Career Development Competencies

The value of competencies for your career

Being successful in your career is not necessarily specific to your choice of field of study or the grades you earn. Employers from a wide variety of industries, hiring for all different kinds of jobs, have been surveyed extensively in the past few years to determine what qualities contribute to the success of their employees. Drawing on that research, Career Services has developed a series of career competencies to help all candidates - undergraduates through postdoctoral fellows - identify areas of strength and potential growth that will contribute to productive, lifelong professional development. Achieving these Penn7 Competencies will help to maximize the potential number of career paths you may consider after leaving Penn, and increases the likelihood that you choose the path that is the best fit for your skills, interests, and career goals. Please connect with an advisor at Career Services to learn more about the Penn7 Competencies as detailed below, and how your unique combination of strengths can help you realize your goals. 

Self-Management & Personal Wellness

Building personal and professional development strategies and goals with a clear focus on effectively managing stress and balancing work/life commitments.

  • Are you comfortable assessing your personal feelings and able to effectively keep emotions in perspective?
  • Have you demonstrated empathy and understanding with others?
  • Do you consciously cultivate and foster habits of wellness in an effort to increase focus, productivity, and impact?
  • Have you had the opportunity to demonstrate resiliency within a professional setting, or in other types of stressful situations?
  • To grow in this area: Gain awareness of available wellness resources and support and understand how and where to ask for help when needed

Active Listening & Effective Communication

Accurately receiving and interpreting verbal and non-verbal messages from direct reports, peers, colleagues, and supervisors. Clearly and effectively articulating thoughts to varied audiences in writing and in presentation.

  • How can you adapt speaking approaches to suit different audiences?
  • Are you confident communicating effectively and professionally through diverse channels (social media, emails, verbal communication)?
  • Do you express your ideas in a coherent manner?
  • Are you able to write/edit letters, position papers, proposals, web content, and complex technical reports clearly and effectively?

Critical Thinking & Problem Solving

Exercising sound reasoning to analyze issues, make decisions, overcome problems, address ambiguity and find relevant information.

  • Do you obtain, interpret, and use knowledge, facts, and data to resolve problems?
  • How do you demonstrate creativity, originality and inventiveness?
  • Are you comfortable easily adapting new technologies and applications to address work challenges and applying computing skills to solve problems?

Teamwork & Collaboration

Building collaborative relationships with colleagues and clients representing diverse cultures, races, ages, genders, religions, lifestyles, disciplines, and viewpoints.

  • Have you assumed various roles within a team structure?
  • Are you able to effectively manage and negotiate different personalities in order to reach a common goal?
  • Do you have any experience or understand how to problem solve when encountering challenging team dynamics?

Leadership & Project Management

Developing professional, working relationships with colleagues, peers, and supervisors/advisors, and leveraging the strengths of others to achieve common goals.

  • Do you develop strategically conceptualized plans to identify and achieve goals?
  • When have you utilized interpersonal skills to coach, develop, motivate, and gain buy-in from others?
  • Have you experience in organizing, prioritizing and delegating work?
  • Where can you identify opportunity areas to more successfully achieve goals?
  • What can you do to leverage a diverse talent pool to maximize team results?

Professionalism & Work Ethic

Demonstrating personal accountability and effective work habits (e.g., punctuality, working productively with others, and time/workload management), and understanding the impact of non-verbal communication on professional image.

  • Do you demonstrate integrity and behave ethically?
  • How can you make responsible decisions that consider the interests of the larger community?
  • Are you comfortable assuming responsibility when mistakes are made, and are able to demonstrate learning in future situations?
  • Are you able to communicate with colleagues in language appropriate for work and suitable for a diverse environment?
  • Do you go above and beyond to make positive impressions?
  • Do you understand data privacy and security issues that may be particular to the workplace?

Career Management

Identifying and expressing one's skills, strengths, knowledge, and experiences relevant to both the desired position and career goals, and identifying areas necessary for professional growth.

