Career Services has some advice for students who are worried that poor grades or a lack of extracurricular activities have killed their chances at getting a job: keep calm and carry on.
The office sponsors a workshop, held several times a year, called “Damage Control: Handling Tough Issues to Discuss in Interviews.” It covers how to manage and frame issues that may worry students, like poor grades, lack of relevant work history or extended time away from school.
“We often have students that come and talk to us individually, in the privacy of our office, about things that they’re worried [will] come up in the interview that they think only they have,” said Barbara Hewitt, Senior Associate Director at Career Services and one of the main advisors for students in the Wharton School. “We decided to do [a] workshop so that we could address some of these issues a little more publicly, so students could realize that they’re not the only ones that might have a specific worry.”
Hewitt said grades are the most common concern among students, but that concern is often unfounded.
“I think sometimes students have unrealistic ideas of what their competition [is],” she said. “I have students who sometimes come in and talk about how their grades aren’t good enough and they couldn’t possibly be competitive for a consulting company ... and I’ve learned to say, well, what is your GPA? Because what they think is a bad GPA and what I think is a bad GPA are usually not the same.”
Hewitt and Senior Associate Director Claire Klieger, who works with students in the College of Arts and Sciences, said they often have to reassure students that what they see as a problem might barely register at all to a recruiter.
“Something that is seemingly a big deal for you might not be for an employer, and if it is, they’ll certainly bring it up,” Klieger said. “There’s no reason to volunteer any potentially negative information because doing that, even in an attempt to explain it away, just shines a bigger spotlight on it.”
If an employer does ask a student to explain any gaps or problems in his or her resume, Hewitt and Klieger advise not to get defensive; accept responsibility and move on.
While the content of the workshop has mostly stayed the same through its 10-year-plus history, recent years have placed a greater emphasis on maintaining a professional social media profile. Career Services also added a section on dealing with disciplinary infractions or criminal records after several students expressed concerns about previous arrests.
In cases of students who have had extended periods of absence from school, the approach depends on the specific reason. While one-time problems that are unlikely to reoccur do not usually present a problem, issues like episodic depression or chronic illness may be more difficult to explain, they advised.
“That might not be something that you want to disclose fully, so you need to approach that on a case-by-case basis,” Klieger said. “Maybe there are pieces of that story ... that you can share without having to share the whole thing.”
Appointments with Career Services are strictly confidential and will not be shared with employers. Although discussion at the workshops is infrequent with students reluctant to share details in public, Hewitt and Klieger hope that the workshops can help students realize that their problems are not as insurmountable as they may seem.
“Nine times out of 10, a student will come in and say, there’s this really important thing, I’m so embarrassed, no one’s going to want to hire me because of this thing,” Klieger said. “When you’re carrying this around inside you, and you’re worried that it’s going to get out in the world and people are going to discover the skeleton in your closet, it can be a lot — but it’s usually not nearly as bad as you think.”
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