The following is a conversation with one of our favorite Wake Forest career coaches, Mike Crespi (MBA ’95). Below, he shares the background of his own career journey and key tips for young professionals on navigating their path from college to the professional world.

Mike Crespi

Mike Crespi (MBA ’95) talks to students at an event.

Tell us about your current job role and how you ended up at Wake Forest.

I get to come to work and coach and mentor students.

As a member of the Wake Forest University School of Business Market Readiness and Employment (MRE) team, I focus on providing career development coaching to juniors, seniors, and pre-experience graduate students.  In my role, I serve as the liaison to the undergraduate program as their MRE partner.  My industry focus is financial services and working closely with my colleagues in the Office of Personal & Career Development (OPCD), I support efforts to provide industry and interview preparation for internships.

In 2004, I joined the Wake Forest School of Business in the Graduate Career Management Center where I sought job and internship opportunities for students, corporate partnerships, and assisted in coaching for fulltime MBA students.  This role expanded by connecting with organizations, alumni, and parents throughout the country to understand their talent needs and recruiting process to identify opportunities where Wake Forest talent from undergraduate and graduate programs could be part of the solution.  Working directly with alumni, I have been part of the Wake on Wall Street (WOWS) alumni affinity group.

I am a parent of two sons who are both Wake Forest graduates (2012 History and 2014 Mathematics and Computer Science) plus my daughter who graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in 2017 Psychology.  At the University of New Hampshire, I earned a BA in History and a BS in Business Administration and earned an MBA in the Wake Forest University Winston-Salem evening program.

I get to make a difference.

What work experiences did you have prior to your career coaching role at Wake Forest?

Prior to joining Wake Forest, I had several merchandising roles at Jordan Marsh Company in Boston, held multiple marketing/business development roles at Champion Athletic/Hanes/Sara Lee Corporation, served as vice president of sales and marketing for two family-owned and operated companies, and entered into an entrepreneurial venture.  In the community, I served in various coaching and board roles for Northwest Forsyth American Little League and West Central Community Center Basketball and currently umpire and referee.  During these work and volunteer experiences, I defined/discovered my desire and skills and am committed to and consider it a privilege to coach and work on behalf of young adults and youth through Wake Forest University and sports.

What are 1-2 of the biggest challenges that you see people struggling with in their post-college professional lives? What advice would you give to them?

Interestingly, the two biggest challenges I see are

  • dealing with ambiguity
  • how to manage up, down, and all around

You have to go find the answers and all the information is not available to you.  Decisions need to be made and you don’t have all the information – and you are afraid to make a mistake.  What am I going to do for a hobby?  How do I make new friends?  What do I do with all this spare time?  What does the future look like?  A car?  Registration? Taxes? What?? As I have heard it referred to, there is a definite avoidance of “adulting” – no thank you, where is the syllabus?

I say go for it.  Set some goals, take some risk (nothing permanent), travel, discover, and learn what you like and don’t like.  Read.

Manage up, down, and all around…what?  How do I talk and work with groups of people that are older, have families, don’t have families, are the boss or the boss’ boss? How do I find friends, mentors, and what is the difference between work relationships and personal relationships? Who are the decision-makers? The influencers?

One of my favorite stories involved my first professional job.  I was excited to be the Department Manager of Housewares at Jordan Marsh Company.  What a day – I was going to hold my first staff meeting – staff that reported to me!  With ages ranging from high teens to older 50s/maybe 60s, it was a little scary.  It didn’t take long for one of the sales people to ask me…what kind of manager are you going to be? One that listens and learns from us or … Needless to say, I learned from the best early in my career.

Be humble yet confident.  You have a lot to learn but at the same time, you have much to contribute.  Find mentors – plural.  Network.  You are never too old to learn and be brave – ask questions.

What are 1-2 strategies that you would advise young professionals to incorporate as they make the transition from college to life after college?

Listen and learn as much as you can about roles, take an interest in other people and what they do, put yourself out there and be willing to accept that you aren’t the expert (and may not always be right), provide options as solutions and make your recommendations, define who you are and use facts to support your opinions, track your contributions/results, work for people and organizations that are a fit, be happy and if you are not, take control of your career.  Over the years, you will spend more time at work than anywhere else so make sure the content and lifestyle align with your expectations.

Listen to your gut – it is right more often than not.  You can justify anything.

This is Part One of our Q&A with Career Coach Mike Crespi. Coming next month in Part Two: Mike shares his best advice for translating a liberal arts degree into a “business-oriented” job in management, consulting, or other fields. And, he provides tips for making a career change.