Parents FAQ: Introduction »

Parents FAQ: Employment

Does the Career Services staff screen candidates for employers or “place” students? 

While employers do their own screening, Career Services provides students with as much information and support to be the strongest possible candidates for institutions which will, in the end, make their own decisions.

What do employers evaluate when they consider job candidates?

Employers look at a wide range of factors. As with most career-related issues, what will be most important will vary depending on the type of employer. They will consider curriculum, GPA (grade point average) and skill set, employment/internship history and volunteer work, extra-curricular activities, and finally, “fit.” Depending on the employer, these will be weighted differently: some employers will care most about work experience in their field, others will focus on level of leadership activity, others on grades. In general, employers look for students who have performed well in a variety of arenas, and not just one.

My child is deeply involved in one or two extracurricular activities, but his/her grades might be a little better if s/he cut back on them and concentrated more on studying. Will that help him/her get a better job after graduation?

Some employers consider it extremely important that students have been involved in activities outside of class. Participation on athletic teams, in student government, in cultural and performing arts organizations, for example, all provide opportunities for students to work in teams and on projects that develop skills different from those honed in the classroom. In addition, these types of activities give students a chance to interact with members of the Penn community whom they might not otherwise have gotten to know. If students spread themselves too thin, and get involved in so many organizations that their academic performance really suffers, we might encourage them to narrow down their activities to one or two that they find particularly rewarding, and focus on improving their academic work. However, if the difference in academic performance will be insignificant (for example, the difference between a 3.46 and a 3.52), then meaningful participation in extra-curricular activity can serve the student very well. Finally, where extra-curricular activities are concerned, in general employers prefer depth to breadth. Substantial involvement in one or two activities in which a student has achieved a leadership role is far preferable to superficial involvement in a multitude of different activities.

What’s the difference between a “ job” and an” internship”? Are all internships unpaid?

While frequently the terms “job” and “internship” are used interchangeably, in the case of post-graduate positions, the term “job” is generally associated with work that is ongoing (has no end date), while the term “internship” is associated with a time-delimited position, usually one to two years. In the case of summer positions, however, calling a position a “job” or an “internship” gets very murky, and often it is simply a matter of choice on the part of the employer. Some summer “jobs” are called “internships,” and visa versa, and all are time delimited. However, internships are often associated with the opportunity for students to learn something specific or new. Internships can be paid or unpaid. The term “internship” does not necessarily imply that a position is unpaid, though that may be the case. For post-graduate positions, those specifically designated as “internships” are quite likely to be paid. Likewise, it is possible that an employer may offer an unpaid “summer job.” Career Services’ internship and permanent jobs database Handshake enables students to search both for paid and unpaid opportunities, as in some fields the unpaid opportunities may be more extensive than the paid ones.

My child has just finished her/his freshman year. How important is it that s/he have a career-related summer job or internship?

It is not essential that students have a career-related internship after their first year. However, it can be helpful for students to take a job or internship during the summer (and even time during the school year) that enables them to explore career fields that they think might interest them but that they have not yet experienced.

Given our financial situation, my child needs to earn as much as possible during the summer and the school year. How do employers look at students who have a lot of work experience, but may not have much career-related experience?

Employers ultimately want employees who are hard workers, and a track record of serious hard work is impressive. While there may be some fields where lack of any experience can be an obstacle to permanent employment, Career Services advisors  will work with students to help overcome these obstacles. There may be classes that offer practical experience, or other ways for students to develop the skills a particular employer might seek.

What are the considerations for international students planning to look for summer jobs/permanent employment in the U.S.:

In general, not being a U.S. citizen or U. S. permanent resident adds a level of difficulty to a job search, but there are employers who are willing to hire foreign nationals. It will depend on the industry and the employer. Practical Training work authorization offers students who have studied in the U.S. on F-1 visas the opportunity to work for up to twelve months in a field related to their studies; J-1 students may apply for Academic Training. It is especially important that international students work with Penn’s Global International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) to understand the steps that need to be taken to work legally in the United States.