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Professional Confessional

A blog providing tips and resources for life after college

Professional Development

Which Graduate School Program is Right for Me?

Shan WoolardOPCD Expert Contributor – Shan Woolard, Assistant Director of Career Education and Counseling

Once you have decided that you want to go to graduate school, determining which graduate school program is right for you can be a daunting task.

Begin by identifying schools and programs in your discipline using resources such as Petersons.com and gradschools.com. Every April, US News and World Report publishes a guide of the top ranked graduate programs in various disciplines. Use it to determine the best programs in your discipline. If you are applying to a pre-professional program, such as medical school, law school, counseling, clinical psychology, and physical therapy among others, make sure you are applying to an accredited program. Find out the accrediting body for your discipline (for example, for clinical psychology it is the American Psychological Association), and check out its website for a list of accredited graduate programs.

After you have an initial list of programs in your discipline, start narrowing your choices by evaluating the following factors:

Reputation: Is the program a leader in the discipline? Is it necessary to go to a highly ranked program to get a job in the discipline, or will the degree itself, from any institution, be sufficient?

Curriculum: Does the program offer the specific courses or concentrations in which you are interested? For example, if you wish to pursue school counseling, make sure you are applying to counseling programs with a school counseling track.

Age of program: Decide if the age of the program is important to your career goals. Newer programs might have the latest technology, while older programs will have more alumni for networking.

Size: Do you prefer a program with more students and faculty or fewer? Larger programs tend to be more well-known. Smaller programs are able to provide students with more individual attention.

Location: Do you want to be in an urban or rural community? Close to family and friends? Are you planning on staying in the area after you graduate? Sometimes the nature of the field determines your location. For example, most marine biology programs are located on the coast.

Online or in person: More and more programs that can, such as library science, computer science, and business administration, are offering degrees through online programs. Online programs allow students more flexibility, and are great for motivated, self-starters. Classroom programs provide more structure and allow student to interact with their classmates more easily.

Where you can get accepted: Do you have the necessary GPA and test scores to be a competitive applicant?

Cost: What is the tuition for the program? Check with individual programs and universities to see if they offer tuition waivers, scholarships, or financial aid. Determine what your living expenses will be and how much debt you are willing to incur.

Atmosphere: Some programs require interviews, but if you are applying to a program that does not, try to schedule a visit to get a “feel” for the place. If possible, sit in on a class and meet with students and faculty. Although you will spend the majority of your time in the school or department, explore the rest of the campus and community. Can you picture yourself there for the length of your graduate program?



Is Grad School the Answer?

Tiffany WaddellOPCD Expert Contributor – Tiffany Waddell, Career Counselor

Short answer: maybe.  If you are thinking about graduate school, you are not alone.  Nearly one third of Wake Forest seniors will enter a program after graduation.  Deciding on a program and when to enter is a big decision.  Before you send off those applications and secure your enrollment spot, it’s a good idea to ask yourself a few questions and take time to reflect on whether or not graduate school is the appropriate next step for you.

The first question I ask most students who meet with me to chat about researching graduate programs and application prep is simple: why?  For each person, the answer is different.  Immediate entry into graduate school may give you a leg up in your professional field of interest.  Many times graduate or professional school will afford you a number of specialized skills or certifications and help propel you into the next step of that particular industry.  For example – if you want to be an attorney, then at some point, attending law school, succeeding in your studies, and passing the Bar exam is a pre-requisite before you can attempt to practice law.  In other fields, a graduate degree may be required simply for candidacy of application to apply.  However, this is not always the case.  Some graduate programs are more likely to admit an applicant who has work experience. It is important to identify the norm or standard of education in a given field – and do a bit of research to find out whether or not graduate school immediately after college is a necessary or realistic goal.

Another big question to ask yourself: are you ready?  By ready, I simply mean are you ready to continue attending school for several months or years?  As you approach graduation, you may find that you would like a break from school to recharge before you pursue another academic program.  Perhaps you would like to gain some “real world” experience and explore the world of work a bit before deciding which field of study is the best one for you. Maybe you would like to travel the world or give back in the form of volunteering or service work.

