Monday, 14 April 2014

“Now what?” What a career change taught me about making “big” career decisions

Today's post is by Crystal Snyder, Coordinator for the University of Alberta's Undergraduate Research Initiative (URI).

As another academic year draws to a close, between the celebratory spirit of the end of classes and the hustle to prepare for final exams, there may be a question lingering on the minds of many students: "Now what?"

I remember being in the final semester of my undergrad degree, counting down all the "lasts" of my program, while growing more anxious at the fact that I had not yet made any firm decisions about what my first step would be post-graduation. The result was rather anticlimactic: I got a job doing research, and my transition from student to employee consisted primarily of moving from part-time research in one discipline to full-time research in another. I never regretted that decision, but even after several years of working in the field and finishing a graduate degree, I still hadn't answered all those deep, lingering questions about what I really wanted to do with my life.

I'd arrived back at "Now what?" and this time, the transition would not be so simple.

I'll spare you the details, but here are the highlights: nothing happened according to my "plan", the work I'm doing now is entirely different from anything I might have imagined I would do, and I have never been happier in my career as a result. That's the good news.

The bad news is that in between, there was no escaping the unsettled, uncertain feeling that I'd landed a starring role in a reality TV mash-up of Groundhog Day and Extreme Makeover: Career Edition. Okay, maybe it wasn't that bad...but I did learn a few things that may be helpful to those of you who are embarking on a career transition of your own:

The best laid plans often go awry...and that's okay.

If there's one thing I wish someone had told me at the beginning, it's that you can't always plan your way into a career. I thought I knew what I wanted to do, and I started planning for that, but I soon learned that planning for change is not the same as actually doing it. Taking the time to prepare and explore your options is important, but so is stepping out of your comfort zone and taking action.

The job I have now didn’t exist when I was making my plans, and when it did come up, I almost didn’t apply because I wasn’t sure I was ready. It's hard to imagine now how things would be different if I hadn't taken the chance anyway – I not only got the job, but I also learned that most people's careers do not follow a set, linear plan. I wasn't alone – phew!

Mentors matter.

One of the hardest things about transitioning out of my career in science was figuring out how to let go of my identity as a scientist. I had invested a lot in becoming a scientist, I was successful at it, and even though it was my choice to change directions, there was still a very real sense of loss, and no shortage of people who questioned the wisdom of what I was doing. Having a mentor who understood and encouraged the changes I was making helped a lot. I think mentors are important regardless of where you are in your career, but during a transition, they can really help challenge you to think about your career in different ways.

Learn from your new community of peers.

The inevitable flip side of losing one identity is that you have to find another. If I was no longer a scientist, what was I, exactly? Some days, I still feel like I'm figuring that out, but the breakthrough came last spring when I attended a conference with 40 of my peers who, on the surface, appeared to have very little in common. These were people from diverse academic backgrounds, working on every kind of student program you can think of, from career services to outdoor recreation – and yet, we all agreed on a common set of skills, values and attitudes that lie at the core of what we do. It made me realize that despite everything familiar I was leaving behind, I had a lot more in common with my new colleagues than our various job titles suggested.

The way you're accustomed to working isn't the only – or the best – way to work.

This might seem obvious, but keeping an open mind about workplace culture will go a long way. As a researcher, I was accustomed to a completely different way of working than the way I work now – and it was a culture shock at first. But having gained a great deal in the adjustment, I must admit I bristle whenever I see another article talking about how employers need to cater to the needs and expectations of Gen Y employees. Sure, maybe workplaces do need to evolve in some ways, but part of the transitional process is learning how to adapt to different ways of working, and I think there is tremendous value in embracing this as part of our professional development.

There are no "wrong" decisions – just different choices

I've realized now that my career has almost come full circle that much of the stress I felt about my career decisions as an undergrad was unnecessary. You'd have never convinced me of that back then, but I've come to view career decisions as a kind of Choose Your Own Adventure story, in which we're constantly faced with different options, but there's no one right way to get from one place to another. So even though the decisions you're facing right now may seem monumental, our careers are really the sum of many smaller choices we make throughout our lives – there's always room to change course if you get lost along the way.

So fear not – and good luck on your exams!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Even 30 minutes can make or break your career

Today's post is from Amy Roy Gratton, Experiential Learning Coordinator at CAPS: Your U of A Career Centre.

When it comes to engaging in career exploration activities time is important. Every year, CAPS organizes U of A Job Shadow Week, which relies on the willingness of professionals to volunteer their time to support students’ career development. This past February we recruited over 150 professionals to host over 220 students over four days for a workplace visit.

