Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers


Your Senior Student’s Holiday To-Do List

Winter Break is CRUNCH time for your senior! As they wrap up their second semester at Wake Forest, it is crucial that your senior is prepared with a flawless resume and strong interviewing skills. In today’s ultra-competitive job market, it’s not sufficient to just be OK at interviewing.  Practicing interviews will make a real difference. When your student returns to Wake Forest, remind them to sign up for a Mock Interview to practice these skills.

Here are three easy things that you can encourage your senior student to do while they are home:

  1. Network, Network, Network…and Network some more. Winter Break is an excellent time for your senior to reach out to the Wake Forest network and discuss their career questions and aspirations. If you have questions about how you and your student can use LinkedIn to connect with valuable contacts, refer to the LinkedIn how-to page on our website. As your student meets with family friends, alumni, and other fans, direct them to our helpful Networking Tracking tool (scroll down to #3 to download tool) to make sure they stay organized, focused and on track.
  2. Attend an alumni club event. Alumni events are a great opportunity to meet Wake Forest alumni who are interested in helping current students by answering questions and offering connections. Review the list of alumni club events in your city or in your student’s desired location post-graduation. If possible, travel to their desired post-graduation location so your student can network and gather more information before they move after graduation. If your student is considering graduate school, Winter Break is the ideal time to visit a few of their places they are considering and ask lots of questions. Most importantly, students should inquire what the expected career outcomes are for graduates of the program or school and make sure that these outcomes align with their interests and vision.
  3. Work on job or graduate school applications. Now is the time to be researching and applying for job opportunities on DeaconSource and other job databases. Refer your student to the “Cover Letter” templates on our website for examples as it is important to tailor each cover letter to specific jobs and organizations. If your student is applying for graduate school, the “Graduate School” tab includes helpful resources. Check out this helpful article for students writing their personal statement.

It’s important for parents to ask students to share their expectations and plans for the job search during Spring semester.  Some students may not have the time (due to academic or other obligations) to conduct an intensive search. Other students may be interested in opportunities located in places that make the job search difficult while at college. Others may be focused on graduate school and not able to conduct a job search at the same time.  And others may be interested in jobs and organizations that hire ‘just-in-time’ or only hire people who network to them as opposed to posting opportunities.

This conversation will help students and parents understand their respective expectations for the final semester of college.  And it will likely help make this final season a more positive, and less stressful one for students and their families.

It’s most important for senior students and parents to remember that employers do not hire based on college graduation dates.  Employers hire at the time when they need a new employee and when they have found the best person for the job.  So, it’s really not useful to set a goal of having a job by graduation. It’s better to set a goal to implement every step of a thoughtful job search action plan during each week until a job is acquired.  Our office can help students in creating this action plan and accomplishing this goal.  Encourage your student to stop by our new office and see a career counselor to help them successfully navigate the path from college to career.

Your Junior Student’s Holiday To-Do List

Winter Break is an important time for your junior, whether they are returning home after studying abroad or studying at Wake Forest. This year’s summer experience will play an important role in their job search next year or in their decision to apply to graduate school, so your student should seek and apply for internships in their career field of interest.

Here are three easy things that you can encourage your junior student to do while they are home:

  1. Review our Study Abroad checklist. This handout outlines the action items all juniors should have completed before they return to Wake Forest in January – whether they studied abroad or not. Most importantly, remind your student to update their resume with their current GPA and their study abroad experience. Review our study abroad resume template (Select Resume #2)  for examples.
  2. Watch our Study Abroad: Make it Work video. Created by our Career Education and Counseling team, this video explains how students can leverage and describe their study abroad experience to potential employers in an interview setting. This is equally relevant for students who studied abroad in the summer.
  3. Prepare for the Career and Internship Fair. On January 25th from 12-4 pm, employers representing a very wide variety of industries will be on campus to meet with students about a myriad of internship and career opportunities. In the coming weeks, our website will include the list of organizations that are attending so that your student can make sure to do some research beforehand. To ensure that your student is prepared well in advance, encourage them to update their resume with their current GPA, study abroad experience and extracurricular activities. Refer to the “Interview Attire” tab on our website if your student has questions about appropriate attire for the event.

