Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers

Job/Internship Search

The Expense of Unpaid Internships

Hi Andy,


I’m a junior that has landed an unpaid internship with a television network in New York City this summer.  My employer tells me that I have to earn academic credit for the internship.  This would be the opportunity of a lifetime, but it’s really expensive to live in New York and I’m not being paid.  Can you help?


A hopeful NYC intern

Dear hopeful NYC intern,

Several students have raised this question during the spring semester so I asked one of our team members, Patrick Sullivan for his sage advice. His wisdom is captured below…

Aside from two Wake Forest endowments that offer stipends for unpaid entrepreneurial activities, there is very little money available to fund unpaid internships.  Given this reality, here are a few options to consider:

1.  Part-time internship/Part-time work – In many cases employers offering unpaid internships will be flexible in their scheduling because they recognize the costs you will incur.  Consider interning part–time to build professional experience while working part–time in a summer job to earn the money you need for your expenses.  Check out sites like Craigslist or Snagajob to identify part-time jobs in New York City.

If your schedule allows, you could also consider working in a temporary job before or after your internship to earn more money.

2.  Limit your housing costs – Living in New York City is expensive, without a doubt.  In addition to the options available through organizations like Educational Housing Services many college dormitories are rented out to interns during the summer.  In New York City, dormitory housing at NYU and Columbia offers great, inexpensive options for summer interns.

3.  Limit the cost of earning credit – You can also limit the cost of earning credit through Wake Forest.  If your employer requires you to earn credit during the summer, the least expensive option available is Business 181, a 1-credit class that any student, regardless of major, can take.  You can contact Dean Betsy Hoppe in the Schools of Business for more information.

If your employer does not require you to earn credit during the summer, you can arrange an independent study project, based on your internship experience, to be completed in the fall of 2011.  By enrolling and receiving your credit in the fall, your tuition costs will be absorbed into full-time tuition and you would not have to pay summer school tuition.

If you are creative and consider these suggestions, you can certainly manage your costs effectively.  While unpaid summer internships do present challenges, the skills and experience you gain are critical for your personal and career development.

Job searching when on semester abroad

Dear Andy,

As a parent of a junior that is about to leave for a semester abroad, I was wondering what advice you might provide about internships for the summer. I assume that a lot of applications/interviews for these must occur during the spring semester, and she will be unable to follow through with an interview if she is out of the country. What would you suggest as an appropriate approach to this problem? Many of the applications are online and would not provide the “cover letter” option to inform prospective internships of her unavailability. Any advice you or someone in career development might have would be appreciated.  Thanks!

– A Concerned Mom

Dear C.M.,

Thanks for writing to me about your daughter’s situation.  There are hundreds of students who will have a similar experience so it’s good to be inquiring.

Let’s start by addressing the internship market and process:

  1. Although some internships are acquired by students through on-campus recruiting activities, the majority are acquired by candidates who seek out contacts and opportunities (this is networking).  Email and phone are very acceptable methods to make these types of connections.
  2. Numerous employers choose not to absorb the cost of bringing candidates to their location for in-person interviews.  As a result, they will make their internship offer decisions based on applications and phone/video or Skype interviews.  Many online applications require a cover letter so candidates can explain their interest and qualifications.  As long as your daughter is able and willing to make the arrangements for an international phone call, there should be no disadvantage to her bring abroad.
  3. For many firms, interviews can be conducted with Skype, so your daughter’s international location is not a barrier.

I asked our career counselors for their advice and recommendations:

  1. If it’s possible before she leaves the country, she should set up an appointment with a career counselor to develop a job search action plan that takes into account her interests and study-abroad experience. This appointment can be done over the phone or in person. To make the appointment, she can call our main office at 336-758-5902.
  2. If she has an interest in specific employers who recruit on-campus, she should speak with Dana Hutchens in the Office of Career Services.  Dana will give your daughter instructions on how to apply and be considered for such opportunities.
  3. Utilize the information and list of internship websites and resources available on the Career Services internship website: http://career.opcd.wfu.edu/career-resources/how-to-find-an-internship/. http://career.opcd.wfu.edu/career-resources/internship-and-job-postings/.
  4. If your daughter is a BEM student in the business school, she should speak with professor Holly Brower for specific suggestions on how BEM students addressed this issue last year.  Dr. Brower has many relationships with companies who offer internships for BEM students.
  5. If your daughter is interested in an academic or research internship, she should speak to a faculty member in her area of interest for advice and support.

As you can tell by the above advice, your daughter has many resources available to her.  Please encourage her to utilize them as soon as possible.  She will gather the necessary information and generate more potential options if she gets started on this process before she heads overseas.