Job shadowing is unique in that it is pretty much an “all access pass” to the workplace. Students get to see the inner workings of an organization through the eyes of their host. Most of our job shadow hosts say they wished they had had these types of opportunities when they were students.

The benefits and outcomes are a great pay off for the amount of time U of A Job Shadow Week takes to coordinate. Recruiting enough people to volunteer as job shadow hosts is challenging and requires the ability to build relationships, negotiate and handle rejection. There are policies, protocols, red tape and administration to negotiate that students would have difficulty navigating through on their own. There are work schedules to arrange and requests to manage so that the job shadowing experience doesn’t become a one-sided activity that only benefits the student.

So as the facilitator of over 220 job shadow experiences imagine my frustration when I was copied on an email from a student to his host asking, “Is it alright if I come [for my job shadow] at nine-thirty as opposed to nine? I'm not much of a morning person and that extra half hour would help.” The sense of entitlement that came across in the e-mail from a student who “wanted to sleep in” made me wonder, was I like that at his age? Sadly, the answer is yes, I was.

I was the young “professional” who showed up two hours late on my second day at my first job because I slept in. At my internship I declined an invitation to an event for all staff members designed to build teamwork by hitting reply-all and saying, “Sorry, but I’d rather sleep in.”

The student’s email reinforced for me that sometimes job seekers can be their own worst enemy by sabotaging their own success. They don’t realize that by asking for these “exceptions” and compromises they may be compromising future professional relationships. His preference to sleep-in over seizing this learning opportunity could have cost him the breakthrough he needed in his career.

There could have been any number of scenarios as to why the host wanted the day to start at 9 a.m. as opposed to 9:30. Maybe the job shadow host had arranged a meeting with his senior administration team to participate in the job shadow process. Maybe he arranged to have all of his staff participate in a morning discussion on teamwork. Getting co-workers all together at the same time and place can be a challenge. I just look to my own colleagues as an example. There was only one other day in the whole month of March when all CAPS staff were available at the same time. One day! Seems ridiculous and yet it’s true!

In addition to coordinating people there are also hands-on activities that require time to plan and prepare. One of our job shadow hosts flew three students from Edmonton to High River to see how the flood of 2013 affected our province. (If you don’t think 30 minutes matters, I guess you’d have missed the flight!) Another host arranged to have the student try hands-on geological tasks, putting their science degree to work on the job. Another had a student develop a graphic design pitch for a client – a real-life client whom I’m also sure has a very busy schedule to maintain.

After getting over my initial frustration, I wondered how I might respond to the student. Do I express dismay and frustration at his seeming lack of professionalism or do I express empathy and show vulnerability based my own mistakes as a young professional? I chose to make it a teaching moment rather than react out of frustration. After calling the student to discuss the e-mail, I came to realize he genuinely didn’t think about how his request might affect others and didn’t think it really mattered. I encouraged him to call his job shadow host and explain the e-mail as an unintended oversight. I then e-mailed the host expressing my apologies for the student’s request. Lucky for the student, the job shadow host was quite forgiving. His response to my e-mail was, “It’s ok, I had a bit of a chuckle and he called me afterwards to discuss. I remember when I was 18 so I can’t be too critical.”

At CAPS we enjoy helping students learn how to present their best selves - from learning how to prepare for a job interview to presenting a professional image online. Even though some of the real life learning opportunities require students to fix their own mistakes, we are eager to guide them on how to do that effectively because we’ve all been there! Thankfully we can all learn from our mistakes so that every moment counts in our career – even if it’s as little as 30 minutes.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Don't miss Professional U: On and off-line

This week is Professional U at the U of A. CAPS is hosting a number of sessions and events to help U of A students prepare for the transition from the classroom to the workplace. In anticipation of Professional U, we ran three Google Hangouts last week, all of which you can watch on our YouTube channel: Presenting yourself professionally in interviews, Using social media to advance your career and Managing your online reputation.

Do you have a profile on LinkedIn? We are offering a session this afternoon called LinkedIn Basics specifically for LinkedIn newbies. And if you already have a LinkedIn profile, you can drop by SUB (main floor) on Tuesday, CCIS Career Centre on Wednesday or Humanities (second floor) on Thursday for a free LinkedIn profile review from one of our Career Advisors.