Learning about and using these valuable resources and developing these key skills will help your student build a strong foundation for their personal and career development. Starting now will help them manage the senior year job search process and will be of benefit to them throughout their lives.

Your Sophomore Student's Holiday To-Do List

Sophomore year brings forth a lot of challenges as your student begins to juggle a full academic workload, extracurricular activities and the decision regarding their major of study. Now that they have completed three semesters at Wake Forest, they should be able to identify the types of courses they like and dislike and be prepared to declare their major and potential minor(s).

Here are three easy things that you can encourage your sophomore student to do while they are home:

  1. Talk about major selection. Sophomore students are encouraged to declare their major when they return to campus in late January. If your student has little clarity on their selection, inquire about their current courses. Which classes have they most enjoyed and why? Which classes have the performed best in and why?  Which classes and majors in the course bulletin do they find most interesting and why? For more clarity, encourage your student to take the Focus 2, an online self-assessment, which aligns their results with possible majors and career paths. Often, students mistakenly choose or dismiss a major based on what they (incorrectly) assume are the employment outcomes for a particular major.  For more information on majors and likely career outcomes as well as the first destination results of Wake Forest graduates in specific majors, go to the “Explore Majors” tab on our website.
  2. Update their DeaconSource profile. Each semester, your student should update their DeaconSource profile to reflect their current career interests and GPA. By selecting up to three different interests (e.g. Consulting, Government, Legal, Non-Profit, Research, Marketing/Sales/PR/Advertising), students will receive personalized email announcements tailored to those interests. These emails are increasingly important for your student now that organizations will begin recruiting for summer interns after the break and throughout the Spring semester.
  3. Prepare for their internship search. The majority of employers say that internship experience is an extremely important prerequisite  for future job opportunities. Many internship applications become available as early as January, so remind your student to update their resume with their current GPA and extracurricular activities, and then get it reviewed during our daily resume reviews when they return to campus. The “Find an Internship” tab on our website has a multitude of resources to aid in their search.  If they seem motivated, encourage them to meet a few contacts who work in areas that interest them.  Here are some tips to get started.

Learning about and using these valuable resources and developing these key skills will help your student begin to build a strong foundation for their personal and career development.  Starting now will make it easier throughout their college experience and will be of benefit to them throughout their lives.

Your First Year Student's Holiday To-Do List

We believe that the first semester of college is a time of transition for students as they adjust to their new living environment and get accustomed to the college workload and extracurricular activities. During their first semester, we ask our first year students to do only one thing: register with the OPCD on DeaconSource to make sure that they will get all the information they will need from our office. About 40% of first years have already done so, so please make sure your student is registered.

Here are three easy steps that you can encourage your first year student to take while they are home:

  1. Take Focus 2. This online self-assessment helps students identify their interests, values, personality type and skills. Acknowledging these personal characteristics will help your student clarify and confirm crucial decisions like selecting classes, majors, summer options and career interests. Focus 2 aligns your student’s assessment results with possible majors and career paths. In less than 20 minutes, your student can receive preliminary results. Encourage your student to share the results with an OPCD career counselor, their academic advisor and any adult fan who they trust and respect. This will enable your student to benefit from hearing different perspectives towards making informed decisions.
  2. Complete 1-3 Informational Interviews. Most first year students have very little idea what type of work or career they want to pursue.  Developmentally, this is completely reasonable and common. Please do not put any pressure on them to feel as if they should know or that the clock is ticking and they are running out of time. Instead, help them talk about their interests and brainstorm where those interests might be used in a work environment. Encourage them to talk to one of their adult fans, as well as someone in your network or neighborhood who might have a broader perspective (like a teacher, coach, doctor or dentist). After your student speaks with a few of their adult fans, help them connect with someone who works in the general career area that interests them. The goal is to understand if this type of work is something your student might want to learn more about.  For example, does your student have an interest in creative writing, art or communications? Perhaps they can talk with the website developer where you work, or with your neighbor who does freelance creative work for an ad agency, or with a friend who is a curator at a local museum.
  3. Review our sample collegiate resumes. Over break, encourage your student to use our resume templates to transform their high school resume into a collegiate resume. Include notable high school activities and honors, but also ask your student to envision what they would like to have on their resume in the future. This is a great way to strike up conversation about new activities and opportunities that they may want to get involved in next semester. When they return from break, they can come into the OPCD office and have their resume reviewed before they share it with their networking contacts and potential summer employers.

