Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers

Career Exploration

Apply for the Career Exploration Treks

One of the objectives of the Office of Personal & Career Development is to be creative and innovative in the programs and services we offer to Wake Forest students. In the past, these innovations have taken the shape of partnering with the Department of Counseling to offer College to Career Courses and designing tools like the Career Passport. However, we are not the only career development office thinking along these lines. In many of our peer institutions, we have found the same excitement and energy that is characteristic of the OPCD. It is with great excitement and enthusiasm that the OPCD is partnering with the University of Chicago and Stanford University to offer undergraduate students three Career Exploration Treks this year.

Students from all three universities will have the opportunity to embark upon career-related field trips to Chicago, San Francisco, or Washington, D.C. from December 16th to December 18th. The trip will be a valuable professional learning experience, enabling students to become familiar with a variety of organizations in a small group setting, meet students from other outstanding schools, and build their professional network. Each trek will include a reception on Monday, December 17th which will include representatives from the organizations students will have visited, as well as local alumni from all three universities.

Each trek is open to all undergraduate students and can accommodate 45 students, fifteen from each school. We are anticipating that these treks will be popular as they provide a unique opportunity to both the students and employers who will be participating. The trek enables employers to meet outstanding students in person and identify potential candidates for internships or full-time jobs.

Wake Forest will be hosting the trek in Washington, D.C. where students will be exposed to the vibrancy and energy of our nation’s capital as well as leading consulting organizations, the leadership team of National Media Research, Planning and Placement (NMRPP), and various government opportunities. CEB, Deloitte LLP, Navigant Consulting, NMRPP, and the U.S. Capital Visitors Center will provide the fortunate 45 students a variety of learning experiences and potential employment opportunities.

For more information on the treks and the application process, click this link.

Encourage your student to apply for this incredible opportunity. Ensure that your student maximizes his chance of being selected by reminding him to spend time refining his resume, cover letter and verbal introductory ‘pitch’ to answer the question, “Tell me about yourself.” Students can also utilize our daily, walk-in resume review hours to make sure these documents emphasize the best aspects of themselves. Make sure your student seriously considers applying for this outstanding opportunity to learn more about these exciting cities and career fields.

New Passport for Career Success

There is a quote by Winston Churchill that one of my staffers often references: “Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.” These powerful words explains a truism about our professional life that we often overlook. Fundamentally, our career journey is just that – a journey.

We truly do not know where our career journey will take us. It is increasingly common for professionals to not only move from organization to organization, but across job functions, industries and careers as well. The Bureau for Labor Statistics reports that the average number of jobs held by Baby Boomers in their working lifetime was 11; we can assume that this number will only increase with the Millennial generation. In line with this theme of a career journey, the OPCD developed a brand new and unique resource for students this year – our Career Passport.

The Career Passport details the most important steps students should undertake each year in order to achieve successful career results at the end of their college experience, whether they attend graduate school or secure a full-time job. Much of the research regarding the Millennial generation states that they are planners; they love to check off the boxes and track their progress to ensure they are on course for various objectives. As a result, we have provided start and completion dates for each of the action steps to insure that students know what they need to accomplish and by when.

At the First-Year orientation program, we distributed the Career Passport to all 1,357 new students, which they really appreciated.  One student commented, “It’s adorable!” which we hope means she won’t ever lose it. The Career Passport encourages students to begin reflecting on their career journey early in their college experience. For first and second year students, we recommend that they take self-assessments, gather career information through a variety of sources and channels, and find internships to begin exploring and understanding the world of work as well as their own personal interests, values and strengths. During the first two years, we are equipping students with the information to make well thought-out decisions in their remaining two years, when the stakes are more significant. As I like to say, “An informed decision is a good decision.”

In their junior and senior year, students develop and execute a personal career action plan depending on their career interests and personal capabilities and circumstances. This involves refining interview skills, leveraging existing relationships to form new networking contacts, and applying for job and internship openings listed both in DeaconSource and other job sites. In addition, the Career Passport helps your student prepare for future, post-graduate job searches.

When preparing for an international journey, there are numerous items on your packing list: your phone charger, adapters, medications, foreign currency, etc. But there is one item that is absolutely necessary in order to even board the plane: your passport. The OPCD Career Passport is equally essential to students at any point of their career journey at Wake Forest. Encourage your students to consult our Career Passport in order to thoughtfully and intentionally prepare for their career journey during and after their time at Wake Forest.

