Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers

Tips for Alumni

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.

Leveraging LinkedIn

At Wake Forest, we are fortunate to have a very strong, supportive and connected alumni network. While the OPCD staff sometimes provides direct connections to alumni, we always teach our students how to make these connections on their own. With every student, we strive to fulfill the proverb, “If you feed a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.”

I asked one of our career counselors, Patrick Sullivan, to share his tips on how to tap into the Wake Forest network using LinkedIn, the network we have cultivated to include over 2,000 current Wake Forest students and over 18,000 alumni.

Clarify and broaden the “target contact” market.  When a recent graduate asked how to contact Wake Forest “alumni with architecture degrees”, Patrick asked the following questions to better understand what she was looking for and to broaden the potential market of target contacts who could be helpful to her.

  • Would she speak to Wake Forest alumni who are working architects (with or without a degree)?

  • Would she speak to Wake Forest alumni who are employed in architectural firms, regardless of role?

  • Who else might be helpful in providing her with useful information or connections to others in the architecture field?

As you can see, identifying contacts requires one to think like a detective. Work with your student to clarify the information she is seeking and brainstorm the largest possible ‘target contact’ market to pursue. This will play an important role in the way she searches for contacts and result in many more potential, and valuable, connections.

Create a great LinkedIn profile. We have found LinkedIn to be the most useful way to connect with, and ask questions of, Wake Forest alumni – there are over 4,000 in the Wake Forest Career Connectors group – a group we created specifically to provide guidance and connections for current students. If your student does not already have a LinkedIn profile, direct them to the OPCD website for specific suggestions on how to create a positive, professional LinkedIn profile.

Use LinkedIn Advanced Search. Here are three key tips to find Wake Forest alumni.  We’ll continue using the search for Architecture contacts in this example, but your student can apply the same approach to their area of interest.  Each of the searches will require your student to use Advanced Search mechanism at the top of the LinkedIn home page.

  • Tip #1 – Search using the School and Industry fields.
    Put “Wake Forest” in the School field and select “Architecture & Planning” from the Industries field.   This search returned more than 80 alumni working in the Architecture and Planning industry.

  • Tip #2 – Search using School and Title fields.
    Put “Wake Forest” in the School field and search for the term “Architect” in the Title field.  This search brought back a large number of results, including architects, but is made even more effective by adding the suggestions in Tactic #3.

  • Tactic #3 – Search using School and Keyword fields.
    Put “Wake Forest” in the School field and use the Keyword field to search for terms that are unique to that industry or profession.  In the case of Architecture, using the terms LEED or AIA would bring back relevant results.

Ask for advice, feedback, and suggestions.  Once your student has identified alumni of interest, encourage them to connect via LinkedIn, with the goal of conducting an “informational interview.”  Why should your student start by asking for an informational interview rather than for a job or internship?  Our experience indicates that alumni are often happy to provide information about their field, so taking the informational interview approach is likely to “open the door”.  Asking for a job or internship runs the risk of having the door close as the alumnus your student is targeting may not be in a position to hire, and the may reply with a simple “Sorry I can’t help you” or give no answer at all. Remind your student to highlight the Wake Forest affiliation and make it clear to the contact that their goal is to gather information and ask questions. Here are more specific suggestions on how to best approach and conduct informational interviews.

Plug into multiple networks.  Finally, while we strongly encourage our students to utilize the Wake Forest alumni network, it’s important to recognize that most students have access to other networks – friends and family, high school classmates and teachers, athletic teams and coaches, and many other affinity groups. Brainstorm with your student to think about all of the networks they could plug into (including your own) and help them identify specific targets to connect with.

Whether your student is conducting informational interviews, seeking contacts in a specific organization, or wanting to learn about career paths that may be of interest to them, encourage your student to think broadly and to fully leverage LinkedIn.


Tips for Success in the Global Marketplace

When I speak about what is required for colleges to better prepare students for the world of work, one important component is for educators to spend time with employers. This allows faculty and staff to better understand what is expected of students in internships and full-time jobs. In doing so, educators can modify curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular experiences so that students learn and develop the competencies necessary to not only secure great jobs, but to be successful throughout their careers. In essence, I am promoting more ‘Employer-Education Partnerships’ to fully realize, and significantly elevate, the value of a college education.

With our strong employer relations team and their efforts, this type of partnership is occurring with greater frequency at Wake Forest. Last Tuesday, Wake Forest brought together higher education leaders from Wake Forest and other institutions, industry executives, and national experts to participate in the Diversity & Inclusion Symposium, commemorating Wake Forest’s 50th anniversary of racial integration. The symposium provided an opportunity for participants to share research, best practices, and ideas to prepare students to be effective employees in the 21st century diverse and global workforce.

At Wake Forest, we have begun to transform our own institutional culture by expanding our definition of diversity to include constituencies who have historically been underrepresented or underserved, but are now increasing in the nation and on our campus. While “diversity” used to be a code word for Black; today it also encompasses Latinos, Asians, American Indians, people of mixed racial heritage, women, women in STEM disciplines, LGBTQ individuals, people with disabilities, multiple generations, first generation college students, religious pluralism, economically disadvantaged students, international students, recent immigrant groups, and other bounded social identity groups.

