6 Simple Ways to Grow Professionally This Summer

Whether you’re busy at an internship or looking to score one in the future, these six tips from Danny Damron, assistant dean of experiential learning and professional development, will help you get a head start on preparing for the workforce in whatever profession you choose.

Meet Danny

Danny Damron on a seven-day mountain biking trip from Durango, Colorado to Moab, Utah in 2019. (Danny Damron)

Damron has always thrived learning from experience, whether that was building a Huckleberry Finn raft as an 8-year-old, getting his teenage “sea legs” on a lobster boat off the coast of Maine, being tear-gassed while watching a mass protest in South Korea, completing an internship in Puerto Rico teaching English as a second language, or partnering with his wife in raising three children while they were both getting doctorate degrees. He has spent the past 20 years helping students get the most out of their internships and teaching assistant positions.

Damron believes internships provide unique opportunities for learning and growth and hopes students will make the effort to seek out and apply for internship experiences. To help students better for and get more out of their internships, he offers these six tips.

1. Prioritize with a time-management matrix

Working in a full-time internship requires you to fill 40 hours with meaningful work each week. It can be easy to get caught up in less important tasks or allow some things to take more time than they should. To make the most of your time in a professional setting, you can use the Time Management Matrix developed by Stephen Covey, bestselling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The matrix consists of four cells: Urgent/Important, Urgent/Not Important, Not Urgent/Important, and Not Important/Urgent, and organizing your daily activities in each box may prove to be a revealing exercise.

For example, you may find that activities like answering email or checking social media, which so often carry the illusion of urgency, are eating away at your time, while items are actually more important to you in the long run, like preparing for graduate school or applying for internships online, are slipping through the cracks. The matrix may be a great first step in restructuring your schedule to reflect your true priorities.

Time management matrix popularized by Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

2. Craft and refine a purpose statement, and test it out in professionally relevant settings

A purpose statement is a tool to create professional connections on resumes, in job interviews, while networking at events, on social media platforms, and many other avenues. It’s a short, 3-5 sentence opener that describes you and your professional interests in a way that invites a potential employer or colleague to give you a second look and say, “Tell me more.”

A solid purpose statement has three parts: professional intention, reflection, and connection.

Professional intention is what you’re passionate about and what you ultimately want to do with your career. For example, a sociology student might say, “I find it rewarding to understand and create solutions to common problems that face society.”

The professional intention piece of your statement doesn’t need to be niche, because what you want to do professionally can apply to different areas of work. For example, a student wanting to solve societal problems could become a social worker, but also a lawyer, legislator, nonprofit leader, therapist, or psychologist.

Reflection means articulating how your experiences or your understanding of a professional challenge have brought you to the place you are now. The same sociology student might say, “My sociology training at BYU has given me XYZ opportunities to learn and use the tools to help me solve problems.”

Connection is the “clickbait” part of your purpose statement. By finding a challenge you have in common with your potential employer/colleague, you can have a further conversation that will lead to professional connection. The sociology student might say, “I’m eager to apply what I’ve learned to help families come out of poverty,” or “I want to use my training to help low-income students.”

You can also approach the connection part of your purpose statement using an unanswered question you’re pursuing the answer to, a question you may have in common with another professional. For example, the sociology student may have the question, “How do we help people of ethnic minorities afford housing?” or “How do we improve racial relations between students in academia?” Effectively introducing a question that’s important to you will allow you to join forces with someone who is trying to solve a similar problem, or at least get some helpful direction on your career path.

3. Ask for advice, not feedback

Photography by Gabriel Mayberry /BYU © BYU PHOTO 2017

When asking colleagues, employers, or future employers how you can improve, it’s more effective to ask for advice than feedback. Recent studies published in the Harvard Business Review found that when professionals were asked to give feedback on an employee or applicant’s performance, their comments were vague and generally focused on praise. When asked to give advice, the same professionals gave more specific, actionable items for improvement.

That’s because, when people are asked to give feedback, they focus on evaluating a past performance, rather than on looking forward to future improvements, according to the authors of the study. When asked to give advice, people will focus on the future development of the person being examined, rather than on past mistakes the person can no longer change.

Make it a point to ask current or potential employers for advice, and then implement their suggestions.

4. Talk to people who are successful in your field about how they got there

David Hart’s Class in the Marriott School of Business, 2017 © (Nate Edwards, BYU PHOTO)

You can learn a lot from successful people indirectly. When networking or at another professional event, it may be less effective to ask a professional in your field for direct advice, and more effective to ask them about their own personal journey. People are often comfortable talking about themselves, and you may pick up some of your best advice for finding jobs, interviewing, acquiring skills, and more through the personal stories of those who are currently doing what you’d like to do yourself someday.

5. Role play

It’s awkward, but effective. Prepare for interviews, first meetings with supervisors, public speaking assignments, and other potentially terrifying professional situations by practicing them beforehand. It’s best to practice answering and asking questions with someone you don’t know, or even someone who will make the experience more difficult (like an obnoxious uncle). You can set up a mock interview with a mentor through BYU Career Services here. Simulating the interview environment will allow you to access how you perform under pressure and help you target areas for improvement.