First Year Students Launch Their Career Journeys

A few days ago, the Class of 2016 attended our mandatory (Yes, mandatory!) orientation program to be introduced to the Office of Personal and Career Development. In order to seat all 1357 students, we gathered in Wait Chapel.  Many of them were exhausted after five straight days and nights of Orientation meetings and fun.  I actually saw one girl sleeping in the front row before our session began!

In order to keep their attention and demonstrate to them our fun and welcoming office, we put together an interactive and engaging hour that involved games, live polling using text messaging, music, videos, and even paper airplanes. Through these, we conveyed our three key messages:

Our first key message: You’re not married to your major. Our College-To-Career Course instructor Heidi Robinson asked, “Why do students dread the question, ‘What is your major?’.” She explained that there is an underlying (and inaccurate) assumption that your major defines what your career will be after graduation. However, Heidi offered a competing theory that your major neither guarantees nor precludes your entry into a particular industry or career field. To prove her hypothesis, Heidi revealed to students the notable careers of recent graduates and asked them to guess their majors via a live texting poll. Students were surprised, and excited, to learn the CEO of Emerson Electric was a Chemistry major and a Senior Sales Representative at Google was a Psychology major amongst others.

Our second key message:  Use all the resources provided and start now.

Following Heidi’s presentation, our Presidential Fellow and recent graduate, Tommy Derry, described two of the most important resources for First Year students:

  • DeaconSource – our central hub for job and internship postings that compiles student information enabling the OPCD to send targeted messaging.
  • The Career Passport – their road map of key action items to complete during each year of their college experience.

DeaconSource and The Career Passport will keep them connected to our office and ensure they don’t miss important information, programs, events or opportunities.

Our third key message: Use all four years to train and compete like an elite Olympic athlete. With the London Olympic Games having just taken place, I compared the First Years’ status to that of a promising athlete hoping to compete in the 2016 Olympics. Just as athletes must train for their events which are four years away, so must students train during all four years and begin their career process now. These athletes have coaches to assist them with their technique and training methods, and the OPCD staff, as well as many other Wake Forest faculty and staff, are available to help students along their career path.  But help and assistance only occur if students ask for it. They must be proactive, take responsibility and put in the time and effort to train, learn and compete, just like elite athletes. Encourage your student to engage in the career process early so that he can maximize his chances for success.

In closing, I explained to the First Years that their career path will be an unpredictable journey. They may not know exactly where they are going or how they will get there, but the OPCD will help them throughout the process. They need only to connect and engage with us – all four years.

To make this point come to life, I asked the First Years to write down their current career and geographic interests (“Unsure” is an acceptable answer) on a sheet of paper. I then asked them to turn it into a paper airplane. Then, as one class, they “launched” their career journeys by tossing their paper airplanes in every direction while we played the song from the movie, Rocky: “Gonna Fly Now” by Bill Conti.

Here is a video capturing this fun and memorable moment:

We are excited to teach and equip all of our students to successfully navigate the journey from college-to-career.  And we’re pretty sure that our Class of 2016 enjoyed their launch experience with us this week at Orientation.

The Costs and Benefits of Internships

Even though it is illegal for employers to offer unpaid internships, it’s happening. Not only are these positions unpaid (or paying well-below market), but students also need to find additional funds to finance housing, food, and transportation for the summer, often in expensive cities. The question being asked now by many media publications, including the Wall Street Journal, is: Are summer internships worth it? My answer is absolutely and unequivocally YES for four reasons.


First, internships provide a real-world taste of potential professions to encourage or dispel your student’s interest in a job function, career path, organization, industry and/or location. Whatever the outcome, students are more informed about the world of work and about their own interests and aspirations on a variety of dimensions. Without this experience, s/he will never really know. As I like to say, “You never really know until you try it.”


During your student’s internship, s/he will learn things about the job function, industry and location that could never be learned in a textbook. While online job descriptions, career guidebooks and informational interviews provide a strong (and necessary) starting point, it is important for your student to gather real-life information through the internship experience.


Second, internships deliver an excellent opportunity for your student to build a professional network within his or her organization, industry and location. These adult fans may become friends, mentors, recommenders or connectors to future opportunities of all kinds – inside the organization or even in areas completely different from the internship experience.  As I like to tell students, “It’s not just who you know, but who likes you.”  It’s important for students to build their friend network during their internship, and it has to be much more than just a “Facebook friend”.


Third, your child will acquire technical and professional skills to complement their liberal arts education at Wake Forest. Employers are looking for students who not only can read critically, write persuasively, and think analytically, but potential hires who have technical industry- and work-related professional skills cultivated from an internship. Students learn much while at school, but the opportunity to develop professional skills must be initiated and developed in an internship.