Whatever you decide, remember that the choice is yours.  Family, friends, and other influencers will not be attending classes (or work) for you.  Adjusting to a new academic or work environment and geographic location is a major life transition and certainly worth consideration and intention.

The Professional Confessional launches its third series – Graduate School Series.  You have many questions. Be prepared – follow the blog to get your questions answered and make an informed decision.  Learn more about the ins and outs of graduate school application prep, and how to make the most of your post-graduate studies.  For now, take some time to reflect as to whether or not graduate school right after college is the right choice for you and visit the Office of Personal & Career Development to discuss your options.

Explore, Repeat

Still not decided on a career? Keep exploring. Career exploration does not end with the interview, graduation, or the first job. You want to continue to research companies and individuals within your field(s) of interest. This will help you stay current on industry trends, industry or company initiatives, and who’s who in the industry. Informational interviewing is a great way to learn from industry insiders and build a network within your career interest, not to ask for an internship or job. If you went to the career fair, you have already experienced one form of informational interviewing by exploring a career, discovering skills employers seek, practicing your pitch, and connecting with employers in the field. You want to repeat the process through other methods such as phone conversations or meetings. Be prepared when speaking with industry experts. Keep the phone conversation or meeting brief. Their time is valuable. When you contact them via phone or e-mail, state clearly your interest in their field and express your curiosity to learn more. Schedule a date and time most convenient for their schedule.

To prepare, follow these steps:

  • Know yourself. What are your interests, skills, qualifications, and goals? Be able to articulate them.
  • Prepare a pitch. You are not trying to hard sell yourself. However, you never know where this bridge may lead you. Be succinct allowing 1-2 minutes for your introduction to why you are interested in the field and career goals. Know what you want to take away from the conversation. Use this worksheet as a guide to develop your pitch.
  • Make a list of questions. You want the questions to be insightful and relevant to their experience, work, and industry.
  • Close the conversation.  Always ask if they recommend other individuals to interview about the career field. If they give you names, follow through. Promptly contact those individuals following the same steps listed here.
  • Be professional. Send a thank you after the phone conversation or meeting.
  • Follow up. Stay connected with your contact. Send an update on your exploration, and interviews with contacts made from their recommendations. Share information you find on industry news and trends.
  • Track your contacts. Use this networking tracking tool to keep track of your opportunities and contacts.

The Interview

Last week, you attended the career fair and connected with a few key employers. After the fair, you followed up (within 24-48 hours; I hope) by thanking them for their time and expertise, and sharing your interest in and qualifications for their company. You spoke with them by phone or during an information session. You discover they were impressed with you and your skill set.  You receive an invitation to interview. You are excited, yet nervous. (Gulp) Now what do you do? How do you prepare for an interview?

Watch the video to find out how best to prepare for an interview.

For detailed information, read further…

Before the interview:

1)      Research the company’s website. Knowing the employer thoroughly will help set you apart during the interview process. In addition to reviewing the employer’s website, useful information can be found by searching recent news and articles of the organization from one of our recommended Career Exploration Websites such as Glassdoor or Hoover’s Online and Business Source Complete, available through the ZSR Library’s online databases.

2)      Prepare…

  • Responses to questions they may ask you during the interview.  Employers will ask general questions and behavioral questions.
  • Questions you want to ask the company about the position and information not readily available on the company website or career exploration sites.

3)      Practice interviewing…ask friends, OPCD counselors, and use mock interviews to practice.  Gather feedback on your content and delivery. Another resource is interview stream – an online format for interview practice.

During the interview:

1)      Be…

  • Early.  Arrive 10-15 minutes before the scheduled interview time.
  • Professional. Appearance is important. It is best to be conservative than too casual. Offer a firm handshake when introducing yourself. An initial judgment to hire you will be made within the first 30 seconds of meeting you.
  • Confident and relaxed. You don’t want to appear fidgety and nervous.
  • Smile. Show interest and enthusiasm for the position and company.

2)      Answer questions. Ask for clarification if needed. You can request a few seconds to gather your thoughts before answering a question.

3)      Ask questions related to the position and company. Remember, don’t ask questions when answers can be found on their website unless you are seeking clarification.

After the interview:

1)      Close the interview with a firm handshake.

