Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers


Three Ways to Influence Others

Today’s guest post comes from Ben Magee, the Wake Forest Fellow who has worked with the Office of Personal and Career Development this past year.  I asked him to share things he has learned in his first year after college for the benefit of our current graduating seniors and their parents.

Many recent graduates will go to work in jobs that require them to work on teams. What I have learned this year through being a member of a team is that working together with others is more than providing your technical skills or defined expertise to complete assigned tasks. Teamwork also involves influence and getting others to rally behind your ideas and recommendations; which is more challenging that you may think. Listed below are three ways that I’ve found helpful when attempting to influence those around me this year.

1.    Listen

Stephen Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of High Effective People, recommends that we seek first to understand others and be understood second. The times I have truly listened to my coworkers before diving into what I think is the solution to a problem has proven to be the most fruitful in terms of my influence. I was eager to get things done when I first started. I mistakenly thought that if others would listen to me first, we could get our problems solved quickly. I have now come to understand that when I listen well, my co-workers may have already come with a solution, and even if my original view has not changed (I am not sure what this means or if it’s necessary here), my coworkers are much more willing to collaborate with me to accomplish the task at hand.

2.    Use relevant language

People want to help you once they understand how the work or idea you have relates to their work and goals. I am the type of person who did a lot of math in my head as a kid, so I rarely wrote down my methodology to get the right answer. At work, I notice the more I can share the logic behind my ideas, the more I am able to help others understand my approach and garner their support. Using relevant language to demonstrate how an idea is connected to the office’s mission and goals or my colleagues goals or challenges is imperative to influence others.

3.    Be flexible

I have learned that I use my preferences as a default for interacting with others. At times, this has inhibited my influence as my coworkers did not receive and think about the information the same way I did. A good skill to learn is how to adapt to the style of others. If someone always responds to emails within 24 hours, is 10 minutes early to every meeting, and is very formal in their interactions, I realized that they would appreciate my doing the same when I interacted with them. I also learned to find out how someone wants information reported. Do they care about the numbers? Do they like charts and tables or bullet point statements or is a lengthy written paragraph more appropriate? It is OK to ask about your coworkers style and you can learn much through observation too. The key is to know your own style and be willing to adapt to others.

Dealing with Failure

Today’s guest post comes from Ben Magee, the Wake Forest Fellow who has worked with the Office of Personal and Career Development this past year.  I asked him to share things he has learned in his first year after college for the benefit of our current graduating seniors and their parents.

Social commentators often talk about how this generation of students has grown up receiving gold stars and trophies for everything – even when their little league teams had losing seasons.  The truth is that many of them may have never encountered “real” failure until after college. Personally speaking, I hate failure. Most people do. I’ve come to realize; however, that dealing with failure is an invaluable skill and important for achieving success.

While in high school, I learned a great deal when competing in front of crowds of over 3,000 people.  However, the failures I experienced still felt avoidable. This philosophy transferred to all areas of my life and my goal was to learn in order to avoid mistakes. I focused my energy on reading “self-help” books and sought the advice of folks who were older and wiser. I thought I could learn from their failures and avoid having to experience it on my own. I see now that much of my drive for personal development through reading books and asking questions (while it still has many benefits) was a cop-out to avoid taking risks and making mistakes. What is clear now is that the office I work in does not teach personal and career development so students can avoid mistakes, but rather it teaches how students to expand their horizons and experiences, to take risks, and learn from those experiences to continue to dare greatly in our endeavors.

What I have learned this year as a Fellow in the OPCD is how valuable failure is for growth and success. For instance, under a tight deadline, I was asked to put together a budget proposal for a potential academic minor. I was distressed because I didn’t have a clue how to create a budget or all the pricing schemes and departmental rules. I didn’t know how to create the correct model in Excel. I reached out to get clarity and help on it, but not early enough to get full instructions. In the end, I delivered something that was not useful.

As much as I hated turning in a useless budget, I did learn a great deal about the topic in a short amount of time. I received specific feedback on how to improve. Further, I learned that sometimes there aren’t clear “right ways” for completing a task. I realized that others expected me to look beyond my inexperience and reach out to co-workers for guidance. Asking questions and turning in an early draft to receive feedback was a very important lesson.