Learning about and using these valuable resources and developing these key skills will help your student begin to build a strong foundation for their personal and career development.  Starting now will make it easier throughout their college experience and will be of benefit to them throughout their lives. If you are looking for more ways to help your first year student, check out the Office of Campus Life’s First Year Checklist, which offers helpful ideas on how to get involved and take advantage of Wake Forest’s many resources.

Your Student’s Holiday To-Do List

As our students get ready for Winter break, I asked two Office of Personal and Career Development staff members, Wake Forest Fellow, Caroline Naughton, and OPCD career counselor, Lauren Beam, to offer their advice for students who have finished exams and returned home for the holidays. For most students, the holiday break can be a stress-free time to take small, but valuable steps in the career development process. My next four posts will describe easy ways you can help your student during the Winter Break. Check back each day this week for a holiday to-do list for your first year, sophomore, junior, or senior student…

Study Space Available!

It’s hard to believe that Friday is the last day of classes for the fall semester. Time has certainly flown by for us here in the OPCD! As students settle in for two weeks of final exams and projects, the OPCD wants to help minimize their stress.

Thanks to our brand new space in Reynolda Hall and the support of our entire team, the OPCD office will be open to all students for studying purposes from 5-10 pm from Dec.5th-8th and 12th-15th. Our Twitter account  at WFU_OPCD will give periodic updates for those students worried about seating availability.

I’m thrilled that our space can accommodate up to 50 students after-hours as they study for final exams. Our team has enjoyed having such respectful, conscientious students in our office and look forward to seeing many more in the coming weeks.

If your student is looking for a quiet place to study, encourage them to come by Reynolda 230 and grab a spot!

The Latest Job Outlook for Graduates

Lacey Johnson’s article in the Chronicle of Higher Education notes that the job outlook for college students is expected to improve this year. According to a major annual survey of employers, graduates with a Bachelor’s degree will see a seven percent increase in available jobs.

I think it is important to note that this increase, while not substantial, speaks to the slow and steady growth of opportunities for our students. This is the information we want our students to be aware of. We want them to recognize that there are opportunities hidden underneath the plethora of negativity and pessimism in our country.

I’d also like to note that while the article mentions the increase in engineering and finance, researcher Phil Gardner also mentions the strong hiring growth expected in the marketing, advertising and public relations fields.

I agree with author that stability is good. Stability is what we need to begin the process of increasing confidence in our graduates and in our employers.

Confidence Counts

Last week, students, faculty and staff had the opportunity to hear General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt speak at Wake Forest University. As part of the Broyhill Executive Lecture Series, Jeff’s discussion on “Developing Global Leaders for a Global Economy” was a highly anticipated event on our campus. Over two hundred and fifty members of the Wake Forest community attended to hear Jeff speak on the state of the economy and his words of wisdom for future grads.

It was refreshing to hear Jeff’s positive advice to students regarding jobs and the economy in contrast to the doom and gloom most people are embracing. Rather than fixating on the perils of the current economy, Jeff spoke about GE’s commitment to hiring graduates, citing that Wake Forest students in particular “bring raw horsepower and a unique perspective to their work.”

As the Chairman of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, Jeff believes that the first step is re-building confidence in the United States and the economy. As I skim the daily news, I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Immelt. It’s hard to look past all the articles that cite the 9.1% unemployment rate, the mounting debt, and the bi-partisan conflict that has stalled our ability to implement solutions that will create more jobs. So how do we begin to re-build confidence amidst all the bad news?

As parents, it’s our natural inclination to worry about our children, but we need to be thoughtful in how we communicate any negative feelings to them that we may have about the job economy. Many students I speak with today have already psychologically given up before they have even started the process. They have psyched themselves out by believing that the job market is so bad that they shouldn’t even try. In reality, there are hundreds of new jobs posted in our DeaconSource system each week in addition to many more that could be secured through networking. Last year, almost 90% of Wake Forest graduates were employed or in graduate school within six months after graduation – in a very difficult job market. Sure, the job search process will take time and won’t be easy – but who ever said that getting something worthwhile is easy?

