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Professional Confessional

A blog providing tips and resources for life after college

Amy Willard

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.



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.



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.

TIP: Budgeting for Your Internship

Now that you landed the internship…You may be asking – How am I going to pay for it?  While some internships are paid (lucky you), others are not.  Even if you are getting paid a salary or a stipend, the cash flow is limited.  Think in terms of college – room and board.  Room – Where am I going to sleep at night?  Board – How am I going to provide for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?  These are the essentials – a roof over your head and a meal or three.  So, it may be time to kick the Starbucks habit.

Whether living at home or on your own, a budget will help you stay on track.  First, you need to know your monthly net income (amount received after taxes), scholarship or stipend amount.  Second, think about your expected monthly expenses.  For example, rent…This is a fixed expense; it doesn’t vary from month to month.  Some expenses fluctuate, like groceries. Third, research areas where you can spend less such as having a roommate to share the cost of rent, and taking your lunch to work as opposed to eating out.  Buying lunch everyday can quickly add up.

In preparation for your internship, create a spending plan and set a budget.  Register to use CashCourse as your resource for learning spending tips and your tool for implementing budget strategies for your summer internship and beyond.  For example, use the budget wizard tool or the worksheet to track your expenses.  Plan the work and work the plan.

Wouldn’t it be great to return to Wake Forest with extra cash in your pocket?!?

TIP: Landed the Internship! Now What?

You have been on the interview. You received and accepted the offer. You are excited to start your internship. But wait, you are going to be a professional now. You have so many questions about how to move from being a student to a professional. We have employer guest contributors answering some of your questions. You may want to think about how you want to make a favorable impression this summer.

Watch this video highlighting what Wake Forest employers say you should do to make a favorable impression during your internship.

To learn more, read further for details on making a favorable impression.


CSX logo

Lauren Dealexandris, Director of Intermodal Finance

The surest way to quickly establish credibility and a strong reputation at our company and within our department is to illustrate both relationship development and critical thinking skills. While showing an interest in learning the business and organization is the primary focus when first getting started, it is also critically important to be responsive, thoughtful, and engaged. Ask questions, meet with people, take ownership and show initiative. Challenging appropriately and solving problems with recommendations supported by facts leave an indelible mark. The basic, underlying ability to analyze information, think both tactically and strategically, and identify opportunities for improvement are characteristics that are difficult to teach yet make a significant difference.


Deloitte logo

Liz Hannah, Carolinas Campus Recruiter

Deloitte hires people with intellect, attention to detail, technical skills and intuitive power required by this profession but what really make an intern or new hire stand out among their peers is their attitude and professionalism.  The individuals who come into Deloitte ready to tackle, and value the experience, of any task,  no matter how menial or trivial it may seem, are the ones who truly impress our leaders.  Displaying a positive, accommodating demeanor and attitude at all times is powerful and definitely does not go unnoticed.


Red Ventures

Jessica Hensen, Recruiter

Successful interns have a strong intellectual curiosity and strive to gain a deep understanding of our business and culture. They have a can-do attitude and are always willing to try new things. Stand out interns don’t just wait for new projects and opportunities to be given to them, but rather they seek out new opportunities on their own. Interns can bring a fresh perspective to business challenges, so they should feel comfortable giving their opinion and speaking up in meetings. Confidence is an important attribute to have as an intern. If there is an area of the company that you’re interested in, schedule time to speak with someone in that area to learn more.


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Barbara Carter, Director of Talent Acquisition

The most important thing an intern or a new employee can do to stand out is to be “present” in the organization. This means being on time for the job (better to be early) – this is a given. Showing up late for work gives the perception that you really are not interested in the position. Also being present by being engaged in the learning process by being attentive, asking questions and offering your ideas. Often interns spend more time trying to “network” to get the full-time job offer rather than concentrating on doing the job at hand. If you do a good job and add value during your summer internship you are more likely to get the full time job offer.



Meghan Hayden, HR Functional Development Manager

The best career advise I have received is to under-commit and over-deliver.  This careful balance is sometimes called Say:Do Ratio, but it really means keep your promises.  In a busy workplace it is easy to sit in meetings and take on action items (“Sure, I’ll take care of that!”), it is much harder to get all of those things done.  I have to often seen enthusiastic new employees, who are eager to impress their managers, take on tasks they don’t have time for or offer up deadlines that are too aggressive.  During your internship you will need to set realistic objectives, but also stretch yourself and demonstrate your engagement and ability to be a team-player.

Here are some tactics to help you keep the right balance:

Ask for clarifying questions up front.

  • What will a successful finished product look like?
  • When do you need this?
  • Do you want to review a draft at that time, or a final product?
  • Is there anyone I can speak with if I have questions?

Understand your workload.

  • Keep a running list of your assigned tasks and include status and estimated time to complete.
  • Talk with you manager or other stakeholders about priorities; don’t assume you know which items are the most critical.
  • If taking on a new task may interfere with other deliverables, raise the concern. (“This new Project B look like it will take a lot of time, is it ok if I don’t get Project A to you until next week?”)


