Professional Confessional

A blog providing tips and resources for life after college

2015 June

TIP: Asking for a Recommendation – Part 1

OPCD Expert Contributor – Lauren Beam, Assistant Director of Alumni Personal and Professional Development

Securing a letter of recommendation, reference, or future job offer from your internship supervisor is best done in person and towards the end of your summer internship experience. Here are some tips and advice for how to do the “asking.”

Watch the video highlighting six steps to asking for a recommendation.

To learn more, read further for details on asking for a recommendation.

Why Ask for a Letter of Recommendation Now vs. Later?

1 – Your performance is fresh in your supervisor’s mind.

2 – You can have an in-person conversation about your future career goals.

3 – It’s not last minute (i.e. the following Spring semester when job and internship applications are due) and provides more time for the supervisor to write a letter for you.

Steps to Asking for a Letter of Recommendation:

1 – Set up a Meeting: Set up a meeting with your direct supervisor and/or other key colleagues that you have worked closely with over the summer. Schedule approximately 1-2 weeks before your internship ends.

2 – Get Feedback and Discuss Career Goals: Use the meeting(s) as an opportunity to get feedback on your performance throughout the summer – what you did well, areas for improvement. You may also use this time to share what you learned and the next steps in your career trajectory. If you are a rising senior, you may also express interest in full-time job opportunities, if available, within the organization.

3 – Ask for the Letter of Recommendation: As the meeting comes to a close, this would be an appropriate time to ask for the letter of recommendation and/or to list your supervisor as a reference on future applications. You might say “As my internship is coming to an end, do you feel comfortable writing a letter of recommendation for me to use for future applications and opportunities?”

4 – Provide Supporting Materials: Have a copy of your resume (updated with your summer internship experience) for your supervisor to refer to when writing your letter. You may also choose to provide examples of your work from the summer and any other supporting materials to help your supervisor best capture your skill set and value to a future employer.

5 – Say “Thank You”: A “thank you” note goes a long way. As your internship draws to a close, you should write a hand-written “thank you” note to your supervisor (for their support throughout the summer and for the letter of recommendation) and any other colleagues that have assisted you throughout your internship.

6 – Stay in Touch: Stay in touch with your supervisor and provide periodical updates throughout the year on your career progression. For example, you would want to give them a “heads up” when using their letter of recommendation or name/contact information as a reference on a job or internship application. Keeping your supervisor in the loop will enable them to speak highly of you when contacted by a potential new employer.

TIP: Building a Network at Work

You’re meeting new people and developing relationships with your colleagues. This group is an important one to nurture during your summer job or internship. You may be asking…What is the best way to build a network at work? How do I foster those relationships?

Here is what a few of our employers say:

 

CSX logo

Lauren Dealexandris, Director of Intermodal Finance

Staying in touch with people through various means, and getting back to them quickly when they reach out to you is very important in building and maintaining relationships. Open communication and challenging is much easier when you have a previously established relationship, which makes advancing business issues and solutions more effective.

 

Deloitte logo

Liz Hannah, Carolinas Campus Recruiter

Building your network is imperative and will open many doors for you down the road!  From the start of the recruiting process you will have the opportunity to meet individuals of all levels through recruiting functions, training/orientation, engagement team assignments, the counselor/mentor program, intern events, business resource groups and community service activities.  It is imperative that you get to know and keep in touch with these people.  Everyone within our firm, from our Global CEO down, is extremely approachable and desires to expand their network as well by getting to know you.

 

United_technologies_logo

Meghan Hayden, HR Functional Development Manager

During an internship you will have only a few months to establish connections, so you will need to act fast!

  • Start off strong. Show up prepared to work on your first day. Know how the company has been making the news over the last few weeks and  months.  Bring a notepad and have some questions prepared.
  • Get some quick wins.  Make your first few tasks count by showing your manager that you are dedicated to doing high-quality work.  Turn in “Completed Staff Work,” a product that is in final draft, proof-read, formatted to print, and ready to be forwarded to the customer without additional edits from your boss.  This should get their attention.
  • Build a strong reputation. Deliver on every commitment, or at least proactively communicate a roadblock.  Become someone your team can count on.
  • Ask for support. Talk with your manager, Human Resources manager, or team members about your career aspirations. Ask if they will support you as a candidate for a full-time position at the company, or if they would be willing to write you a letter of recommendation. Follow up with a thank you email in timely fashion.

TIP: Building Relationships

OPCD Expert Contributor – Allison McWilliams, Director of the Mentoring Resource Center & Alumni Personal and Professional Development

One of the most important outcomes of your summer job or internship experience is the opportunity that it presents to build effective, positive personal and professional relationships. This is the beginning of your network, the group of people who will mentor you, provide resources and contacts, write letters of reference for you, guide you and give you feedback. Clearly, this is a very important group of people! However, building this network is sometimes easier said than done. The people you will be working with will be incredibly busy, and may not seem to have time to devote to your growth and development. So how then do you build a relationship with them?

