Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers

On the Job Tips

Tips to Rock that Summer Internship

Internships play a critical role in today’s career development process. They serve several key functions that increase a student’s clarity about their fit in the world of work as well as making a student a more competitive applicant for full-time positions. Additionally, if an intern performs well, a full-time job offer may be extended at the end of summer. Even if an internship does not result in an offer, an intern’s co-workers and manager will be some of a student’s most important references when applying for other opportunities. For these reasons, performing well in an internship has never been more important. To help your child make the most of this opportunity, share with him this list of tips developed by Patrick Sullivan, our Associate Director for Career Education & Counseling.

  1. Work hard – Do whatever is needed and do not assume that your education equips you with so much knowledge that executing low-level projects is beneath you. Don’t be the intern that turns their nose up at the “little” jobs.
  2. Seek extra work – Show your willingness to go above and beyond the job description. Be proactive in asking for more projects and responsibilities. Look for opportunities to assist co-workers and volunteer for assignments that interest you.
  3. Develop your skills – Challenge yourself by helping out with projects requiring you to develop skills that you don’t use very often. Observe the skills used by people in the kinds of positions in which you envision yourself working, and polish those skills.
  4. Be a team player – In today’s workplace, more and more work is project-oriented, which means you will be working on teams. If you are a strong team player, you will be a strong intern.
  5. Seek feedback – Get a sense for what you do well and what you need to improve.  Ask for specific suggestions on how you can get better and make it a point to do so.
  6. Network with co-workers – Everyone you meet is a potential member of your network. The more people who know you and your work, the more support you will have when it comes to turning your internship into a full-time job. Some of these co-workers will act as workplace references for you should you decide to conduct your job search in another career sector or company.
  7. Find a mentor – A mentor can make a big difference. If you have the opportunity, try to develop a relationship with someone who can guide and support you in your internship, your efforts to secure a full-time offer and beyond. Ask to take that person to coffee to learn about their experiences and career path.
  8. Establish yourself as a leader  Some corporations offer structured intern programs that involve social and professional development opportunities in addition to work assignments. Why not take the lead on a professional development program for interns if your organization doesn’t have one? Set up weekly brown bag lunches that feature relevant speakers or informational sessions. You’ll not only expand your (and your peers’) experiences, you’ll make an impression as a leader and a go-getter.
  9. Don’t get ahead of yourself  When you’re already known as the rock star intern, it’s easy to get complacent or even cocky. Remember that you are always interviewing for the next level. Landing an internship and completing it isn’t enough, in and of itself, to convert the experience into a job offer. How you end an internship is often the difference between one summer’s experience and long-term employment.
  10. Stay in touch – Leave on the best possible terms. Always thank your manager for the internship. Connect with colleagues on LinkedIn. And if you are interested in working at the organization full-time, by all means, ask about openings.

For more tips, encourage your student to follow our new Professional Confessional blog. This summer, experts from the OPCD, employers, and current student interns will be providing guidance and advice to help current student interns make the most of their experience.

Preparing for the Summer Internship

So your child has just landed his or her internship for the summer. Congratulations! A pat on the back or a celebratory dinner is certainly in order, but don’t let him or her make the mistake of believing that just getting the internship is enough.

College students have more reasons than ever to make the most of their summer internships. According to a recent report by Michigan State University and the Collegiate Employment Research Institute, the importance of internships has steadily increased over the last decade and they are now many organizations’ primary source of talent recruitment.

In an internship, performing well, developing transferable skills and fostering strong relationships are crucial. Even if a full-time job offer does not follow, managers of high-performing student interns often become the students’ biggest advocates in future job searches. With the transformed global knowledge-worker economy of the 21st Century, the stakes and the competition are higher than ever.

The first step towards a successful summer is preparation. In order to help students hit the ground running in their internships, here are some tips developed by Patrick Sullivan, our Associate Director of Career Education & Counseling and affectionately known in the OPCD as the “Intern King”:

  1. Know what to expect – Get as familiar as possible with the environment in which you will be working. If you haven’t already, download a Vault Career Guide from the OPCD site and review the information in the book to get more familiar with the industry and setting in which you will be working.
  2. Be prepared – If you have a working relationship with someone at the organization where you will be employed, contact them to ask about the kind of tasks you will be doing during the internship. If you recognize that you need to build up a particular set of knowledge or skills, find ways to build those competencies.
  3. Do your research – Begin to follow the news related to the organization and subject area on which you will be working. Seek out articles in newspapers and magazines. Set up a Google News Alert on the organization, your functional area, notable executives and any other topics your research indicates will be important during your employment. You can set these searches to deliver news on daily, weekly, or ongoing basis.
  4. Plan ahead
    • Find Housing: The OPCD has identified to numerous seasonal housing sites and resources organized by city. Click this link to find housing in Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Los Angeles, NYC, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Texas, and Washington, D.C and other locations.
    • Prepare a Budget: Utilize tools like CashCourse or Mint.com to set a budget and track your spending.
    • Learn about your city: Use local websites, newspapers, and contacts to learn about transportation, events, restaurants and other things to do in your neighborhood and city. Connect with alumni and classmates via the LinkedIn Wake Forest Career Connectors group to ask for help and advice in your new city.