  • If you are running behind, let someone know.  Not delivering on a deadline is usually much worse than setting a more reasonable schedule in the first place.
  • Ask for help when you get stuck.  Don’t get bogged down in trying to solve an unfamiliar problem by yourself, it is better to ask for five minutes of help than spend hours working an issue by yourself.

Above all else, remember that your job is to learn.  Take on assignments that will help your team and grow your experience, and try to learn from every mistake and challenge.


TIPS (The Intern Professional Series) Starts Again…

Join us for TIPS – The Internship Professional Series this summer. The internship series will provide tips and advice from experts in the Office of Personal and Career Development and employers for success before, during, and after the internship.  Also, the series will help prepare you for the internship, and develop your professional self and the skills most sought-after for life after college.

Real World Reality Bites

Entering the “real world” can be scary, exciting, and filled with expectations.  Perhaps, you are setting high expectations for yourself starting the first day on the job.  Having high expectations are great; however, realize that this is your first job and you will make a mistake or two.  And, it is okay.  Employers do not expect perfection.  Simply do your best and work hard.  Be confident in your Wake Forest preparation for life after college.  To ease some of the stress, the OPCD’s WFU alums share their “rookie mistakes” and advice for starting the new job after college.  

Here are their bites of reality:

Allison McWilliams Allison McWilliams (’95, English and Spanish), Ph.D., Director, Mentoring and Alumni Personal and Professional Development

I think the biggest “rookie mistake” I made was trying to live up to other people’s expectations (or what I perceived were their expectations) for what a “successful” career/life should look like. In doing so, I really wasted a lot of time and energy that I should have been putting towards my own dreams. The only successful life/career/path is the one that fulfills YOU, the one that makes YOU happy, the one that aligns with YOUR goals and values and interests. Don’t waste time trying to live someone else’s life. You only get one life, and you get to create it every single day.


 Patrick SullivanPatrick Sullivan (’93, Politics), Associate Director, Career Education and Coaching

Talk to people. When you start your first job, it’s easy to go to the extremes. Some people feel overwhelmed with all of their new responsibilities, while others quickly assume that they have the the job all figured out in the first few weeks. The reality is that neither situation is accurate. How can you manage your way out of these situations? Talk to the people around you about their experience. Ask your new colleagues how they overcame their first job jitters. If you see someone who is highly successful in your organization, ask them for advice on what made them so successful.


DeeDe Pinckney (’09, Communication), Assistant Director, Marketing and Communication

I wish I’d taken more advantage of being new! My advice is to play the new employee card and meet with everyone and anyone you’d like. Ask members of your organization that you will work with on a day-to-day and those you may not about their careers, company culture, and interests. It’s never too soon to start building solid relationships.


WFU Business Schools - Undergrads 8-29-11Caleigh McElwee (’02, Psychology) MS/EdS, NCC – Associate Director, Undergraduate Market Readiness & Employment

In college, I managed a listserv where I sent colorful emails to market group events. When I got to the workplace and was tasked to send team communications, I knew enough to lose the color and the pictures, but I used ALL CAPS and underline to emphasize an upcoming deadline. I thought I was being helpful; my aim was to make it pop amongst a sea of email communications. However, I received an earful from an older colleague who felt like I was SHOUTING at him. Be mindful that email and text lack tone and can be misinterpreted. Learn about generational differences in the workplace, and ask your colleagues for their communication preferences.


Wake Forest headshots Tuesday, August 5, 2014.  Wake Forest Fellow Zach Garbiso ('14).Zach Garbiso (’14, Psychology), Presidential Fellow in the OPCD

Find what works for you.  As the youngest person in the office, you’ll be given a lot of advice (sometimes conflicting) from a variety of individuals.  While this is a great thing, it can also be extremely overwhelming.  In instances where you feel overwhelmed, take a deep breath, say “thank you,” and then think about whether that insight will work for you or not.


Jessica LongJessica Long (’05, Communication), Assistant Director, Career Education and Coaching

It’s okay not to know everything about your job on the first day. Nobody knows everything on the first day. Be patient with yourself as you figure out what your role is. Ask questions if there is something you don’t know or something you don’t understand. Talk to the people around you and build relationships with your coworkers. Also, remember that your first job out of college is probably not going to be your forever job. Think of it as a learning experience and a springboard for your future jobs. Make the most of it by learning and doing as much as you can. You’ll find this will serve you tremendously well as you move forward in your career.


APhippsAshley Graham Phipps (’08, Political Science; MAM ’09), Employer Relations Coordinator

Don’t be afraid to say no.  As a young professional, you often feel that you need to be accommodating to everyone and everything.  If you say yes to everything, you will stretch yourself thin and run yourself into the ground.   Say yes to a lot of things, but be confident in yourself to say no.