The following is a conversation with Brian Mendenhall, a career coach in the Office of Personal & Career Development at Wake Forest. Brian specializes in working with students interested in STEM, Health Professions, and Business Analytics. Below, read his advice for young professionals transitioning from college to career, and his tips for living and working in the San Francisco market.
Who are you? Tell us a little about who you are, your role, how you ended up at Wake Forest.
I am an Associate Director and career coach in the Office of Personal and Career Development. I work with prospective students through alumni at the University. The populations I specialize in are Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Pre-Health, and Business Analytics. At different times throughout my career I have had the keys to some pretty cool buildings; a major bank, the Pentagon, a district courthouse, several universities, to name a few. The only job where I didn’t have the keys to the building was a local middle school. Incidentally, the contacts I made there while I was teaching Engineering are what led me to Wake Forest.
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?
Communication and time management still seem to be the biggest challenges I see for most people. What is so great about our society today is that if there is anything we need to improve on, we can usually find multiple answers without leaving our desk. The problems I see with communication and time management are not easily answerable. It’s not so much that we don’t know how to communicate once we leave college, its that we have a hard time discerning who to communicate with to achieve the goal and how to connect with them.
The problem I see with time management is that it is very deceptive. Lots of people continue to invest to much time in maintaining networks but they aren’t actually networking. Just because you have 100 followers here and 800 connections there, and because you read about 250 acquaintances’ posts a day or like 100 more, this doesn’t actually mean you are keeping up with them or that you are networking. The cost benefit of social media networking vs. actual networking can be pivotal in both personal and professional success. Actual networking comes with feedback and offers of assistance and collaboration. Social media networking comes with a thumbs up but no investment.
What are 1-2 strategies that you would advise young professionals to incorporate as they make the transition from college to life after college?
Aside from your personal relationships, be purposeful in your professional relationships. There are a lot of people who played a role in your success. Don’t treat the transition like you are closing the door and leaving home to go be independent. It is very likely that the relationships you developed during college will play a big role in your future and you might just see some of those people again in a different capacity. If you do it right, college should always be a place you can reconnect instead of just a time in your life.
You do a lot of work with people who are interested in careers in San Francisco. Tell us about that market, Wake West, and the opportunities there?
San Francisco is a dynamic place. The experiences I have had with San Francisco have lead me to believe that they are ahead of the curve. They focus more on health, communication, relationships, future impact, and the environment. There is a wealth of IQ devoted to pursuing creative passions. Most of the new tech and new apps and new ideas are developed to help someone or a group of people do something better. There are all types of opportunities to get and be connected. For example, Wake Forest has a very active alumni group of over 400 in the Bay Area. Obviously the software development and maintenance sector is huge, but so are account manager and relationship manager roles. Folks in San Francisco are very technically talented, but they also are well skilled in the art of communication. That’s an environment Wake grads perform well in. Their liberal arts foundation provides very stable footing from which to communicate and solve problems.
What are some good tips for young alumni to best position themselves for these roles? Any other tips on living and working in San Francisco?
Get connected. Do whatever it takes to immediately invest in your new environment. Go to church, take a class, join a club, volunteer. Do what you did at Wake. Get involved.
Final thoughts: What do you wish that every young professional would know or be able to do?
Reach back. Spend an hour a year being a resource for a young college student. Contact your department and offer to do a Skype session on how you landed where you are or talk about who was a connection that helped your reach your goals, or how you get involved in your community. It’s so easy, and it really can make the difference in the success and happiness of one of your future alumni. It also raises the professional equity of your degree when other people see how many Wake Forest alumni are doing well in your city.