Later this spring, we’ll ask Patrick for his top ten tips for a successful summer internship. Stay tuned!

Top Five Things Your Student Should Do This Summer

Even though summer is reaching its half way mark, there is still plenty of time for your student to strengthen his or her career prospects. Here are five important steps your student should be taking this summer:

1. Network. Then network some more.

Networking is the single most important tool in searching for a career or internship. In fact, 70% of jobs are landed via networking according to some research. This should include reaching out to Wake Forest alumni, fellow students, or parents in your student’s field of interest. Encourage the use of LinkedIn to find appropriate contacts at fascinating companies and arrange an informational interview. For more information, please visit our Informational Interviewing page on the OPCD’s website.

2. Organize your contacts in a worksheet.

Once you student has conducted an information interview, recommend the use of an organizational worksheet to keep all of the information in a central place. Things like thank you’s or follow up steps can easily be forgotten if not written down. Review our “Networking Tracking Tool” located on our Find Networking Contacts page.

3. Continuously update your LinkedIn profile and resume.

Your students will never be fresher on the work they are doing this summer than now. Encourage your students to reflect every other week on the experiences they are gaining and transcribe them in their resume and LinkedIn profile. You never know when they will need an updated copy.

4. Build your business acumen and stay updated current events.

Give your students a gift this summer; a subscription to a daily paper or weekly periodical will help your student stay current as well as help them explore their interests. The Wall Street Journal and The Economist are two excellent options that have online subscriptions. Talk to your students about current affairs to help them build foundational knowledge.

5. Take a week off.

Let’s not forget that it is called summer break. At least one week of relaxation will go a long to helping students reboot and recharge. Many studies illustrate a correlation between a period of rest and improved academic performance.

Ask the Experts

Parents and alumni play an important role in our students’ career development process.  To foster this support, our Office of Personal and Career Development has established a Linkedin group called Wake Forest Career Connectors. Over the past seven months, an impressive 2,600 parents and alumni have joined the group to provide students with career guidance and advice. Students can now easily query group members through private messaging and a public discussion board. Our office staff has also taken advantage of the public discussion feature to ask member’s career related questions.

Amy Willard, Assistant Director for Professional Development, sought advice using our Wake Forest Career Connectors’ open discussion board. Seeking information to support her work in professional development, she asked members, “If you were hiring a recent graduate, what top five professional skills do you want him/her to possess to be a strong candidate for your profession?”

Amy was excited to receive over two dozen detailed responses from members detailing their “top” workplace skills.  She notes that “even with the responding members’ varied occupations, common skill themes quickly emerged that will support my professional development programming strategy.”  Below are some common skills as noted by our respondents:

  • Proven communications skills were highlighted most often. Joseph Tranfo (Parent,  ’15) noted the heightened importance of “communication – written, oral, AND visual” in today’s work environment. Furthermore, he states that “in 2011 and beyond, students better be able to communicate digitally using more than just words.”
  • Sam Smith (Psychology and English, ’84) was one of the many alumni to emphasize the need for skills in critical thinking. He emphasizes that when a student is faced “with a brand new challenge and you can think your way through to a working solution, you’re going to get lots and lots of opportunities to shine.”
  • “The world of work is a world of people and therefore relationships,” states Patrick Flemming (Psychology, ’96). Several of the responders focused on our students’ need to understand the big picture when beginning their first internship or job assignments. Furthermore, Patrick shares that “students/graduates can distinguish themselves in a powerful way by demonstrating awareness and enduring interest in who people are, why they do what they do, and how they behave together.”
  • Like others, Sarah Shoaf (Physician’s Assistant, ’76) emphasized initiative and noted that students should “constantly seek ways to improve yourself and your performance, as well as improve the business around you.”  She advises students to “spend your first month absorbing what is around you, asking questions as to why things are done certain ways. Once you understand the business, then start making suggestions, but don’t be offended if your suggestions are not immediately acted upon.”

The Wake Forest network of alumni, parents, faculty and staff is committed to helping students successfully navigate the path from college to career.  We’re excited that the LinkedIn Career Connectors Group can provide these important connections for students to learn about the world of work.  If you are willing to provide friendly advice and encouragement to current Wake Forest students, please join the Wake Forest Career Connectors Group today.

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.