Watch the video to find the answer.

To learn more, read further for details on building personal and professional relationships.

First, it starts with you. And, it starts with the work. You may feel that you are the lowest rung on the ladder, but trust me. Good work, and bad work, gets noticed. And good and bad behavior gets noticed. One of the easiest ways for you to build effective relationships with your co-workers and colleagues is to show up, every day, ready to give 150 percent to whatever task is in front of you. When you have downtime, seek out additional responsibilities. Ask others what you can do to help them. A great work ethic builds great relationships.

Second, take the time to focus on your growth and development. Quite frankly, if you aren’t willing to do the work on your own growth, then why should anyone else be bothered to help you? Set a few personal and professional goals for the summer. What are you going to work on between now and August? Once you have these goals and have established some rapport with your colleagues (which means, simply, you’ve taken the time to get to know them and feel comfortable around them), seek out one of these individuals and ask if you can take them to coffee or lunch to learn more about their career path. As part of this conversation, be prepared to ask for some feedback: what can you do to get better in your job, and what can you do to accomplish your goals?

Third, take ownership of the process. After you ask someone for advice and guidance, be sure to take the steps they have recommended, and then follow-up to let them know the outcome. Say thank you. Take responsibility to learn everything that you can, about your position, about the industry that you are working in, and be reflective about what you are learning.

Building effective relationships is not rocket science, but it does require work, and that work starts and ends with you. The good news is, you have complete control over how hard you are willing to work, which means you have complete control over how you develop your network!

TIP: No Syllabus; No Grade

OPCD Expert Contributor – Patrick Sullivan, Associate Director of Career Education and Coaching

One of the biggest challenges about starting your internship is the ambiguity around what you are supposed to do. In college, you pick your courses well in advance, your professors provide a syllabus at the start of class and you know what you need to study to get a good grade on a test. If you are doing well at Wake Forest, you have probably figured out how to make this system work for you.

Your internship might come with a description of your responsibilities, but it doesn’t have a syllabus, there won’t be tests, and you won’t get a grade. How should you figure out what you need to do?

Watch the video highlighting suggestions for receiving feedback during your internship.

To learn more, read further for tips to help you get the feedback you need to succeed.

  • Ask for feedback. Because there isn’t a syllabus or a test in place, take it upon yourself to ask for feedback. Early on, ask for feedback from your peers. “What does the manager expect?”, “Is this the best way to prepare a presentation for the team?” are good questions for your peers. Once you have a basic understanding of your workplace and you have begun producing work that is of value to the organization, ask your manager for feedback. The answers to questions like, “How am I doing on this project?”, “Am I meeting your expectations on this project?”, or “Would you be willing to share your thoughts on what makes an outstanding intern/new hire?” can give you the direction you need to perform well.
  • Schedule informal interactions. If your workplace doesn’t have a formal review process in place (and let’s be honest, many organizations aren’t going to do formal reviews of their interns), make it a point to interact with your peers and your manager outside the workplace. Take someone to lunch and get their feedback. Take your manager out for a cup of coffee and ask for her input.
  • Try the formal approach. Here in the OPCD, we’ve designed an evaluation form designed to help you get the feedback you need. If you want more concrete information about your experience and the skills you developed, ask your supervisor to fill out the evaluation form at the end of your internship. Reflect on the feedback you receive and pursue opportunities to get better. And hey, although the form suggests that you seek input shortly before the end of your internship, it can be used at any time.
  • Act on feedback. This one’s important. If you get feedback from your peers or manager that suggests that you need to change something, you have to make that change. And let people know you are making that change. Telling your manager, “That idea you suggested? I tried it and you were right – it makes me much more efficient” is a great way to show that you are open to constructive criticism and able to grow personally and professionally.

So while there aren’t going to be tests or grades like you’ve had in college, you CAN still get feedback by purposefully interacting with your colleagues. What’s the result? The feedback you get will give you a better sense of your strengths and weaknesses. You can seek out training to develop skills that need improvement. You can build on your strengths to become a critical part of the team.

Just as important, though, is that you are developing relationships with colleagues that will be able to help you in the future. They can offer advice, feedback, and suggestions when you are ready to take your next step and they can be your biggest supporters as you get your full-time career started. Who knows – if things go well, they might be the people that you get your career started with!

TIP: The World of Work: Understanding Company Culture

You’ve landed the internship, set a budget, and created 2-3 SMART goals. Soon, you’ll be entering the world of work. The world of work has a different culture than your college campus. How do you navigate the world of work and understand its culture?

Here is what a few of our employers say:

 

CSX logo

Lauren Dealexandris, Director of Intermodal Finance

Observe others’ behaviors, talk to supervisors and peers what the cultural norms are, and ask questions when something doesn’t make sense. It is better to ask a trusted source about culture than accidentally make a mistake or wrong impression!