As helpful as books and trainings are, they can’t replace experience.  The valuable knowledge gained from class or books cannot be fully understood without the practical real-life application. There are many successful people who never read any “self-help” books. They just lived their life and actively sought to improve each day – with an attitude of humility and a willingness to learn. That said, I encourage us all to take risks and not fear failure. It’s OK to make mistakes and learn from them quickly. I firmly believe we’re better people because of them.

New Types of Feedback

Today’s post is written by Ben Magee, the Presidential Fellow in the Office of Personal and Career Development. He shares some insights gained in his first job after graduating from college. 

As a Wake Forest Presidential Fellow, I’ve learned many lessons in my first year working as a full time administrator for the university. One of the starkest changes coming from undergrad is the loss of immediate feedback. I didn’t realize that the immediate feedback of grades on tests and papers was something that I actually desired – or maybe I just got used to it. Some of my co-workers say that my generation generally wants to know that we are succeeding, and we want to know right now. However, the world of work is much more nuanced and while I have received feedback, it is must less frequent and comes in various shades of grey when compared to test grades and my academic GPA.

At a recent luncheon, a senior administrator explained to me that most of the recent graduates she interacts with make a similar incorrect assumption. They assume that the professional world will be strictly competency or merit-based – meaning our ability to perform our job function will determine how our coworkers evaluate us. However in many professional domains, it is only half the picture. You may be hired for your competency, but you keep that job and move up the corporate ladder based on both your competency and your chemistry. In other words, your ability to work well with and be liked by others can also dictate much of your success. This line of thinking follows “the plane test”. The premise of the plane test is, “If your co-worker and you were on business travel but were delayed at the airport for the day, would you enjoy each other’s company?”

If you want the answer to be yes, then learning how to make working alongside your coworkers enjoyable is a process of continual feedback- but in a different way. It is not grades, but rather observing and gathering informal feedback about the work habits and styles that your co-workers most appreciate. During exams, you’re not supposed to ask for the answers from the teacher. In the workplace, asking your coworkers for feedback after a meeting or project makes them feel honored that you value their input. My experience is that co-workers don’t expect perfection, but they value people who are competent and who seek personal improvement and progress. The real key in obtaining feedback is to display a sincere and authentic attitude in seeking improvement and then rapidly implementing the feedback.  After all, who doesn’t like that kind of person?

The Gift of Reading

Our Wake Forest Fellow, Ben Magee, wrote the following post.  I’d like to share it with you…

I recently heard one freshman student tell how their father gave them a stack of eight books before leaving for college. These were not all books regarding professional life, but rather were books that the father had found provided him significant life direction and meaning.

Conversely, in an NPR interview, Lynn Neary and Eric Weiner assert that many students today don’t enjoy reading for pleasure. Although students may be reading more than ever through articles, chapters from textbooks or novels, or even social media outlets, the amount of reading for pleasure has declined. College students are overwhelmed by their schedules and activities striving to excel both in and outside the classroom. Under such demands, something must give, and so many students do not read for pleasure.

Reading for pleasure provides opportunities for reflection, stimulating imagination, sparking interests, and realizing important life lessons. Additionally, today’s overwhelmed student may find relaxation by reading for pleasure. Importantly, the habits we form in early adulthood transition into our future life.

At Wake Forest, the OPCD staff has partnered with Wake Forest’s ZSR library to share their recommended readings for personal and career development.  These “OPCD Staff Picks” are available in the students study space in the library. As our students embark on their journey of personal and professional discovery, these books can provide guidance and inspiration.

Here are a few great books that Andy has recommended for my consideration and are definitely books worth sharing:

1. Nobodies to Somebodies: How 100 Great Careers Got Their Start by Peter Han

2. This I Believe II: more personal philosophies of remarkable men and women – Jay Allison and Dan Gediman

3. Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl

4. Authentic Happiness – Martin Seligman

5. Roadtrip Nation: A guide to discovering your path in life – Nathan Geghard, Joanne Gordon and Mike Marriner

The entire “OPCD Staff Picks” list of books can be found here.