We are also offering sessions to help you hone your ‘off-line’ networking skills. Don’t miss Working the room while balancing your glass with class on Tuesday or Perfecting your networking skills through practice and feedback on Friday. Space for Friday’s session is limited to 25 people so you must pre-register for this event, which includes the chance to connect with real live employers and FREE FOOD!

Speaking of near-free stuff, in partnership with Goodwill we are running a pop-up boutique where you can purchase gently used clothing and accessories. We will be in SUB (main floor) on Tuesday, CCIS Career Centre on Wednesday and Humanities (second floor) on Thursday. And if you want to learn how you can create professional looking networking and job search tools for little to no cost, attend Presenting yourself professionally through document design and visual wordmarks on Thursday.

If you are an international student, we have a number of offerings specifically for you including presentations on pathways to permanent residency and on how the National Occupational Classification (NOC) system works; a panel of former U of A international students who stayed to work in Canada after completing their degree; and a workshop on intercultural communication.

And for graduate students, we are running two panels focusing on interviews – one on interviewing for academic positions and the other on industry interviews.

Professional U clearly has a lot to offer. Don’t miss it!

Friday, 28 February 2014

The many career paths to real estate

Today’s blog post comes from Jia Jia, Employer Relations Advisor with CAPS, who is currently completing an MBA.

When you read the title above, did you immediately think of that real estate agent, smiling and wearing nice suit and holding a SOLD sign, on the advertisement that was posted in your neighborhood? That’s what I imagined. But I’ve learned to think differently, thanks to the real estate class that was offered by the School of Business at University of Alberta. You don’t have to be a licensed real estate agent to have a successful career in the industry. Don’t take me wrong. Being an agent can be very lucrative and it offers a ton of autonomy, so it can be a great career option. But there is so much more.

A search by industry cluster on the ALIS website resulted in over 50 career profiles directly and indirectly related to real estate. You could become a lawyer who specializes in real estate and property law. You could become a web designer who works for a real estate developer. Or, you could become a financial analyst who works in commercial real estate lending for a major bank. Let’s take a look at a few different career profiles to get a more complete view of what this industry offers.

Appraisers provide professional valuation services to a range of clients including government, corporations, investors, developers, individual home owners, and so on. Appraisers usually provide a written report on the market value of a certain property their clients. These reports are used as the basis for mortgage loans, for setting the sale prices, for tax purposes, etc.

I’ve always been interested in the real estate industry, and becoming an appraiser seems to be a more straight forward path among other appraiser needs to have strong analytical thinking skills and well-rounded knowledge about the industry…depending on who you work with, this career offers great flexibility in terms of time management. The work itself is challenging and involves a good balance of office and field work…I also learned that a growing number of employers are looking to hire appraisers in the next few years, so the demand is high.

Qin Mei, part time student, Post Graduate Certificate in Real Property Valuation-AACI Fast Track Education Program, UBC

Real estate brokers/agents are mediators who charge a fee to facilitate a real estate transaction between seller and buyer. The real estate agents that we often see are those who work in the residential market. There are also brokers and agents who work in the commercial market (for retail, office, industrial properties, etc.) and many of them even work on deals across borders.

Developers purchase property and improve its use by building, developing, or redeveloping. Developers work closely with government to obtain permits for their projects. They work with banks to get financing and construction companies to build or renovate. And they work with marketing professionals and brokers who help them lease or sell newly developed properties. Developers are the people who are in charge of the entire process of development from beginning to end.

Depends on the discipline of real estate you are in, if you are an appraiser numbers are important, if you are a developer or broker as I am, sales skills and integrity are important, being able to do the numbers helps.
Stephen Knight, President, Sitings Realty Ltd

Property managers make sure everything runs its course for the property. Asset managers are at a higher level of management concerning real estate assets, which may involve lease negotiation, purchase or development of new properties, sale or disposition of old properties, etc. Asset managers often manage properties on a larger scale and often work for corporations that have their own real estate properties.

Real estate finance and investment professionals work for banks, credit unions, insurance companies, governments, and even stock exchange market players, to provide financial analysis on real estate related transactions or investments.

If you are interested in finding your career path in this vibrant and fast-paced industry, you will be happy to hear that it is growing. According to Government of Alberta’s Industry Profile, employment in the Finance, Insurance, Real Estate and Leasing industry accounted for 4.8% of total employment in Alberta in 2012 and is expected to grow at an average rate of 1.9% from 2011 to 2015.