 

Deloitte logo

Liz Hannah, Carolinas Campus Recruiter

The best way to understand our company culture is by looking to our experienced employees. This is particularly important as company culture varies greatly among our clients and the engagement teams assigned to those clients. As a rule of thumb, always try to emulate the dress and conduct of the senior professionals on your engagement teams. Follow their discretion and let them lead by example when it comes to the appropriate level of conservatism within a specific environment. All of our experienced employees are here as a resource for interns and new hires, so if you ever question whether or not certain actions are suitable, just ask.

 

United_technologies_logo

Meghan Hayden, HR Functional Development Manager

Culture is essentially how things are done in your company. In my experience, most companies don’t have a single culture.  Large organizations like mine have guiding principles which are evident in every office and factory around the world, but each work group faces unique pressures and is comprised of unique personalities, which will influence the local culture.

If you want to know what behaviors are valued in your company, consider how your manager and teammates conduct themselves, and the competencies or values that are assessed during your performance reviews. Listen for themes within leadership messages, employer meetings and orientation material to gain insight.

Many different types of cultures can be successful, but not every culture will be the right fit for you. Internships are an excellent opportunity to assess a company and find out if your values and priorities align.  Make the most of this opportunity by asking questions and exploring different teams and departments to find the best fit.

TIP: Preparing for the First Day

You’ve heard the expression; you never get a second chance to make a first impression.  Why is that?  The first impression is a lasting impression.  It is vital to make a great first impression; especially as a young professional.  It could mean the difference between receiving lucrative assignments versus menial projects.  You want to be prepared for the first day of your professional experience.

Watch the video highlighting these key questions:  What do I wear?;  What do I bring?; and What can I expect?

To learn more, read further for details on preparing for your first day on the job.

1)      What do I wear?  Business-appropriate dress.  What does this mean?  Well, each industry has dress standards depending upon its culture.  For example, business formal is required for the finance industry, but not necessarily for the art industry.  Sometimes, dress can vary from department to department within an organization depending upon its function.  I recommend you call the office where you will be working to ask about dress standards for employees. If you go in for an in-person interview, pay attention to what people in the office are wearing. And when in doubt, always error on the side of conservative.

2)      What do I bring?  A padfolio and pen.  Keep track of everyone you meet.  They will be impressed you remembered their name and a personal fact about them when you see them again.  Also, write down instructions to assignments, projects, and deadlines.  This will ensure that you are meeting expectations, right from the start, and will also help you to track your assignments and projects as you do them.  Keeping a record of your experiences will be extremely helpful when you are updating your resume and preparing for future interviews.  Also, bring important documents necessary to complete human resources paperwork such as tax information (you will need two forms of identification), insurance, and direct deposit information.

3)      What can I expect?  Typically, your first day will be filled with tours, introductions, completing paperwork, and a meeting with your supervisor.  Remember, when you are introduced to someone, address each person using his/her surname or last name unless that person tells you to use his/her first name.  Always address your superiors by their last names.  Take cues on how to act in the office from your supervisor.  All eyes will be on you…you are the young professional.  They are expecting you to make a mistake.  Surprise them – act as if this is not your first job.  Meeting with your supervisor is the perfect opportunity to ask questions for clarity about your duties, culture, and expectations.

Make a positive lasting impression on your first day!

TIP: Set SMART Goals to Chart Your Course

Before you embark on your internship experience, you should set some SMART goals for specific knowledge, skills, and abilities you would like to acquire during the experience. Start with the end in mind…You need to know where you want to go before you can start the journey.  Setting goals helps you stay focused on what you want to accomplish.  What are SMART goals?

Specific – Spell out exactly what you want to accomplish.

Measurable – Helps you determine if you achieved it or not.  Quantify it.

Achievable – Set possible and attainable objectives.

Relevant – Set goals with the “big picture” in mind and have a clear purpose.

Timely – Set a deadline.  When do you want to accomplish the goal?

Here are a few questions to consider before developing your SMART goals:  What do you want to accomplish by the completion of your internship?  When you look back at the end of the summer, what do you want to be able to say that you have done or learned?  Are there new skills you would like to develop, such as giving public presentations or business writing? Is there something about this particular industry that you would like to know?

Before you start your internship, consider creating 2-3 SMART goals.  Focus on three key areas such as networking – the people you want to meet, skills – the skills you want to develop, and community – how you will get involved in the community where you will be living (such as through a service opportunity).  Involvement in the community is a great way to expand reach for meeting individuals outside of your inner-circle.  Most importantly, you’re continuing the spirit of Pro Humanitate.

Before you leave for your internship, get started using this easy worksheet.  Set the path you want to accomplish by charting your own course with SMART goals.  And, when you meet with your supervisor share these goals with him/her so that he can help you to develop a plan for achieving them.