Career Trek Insights – A Student’s Perspective

The Office of Personal and Career Development has organized this year’s “Career Exploration Trek” to the Big Apple, New York City where Wake Forest students head a major city to learn about interesting careers, companies and industries from alumni during a few jam packed days.  I have long believed in the value of experiential learning and enjoy the teachable moments that come with it. It’s one thing to talk about networking, but to actually do it can ignite students’ interests and open their minds to fully understanding the true power and importance of the concept.

One surprising aspect of the Career Trek is that our staff also benefits from the experience. The one-on-one off-campus exposure with students enables us to learn how students really think and address many of their misconceptions. One of our current seniors, Alex Tulowieki, attended one of last year’s Career Treks and he shared his experience with us.

Students can represent themselves as professionals. “Those papers and projects I worked on during college have value and are real work. Speaking with professionals, they do value that if you open up. A lot of students were intimidated to network at first, because it felt like we were going into the conversation empty-handed. When we accept that we have been producing work, regardless if it has only been in academic setting, it gives you confidence to not be so shy and talk about shared interests with that professional”.

Networking is much more than small talk and is conversation-oriented. “No one asked for my resume before we started talking”. He also noted that the students who were most driven to getting a job seemed to have the worse luck. People appreciate talking to someone who is just interested in what they do rather than just interested in getting a job.

Networking is much more of a round-about process. It’s neither wise, nor realistic, to go into a conversation with someone who you’re meeting for the first tie with the hope that a job offer will result.  It is better to have conversations about your interests and curiosities and to take genuine interest in people who have experience in your field of interest. The person you are speaking with may not be able to help you directly, but they may have other connections that could be helpful to you.

Chemistry is as important as competency. Alex noted that most college students have the misconception that work is all about competency. This is partly due to the fact that most grades awarded are based upon how well students demonstrate knowledge through taking tests and writing papers. Chemistry, in the sense of how we mesh with those we work with, is equally important.

What Alex discovered is that the Plane Rule. While competency is a major factor in any work setting, employers are also evaluating if a candidate is the type of person they would enjoy spending time with while on a cross-country flight or delayed for hours at the airport.  As our students engage in experiential learning activities and professional settings like the Career Trek, they, like Alex, will release their misconceptions and be more prepared for a successful personal and career development journey.

For more info on the OPCD Career Trek, click here.

Parent-to-Student Career Conversations (Part II)

As parents of college students, we often think that we have a diminished influence on our child.  In my experience, I have seen many students who care so deeply about the opinions of their parents that they are unable to make a decision or think clearly on their own. Complicating it even further, many students are unable to talk to their parents about these issues. So the student often makes decisions based on what their parents “think” – but was never confirmed.

Here’s another way for parents be a positive influence in the career conversations with their students.

The right questions lead to the right answers

The first, foundational step in the career development process is for an individual to understand themselves – their unique interests, values, strengths, personality and talents. Many students – and people for that matter – are unable to answer the question “Tell me about yourself?” in a manner that demonstrates clarity of career direction. Most often, it’s because few students have been given the opportunity to think about and reflect on it. Parents can assist in this process.

We parents often make the mistake of thinking our children need reminders and to do lists to activate their career and job search process. We focus on “what’ they need to do. Instead, we need to help students develop their own answers for “why”. “Why is thinking about my job and career search important to me?”

We must be thoughtful in how to guide students develop their own positive motivations working on their job and career search.  Parental approval or fear of parent reprisal is not a healthy approach – for the student or for the parent-student relationship. If we truly want to foster mature, independent adults, we must appeal to deeper, stronger and more intrinsic motivations for career exploration and development so that it’s something they want to do. You may have experienced that the more you push your child to do something, the more they resist it.

When your student asks for your opinion or answer to their career question, resist the temptation to answer immediately. Instead, answer with a question like, “What are your thoughts on this?” or “Tell me a little more about the situation.” With more dialogue, you may find that your student has already discovered a reasonable solution. At a minimum, you will have more information from which you can provide an answer – one that is built on their perceptions and reality, not yours.

Be curious and listen carefully. Ask neutral questions that help you understand how they think and what motivates them. Re-state and re-phrase to confirm their thoughts to validate their thinking. Students yearn to be truly heard and understood – and this approach will help them go beyond the job search checklist to creating the motivation to thoughtfully and productively engage in the career process while on campus and throughout life.