It’s tough to get an investment banking interview

Dear Andy,

I have been trying to help Steve, a college friend of my son.  He has been pleased with the support he has been given by the career services office. However, he seems frustrated as a Math Econ major because he feels excluded from i-banking and private equity interviews that the business school students are getting.  He is not negative and has gotten some good interviews and is just trying like crazy.  Is there something he should do to be able to get more of these types of interviews?

A Helpful Dad

Dear Helpful Dad,

Sam has a nice resume, but to be honest, it’s not quite at the level that the i-bankers are looking for.  Most i-banks require students to have at least 3.5 or higher; and the top tier banks want students above 3.7.  This is the primary reason why he can’t get those interviews.  The banks will look at any student with those grades (so it’s not only about being just a business school student – although it can appear that way because so many apply and get interviews relative to the number of non-business school students).

I am sorry that the i-banks are so rigid, but that’s the world he’s trying to get into.  The main strategy at this point is that he has to network – a lot.  And then, perhaps, an alum or friend will ‘sponsor’ him by saying “He’s worth your interviewing, so please give him a shot.”

He should not rely on just applying for jobs by sending his resume into a HR mailbox with thousands of other resumes in which at least a hundred of them have above a 3.5.

He is doing the directionally correct thing by talking to you, but he really should speak with alumni 2-10 years out of college.  They are the folks who will give him the most relevant information on the career path and advice on how to get in the door (as they did or as they are seeing it currently happen in their firm).  We are training students to use LinkedIn to find these alums, so he should go to one of these workshops or make an appointment with a career counselor who can teach him how to use it.

I am guessing that this isn’t exactly what he wants to hear, but hopefully it will help him decide if he wants to do the very hard work of “networking” for it or look for other types of opportunities (which the career services office can help him with).  The window to get a full-time job for next fall in i-banking is almost closed because they do their interviews between September and November – unless it’s a smaller, boutique i-bank.

Also, private equity is not an option right out of college except for a select few people… in the world.  These few students who have that option typically had private equity internships and are returning to the same firm, interned at places like Goldman or Blackstone last summer (very rare), and/or have a parent who runs a PE firm or who has personal or family connections.  They also likely have above a 3.7 from an Ivy League-type school – since many PE firms are run by Ivy League alums.

These firms are incredibly selective and hire very few people each year (sometimes none), so it’s best for every student to develop alternative options.  To help set students expectations in the job search, I frequently tell students to “hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst” given the inherent uncertainty in the process.  I say this not to be discouraging, but to motivate students to work diligently to create multiple options.

Afraid to network? Make connections instead

I interviewed Class of 2010 grad Kellyn Springer and she shared her variety of experiences that led to her developing strong skills in connecting with all types of people.  She studied abroad in Thailand, and landed two internships in the U.S. Congress.

She currently works for Wake Forest on the alumni relations team.  In her role, she meets with alumni who willingly offer their time and advice to students.  Kellyn encourages students to take advantage of the wonderful community of supporters – alumni, faculty, staff, parents and friends – who love Wake Forest and love to help students.  Kellyn_Springer_56k

College Senior Mistakes

This job market is unforgiving.  For the college senior who is job hunting now, there’s no margin for error.  Here are five common mistakes made by college seniors.  Knowing these will help you advise and guide your students to a more direct path to a successful job search.

1. Overusing the Internet – Students in this digital age think if they only apply to enough jobs online then someone will eventually want to hire them. But it’s actually quite difficult to obtain a job on the Internet due to the high volume of resumes submitted. The number one method to obtain a job is by networking. Still apply for the jobs online, but also find ways to network into the company so that you can ask to be introduced to the hiring manager. Your persistence and creativity to get in the door will make a difference.

2. Being Too Choosy –Many students get so focused on a specific job or organization that they don’t realize there are other roles and other types of organizations that might be really good opportunities for them. Check out anything that looks interesting, as there could be a diamond underneath. Of course, don’t take a job you know you’ll hate.  And remember that a first job is just that: a first job. You’ll be somewhere quite different in 5-10 years… ask anyone who is 5-10 years older than you.

3. Giving Up Too Early – Some students think that given the poor job market, it’s not worth the time to search for a job. This means that these less competition! And many organizations are now recruiting students this spring and through the summer. Our career office has more job postings and interviews going on now than last year. Our biggest problem right now is getting students to pay attention to these opportunities and apply for these jobs. Just like doing regular exercise – once you stop searching, it’s hard to get started again.

