Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers

Tips for Parents

Dealing with Failure

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gift of Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl

4. Authentic Happiness – Martin Seligman

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

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

Parent-to-Student Career Conversations (Part II)

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

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

The right questions lead to the right answers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parent-to-Student Career Conversations (Part I)

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

Clarify the goal

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 Tips for Parents to Help Your Recent Graduate Get Hired

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

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

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

Winter Break Tips for Parents

The Winter Break is a good time for parents and students to talk about a wide variety of things. One typical topic is your student’s plan for post-graduation (seniors) or for the summer (everyone else).  While leaving Wake Forest for the world of work may seem like a scary prospect for your student, many Demon Deacons in prior years have navigated this path successfully. In fact, 92% of the class of 2011 were either employed or in a graduate or professional school within six months after graduation. Over the past five years this percentage has ranged from 86% (class of 2010) to 97% (class of 2007).  If you would like to learn more about the First Destination Data for the Class of 2011, click this link.

Parents can play a significant role in advising and supporting their student to successfully transition from college to the world of work. Here are some tips for parents to consider when they engage with their students over the coming Winter Break.

Make sure your child has registered for DeaconSource.

DeaconSource is the primary information source for students to received tailored information, resources, events and opportunities based on their specific career interests.  It also contains a dynamic database of jobs and internships that constantly changes throughout the year. When logging into DeaconSource, students are prompted to fill out a profile detailing their career field and geographic preferences (which can be changed and updated at any time). Our office then sends tailored messages based on the student’s profile, including educational resources and workshops, employer visits, job and internship postings, application deadlines and much more. To ensure your student receives this important information, encourage him to fill out or update his profile.  Over 80% of freshman and seniors have completed profiles, so make sure your student isn’t left out.

Connect your child with your network.

Networking is an essential component of the job and internship search process. In fact, over 70% of jobs are found through networking. Many attractive jobs and internships must be discovered in the “hidden job market,” which means that they not available through job board listings or on-campus recruiting. Encourage your student to create a high quality LinkedIn profile. Help her clarify which careers or organizations that interests her. Have her practiceinformational interviewing with you.  Introduce her to your contacts and encourage her to connect with Wake Forest alumni in the LinkedIn Career Connectors Group. Informational interviewing and networking are two of the most important skills for a successful job or internship search.  They are not only valuable for gathering important information, they can often result in interesting projects, internships andjob opportunities.

Engage in thought provoking conversation.

Reflection is an often overlooked step in the career development journey, but it is vital to successfully finding meaningful and fulfilling work. It is the primary method for clarifying ‘who you are’ and ‘what really matters to you’. Although students talk about wanting to find quiet time and be reflective, it doesn’t really happen.  In fact, 94% of students report feeling “overwhelmed by their busy lifestyle.” Assist your student to be reflective by asking thought-provoking questions and giving him space and time to respond and consider his answers…

  • What has been your favorite class so far? What did you learn about yourself in this class?
  • What has been your least favorite class so far? What have you learned about yourself in this class?
  • What are you doing with the organizations you are involved with on campus? What are you enjoying? What are you not enjoying?
  • Given your answers to the above questions, what might you conclude about yourself?
  • Are there career fields you are thinking about? If so, what interests you about them?
  • What career fields would you want to learn more about?
  • How I might I be able to help or support you in this process?
  • What resources at Wake Forest can you utilize in this process? What do you think about checking into those resources while you’re here at home or when you get back to campus?
  • I really enjoy hearing about what you’re learning in college and how you’re thinking about interests and future possibilities.  Can we set up another time to continue our conversation on this?

We hope that you have a wonderful holiday season. It’s a great time to re-connect and be reflective with your student. As we often tell parents, try to be a “consultant” where you ask questions with a neutral, unbiased, non-judgmental tone and you allow “the client” (your student) to be empowered to take charge of their thought process and their decisions.

Your goals are to stimulate reflective thought and action by your student and to develop a positive relationship where your student sees you as someone who they can comfortably share their thoughts and ask for suggestions and advice. Through this approach, you will begin to build the foundation for a new type of adult-to-adult relationship with your child; and also help your child build their own foundation for making informed, sound career decisions.

Grounding Helicopter Parents

Every parent knows the feeling. We would do absolutely anything to help our children. There is no instinct more primal or original to our very beings than the protection and well-being of our children. This impulse is even stronger in America where our collective dream is that our children will lead ‘richer’ lives than we did. We are a nation of continuous improvement, of upward mobility, of great promise.

However, in our desire to help our children, we may be preventing the very growth and development we are hoping to promote. A Wall Street Journal Article published last month describes the challenges parents face around first-year orientation. One University of Syracuse administrator describes the current generation of parents as “the most over-involved generation of all time.” While helping our children seems natural, too much involvement can have unintended consequences. The transition to college, and specifically college orientation drop off day, is a watershed moment for re-defining your parent-child relationship in a new, meaningful way.

It’s tough to admit, but there’s a little bit of a helicopter parent inside all of us. Last year my oldest child, Alex, began college at Stanford. I wanted to give him lots of advice on how to make the most of his college experience, but my past experience of doing so often felt like I was lecturing to him. I know it’s not working when his eyes start to glass over.