According to Mr. Immelt, to be successful, our students must be confident in themselves. They must be comfortable with change and uncertainty. They must be competitors and have a huge desire to be winners. As Mr. Immelt said to our students, “Your mom and dad can afford to be afraid. You can’t.”

Talk to your student in a manner that builds their confidence. Tell them that you believe in them and that anything is possible with persistence and effort. The once piece of advice I’d like to offer is to make sure that they are asking for help and guidance from people who can really help them.

In order to succeed in this crazy 21st century job market, they’ll need you to be their biggest fan – motivating them even when things look bleak. The world isn’t going to make it easy for them. But they’ll have a better journey and more likelihood of success if they are bolstered by your confidence in them.

Opportunity Knocks

We are approaching the mid-point of the semester and I am happy to report that employers have been actively engaged in a variety of recruiting activities at Wake Forest. In the past week, over eleven organizations have met with students on campus, including General Electric, Deloitte, Peace Corps and IBM, among others. During the fall semester, many organizations begin the process of recruiting and hiring students for full-time positions. In the spring semester, many more organizations will hire students for summer internships. We expect to have over eighty employers on-campus this fall to conduct on-campus interviews and attend our three career and graduate school fairs. Organizations have begun hosting information sessions to educate students about a broad variety of opportunities.

The Peace Corps recruiter will make four visits to campus this fall to speak with students of all majors and classes.

All majors and classes

Fall semester is the ideal time for students of any class year to speak with career fair attendees and attend employer information sessions to explore career fields and better understand the recruiting process. Employers have been impressed with the many first year and sophomore students they have met. They know that the earlier students gather information on careers and organizations, the more time they have to determine what most interests them, and the more prepared they will be when it is time to interview for internships or full time positions.  Almost all of the employers consistently ask our office to tell students that they are interested in speaking with and recruiting students of any major.

A first year student reviews application materials for a Big Brothers Big Sisters opportunity.

Employer information sessions

Employers who conduct on-campus interviews work hard to capture the attention of Wake Forest students. Dozens of employers conduct fall semester open information sessions to promote their career field, organization, and open positions. Often, alumni representatives come back to campus to share candid insights and provide additional information beyond what is available on organization websites. By receiving tips for navigating the employment and interview process, students are better prepared for the application process and for potential interviews.  The dates and times of all information sessions are readily available through the student DeaconSource career management system.

Students receive advice about Wipro’s interview process from a WF alumni representative.

Off-campus recruiting

Many organizations seeking Wake Forest student talent are not able to come on campus to recruit students. Instead, they opt to post positions directly to students using our DeaconSource job and internship board.  During the fall semester, we typically post thirty jobs and internship opportunities each week. Most positions are listed for a two week span, so it’s important to check the board frequently and apply right away or you might miss an attractive opportunity. Eighty-six jobs and internships were current and available for student review on October 2.

The Importance of Networking

Most students (and their parents) mistakenly think that most opportunities are available through on campus recruiting or from the DeaconSource job board.  In fact, the majority of jobs secured by students come through networking in the hidden job market. Our networking section on the Career and Professional Development website can serve as an excellent instructional resource for you and your student. Using LinkedIn and the WF Career Connectors Group (it’s all explained on this web page) will allow your student to get in touch with friendly Wake Forest connections.

If you are a parent or alum, join the LinkedIn WF Career Connectors Group today so that you can help current WF students learn about your career area or introduce them to others in your professional network or organization. Although ‘opportunity knocks’ this fall, it will continue year-round so be ready to help students at any time.

Students should take advantage of these active opportunities to learn about careers and apply for job openings now.  They must also recognize that the job search may not come easy. Even in an excellent job market, it can still be challenging to find a job best suited to your strengths.  However, with thousands of WF alumni and parents in the WF Career Connectors Group who are willing to help you (in addition to the staff and resources of the OPCD), your journey will be much easier than if you just go it alone.