6. Read a professional development book or series of articles

Choose a specific strength you want to develop — like leadership, public speaking, conflict resolution — and read up on it! Need to know where to start? The Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University surveys employers about skills they wish college graduates had and they publish annual reports with college recruiting trends. Traits employers said will be important for students in the wake of a global pandemic include persistence, adaptability, the ability to balance work and protect personal time, and a positive attitude.

Books we’d recommend are:

Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better

What the Best College Students Do

The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills

Just Listen

Get Started

Put these professional development tips into action with an internship! Check out what internships are available in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences here.

College Invites Collaboration with Three New Assistant Deans

The College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences has three new assistant deans: Danny Damron (BA ’92) for experiential education and professional development, Jordan Karpowitz (BA ’92) for communications and external relations and Lita Little Giddins (BA ’92, MSW ’95) for diversity, collaboration and inclusion.

Outgoing Dean Ben Ogles says he wants to establish a solid team for incoming Dean Laura Padilla-Walker to support her in moving the work of the college forward.

The appointments change the landscape of the dean’s office. The assistant dean position formerly held by Scott Dunaway, director of Washington Seminar who retired, has been expanded from overseeing internships to improving experiential learning in the college generally. Communications and diversity and inclusion were elevated to assistant dean positions.

Padilla-Walker says the reconfiguration of college leadership will invite more collaboration.

“For example, under this new system, all of the college leadership will be informed to some degree regarding experiential education, communications, and diversity and inclusion, where in the past we have been a bit more siloed,” she says. “This will take two things we care about deeply — experiential education and diversity and inclusion — and allow the vision of these efforts to be incorporated and communicated in a way that will influence everything we do at the college level.”

Damron, the new assistant dean for experiential education and professional development, says he wants to improve the way students view internships.

Danny Damron recently joined the Dean’s Office as assistant dean for experiential education and professional development.

“Primarily, my focus is on repurposing and recalibrating the internship experience in ways that make it more valuable, so what a student gets out of the internship adds value to their growing professional direction,” he says.

Damron formerly was responsible for internships in the BYU College of Humanities. He has a doctorate degree in political science from Purdue University and taught in the political science department at BYU for four years, during which time he established the Scottish Parliament internship program. His professional background also includes directing the international centers at Utah Valley University and Oregon State University.

Damron says he wants to help students be proactive in developing transferrable skills and be able to articulate the relevance of those skills to future employers, rather than just checking an internship off on a resume. He believes students in the college have unique knowledge from social sciences they can use to add value to their internship experiences, beyond making copies and calls.

Damron sees experiential learning as a collaborative effort incorporating faculty and curriculum in the college.

Karpowitz’s role of communications and external relations was created to increase the college’s visibility, according to Ogles. Karpowitz has a degree in communications with an emphasis in public relations and brings 25 years of public relations and marketing communications experience to the role. She hopes to be effective in sharing the stories of human connection that emerge from faculty research and student learning.

Jordan Karpowitz is the assistant dean for communications and external relations.

“Across the many departments and schools in the college, there is a common thread of studying how humans interact with each other and with institutions — how we care for each other and learn from each other— that unites the disciplines,” says Karpowitz. “Focusing on these similarities will help create a stronger purpose across the college that will better unite students, faculty, and alumni in accomplishing the mission of the university and the aims of a BYU education.”

Karpowitz’s role will focus on building the college brand across student, faculty, and alumni audiences. She is eager to develop more ways to help people engage with social sciences and understand how the disciplines can benefit them in their careers and their lives.

Karpowitz’s professional background includes working for technology, pharmaceutical, and consumer products corporations. She also has several years of agency experience and has retained her own clients including Northwestern Mutual and Coursera.

Ogles said elevating Giddins’ role of diversity and inclusion to assistant dean was an important strategic move.

“Promoting Giddins to an assistant dean is a sign that our executive team wants to communicate that this is an important part of our college,” Ogles says. “Diversity, collaboration, and inclusion needs to be a central focus of everything we do.”

Lita Little Giddins is the assistant dean for diversity, collaboration, and inclusion.

Giddins joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at age eighteen and served in the England Leeds Mission between 1986-1987. She has a bachelor’s degree in socio-cultural anthropology and a master’s degree in social work from Brigham Young University and is a licensed clinical social worker. She says coming to BYU was an answer to heartfelt prayer.

“I did pray that Father in Heaven would use all the bits of me, all the parts of me: my race, my culture, my ethnicity, my gender, my education, my life experiences, my conversion to the gospel, mission experiences — every single thing — for His use,” she says. “I wanted to continue as we do in the mission field, which the world is, to help in the gathering and to invite people to come closer to Jesus.”

Giddins says pain she has experienced in the past prepared her for her role.

“I know that everyone has healing to do,” she says. “That’s how I approach this work, that’s how I approach individuals. Especially when it gets hard. There is healing that needs to happen in the lives of individuals, in the hearts and souls of individuals.”

Stepping outside her comfort zone to accept the position of assistant dean helps Giddins empathize with students, who are often asked to do hard things.

When asked what strengths she brings to her new position, Giddins laughed. “I bring Jesus,” she says with a smile. “He is my strength.”