There are two types of love, conditional and unconditional. We all know what type we prefer. Before having career conversations, remember which type of love you have for your child – and then demonstrate this spirit in your questions, your tone, your body language, and your intentions. During this key time of your student’s life, every communication you have with him/her can have significant impact.

Parent-to-Student Career Conversations (Part I)

As parents of college students, it’s difficult to not be thinking about and wanting to aid in our student’s career preparation. Our first thought is “How can I help my student get a “good job” when they graduate.” It’s hard to not think about it. Before you begin talking to your student about these issues this year, I offer a few ideas for your consideration – ones you may not have thought about the past.

Clarify the goal

Many parents place an intense focus on getting a “great first job” straight out of college as the pinnacle goal. They fret and view every choice through the lens of “how will that help you to get a good job.” With projections that today’s students will have up to 29 jobs in their lifetime, the first job is just that – a first job!

When economists state that we can’t even predict what will be the most popular jobs in four years, it’s unrealistic for anyone – not just parents – to claim to know best and to place a similar burden on their student. For example, today’s law students and recent graduates are wondering what happened to the secure and promising career path promised by a law degree. With such an unpredictable and dynamic job market and many career changes ahead for all, we must go beyond solely focusing on just securing a first great job and instead, understand and master the process of personal and career development.

At Wake Forest, one of our goals is to educate and equip students with the tools to be resourceful, motivated and well-informed managers in their career decisions. By achieving this goal, students will be able to successfully navigate their career changes through their entire lives. As a result, every Wake Forest student will become “employable for life”. Then they will have the capabilities to secure a great first job and even better jobs throughout their careers.

When I think about my son in college, I realize that my perspective regarding the goal of college is different than his. It’s not crucial for him to embrace my goal as his own, but I have shared it with him so that he has the background and context for my thoughts and questions about his academic, extracurricular and career-related decisions.

I shared this goal with the Wake Forest parents at Orientation so that they might consider that there’s a much greater goal for college then to “just get a good first job.” My idealistic goal for my son is: To become a mature, independent person who is motivated to learn, grow and take care of himself. He is able to make thoughtful, sound decisions. He has a well-developed sense of self and his worldview, as well as self-confidence and optimism about his future. He has a strategic view of his life and career and is creating options that align with his needs and values.

By thinking more broadly about the goal of college, you will be able to support your student in achieving many crucial, foundational goals about life – which will lead to successfully securing a great first job as well as many more throughout your child’s career.

Top 10 Interview Tips for New College Graduates

One of the most critical stages of the job search process is the interview. While resumes, cover letters and networking might get you into the room, the job offer often comes down to the interview. After all, employers are hiring a person, not a piece of paper. Therefore, it is critical that students and recent graduates be prepared so they can thrive in interviews.

Recently, I was asked for the unique things that today’s college students must know and do to succeed in interviews. What I realized is that because students have almost no job interview experience, students don’t know what they don’t know. With help from our career counselors, I developed a list of Top 10 interview tips for college students:

1. Do your homework on the job, the organization, the competition and the industry. Reading the website is the minimum. Tap your college and/or high school alumni network and your parents’ network to get the inside scoop. Most students don’t read business magazines, newspapers or trade journals, so when you do, you’ll stand out from the crowd. Doing this homework will prevent you from asking really obvious — and naïve — questions.

2. Anticipate and prepare for the typical questions with strong personal answers.“Tell me about yourself.” “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” “Tell me about your greatest accomplishments.” “Share a time you failed and how you responded to the situation.” “Why do you want this job?” “Why this organization?” Have your answers and examples so well rehearsed that it’s natural.

3. Develop 5-7 adaptable stories from your resume related to the job you’re seeking. Start with the situation by describing the context and problem. Then explain what you did to improve the situation and describe the results in quantifiable terms. This demonstrates that you understand the importance and the impact of your personal contributions. With these stories prepared in advance, you can adapt them to various questions.

4. Frame your answers to show how you will add value to the organization. Many students too often focus on why they want the job, what they will get out of it, and why it will be good for them. Turn the tables and explain how and why you can and will benefit the organization. Find ways to tactfully mention what they’d gain if they hired you (or how much they’d miss out on if they didn’t).