2)      Ask about the timeline for hiring a candidate.

3)      Follow up. Send a thank you letter to everyone who interviewed you expressing interest in the position, connecting a few specifics of the conversation, and how you make a good fit and meet qualifications they seek in a candidate.

Stand Out

Send a thank you note to all employers whom you met at the career fair within 24-48 hours.  It could be the difference between receiving a job or internship interview or not.  If you don’t land an interview, you made an important connection…a bridge to life after college. These connections may become future references, networking connections, or a potential hiring manager.  As a Wake Forest recruiter once stated, “It is an unbelievably small world and you never know when paths will cross again, so it is wise to build instead of overlook or burn bridges.”

Here are a few tips to writing a thank you note:

  1. Connect…to what you talked about during your conversation at the career fair.  Reminding the employer of specific details from the conversation shows your interest in the position and your eagerness to learn. Reiterate your interest in the company and how your skills align with company goals.  If you attended an employer info session, mention it and something you learned from attending.
  2. Proofread…your note.  Employers have found spelling and grammatical errors which can hinder a candidate in the process.
  3. Forget something?  Include your contact information and attach your resume. Be sure your resume is up-to-date and highlights skills aligned with what they are seeking.
  4. Timely…send the note within 24-48 hours.  This will set you apart from the competition.

You want to be sure they remember you.  You don’t want to be the candidate who didn’t follow up with a thank you note.  You can send an e-mail thank you note to help meet the 24-48 hours deadline.  However, follow it up with a more detailed handwritten or typed note (always sign the letter).  Here are a few sample thank you notes.

Finally, this type of correspondence shows professionalism and maturity; it is not something everyone does, and you may be surprised at the responsiveness from employers. This helps build your brand and reputation.

The Pitch

Before going to the career fair, prepare an elevator pitch for introducing yourself to company representatives.  You have only minutes (if not seconds) to make a positive impression.  You want to be able to answer the question (even if they don’t ask it; they will be thinking it) – Why should we hire you?

Here are five tips for developing and delivering your pitch:

1)      Research – Learn more about the companies you want to meet at the fair. Search the companies and identify the following:  Current initiatives (What is the company doing?); Industry (What is happening in the industry?); Business lines (What are some of their business lines?); Location (Be familiar with where the headquarters and other offices are located.); and Skills (Review current job postings for desired skills and qualifications.  How do you align with whom they are seeking?)  Also, you want to determine their values and how your values and skills align with the company.

2)      Outline – Create an outline of key points you want to hit when delivering your pitch.  Focus on your educational, professional, and personal accomplishments and how they align with the company’s goals.  How are you going to help them reach their goals?  Know your skills, interests, qualifications, and goals.  Be able to articulate them in 1-2 minutes.  Use this worksheet as a guide to develop your pitch.

3)      Practice – Practice, practice, and practice some more. It will help you remember what you want to say; however, don’t memorize.  You don’t want to sound like a robot spouting out data.  You want to be natural.  Deliver your pitch in a mirror and to a friend.  Ask for feedback.  Remember… Smile and make eye contact.

4)      Prepare – Write down questions specific to the industry and the company’s work.  Not only do you want to sell your skills and qualifications; you want to discover more about the company.  Develop a list of questions to ask (if time allows).  Don’t ask questions when you can find the answers on their website unless you need clarification.  It will be apparent you have not done your homework.  You want to demonstrate initiative, preparedness, and interest in their company.

5)      Deliver – Approach the company’s table with a smile and exude confidence by making direct eye contact.  Speak clearly.  Introduce yourself with a firm handshake.  Use the representative’s name during the conversation to build rapport.  If the representative is speaking with another student, patiently wait to be acknowledged; speak with other students; or visit another employer and come back later.  At the end of the conversation, always thank the representative, and shake his/her hand before exiting.

Make the Most of the Career Fair

Tiffany WaddellOPCD Expert Contributor – Tiffany Waddell, Career Counselor

Whether you are a student exploring possible career options, or looking for your next internship or full-time job, the career fair is a great opportunity for all students!  It is only open to current students of the University, and you will get to: network with other career fair attendees, learn to answer the question, “Tell me about yourself,” learn about a myriad of career industries, and get comfortable attending career fairs and talking with recruiters.

