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by Hannah Hansen

Like many soon-to-be college graduates, I had mixed emotions about my impending graduation. I was excited about the next phase of my life, but I was nervous because I was not sure what “the next phase” was going to look like. Many of my peers appeared to have such clear paths. Friends were heading off to graduate school or had jobs lined up that they had committed to for months. Meanwhile, I was only a few months away from graduation without solid plans and not much time to think about who or what I wanted to be.

I loved and highly value my educational and college experience, yet I did not feel adequately prepared in my search for jobs – due in part to my own lack of seeking help (my inbox was filled with dozens of unopened emails from my university’s career center).

Only at the end of my senior year did I start the process of career preparation by attending career exploration panels and fairs, networking workshops, and speaking with department advisors about possible job opportunities. Then, the pandemic hit the U.S. which forced my university to shut down and move online. While trying to adapt to this “new normal,” my job search was put on the backburner.

After an online graduation ceremony and an official bachelor’s degree, I resumed my job search. I faced countless rejections with my “spray and pray” application method. I applied to anything that sounded interesting or promising. I had no idea what I was searching for. I just knew that whatever career I pursued, I hoped it would include storytelling and connecting people to meaningful messages.

One day while scrolling endlessly through LinkedIn job posts, I received a message from Experience Lab at Penn. They informed me that I might be a great match for their graduate certificate program and encouraged me to apply. At first, I was hesitant. I was not considering graduate school, at least not for a few years. However, after an investigation, I discovered that Experience Lab at Penn was a combination of school, work, and job preparation. I was more than excited to apply. 

I was thrilled when I received the email informing me of my acceptance. I dove into the course modules ready to learn more about digital marketing and career paths. My fellows and instructors were very enthusiastic and passionate. It was very motivating to work alongside people that cared about what they were doing and I soon discovered the benefits of learning from passionate professionals.

One of the program exercises to complete for the course was chatting with people within the industries in which we are interested to learn about their career paths. I scheduled my first call with a man that started his own marketing group that focused on customized content creation. My heart was already racing as I finalized my list of questions. Did I have good questions? Will I sound professional enough? Self-doubt was swarming inside my head. As soon as I answered the phone and heard a friendly voice on the line, relief and excitement flooded over me.

He seemed eager to discuss his career path and he was genuinely interested in my plans for the future. I was fascinated that his journey in the ad industry started at a young age by listening to his father who was involved in radio broadcasting. Decades later, this exposure helped him form his own company that aimed at creating content to help clients build lasting relationships with their customers. The need for creative problem solving and his passion about his work resonated with and inspired me. I ended the conversation feeling hopeful and interested in pursuing a career in content creation that supports my storytelling passion.

Many successful conversations followed. I gained valuable insight with each new conversation. I learned that listening to people’s career experiences helped me to narrow my career search and focus on a path I am more passionate about. I also discovered that people are eager and willing to guide you on your career journey — the hardest part is finding the courage to ask.

Hannah Hansen, Experience Lab Fellow, Fall 2020