Alberta’s real estate industry has been doing well for the past 10 years and will likely continue this trend for another 10 years. 2008 was a very difficult time in the business world around the globe. Alberta, due to its resource based economy and a world-wide demand for oil, hardly missed a step. The future looks bright.

Bill Winter, VP Commercial Development & Leasing, DELCON Development Group Ltd

There are also many real estate jobs with non-real estate companies. Almost every large corporation needs some real estate expertise. A search of “real estate jobs” on LinkedIn brought up over 400 results from a wide range of companies including big names like Rogers, Bell, Canadian Tire, Sun Life Financial, RBC, ScotiaBank, Tim Hortons, etc. So if you have the right skills and the passion, now is the right time and Alberta is the right place to launch your real estate career. May the future be the brightest for you!

Friday, 21 February 2014

Tapping the wealth of volunteerism

This week’s post is from guest blogger Cristabel Sosa who graduated from the U of A in 2012 with an MSc in Public Health - Health Promotion Specialization.
Dwelling with books and highlighters, countless hours spent within a classroom unpacking theories, paradigms, and approaches; navigating an array of iterations of formal education has certainly taught me a whole lot. I do feel a humble pride when I look at my educational achievements, and I am certainly grateful for those opportunities. Yet, there is a cornerstone of my career that has given life and character to my identity as a professional and person. Those are the lessons learned on the field by volunteering and engaging at different levels within my community. This may not be foreign to you, as most of people have formally or informally volunteered and many find value in doing so. Regardless, I hope this personal reflection resonates with you, particularly on aligning your personal and career interests to be a rewarding experience that also benefits others in your community.

I really enjoy volunteering. I see it beyond a nice addition to my resume. I see it as investing my time and energy in rewarding ways. I see it as an opportunity to make a positive change (however cliché that sounds), even if the change is minimal. I see it as contributing to what matters to my community and a bridge to a greater sense of belonging. I heard once that by volunteering you gain more than what you give. This is one of those things that are not subjective, and there is always a depth of learning, which will sooner or later be of benefit.

Here is a little bit of my journey. My experiences have varied in nature: from doing the dishes for a floating library where I met people for over 100 countries to learning about trade fair agreements between developed and third world countries with Oxfam; from cooking Christmas rice while participating in a collective kitchen to supporting administrative tasks of an Edmonton NGO. I hold these experiences dear to my heart because they have shaped how I see and interact with the word. In addition to all the societal and mental health benefits of volunteering, for me it has been foundational to gaining transferable skills that are essential for navigating the workplace and building my career. These include a range of skills such as confidence, facilitation, respecting and celebrating diversity of opinions/backgrounds, and moreover, learning about interesting content areas. It is a way of exploring and contributing to your passions, which will not only be rewarding but will help you keep perspective on challenges in life.

Now, not all is flowers and whimsical experiences; there are challenges too, while and around volunteering. For starters, volunteering is a luxury that not everyone can afford. It often requires time, resources and most importantly passion. There can also be expectation conflicts between what you see as your contribution and what the organization expects you to do, and/or there may organizational issues that can be discouraging. But I think any challenge that may arise before, during or after any volunteer experience is an opportunity to strengthen your problem solving skills such as negotiation, assertiveness, diplomacy, and communication overall.

I would keep in mind a few things when narrowing your quest for voluntee opportunities. First, consider where you are in your life and career. The types of things I did ten years ago are quite different than the things I look for now. Of course, I want to have fun but I am much more intentional about where I volunteer. I try to find a balance between what I am passionate/interested about and opportunities that will contribute to skill development. Another aspect to consider is how align those opportunities to where you want to see yourself in the future. If you are deeply interested in an area (e.g. business development, homelessness, food security), look for opportunities that will provide exposure to that context. For instance, while I was doing my health promotion masters I volunteer with a local non-profit board in the area of healthcare, which provided me with a good understanding of the political and social context of healthcare in Alberta. Volunteering in your areas of interest will also provide you with opportunities to me key actors in that area of work, learn from their leadership skills and build connections that could go along away.

When you have found an opportunity, clarify the time commitment and logistics (how to apply, where, when, how many times, etc). Sometimes, it is hard to see past the excitement of an opportunity. We promptly commit and then realize that we are not able to respect the agreement. You don’t want to waste your time and excitement, nor the organization’s resources either.

Now, what has been your experience? Benefits? Drawbacks? Lessons Learned? I would love to hear them!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

A resume by any other name...

