naturally possesses – it often must be learned, and then practiced. Mastering this skill, however, opens the mind to be more innovative, intuitive and resourceful, with the valuable ability to see situations from alternative points-of-view.

As we wrap up the fall semester, many of you will look toward future internships or full-time jobs, primarily landing them. If you think you possess the ability to branch out and tap into different perceptions, consider using it to market yourself in an interview or on a cover letter. If you think there’s room for improvement, try to practice the transferable skill, starting small. Perhaps simple curiosity about a different point-of-view is the ignition that leads to a greater understanding and appreciation of that viewpoint – an indispensable tool you’ll ultimately use in any career across all industries.

Tune in next time for Anne Marie’s Animal Planet. We will discuss the infiltration of those pesky, golf ball-sized bees that swarm the campus benches each spring, an obvious metaphor for the chaos often perceived during the job search process. Why is no one taking photos of them?!

Branching Out Beyond Art History & East Asian Studies

by Irene Tieh

Before I arrived at Penn in the Fall of 1994, I had to decide on whether I would enroll into Wharton or the College.  At that time, I did not have any proof that I knew Chinese (Chinese language classes were rare back then) and had to forego the dual degree Wharton/College program.  Everyone I knew told me that the obvious decision would be Wharton but I really wanted the opportunity to find out more about myself at college.  Born in Taiwan but raised in Texas, I really wanted to have a better understanding of both eastern and western cultures which was why I decided to major in both Art History and East Asian Studies.

I learned from Professor Nancy Steinhardt that I could submatriculate at the same time and earn a Masters degree by the time I completed my Bachelors.  The Fine Arts library granted me my own shelf space since I accumulated such an enormous amount of books for completing both degrees.  The ability to read, write, filter and discern vast amounts of information really helped me throughout my career.  Most importantly, studying both eastern and western cultures through art and history enabled me to pursue a global marketing career.  Each marketing position I took on for either the art, beauty or education industry required me to wear several hats.

Since I double majored and submatriculated at Penn, the extensive demands of those job positions did not overwhelm me.  I became more efficient at managing and prioritizing my workload.  I also felt more prepared to conduct competitive market research and as well as present findings in a boardroom since I did so much research, writing and presentations at Penn.  Furthermore, I had the cross-cultural communication skills that enabled me to work with several different countries and markets at the same time.

Now that I have spent several years marketing products and brands, I am applying my learnings and best practices to help individuals figure out how they can continue to flourish at college or in their career.  What matters is not what you majored in during college but what you do with the skill-sets you acquired along the way.  Keep learning, nurturing and applying your skills sets!

*Irene Tieh will be contributing to @PennCareerDay on Twitter during our International Careers week (October 17th-21st) to discuss her studies and career in China.  Check back next week for Irene’s full bio!

Strategic Self-Assessment

By Sharon Fleshman

Whether you are exploring careers, conducting a job search, or contemplating a career change, self-assessment can energize the process.  Begin by reflecting on your previous jobs, projects and activities. Don’t limit yourself to the experiences which seem most related to your immediate career goals.  Try to move beyond occupations and job titles. Take a look at your resume or CV and go line by line. Identify where you made the most impact and what gave you the greatest sense of fulfillment.

Next, you’ll want to pinpoint skills that emerge from these experiences. Chances are that these skills can transfer to a variety of career options.  For example, research skills could be applied to meaningful work in any number of areas such as academia, program evaluation for a non-profit, or marketing research for a corporation.

In addition to skills, think about what you valued in past experiences in which you found meaning and success. Identifying your work values will help you to consider the work environment which is the best fit for you.  In other words, you could perform the same job in two different settings but find that you thrive much more in one setting than the other.  What about your interests? Perhaps they would provide clues as to what’s next on your career path.  It may be that you decide to try out some career options by way of internships, volunteer work, or short-term projects to tease out all of this information. There’s nothing quite like hands-on experience to provide a fresh perspective.

Finally, you will need to consider the current priorities in your life and how they relate to your job search.  Are you willing to relocate or do personal commitments limit your geographical options? How do your immediate financial needs affect your choices?

You will find that self-assessment not only helps you identify potential career paths, but prepares you for next steps in the job search.  Your networking meetings will be more focused and fruitful because you have done your homework.  Your resumes, cover letters, and interviews will be more compelling because you have taken a thorough inventory of what energizes you, what matters to you, and what you have to offer.

In addition to our Career Discovery webpages, there are a number of tools and inventories that can help you facilitate the self-assessment process.  As always, Career Services advisors are available to provide guidance as well. Enjoy your summer!

3 tips from one who’s been there…

Part 2 of a series on mentoring opportunities and programs

One of the best ways to prepare for life after Penn – as well as to help you make the most of your time at Penn – is to find a mentor.  Use the Career Services Networking and Mentoring webpage as a great starting point.

Alumnae Anna Tiffany (EAS ’05), Scale-Up Engineer in the Coatings Technology Center at The Dow Chemical Company, volunteers her time as a Mentor through the Penn Engineering Mentoring Program.  Below, she has kindly shared her top 3 tips to help students connect with their mentors….useful advice to help you add value to your experience at Penn…and beyond.

There are so many options available for Penn grads that to decide what direction to take can be stressful, exciting, and confusing all at the same time.  The best way to understand your many options is to talk with someone who’s gone through it already.  That’s where mentors come in; their role is to provide students with perspective and guidance on the many paths that lie before them.  But what is the role of the mentee in the relationship?

In the best mentoring relationships, mentees are not idle sponges simply absorbing information from their mentors.  Instead, mentees – just like mentors – are active participants.  There are three things you can do as a mentee to ensure a successful mentoring relationship, and you have to start even before you contact your mentor for the first time.  Before seeking a mentor, you must determine what it is you are looking to get out of the relationship.  What do you hope to accomplish?   Making a list of questions you’d like your mentor help you answer is a good way to start thinking about what you want from the relationship.  Understanding this (and sharing it with your mentor!) will help guide your mentor’s efforts.

Once you have a mentor, the mentee should be the one to drive the relationship.  Set up meetings (if possible), ask questions, and request feedback.  At the same time though, be respectful of the mentor’s time.  The level of communication needed for each relationship is different, but it would probably not be appropriate to contact your mentor every other day.  On that note, communication can either be regular (say once a month) or on an as-needed basis.  It’s really up to what you need, but the frequency should be established at the start of the relationship.  With my mentors, I like to switch between regularly scheduled meetings and as-needed ones, changing as my needs change.

Finally, as the relationship advances, keep your mentor informed with your progress, particularly about topics you’ve discussed.  We want to know how you’re doing- we wouldn’t invest our time in you otherwise!  Plus, the more your mentor knows about your interests, the more helpful they can be.

So to sum it all up, decide what you want, drive the relationship, and keep in touch.  These three things will help you get the most out of your mentoring relationship.  And who knows, you might end up with a life-long friend in the process.