Fourth, many employers hire their interns for full-time positions. They hire students for the summer between junior and senior year and based on the student’s performance during their internship, they hope to hire as many as possible and not have to recruit senior students.  As a result, it’s very important for students to begin seriously thinking about potential career directions as early as their sophomore year.  It’s helpful to begin even sooner by visiting with an OPCD career counselor and reviewing the OPCD website to understand the process and begin reflecting, exploring and taking action.


Fundamentally, an internship is an investment in your student’s future. While the cost of financing a summer internship in addition to the academic expenses may not seem fair, the value is priceless – even if the result is that your student rules out a career direction.  It’s much less costly to learn that while your child is still in college than when s/he is in her 20’s floundering between full-time jobs with little clarity of direction.


Through an internship, your student will better understand where s/he would like to begin his career and will begin developing the professional knowledge and skills. Understanding the gaps from where your student is today and where they need to be will motivate them to learn and be proactive. To help your students learn more about how to search for and secure an internship during this coming academic year or to plan for next summer, check out our web page on Internships.

Career and Life Vision with the Fellows

This week, I spoke to the Wake Forest Fellows on the subject of Career and Life Vision.  For those of you that are unfamiliar, the Wake Forest Fellows Program was established by President Hatch’s Office in 2008 to provide recent graduates the opportunity to work in higher administration in a year-long post-graduate internship. In addition to the assignment in a particular administrative department of the university, each Fellow has opportunities to interact with and be mentored by key administrators and faculty; to learn about various administrative areas of the university; and to participate in a series of leadership lunches and enrichment activities with leaders at Wake Forest and in the larger Winston-Salem community.

I was honored to speak to this group of bright and determined Wake Forest graduates. I wanted to emphasize the challenge and importance of thinking about and articulating one’s personal career and life vision which I define as “the ability to see life and work in a way that is inspiring, fulfilling and meaningful AND in alignment with who you are.”

I assured them that very few people are able to articulate their vision in their mid-20’s. In fact, it took me until I was forty before I could clearly articulate my own career and life vision. However, in beginning to understand their unique purpose, strengths, values and interests at an early age, these young alumni will be far more prepared to discover what really matters most and seek and acquire future opportunities that will help develop and define their career and life vision.

I applaud the Office of the President for its commitment to the Wake Forest Fellows program. These graduates offer a fresh, inspiring perspective. We are thankful for they have added substantial value to the Wake Forest community.

College-to-Career Courses

When I first arrived at Wake Forest, I envisioned a set of career courses that would help students answer: “Who am I?”, “Where am I going?” and “How do I get there?”

Two years later, my vision is now a reality. Thanks to the outstanding collaboration between the Wake Forest academic department of Counseling (CNS) and Office of Personal and Career Development, we now offer students the College-to-Career course series designed to help answer these questions. In CNS 120: Personal Framework for Career Exploration, students experience activities that help them understand their personal strengths, interests, and beliefs, which develops their ability to make sound decisions. Taught by Wake Forest Masters of Counseling graduate and professor Heidi Robinson, this course asks students to consider their values and the influences that have helped them attain their current goals. Furthermore, they explore and understand the majors that are offered at WFU and how majors relate to career options.

In CNS 220: Options in the World of Work, students begin the crucial task of understanding the range of careers available and considering which careers will best align with their interests, needs and aspirations. Students conduct a series of informational interviews with professionals, begin to build a professional network and explore the range of careers and career paths.

Two more courses, CNS 320: The Strategic Job Search and CNS 360: Professional and Life Skills, are in development and will be introduced next fall.

I am so excited and enthusiastic about these courses that I know will make a significant impact on a student’s personal and career development experience here at Wake Forest. I encourage you to read a little more about the courses and hear what our students learned in our first CNS 120 class here.

What to pay college interns?

Dear Andy,

I was wondering what you suggest as a compensation guideline for summer internships in the healthcare industry. I’ve heard that the average is $25 per hour.

I hear that the compensation in recent times has diminished, and that some students have taken internships without compensation, but I’d like to pay what’s appropriate.

What do you recommend?

– A Paying Employer

Dear P.E.,

Glassdoor.com is a useful website that publishes self-reported wage and salary information.  The site can be searched by job title, employer and/or industry.

One of our career counselors used the advanced search feature and found over 400 results for intern salaries in the healthcare industry.  Some highlights are below:

  • Finance Intern:  $10 to $22 per hour
  • Operations Intern:  $15 to $34 per hour
  • Marketing Intern:  $10 to $36 per hour
  • MBA Intern:  $22 to $42 per hour

I am pleased to hear that you intend to pay your interns.  Employers need to be aware that there is a new law enacted this past year in which it is illegal to hire interns for free in many cases.