  • Are you able to assess your current role and how it will lead to future prospects?
  • Are you focusing on understanding and taking necessary steps to find and pursue opportunities?
  • Are you able to articulate your impact on the workplace by effectively communicating and illustrating skills, competencies, knowledge, and experiences?
  • Will you be ready to self-advocate for professional development and advancement?
  • Do you understand your current industry's market and relationship to the overall economy?

Competencies are not a checklist of specific skills to build, and you certainly aren't expected to build them alone or just naturally have these strengths. You likely will have had many experiences that you can use to illustrate career readiness competencies in action, and may just need to think about how your experiences helped you to progress. Download a Career Competency Worksheet and meet with a Career Advisor at Career Services to identify how you can highlight the skills and experiences relevant to employers that interest you.

Get started

There are many ways you can obtain these competencies while you are on campus. Visit the undergraduate 4-year timeline and individual development plan or the making the most of your PhD pages of the Career Services website to see how you can make progress developing career-relevant competencies, and start following the steps below to begin your career development journey. Set up an appointment with a Career Advisor to help create a plan that works for you and your future goals.

STEP 1 - Make campus connections: Take every opportunity to connect with your peers, student/postdoc associations, and the various student services on campus throughout your time at Penn.

STEP 2 - Develop your communication skills: Employers put a great deal of emphasis on communication skills, and so work on developing your presentation and writing skills. Use on campus resources (e.g., the speaking/writing centers), and look for opportunities to practice communicating with different audiences.

STEP 3 - Ask for help: Career development is a long and unpredictable road, and it is OK to make mistakes along the way. You will learn from these, and they will help to inform your future goals. You will be more successful and more content if you ask for help along the way. Everyone can benefit from help with career planning when they feel a little directionless, and getting support during stressful times will help you find a positive and confident perspective that is very helpful in career exploration.

STEP 4 - Explore: Explore yourself (your skills, interests, and goals) and explore your career options. Some self-reflection will go a long way to make the job of narrowing down a large range of possible career options much more manageable and satisfying. It is always helpful to explore career options even if you are certain of the path you want to take.

STEP 5 - Network with alumni: Learn about careers and get advice from the many Penn alumni who have gone before you. Leverage this fantastic network as you begin the important process of developing professional relationships with people in the career fields that interest you.

STEP 6 - Engage: As you begin to focus in on a few possible career paths, find opportunities to gain hands-on experience (e.g., shadowing, internships, student groups) where you can develop the skills that are sought in the specific roles you are interested in.

STEP 7 - Make career choices: When you are confident about the types of roles you want, and the organizations that interest you, make sure you present yourself in the best light by having effective application materials, and by really showcasing your ability to contribute to the role in your interview answers. Be ready to negotiate offers you receive, and have an idea about how you will make decisions about which to accept.

Opportunities to develop, enhance, and illustrate your competencies

You can find the full calendar of Career Services programs and workshops on our calendar pages here. Listed below are some of the resources that specifically address elements of these career readiness competencies:

Career Competencies Interviewing Guide
Are you able to incorporate and illustrate Penn 7 Competencies in your interviews? Are you skilled in discussing your competencies in clear ways? View some sample questions related to the Penn 7 Competencies that could be asked in an interview and possible responses one can answer here.

Set up your free InterviewStream account and try out one of the mock interview question sets focused on each of the Penn7 Career Competencies. These question sets will give you the opportunity to answer the type of questions you may get asked at your next internship or job interview that are related to the career-readiness skills you are building. Can you quickly come up with good stories to illustrate your leadership or problem-solving skills in action? Get practicing today so that you can ace your next interview! If you are looking for some general information on interviewing before you start, then head over to our interviewing advice pages.

Portfolium is your free, digital portfolio tool to visually showcase your academic and professional experiences, accomplishments, and career-readiness competencies. Creating Portfolium "entries" allows you to beautifully organize and highlight your education and experiences by including samples of your reports, papers, projects, labs, and presentations. Valid Penn e-mail or PennKey Required.

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