4. Mis-using the Grad School Option – For some people, grad school is a great option, but if you’re just doing it as a back up because you can’t find a job, it’s a very expensive back up. Grad school does not necessarily increase your job prospects – and the pressure can be even greater if you took on loans or don’t like your area of study and the types of opportunities it provides. Grad school can be intense, so it’s challenging to make time to “find yourself” or having time for self-reflection and job search. If you’re unsure, understand what the typical career paths are for graduates of the program you are considering and see if they appeal to you. If you’re under pressure, it’s best to take the time to get the information you need and make a well-considered decision.

5. Not using the college’s career office – Students don’t realize that their career office can help them develop a job search action plan, identify networking contacts, learn important job search skills, and significantly improve their resume and cover letter.  It’s amazing how out of every 10 resumes, only one or two are very good, but 8 out of 10 are terrible. Even if you had a poor experience with the office before, it may have new staff and services and most importantly, you’re in a new situation. What do you have to lose?

Job Search Tips for Seniors

It’s a challenging job market, but don’t give up. There are still jobs out there and more come through our career office every day. Some tips to help you succeed…

1.  Prepare your pitch. Put together your story for why you’re the best candidate for each job opportunity. Make sure your cover letter and resume are effective. Practice your interview answers – out loud with another person, preferably a career coach or counselor. Go to the career office for guidance and feedback. It’s OK if you’ve never gone there before.  They see hundreds of students just like you every year.

2.  Get off campus. Employers hire people, not paper. The best way for a potential employer to get to know you is to meet you in person. Your internet application or email with your resume attached won’t be nearly enough. Informational interview a lot and meet lots of new people. Ask your friends, family, professors and career office for people to meet and learn about organizations and career paths – even ones you’ve never heard of before. Find out how to tap into the alumni network via the college’s alumni directory, LinkedIn and/or Facebook.

3.  Don’t give up. Most students are not aware of the time required to get a job. It will likely take 6 months of active job searching, over 100 informational interviews and 30 formal job interviews. Most seniors get their jobs AFTER graduation – even in a strong job market. So, don’t give up too soon. Otherwise, you may miss out on the one job that’s waiting for you.

4.  Grad school is not a great back-up option. It’s an expensive option. If grad school aligns with your long term vision AND you are motivated to go, then it’s a good option. But it’s a dangerous option if you’re thinking that you’ll go there for “safe haven” to figure out what you really want. If you had trouble figuring that out in college, it’s likely that you won’t in grad school either (it’s pretty all-consuming). Take a break from school, explore your interests, and if grad school makes sense, reapply next year. You’ll be more motivated and have a clearer sense for why you’re really there.

Your career as a chess board

Look at your career as a chess board, not a dart board. In chess, you cannot win the game in one move. It takes multiple moves to achieve your objectives. It takes patience. You don’t control how long you must wait before you move again. Each move opens up new opportunities, some you don’t see until after you’ve landed on the next space. After you move, the game changes so you must be creative, nimble and flexible to adjust to the new environment. Sometimes, you need to go backwards before you can go forwards.

You may wish that your career was more like playing darts. See the bullseye, aim and throw. You have immediate feedback. If you don’t like your throw, you pick up another dart and throw again. Be careful if you treat your career like a dart. Your resume won’t look too good.

Think chess, not darts – and you’ll set yourself up to win the career game.

Dear Mom and Dad

Dear Mom and Dad,
Graduation is just around the corner and I am looking forward to seeing you! Before you arrive, I was thinking about all the questions you’re probably going to ask me and my friends. I realized that some of these questions might cause some uncomfortable moments, so I wanted to answer your questions before you get here (then you don’t have to ask them when you’re here!). Based on my answers, you can probably figure out what the questions are.

1) No, I don’t have a job.

2) Well, the job market is really bad. The media isn’t exaggerating. Now, I know I could have started my job search earlier and I have been networking a lot. The CMC director (who totally rocks, by the way) told me that companies didn’t really started conducting serious interviews until April. Before then, most companies were laying off people and had hiring freezes. Plus, I had to complete my graduation requirements. It would have been a disaster if I didn’t graduate AND didn’t have a job.

3) Don’t worry. I am not alone. About 30% of my class hasn’t received an offer and another 10% is looking for a better offer than the one they have. It’s pretty similar at other top business schools, and even worse at less prestigious schools. Many of those who have jobs are returning to the prior employer or summer employer, returning to the same career as before business school, or starting a company (which is not technically “employed” unless they already have funding, I guess). It’s harder for students like me who want to do something different than before b-school and/or in a new location. It’s especially difficult for international students due to the U.S. employment climate or due to the challenge of doing a long distance job search far from their home countries where they plan to return.

4) It was similar in 2002-2004, the period after the dot-com boom. The CMC director (did I tell you he rocks?) says that this recession is even worse because it has broadly penetrated many industries. That downturn was more concentrated on technology, venture capital, i-banking and some consulting. The hopeful news is that in the last recession, most of the graduates had jobs within 3-9 months after graduation and had moved on to really good jobs after a couple of years.