You are providing a great service to provide internship opportunities.  College students need work experience to help them develop work skills and learn about possible jobs and careers.  It’s even more important today as there are fewer opportunities available for them.  Thank you!

Pre-Med isn’t for everyone

Each year, about 30% of the incoming class indicates that they are a Pre-Med.  After four years, only 5% actually end up going to medical school.  Along the way, these “Post Pre-Meds” must re-set their career direction – and possibly have difficult conversations with their parents.

Meredith Smith had dreamed of being a doctor since she was three years old.  She and her parents assumed that it was the only option when she entered Wake Forest in 2006.  Meredith soon learned that chemistry and biology in college was very different than in high school; and she needed to find a new direction.

In my interview with Meredith, she shares her journey from Pre-Med to Communications and German; to great marketing and public relations internships; to the summer business management program; to becoming a Wake Forest Fellow working with the Office for Personal and Career Development.  She has built a solid foundation for her business career.  Meredith_Smith_32k

It’s OK if your student learns that they’ve lost interest in being a doctor.  With the help of the career office, professors and many others around campus, your student can find other interests, passions and career directions.

Help them by accepting their decision and supporting them through their transition.  By moving through this transition quickly, they can begin exploring new options as soon as they are ready.

Career Tips for First Year Students

In my address to about 400 first year students last month, I interviewed four terrific Wake Forest graduates from the Class of 2010 to share their experiences with the first year students.  Each had unique experiences that address many of the common issues, questions and roadblock that first year students experience.

Mark Russell was a varsity athlete at Wake Forest.  Even with the heavy load that student-athletes experience, he was able to obtain several internships during the summer and during the school year.  He offers some tips for how he was able to build a solid academic foundation in his first year which gave him the confidence, skills and flexibility to easily take on internships in his later years.

He obtained coveted sports marketing internship where he learned that it wasn’t the best career for him.  In his senior year, he was panicked because every internship didn’t turn out like he had hoped.  Nevertheless, he found a terrific job that he’s enjoying now – after he asked for help from a counselor in the career office.  In his interview, Mark offers some additional advice to the students.

Listen to Mark’s interview and learn from his experience: Mark Russell Interview

Learning business outside of b-school

In my last post, I mentioned that there are many ways to build business skills, experiences and knowledge without having to major in business at college.  These activities are ways for both liberal arts and business students to learn about business as well as figure out areas of interest. Although some of the ideas listed below are specific to Wake Forest students, many colleges and universities offer similar programs and resources.  Some of the offerings below are available at Wake Forest to non-Wake Forest students (like the MA in Management and MBA graduate school).

The following are examples of ways you can learn about business without majoring in it:

  • MA in Management – One year program for liberal arts majors immediately after completing a bachelor’s degree. Equivalent to the 1st year of the MBA program.
  • Summer Management Program – One month summer business program for liberal arts majors.
  • Minor in Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise – Take classes from both the business school and liberal arts college to understand the basics of starting and growing a business, as well as learn the disciplines of innovation and creativity.
  • Start your own business with support from the University Center for Entrepreneurship – The best way to learn about business is to run one. Why not try starting your own for-profit or non-profit organization? You can sell it or find someone else to manage it when you graduate.
  • Internships – Work with your career office to develop an action plan for finding ones that interest you
  • Projects with companies and community organizations – Pro bono or for a class project
  • Read the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, BusinessWeek, Inc., or other business journals
  • Join a business-oriented club: consulting, finance, marketing, retail. etc…
  • Join the newspaper or radio station or fraternity/sorority/social club business staff
  • Work at a business operation on or off-campus and ask for new projects to learn more about how the business is run
  • Talk to your parents, your friends’ parents or other working adults about their businesses and career journeys
  • Take a class or two at the undergraduate or graduate business school
  • Participate in business case competitions
  • Hang out with business students and learn their lingo and how they are preparing for life after college
  • Read about business careers from Vault or WetFeet.com. Your career center should have similar resources
  • Consider graduate business school after getting some work and life experience. Most schools do not expect (or even want) you to have majored in business in college

Whether you go to the business school or not, you should do many of the things above to help you learn about business and help you figure out what areas of business are of most interest to you.  In addition, you’ll be better prepared to market yourself to employers, communicate a high knowledge and interest level, and have good stories to share with them (which is a particularly critical asset for interviews).

If you have other ways to learn about business besides majoring in it, please share them with me and my readers.  Many students and parents would appreciate your advice.