Thinking about attending the career fair?

Check out this short video for tips to help you make the most of the career fair:

To learn more, read further for details and resources to help you prepare and make the most of your experience.

1. Dig for Info. Before you go, researching organizations of interest is a great way to strategize which representatives you may want to talk to, and you will have a point of reference for not only what the company does, but what values are of interest to them, and how your skill set may connect to a position there.

2. Meet & Greet. Arrive early, stay positive, and smile! The Career fair is an event that allows you to meet different company reps – many of which happen to be WFU alumni – and network.  Remember, networking is not about whether or not that person can give you a job or lead on the spot, but about the information you can gather to build your knowledge! Check out the networking and resume pages for more information about how to effectively market yourself on paper and out loud.  You can also stop by the office for resume review hours Monday – Thursday between 1:00 – 4:00 pm.

3. Dress the Part. First impressions are critical – and often begin with what you are wearing! Remember, you are marketing a product (you!) and at the career fair, you want to be memorable – in a good way.  Your outfit should be wrinkle and stain free, and you don’t want to wear too many accessories.  Bring a portfolio or folder to jot down notes and collect business cards. While we aren’t saying that you wear will get you the job, it will definitely give you a competitive edge. Here are a few examples of what to wear.

4. Say “Thank You.” For each employer that you meet, be sure to ask for a business card or jot down their contact information in your portfolio!  Sending a follow-up thank you note (via email is fine) within 24-48 hours is clutch!  This will not only show gratitude for them taking the time to talk with you, but will allow you to reference specific details from your conversation and further cement a lasting impression.



Explore, Discover, Practice, and Connect

No matter the class year, or job/internship search phase…The Fall Career Fair is for you!

Here are a few reasons why you should attend:

1)      Explore…what companies and industries recruit at Wake Forest University.  Log into or register with DeaconSource to read the list of companies attending the career fair.  Select specific companies of interest.  Seek information on a few different companies/industries.  Go with an open mind.  You may find an unexpected fit with a company not on your radar.

2)      Discover…what types of interns or job candidates they seek, and the skills they want interns and graduates to have as a competitive candidate.  Ask about the types of majors they seek…you may be surprised to find many employers hire all majors.  Gather information on internship and job opportunities.  Attend information sessions to gather additional information on the company such as company culture.  

3)      Practice…speaking with employers.  Deliver your elevator pitch…what do you have to offer the company and why should they hire you.

4)      Connect…with employers.  This is your opportunity to network with employers wanting to hire Wake Forest students.  You never know…you may meet an employer, make an impression, and open a door to an opportunity.  Many recruiters are Wake Forest alums, so it is a safe environment to connect with an employer.  You already share one common interest…being a Demon Deacon.

You may be asking…How do I prepare for the career fair?  What do I wear?  What do I say?

These are a few common questions all students have about preparing for the career fair.

The Professional Confessional launches its second series – Career Fair Series.   The career fair series will provide tips and advice from experts in the Office of Personal and Career Development for success before, during, and after the career fair.  Be prepared – follow the blog to get your questions answered and make the most of the career fair.

Explore, Discover, Practice, and Connect at the Fall Career Fair on Wednesday, September 18th from 12:00pm to 4:00pm in Benson 401.    

Diary of an Intern: Self Discovery and Reflection – Part 3

Congratulations to our Diary of an Intern series’ student blog contributors!  This month, they are completing their summer internships.  Their final post is a reflection on self discovery and experience as interns.  Therefore, I am giving them their own space to share what they learned about themselves and the skills developed during their internships.  Read their reflections in a 3-part series – Diary of an Intern:  Self Discovery and Reflection.

Let’s learn what Rachel discovered about herself and the experience in Senator Burr’s office in Washington, D.C.

Rachel LordLooking back on my internship, I could not have asked for a better experience on The Hill this summer. I have met wonderful people who have been supportive and helpful in my personal and professional development. Overall, my time in D.C. has prompted me to realize how capable I am of entering the working world, exceeding expectations, and positively contributing to an office.