In an increasingly competitive and global economy, where talent is crucial to improving the bottom line, pooling from the largest and most diverse set of candidates is vitally important for organizations to succeed in our global marketplace. In addition, it’s crucial for organizations to create an inclusive environment and culture that cultivates diversity-inspired creativity and teamwork.

I had the opportunity to moderate a panel of employers on the topic, “Defining Core Cultural Competencies for Graduates Entering a Global Marketplace”.  The panel agreed on several key actions that students should take as they enter the workplace for internships, full-time jobs or graduate school.

  • Find a mentor. When 75% of executives link their career progress to mentoring, it’s apparent that mentors are especially important for students transitioning into their first full-time job or into a new organization. Many students find their new work environments very difficult to navigate because it is so different from the college campus environment, relationships and expectations. A mentor can provide perspective, advice, and information on how to navigate obstacles, understand the office culture, and how to take advantage of opportunities. For more information, read this article featuring advice from Dr. Allison McWilliams, the director of Wake Forest’s Mentoring Resource Center.
  • Understand and appreciate the organization’s culture. A memorable analogy was made by panelist Debra Langford comparing new hires joining an organization to players joining a team. As a member of the team, there is a uniform you must wear, a coach you must obey, and a set of team rules you must follow. Too often, students ignore culture in their job search and mistakenly think that they will have the same freedoms at work as they did in college. Students must seek out information about an organization’s culture to ensure they will be a good fit; and once on-the-job, they must fit in with the culture in order to earn the opportunity to gain more responsibilities.
  • Understand what differentiates employees (it’s not just knowledge). Over the last decade with the availability of information via the internet, employees can no longer define their value by just what they know. Increasingly, the most valuable employees are the ones who know what information is important (critical analysis and discernment), enlist the cooperation and support of others (interpersonal and relationship-building skills), present their arguments in persuasive ways (communication and influencing skills) and work in diverse teams and think with a global perspective (teamwork and cultural competence). Students who develop these competencies while in school and early in their careers will quickly find opportunities and be competitive for opportunities in the future.

Hire Wake Forest Talent

Wake Forest students are known for their interpersonal and communication skills, work ethic and ability to deliver high impact results. Career preparation including mock interviews, resume reviews and self-assessments, along with an excellent liberal arts education, makes Wake Forest students very prepared for any work environment. Our students are eager to make significant contributions to their employers.
If your organization is looking to hire students for full-time positions or summer internships, please contact our Office of Personal and Career Development.To make the process as simple as possible, just complete two simple steps:

  1. Send an email to careers@nullwfu.edu.
  2. Enter “Connect me to a Deacon” in the subject line.
Your email will be directed to a member of our Employer Relations team and you will be contacted to discuss your needs. We appreciate your time and consideration in recruiting and employing our talented students.  We look forward to working with you.

Young Alumni Get LinkedIn

Earlier this week, OPCD Career Counselor Lauren Beam met with twenty young Wake Forest alums to discuss the importance of LinkedIn and networking. Here are some key takeaways from Lauren’s presentation that I think are beneficial for professionals of every age:

  • Over 70% of jobs are secured because of networking/connections, not through job postings or advertisements.  So don’t focus all your time applying to online job postings.
  • 89% of recruiters say they are checking LinkedIn during the hiring process, which makes having a positive online presence (especially LinkedIn!) an essential step of your job search.
  • LinkedIn is a useful tool for young alums to:
    • Search and apply for jobs (Many companies now pay to post jobs via LinkedIn).
    • Join groups (College alumni-related, location-specific, industry-specific) to find potential contacts.  These groups also post many sector- or affinity-specific opportunities.
    • Research organizations of interest.  You can learn a lot about the people who work there and find potential connections.
    • Create a strong online personal brand.
  • LinkedIn and networking isn’t about asking for a job – it’s about connecting with and learning from people who work at jobs or companies that are of interest to you.  The point is to put yourself out there as someone who is actively seeking career information and advice, and who is professional in their interactions with others. It’s not about expecting your contacts to hand you a job.

Use LinkedIn to supplement your other networking opportunities, to stay in touch and follow-up with key contacts, and to take advantage of the affinity you share with other Wake Forest alumni. The WF family is Pro Humanitate – of service to one another!

Use the career office – even after graduation

Listen to my interview with The Career Clinic (R) radio show to talk about the value of the career office and how students should think about using it.  Andy Chan on The Career Clinic

At Wake Forest, we continue to have many organizations contacting us to find summer internship and full-time candidates.  Call your career office or stop by this summer – even if you already graduated.

Advice for new grads… on NPR!

I was interviewed yesterday by Michel Martin for NPR with Louis Baraja, an author and financial planner.  I thought you might enjoy hearing our advice, as well as what we’re doing at Wake Forest.

Diploma In Hand, Grads Face Money and Career Demands

Do you have any other advice for new grads?