Inquire Your Way to Excellence

134031979“This is like a TED talk,” quipped Andrew Stern, W’10, eliciting laughs from the audience. On Friday, March 22, I went into Stern’s talk expecting some sound advice, but I came away with much more than my initial expectations.

As the former co-chairman of Wharton Alumni Relations Council, Stern was invited back by the council and the Alpha Kappa Psi fraternity to share his experiences working for Deloitte and Bloomberg as a speaker in the Aspire to Excellence Speaker Series. His primary topic of the day was how to become indispensable in internships and first-time jobs, through the power of relentless inquiry and the virtue of patience.

Stern, who currently heads up leadership, learning and diversity at Bloomberg, divided his presentation about internships into three sections: before, during and after.

He suggested to the audience that it is essential to have objectives in mind prior to starting an internship. To illustrate his point, he used an image of Detroit Red Wings player, Johann Franzén, holding up the Stanley Cup; like a hockey team, an individual should plan to “win a trophy” and to allocate time accordingly toward success.

Andrew Stern, W’10

Andrew Stern, W’10

For maximizing the opportunities of an internship or job, Stern pointed to the concept of turning “sour lemons to lemonade.” An intern is bound to face rough patches and mistakes, but all is not lost as long as she learns from them and uses the experience for future improvement.

Expanding further on the topic of seizing opportunities, he discussed the value of “managing upward.” He argued that it is vital to take an active role in reporting to the manager and in soliciting feedback, referring to the phrase “inquire relentlessly,” used by Stew Friedman, Wharton’s Practice Professor of Management and director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project. From seeking assessment to offering others assistance, active inquiry plays a key role in becoming an indispensable intern. After all, internships are as much about acquiring knowledge as they are about gaining real world experience.

Stern ended his speech by stressing that patience is a must in the pursuit of achievements and “trophies.” The effects of relentless inquiry and endless improvement take time to become evident. Addressing the necessity and difficulties to making life plans, he paraphrased another of his favorite former teachers, Wharton Management Professor Adam Grant, “It is not about making the right decision, but about making the decision right.”

This interesting mix of pushing toward your goals while maintaining the humility and patience to learn from your mistakes resonated with me deeply. To me, it represents a healthy balance between ambition and scholarship. Thus, out of the countless analogies and the numerous quotations, Stern taught us something even more important than making a memorable impression in an internship or a first job—he taught us to inquire our way to excellence.

Editor’s note: Watch footage of Stern’s talk at Alpha Kappa Psi’s YouTube stream.

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