After working in two different offices with disparate characteristics, I know I can excel in many professional environments based on positive feedback I have received. I also discovered that I am continually learning from others and from my own curiosity. Education does not end with a diploma, and I have experienced the benefits of keeping up with current events and reading analytical reports in my fields of interest. Listening and observing have also served me well as the small details can aid in making a personal connection, or ensure a long spreadsheet is correct.

On a personal level, I have discovered I can manage working full time while taking classes and engaging in the D.C. community through volunteering. When I graduate in December and enter the working world, I feel prepared to engage in the workplace as well as involve myself in activities that contribute to my energy levels and productive lifestyle. For example, I often met with friends to run after work or to visit one of the many museums filled with American history. Over the past eight months, I have come to know D.C. as home and have enjoyed living in the city filled with people aspiring to make a positive impact on society.

Because I have been in both the private sector and the public sphere, I am now able to compare the two environments. I see how the work differs, how it overlaps, and how the two sectors work together. In my future position after graduation, I will incorporate the skills I have gained and improved into many of my office practices. For example, I will continue to think strategically and anticipate additional information needed by my supervisor.

After eight months of interning, I would offer a few pieces of advice for those looking to have a great work experience. The first would be to master the art of timing. Each person has different priorities in the office. Recognizing this is important in order to find the right time to ask a question or present work. On the other hand, when a supervisor has an urgent task, it is important to prioritize and act accordingly. The other piece of advice came from a D.C. mentor who said to be open and honest in personal and professional capacities. This applies not only to being open when considering the ideas of others, but also being open to sharing your ideas and having a dialogue about them.

Knowing I have communicated and worked well with others, solved problems, and analyzed situations, I will enter my future job position with confidence and eagerness to effectively contribute to my colleagues and organization. I will continue to use the skills I have built and work to improve upon them by asking for feedback from supervisors and mentors.

Thanks for reading!

~Rachel Lord, ’13 – Politics and International Affairs Major and History and Entrepreneurship Minors

Intern at the office of Senator Richard Burr

New Year: New You

Welcome new and returning students!  Happy New Year!  It’s the beginning of a new academic year – an opportunity to start fresh.  You haven’t written a paper, taken a quiz or test (maybe), or received a grade yet.  Start by setting intention for this semester and year.  Begin with the end in mind.  Learn from your past mistakes and missed opportunities.  Make some resolutions…err…set some SMART goals.  Then, reflect on your set intentions and goals.  To help set the course for a New Year – New You, follow these three simple steps:

1.      Be Intentional.  First, leave the past in the past.  Move forward.  Think about what you will do differently as a result of past failures.  You registered for classes to fulfill divisional / major requirements or for general interest.  You joined a club or group.  Why?  What do you intend to learn and gain from these courses and experiences?  What do you hope to gain from them?  How are you going to be intentional in your skill development and selection of courses, activities, and career path?  Consider answering these questions before getting too deep into the semester.  You will have a better grasp of what you intend to learn, develop, and accomplish.

2.      Write SMART Goals.  They will be your guide to the results you want by the end of the year.  If a year is too overwhelming to plan, chunk it into semesters.  Here are a few questions to consider before developing your SMART goals:  What do you want to accomplish in the fall semester and spring semester?  What do you want to accomplish by end of the year?  When you look back at the end of the semester (fall and spring) and year, 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?  I recommend setting 2-3 goals per semester and 1-2 goals for the year.  Consider focusing on areas such as academic coursework – the knowledge and skills you want to learn, extracurricular activities – the skills you want to develop and the leadership position you want to attain, and personal/career goals – the internship or job you want this summer.  Need help writing goals?  Use the SMART goal worksheet as a guide.  Share these goals with an advisor, counselor, or mentor so that s/he can help you develop a plan for achieving them.

3.      Reflect.  At the end of each semester, spend some time reflecting on your courses, extracurricular activities, and experiences.  Reflect upon your intention and goals set for these areas.  To help guide the reflection process, print or download the reflection exercise worksheet.  Upon completion of the reflection exercise, you may need to adjust your semester and/or annual goals based on the information gathered about yourself, courses, and activities.  If needed, repeat step two and revise your goals.  Goals do not have to be static.  They can be modified as plans change.

Best wishes on a successful and productive  semester and year!