5. Use the right vocabulary. Surprise an employer by actually being able to translate how your academic or extracurricular experiences have helped to prepare you for the role you’re interviewing for — using words in the job description. Very few students can do this. For example, if you’re a theatre major, describe how you managed and promoted a play or musical production using your project management, creativity and sales skills.

6. Prepare two or three ‘go-to’ questions that demonstrate you prepared in advance and your strategic thinking. There’s a difference between “Tell me about the culture” and “Tell me about how major decisions are made here and provide an example of a recent decision and the process used.” Or, “I read that the organization is changing its strategic direction. How will that affect this business unit?” Avoid questions where answers are on the website.

7. Practice interviewing out loud with mentors, adult fans or even in the mirror. Most students have not done many (if any) job interviews – and definitely not when under pressure. It’s important to hear the words you intend to speak, including the tone, emphasis, inflections and facial impressions, so that you don’t blow it when it really counts. It’s rare to get a second chance.

8. Demeanor, humble self-confidence, personality and enthusiasm really matter.Smile! Allow your voice tone, words and body language to communicate your genuine excitement about the opportunity. It will be a significant decision factor for your interviewer. If you don’t, your interviewer will question if you really want the job or if you’re going to be committed to the organization. This is one of the top reasons why people do not get job offers.

9. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Many students have difficulty getting excited about entry-level jobs because they feel overqualified or discouraged that the work will not be fulfilling. In each interview, your primary objective is to get invited back for another interview and to eventually secure an offer. As you progress through the process, many find that the job and organization are much more interesting than they originally thought.

10. Finish strong and follow up. Always close with a final statement that makes it crystal clear that you are genuinely excited and interested in the opportunity, including why you’d be a great hire and fit for the job and organization. Clarify next steps and the timeline. Email a thank you note less than 24 hours after the interview while it is still fresh on your mind. Articulate your fit and why they should hire you specific to the interview conversations. Every interviewer expects a thank you note from each candidate, so no note is a sign of no interest and no professionalism. To really stand out, also send a neatly hand-written thank you note soon after the interview.


Andy Chan’s Top 10 Interview Tips for New College Graduates first appeared on The Huffington Post College Blog on June 14, 2013. 

6 Tips for Parents to Help Your Recent Graduate Get Hired

After graduation and the celebration that surrounds it, many recent graduates will begin or continue their job search during the summer. Often, their parents will play an important role in helping them navigate the path to their first jobs. To advise these parents, Mercy Eyadial, our Executive Director of Employer Relations, offers six tips so parents can best assist their recent graduates during this exciting, yet sometimes painful, process.

  1. Establish a game plan. If you are helping the student by way of financial support, or if your child is living in your home, lay out a schedule as to how long he or she will be supported, and decide how much money you’ll provide. In turn, the student must be expected to meet certain milestones, such as a specific amount of hours spent searching for jobs, number of contacts made or emails sent. “You must establish the expectations on the front-end, not months into their job search,” Eyadiel says.
  2. Set clear priorities. Eyadiel often sees families take the recent grad on a congratulatory family vacation after school lets out, encouraging the young person to spend more family time since they have moved back home. This sets an example of putting fun above the job search. “Don’t send mixed messages,” she says. “The job search is the priority. Make clear that they must find a job before they can play.”
  3. Share your network—carefully. Eyadiel suggests giving the student the contact information for three to five of your professional connections. Do not make the call on your child’s behalf, but instruct him or her on how to write an initial email. Also give advice on what to say in a meeting, and how to parlay an introduction into a conversation or job opportunity. Choose these contacts carefully. “The first person the student contacts should not be the CEO,” Eyadiel warns. “Have them start lower and practice. Let them build their confidence and work their way up to communicating with more senior people.” And don’t jeopardize your own Rolodex with these connections. After all, young professionals often make many mistakes.
  4. Elicit the help of a family friend or professional contact. Another adult can be useful as a secondary adviser. “I call them ‘adult fans,’” Eyadiel says. “They can take some pressure off the parent and offer another mature perspective.”
  5. Remember: You are not the one going through the job search process. This is not about your interests or goals. It is also not your responsibility to land the job for the student. “Parents often want to intervene too quickly and take the pain out of the process,” Eyadiel says. “But a job search is an inherently painful process. At the end of the day, the student is the one who has to interview and has to build their own professional identity.”
  6. Whatever you do, do not contact the recruiter or hiring manager. Never! “You actually harm the child by doing that,” Eyadiel says. “The employer will be so astonished that it is hard to give your kid serious consideration.”