Colleges and the Jobs Agenda

Jeffrey Selingo recently wrote an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Colleges Should Play a Central Role in the Jobs Agenda”, asking the question, “In the long term, what can colleges do to better prepare their students to succeed in jobs that have yet to be created?”   He proposes three solutions:

  • Offer fewer majors – Selingo perceives that universities create majors based on the current hot jobs and would be better off creating “gateway majors” to help students learn how to learn for jobs that don’t yet exist.
  • Provide more help in picking a major – Selingo perceives that students do not have enough information, experience or time to wisely choose their major and that universities should provide all of these so that students can make a more informed decision.
  • Conduct workplace surveys – Selingo perceives that universities do not ask employers how their graduates fare in the workplace and even if they did, he wonders if they would share this information with the faculty to inspire curriculum re-design.

I am pleased to report that we are currently implementing Selingo’s solutions at Wake Forest:

  • As a liberal arts university, we don’t offer hot vocational majors based on the popular careers in the market.  We encourage students to major in the discipline that they find most interesting and one where they are excited to do the work required to perform successfully.  We must continually address students’ and parents’ mis-informed belief that your major equals your job.  When over 90% of employers say that they are willing to hire the best student regardless of major, it’s troubling to see so many students choosing majors based on their uninformed assumptions about the career prospects for particular majors.  As an example, one of our major consulting firm employers has assessed that their best (fastest-to-promotion) employees are English and Physics majors.
  • To help students identify majors that best fit them, first year students are introduced to a self-assessment tool, Focus 2, during their first week on campus.  This tool provides information that can be shared with their academic advisor for informed decision-making.  Our Office of Personal and Career Development website is also introduced to first year students and to faculty advisors with comprehensive information on what careers people most often pursue given their major and the wide range of first jobs chosen by recent Wake Forest graduates given their major.  Students are given until their sophomore year to declare their major so they have time to gather information and make an informed decision.
  • We always ask employers about the on-the-job performance of our students and graduates at their internships and jobs.  The consistent reply is that our students have incomparable work ethic and excellent interpersonal and communication skills.  We believe that these characteristics result from the academic rigor and standards expected by our faculty, from the small classes which require students to always be prepared to converse on a given topic, and the many leadership and collaborative opportunities available in their extracurricular life.  We will be piloting a more formal employer feedback system this year and will share our findings with the Wake Forest community so that we are all aware of our students’ capabilities and can address opportunities for improvement.

I like the premise of Selingo’s article, but I would add that there is much more that universities must do to help students be prepared for careers in the 21st century, many of which have yet to be created.  I would add the following imperatives, all that we are building into the Wake Forest student experience:

  1. Students must be formally taught about and introduced to the world of work.  It is exponentially more complex, competitive and dynamic than any other time in history, and the expectations of our students and their families are extremely high due to the cost of higher education.  If we assume that “things will just work out” for our students and their careers in this new economy, our students will be unprepared and disappointed.
  2. Students must be taught to embrace and if possible, experience, an entrepreneurial mind-set towards life.  This does not mean that they all have to start entrepreneurial ventures.  They need to understand that innovation, creativity, value creation, discovering and communicating passions, becoming comfortable with change and remaining flexible will be the defining characteristics of people who will thrive in the 21st Century.  We cannot let our students make assumptions that will handicap their initiative, for example; assuming that a particular job or organization will offer lifetime security or a guaranteed pension.  We have to be ready to be self-sufficient and be prepared for some rainy days, because the future is uncertain (it always was, but many of us were probably convinced that it wasn’t).
  3. Students must be taught how to be ethical, principled leaders.  With so many poor, immoral and unethical decisions being made in recent times, it is time for universities to play a serious role in teaching students about ethics and character.  If we don’t do it, who will?  And if no one does, what will become of our society?
  4. Students must be taught that a life of significance and meaning requires service to others and making a difference in others lives.  As America has prospered, it seems like our measure of success has been about wealth creation and asset acquisition.  What’s in it for me?  It is time for us to teach students that the greatest joys in life come from helping others, from improving humanity.  So many students perform volunteer work in high school.  Some continue to do so in college.  Providing opportunities for students to maintain this spirit and inspire them to continue after college and in their lives would make a difference not only for them personally, but for their local communities and in the world.

I am excited that we at Wake Forest are preparing students for life and work in the 21st Century – to be successful in the careers that have yet to be created.  And most importantly, to be successful in leading lives of meaning, purpose and significance.