Instead, I asked two mature and engaging recent college graduates to have lunch with Alex. Over lunch, I quietly listened to Caroline and Austin give Alex perspective and advice and learned a few things myself. I realized that all college students, not only my son, prefer to hear from people closer in age and experience than me.

So one of my roles now is to be a Connector for Alex – to help him be exposed to and learn from other students and young professionals. It’s from these types of conversations, Alex has begun to ask for my advice and guidance on issues like how to communicate professionally and networking etiquette. I am constantly thinking about people who I can introduce to Alex so that he exponentially increases his breadth of knowledge, especially regarding careers and the world of work.

I have also become more of a Consultant to Alex – where he is taking ownership of his actions and decisions, and I am one of several people he asks for perspective and advice. I have to remind myself that I am not the CEO of his life, even though I do sometimes feel that I am his banker – or perhaps his majority stockholder!

First-year orientation is a major milestone. It is an opportunity to break from the past and create a new relationship with your child. It can be bittersweet, but many of the best things in life emerge from challenging situations. In addition to gaining academic skills, college is a time for your child to mature into a young adult in many ways. Important life skills such as independently balancing a budget, managing time, finding solutions to everyday obstacles, etc. are just as important as the education he or she will receive. And in the area of personal and career development, we will guide them to ask and answer fundamental questions about what matters most to them and where they will find career focus and satisfaction.

Here are some tips adapted from the WSJ article to help you manage the transition.

  1. Encourage your student to tackle her problems by utilizing campus resources. Rather than diving in to solve the problem for your student, instead ask, “Who can you talk to on campus to help you with that issue?” and “What’s keeping you from taking action?” Then give her affirmation and positive feedback for taking responsibility and action – even if the outcome doesn’t turn out exactly the way you had hoped.
  2. Create a budget and financial plan with your student. Set goals in advance and hold your child accountable to the limits you set.
  3. Schedule a consistent time to communicate depending on your family needs and schedule. This can be via text, phone, Skype, email or whatever method your family prefers. Establish a habit of connecting once a day, every few days, or once a week, and commit to the schedule.
  4. Visit your student during appropriate times such as family weekend. College is designed for the students to learn and grow independently. Too much parent presence will stunt the growth process – and be pretty uncomfortable for your student.
  5. Stay informed by reading the college’s materials, blogs and social media. Be careful not to overwhelm your child with all the information at one time, for example on Family Weekend, Thanksgiving Break, or at a dinner with his dorm mates. Ease into discussions one step at a time and be an active listener by asking neutral, open-ended questions. Your tone makes a real difference.
  6. Be prepared for lots of change. One day, your child will seem very certain and then suddenly change her mind. Students gain new information and have new experiences daily, so they can vascillate on major, career, friends, clubs and other important decisions. Listen carefully and try to learn about what’s at the core of their thinking. Don’t force clarity until it’s absolutely required – and guide them to speak to professionals on campus who have the experience and perspective of seeing thousands of college students in similar situations.

One of the hardest decisions parents must make is the one to really let go. It counters every instinct we hold dear and sometimes seems to hurt more than it helps. In the end, however, your child will thank you for it. Help your child make the most of the college experience to learn and grow independently – by grounding the helicopter in you.

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.

Help Your Child Go for the Gold

The OPCD is getting into the Olympic spirit!

If you haven’t seen the Proctor & Gamble advertisement honoring the mothers of various Olympians, it’s worth seeing.  My own kids like to tease me about how I get choked up and emotional watching touching stories, and this ad definitely got a tear out of me!

Whether or not the ad affected you, most of us agree that we wouldn’t be where we are today without the support of our parents.

One crucial step for parents is the college-to-career process.  From taking your prospective student on college tours and helping him (or her) decide on the best fit school to helping him make connections and prepare for job or internship interviews, you are a pivotal player in the process.  When I ask parents to guess who has the most influence on student career decisions, they typically don’t include themselves.  In our work with thousands of students each year, we find that parents actually hold the greatest influence on student career decision making.

So it’s so important for parents to take this role and responsibility seriously.  That means parents need to be very conscious of the opinions they share, the judgements they make and the expectations they have.  Every interaction with your student sends them a message about whether or not you approve of their choices and process.  Students really feel a lot of pressure and anxiety, and parents can either add to the intensity or they can help the student handle it in a positive, supportive manner.

Compounding this challenging reality, the world of work is evolving at an increasingly rapid pace.  There is so much new information regarding how and when various employers recruit, what careers are hot (and not), the value of graduate school, how to utilize social networks, how to best use the career office and many other questions.  In order to guide and advise your student effectively, you need accurate information to base your opinions, advice and decisions on.  You must understand the environment, resources and opportunities available to your student through the OPCD (and other networks and connections that you or your students may possess).  It really does “take a village” to help our students achieve positive career outcomes.  Very few “go it alone” these days.

To help you learn about the best ways to help your child on the path from college-to-career, please visit our OPCD parent page for important information and resources.  Thank you for all that you do to support your students and assist in their career development process.

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.