The other day one of my colleagues sent me a link to Leonardo da Vinci’s resume. That’s right, Leonardo da Vinci! Thee Renaissance man. The guy who, among many other things, painted the Mona Lisa. His resume is in the form of a letter, which he wrote in 1482, to the Duke of Milan outlining his expertise and offering his services as a ‘skilled contriver of instruments of war.’

It made me think about the increasing number of articles I’ve seen and comments I’ve heard proclaiming the demise of the resume. In today’s digital age, the argument goes, employers are looking more and more at a person’s online presence, particularly their LinkedIn profile, Facebook page or personal blog, when deciding whether to hire or even interview that person. While I agree that some employers look at potential employees’ online presence – I don’t know the extent to which and I’m pretty sure it isn’t universal – I don’t think we can say that the resume has gone the way of the dodo bird just yet, or even in the near future. I can’t recall ever seeing or hearing an employer ask only for an applicant’s Linked In profile. The vast, vast majority still want to see a person’s resume.

But what is a resume? According to my handy dandy Oxford English Dictionary – the compact edition, the one I need my glasses AND magnifying glass to read – the definition of resume is, simply, ‘a summary.’ The Merriam-Webster online dictionary provides a more specific definition: ‘a short document describing your education, work history, etc. that you give an employer when you are applying for a job.’

A person’s online profile – in particular, their LinkedIn profile – contains much the same information as their resume. It is just displayed in a different medium (digital vs. paper) and format. I think that if you are using your LinkedIn or any other online profile as a work search tool – or if you think potential employers are viewing it in order to assess your fit for their organization – then a lot of the advice we give about how to write a strong resume applies to online profiles as well.

If you are looking for information on creating a LinkedIn profile or for feedback on your profile, I have some good news to share. During the week of 10 March 2014, CAPS is hosting a series of events and presentations under the banner of Professional U: On and off-line. Among the offerings are a seminar on creating a LinkedIn profile and rapid LinkedIn profile reviews. And over the summer we will be developing full one-hour LinkedIn consultations to add to the other types of individual consultations we offer (e.g. resume, c.v. and cover letter reviews, mock interviews, career advising).

Stay tuned!

Monday, 3 February 2014

Technology and work

I just finished reading an article about the impact of technology on employment – specifically occupations we can expect to be automated or replaced by technology in the next ten to twenty years. The article references a 2013 academic paper that predicts 47% of total employment in the United States is at risk of being replaced by machines or software. (You can link to the paper from the article.)

In terms of machines doing work that was historically done by humans, technology so far has had the greatest impact in the areas of manufacturing and office administration, and on work that is routine and rule based. However, with breakthroughs in robotics and artificial intelligence, tasks which were once assumed as requiring humans to perform are starting to be done by computers. The author of the article cites Google’s self-driving cars as an example: “Even ten years ago, many engineers said it was impossible. Navigating a crowded street isn’t mindlessly routine. It needs a deft combination of special awareness, soft focus, and constant anticipation—skills that are quintessentially human.”

The article is interesting but paints a rather ominous picture of the future, in particular how much and the kind of work that will be left for humans to do and from which to make a living. It ends with the comment: “It would be anxious enough if we knew exactly which jobs are next in line for automation. The truth is scarier. We don’t really have a clue.” An interesting way to end the article given that it is based on a 72-page research paper (which I’ve started but haven’t finished reading yet) that examined over 700 hundred occupations, details the methodology used to determine how susceptible those occupations are to automation and even includes a list of most likely (99 percent chance) to be automated jobs, as well as a list of least likely to be automated jobs, which is reprinted in the article. “We don’t really have a clue”? Hmmm.

There is no denying the impact that technology has had on work – it has resulted in the deskilling of some jobs, the virtual elimination of other jobs and the displacement of workers. It has also created new occupations, which the author of the article barely touches on. But my main critique of the article is that it presents the automation of work and the impacts as a natural process, as a fait accompli. As human beings, we can make decisions about these things, individual and, perhaps more importantly, collectively.

Most likely to be automated:
- Telemarketers
- Title examiners
- Sewers
- Mathematical technicians
- Insurance underwriters
- Watch repairers
- Cargo and freight agents
- Tax preparers
- Photographic process workers
- New accounts clerks
- Library technicians
- Data entry keyers

Least likely to be automated:
- First-line supervisors: fire fighters
- Oral surgeons
- Healthcare social workers
- Prosthetists
- Occupational therapists
- Audiologists
- Mental-health social workers
- Emergency management directors
- First-line supervisors: mechanics
- Recreational therapists