Mercy Eyadiel’s 6 Tips for Parents on Helping Your Recent Graduate Get Hired first appeared on Retail Me Not on June 5. 

Graduates: Jump Start the Job Search Now

With graduation over, it’s time to commence life after college. For our seniors, this season is bittersweet. It is sad to be leaving friends and a place they have called home for four years, but the promise of a new future is exciting and energizing. While about half of the senior class already has plans in place for their future (which is consistent with past years), others are in the middle of their job searches or are just getting started. Not to worry, 95% of the class of 2012 who responded to our first destination survey were either employed or in graduate school by six months after graduation (which compares favorably to the national average of 59%. Source: NACE).

If your student is just beginning the job search process, share these tips so s/he can get a jump start on securing his or her first post-graduation opportunity:

  1. Don’t Compare. One big thing that can keep you from moving forward is worrying about how your situation compares to everyone else. Every person’s journey is unique and really cannot be compared to others. Focus on what you can do to keep moving forward at your own pace and time.
  2. Get Going. Just as no one wins the lottery without buying a ticket, you won’t get a job if you don’t start working on your search. The first mistake most make is to start applying for a multitude of jobs online (your odds of success are just like playing the lottery). The best first step is to develop real clarity about your work interests. Use the Job Search Strategies worksheet to organize your efforts.
  3. Clarify Your Interests. Do some research about the types of work (job functions & industries) that most interest you. Read Explore Careers on the OPCD website and other career sites. Write down what interests you and why, as well as what does not. Obtain feedback from adult fans who know you and a career counselor who knows these careers.
  4. Clean Up. Before you begin ‘selling yourself’ and applying for jobs, you have to get your act together. Clean up and tailor your resume, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media channel pages. Refine and practice your elevator pitch to quickly describe yourself, your background, strengths and interests so that you’re ready when you make connections.
  5. Make Connections. Start with your Adult Fans: family, friends, Wake Forest faculty and staff, Wake Forest alumni and fellow students (and their parents), and even alumni, friends, teachers from your high school and home town. Use LinkedIn every day. Set a goal to conduct at least 5 informational interviews each week. Ask each person about their experience, perspective on the sector and career paths, and their advice on the hiring process and how you can become a viable candidate. Always ask for introductions to others.
  6. 80/20 rule. Spend 80% of your time meeting people who work in your areas of interest (a.k.a. informational interviewing and networking). Only spend 20% of your time applying to jobs online. Use the Internet to research jobs, organizations and people – to understand what they are looking for and the skills and terminology that you need to demonstrate and/or acquire. Apply for jobs after hours, not during prime meeting times.
  7. Translate your experience. Employers will be interested in you when you have the knowledge and skills that they are looking for (as described in the job description). Many students have the necessary skills, but don’t define it accurately on the resume or communicate it well in an interview. Find great resumes online, on LinkedIn or the OPCD website for examples in your field of interest that you can mimic.
  8. Be realistic. You may be interested in jobs that require knowledge and skills that you don’t currently have. Be realistic that these jobs may be in your future with more experience and/or schooling. Focus on interesting jobs that fit your capabilities now. You can work towards that other job with good planning and professional development.
  9. 100% Effort.  Your job search is your primary job. Now is the time to work on your career, especially if you need to earn income and the clock is ticking. Invest at least 6-8 hours each day on your job search: Meet contacts during the day. Perform research, apply for jobs, and reflect and follow up on your meetings after hours.
  10. Be patient. The average job search takes three months and will have its ups and downs. Employers consistently tell us that Wake Forest graduates have the work ethic, drive and skills to be successful in the workplace and you will be successful, too (95% of the class of 2012 was employed or in graduate school by November). You only need one person to say “Yes” for all of your efforts to pay off.
  11. Ask For Guidance. The biggest roadblock to success is our pride. Most don’t want to ask for help, but everyone enjoys helping others. So give it a try. Ask, “What questions should I be asking myself?”, “What would you do if you were in my situation?”, “What else do you think I should look into?” By asking, you will open the door to new ideas and options. And deeper relationships that may help you now or sometime in the future.