5) I am prepared for this and expect to move jobs a few times in this first phase (1-10 years) after b-school. As the market improves, there will be good opportunities and given my MBA education, I am well positioned to seize those opportunities when they appear. I certainly have a much bigger career vision than to work for just one employer and stay there for my entire career.

6) Yes, I know it sounds so uncertain and risky. But that’s life these days. One of the big reasons I came to b-school was to begin to build the knowledge, frameworks, tools, experiences and network to be prepared to face a dynamic world of opportunity. That’s one achievement of which I am certain. Don’t worry, I have learned how to think about managing risks and I will be applying these frameworks to my career choices. Although it’s a little nerve-wracking right now, I really am excited about my future.

I hope these answers address your most pressing questions. I am glad that we have all that out of the way. Now when you get here, we can focus on celebrating with our family and my friends. You are going to LOVE my friends!

This outstanding school has provided me an amazing experience where I have not only learned about business, but much about myself. Thank you so much for all your love and support.

Your loving son,
The Chanster

Rough times in MBA world

About 30% of our second year class is still looking for a job. With a few exceptions, this stat is similar to most other top b-schools. There are a variety of reasons why it’s so difficult to get a job now.

The biggest difference this year versus the last few years is that significantly fewer employers are hiring and among those that are hiring, they are hiring fewer people. There are many qualified, experienced candidates competing for these limited opportunities. In addition, larger organizations who may have recruited MBAs during the academic year in the past are taking a just-in-time approach. This results in more ad hoc recruiting processes in which students must do much more networking and interviewing, and be prepared for it to continue into the summer.

Some students have waited until later in the year to start their job searches in hope that the market would improve and that better jobs would come available (especially investment-related jobs). This was a sensible approach, but the market for investment jobs remains weak. It may be time for these students to consider boutique investment banking, restructuring and risk management roles, corporate development, hedge funds and corporate finance. One other option is to do some part-time project/consulting work to bring in income while continuing to network for that investment job.

International students who want to stay in the U.S. have a very difficult situation. Given the U.S. economy, U.S. employers are under pressure to hire American citizens. Given that many students want to change careers and employers have many candidates with exact experience, the challenge is further compounded.

Some internationals who intend to return to their home countries are waiting to start their job search until they return home, which makes sense since networking and interviewing are most effective in person.

Some U.S. students are taking some or all of the summer off and plan to start looking in the fall. This seems reasonable as companies typically hire more in the fall than in the summer. With hope that the economy will improve, it should be easier to find a job than it is now.

In 2002, 2003 and 2004, about 75-80% of the graduating students had offers at graduation. I am hoping that it will be similar this year, but it could be a bit lower given that this recession has negatively impacted many more sectors than did the dot-com bust.

Our career management center staff will be working throughout the summer to help the class of 2009. The alumni career services staff supports all alumni who need career and job search support year-round. Check out our website for information and contact us if you need help.

De-stressing the job search

Are you feeling stressed? Unable to get motivated in your job search? Feeling futile and saying to yourself, “Why waste the time looking for a job if no one’s hiring?”

You are not alone.

But you, as well as I, know that succumbing to these feelings will not improve your odds of getting a job. And they won’t help you feel any better. So what should you do?

1. Focus on what you can control. The interview process is much like the dating process. Don’t take the other person’s lack of interest personally and don’t let it drive you crazy. You cannot control them.

2. Complete discreet tasks. Write a To Do list for each day or for each 2 hour period. Then, just do it. Repeat. Reflect on all you accomplished and be satisfied. These small wins add up.

3. Take breaks. A break is most rewarding after completing a set of tasks or achieving a goal. Walking, meditating, listening to music, being in nature, exercising, playing with the kids – do things that bring you joy and energize you.

4. Practice breathing deeply. Breathing with attention and consciousness can bring you peace and serenity. Give it a try.

5. Compose a positive mantra and use it. Try one of these: “I only need one job” or “It’s a new day and a good day” or “I am thankful for all I have and who I am”.

6. Blast some tunes. Music is food for the soul. Just make sure it’s music you like.

7. Exercise. Don’t you feel great after exercising? Start slowly and build up your stamina and capabilities. In no time, you’ll feel unstoppable.

8. Sleep. Sharpness, attentiveness, perceptiveness, charm, improvisation are particularly important when searching for a job. You’re much more likely to exhibit these when you’re rested.

Special thanks to Margot Carmichael Lester. I developed these tips after reading her article, “Anxiety for Fun and Profit”.