Thursday, 20 December 2012

Make career engagement your New Year resolution!

Tomorrow is the official last day of exams for this term and I suspect that in the next week or so some of you will turn your thoughts to 2013. What will it bring? I’m not someone who diligently makes New Year resolutions every year – partly because if I don’t make them, I don’t have to feel guilty about breaking them - but I am happy to say the one I made for 2012 I actually kept. And that was to become an avid user of the Edmonton Public Library. I visit the EPL-Go in Cameron Library almost weekly and have saved a lot in money I would have spent on renting DVDs and buying books. So a big shout-out to the staff there.

If you’re trying to think of a resolution to make for 2013 that could pay big dividends, I suggest taking some time in the next few months to engage in your career. What does that mean, you ask? Simply that you spend some time not only thinking about your career but participating in programs and events that will expand your knowledge of your career options and your network of professional contacts. A fantastic opportunity to do just that is U of A Job Shadow Week.

U of A Job Shadow Week takes place during Reading Week but if you want to participate in the program, you need to register on-line between the 16th and 29th of January. Registering will give you access to our database of job shadow hosts from which you can select up to three. If you are successfully matched with a host, you will be notified in early February. One of the main benefits of job shadowing someone doing the type of work you’re interested in is that you get first hand information of what ‘a day in the life of a (you fill in the blank)’ is really like, and such understanding will help you make informed choices when opportunities arise.

CAPS offers a number of other programs and services designed to help you discover your career options as well as build your work search skills. We hope to see you soon in 2013!

Monday, 3 December 2012

What do employers...

...look for in a resume? ...think about applicants calling them before or after submitting a job application? ... expect of candidates in an interview? These are all good questions, and there are many more we hear at CAPS from students who are eager to 'do things right' in order to be successful in getting job offers.

Unfortunately, there are few 'right' answers to such questions. Much depends on the industry or sector you want to work in, the organization you are applying to and even the person doing the hiring. While there are some guidelines we suggest you follow - for example, target your resume to the job you want and don't chew gum in the interview! - my advice to students is to be cautious about advice that claims ALL employers do this or NO employers do that.

Last week I attended a session by someone who runs his own business helping job seekers find work. My radar went up right at the beginning of his presentation when he posted a statistic about the employment rate for youth aged 15 to 24. It is around 48% (which fits with Stats Can figures) but he then went on to imply that their unemployment rate therefore must be 52%. In actual fact it is just under 15%, which is higher than the national average and the point I think he was trying to make. (Note: The unemployment rate is a measure of those not working but looking for work, so it doesn't include those who are not working and not looking for work for whatever reason, such as attending school.)

While the presenter said some things I agree with - for example, it is important to know the skills and experiences you have to offer when talking to prospective employers - he also said a number of things I questioned. For example, he said employers never read cover letters. Hmmmm. I've been involved in a lot of hiring over the years, both for CAPS and other units on campus, and I always read an applicant's cover letter. As a matter of fact, I use the cover letter as my first screening tool. And I've heard from a number of other employers that cover letters are important. We had quite a discussion about this and he finally landed on 'If the employer asks for a cover letter then submit one but if not, then don't.' I'm not sure of his rationale because, personally, I would always submit a cover letter as part of my application unless the employer specifically states not to include one. The reason for this is because I believe the cover letter provides you with an opportunity to really target your application, to emphasize what you have in common with what the employer is seeking and to distinguish yourself from other applicants.

I could go on with other examples but I think I made my point - in a word (or two) the answer to many questions about employers hiring practices is often ‘it depends.’

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Can your passion be your career?

I subscribe to a weekly e-newsletter called CareerWise, which is a collection of articles on career development. One from The Globe and Mail included in last week's newsletter was titled 'Four rules to cultivate your career passion.' I almost didn't click through to it because I've always had a bit of a problem with the concept of passion as it relates to work. However, the teaser caught my eye. It read 'One of the most common bits of career advice is to follow your passion. Career coaches repeat it endlessly, even though for many of us it can be discomforting.' Hmmm, I thought, well that's certainly how I feel! So I decided to give it a read. Turns out the article is actually a review of a book by Cal Newport, an assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University, called So Good They Can't Ignore You. (I haven't read the book yet, so my comments here are based solely on the review.)

Newport also has a problem with the notion that the secret to a fulfilling career is to follow your passion. Not only is such advice unhelpful at best he argues, but it can also be dangerous because it can 'potentially be the foundation for a career riddled with confusion and angst.' I can related. One of the first career development conferences I went to started with a keynote by a well-known author in the field who urged us to dream about how we could realize our passion in our career. It really stressed me out because I didn't know what my passion was! Books with titles like, Do what you love and the money will follow, also stressed me because I found it really hard to think of something I love doing that could be a viable career. For example, I love watching old movies but how do you turn that into a career? A couple of suggestions would be to write about old movies or become a film studies professor but both those lines of work involve a lot more than watching old movies.

Rather than trying to name your passion and figure out how to morph it into a career, Newport recommends focusing on developing a skill - becoming really good at something. He refers to this as developing the 'craftsman mindset' - not a term I would use but again the idea resonates. When I look back at my career so far, I can say that overall I have found it satisfying and rewarding. And a significant amount of career satisfaction I've experience has come from learning, mastering particular skills and becoming good at doing something. Newport argues that once someone develops the 'craftsman approach...the passion will follow.' I'm not sure this is the case for everyone, but I get the point.

Now, all this being said I do believe that there are some people who are able to turn their passions into careers. Artists, musicians and professional athletes spring to mind. However, I also believe that those people are not the norm. So I think becoming really good at doing something is sage career advice for a lot of people. I would simply add that what you choose to master be something that fits with your interests and core values (i.e., something you enjoy doing).

Monday, 5 November 2012

Who you know or what you know: What really gets you the job?

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say, ‘When it comes to finding a job, it’s not what you know but who you know.’ I’ve heard this not only from people who are frustrated because they’ve heard nothing from employers they’ve applied to, but also from people who dispense job search advice.

I disagree that being successful in finding employment is all about who you know. That being said, ‘who you know’ often does figure into people’s experiences of finding work. My story about how I ended up working at CAPS is a case in point. I found out that CAPS was looking to hire a coordinator for their career resources centre when I ran into a former classmate who happened to be working at CAPS (and who is now a professor and associate dean at this fine institution). At the time, I was working for a provincial government department setting up a resource library for staff. It was a summer job and summer was coming to an end, so I applied for the job. I was interviewed and…didn’t get it! However, a couple of weeks or so later the director of CAPS called me about an administrative support position. Although it didn’t require a university degree, I took the job. But I was able to move up fairly quickly in part because of the skills I gained from my university degree (and in part because of the opportunities that were presented to me).

So yes, who I knew played a role in my getting the job. If not for my former classmate, I wouldn’t have known that CAPS was hiring (even though the job was advertised), I wouldn’t have applied, been interviewed, been rejected and then hired for a different position altogether. (Who knows where I would be today. Hmmmm…I wonder.) But it was what I knew – the skills, experiences and other qualities I had to offer – that not only got me a job but that also helped me to take on new roles with more responsibilities.

Lesson? When it comes to looking for work, make sure the people you know (i.e., your network) know that you are looking for work. The more eyes and ears you have open for you, the more likely you will learn about opportunities, not only those that are not advertised – part of what we called the hidden job market – but those that are advertised as well.

If I still haven’t convinced you, here’s another case in point. A few of years ago I was looking to hire an events coordinator. I can’t remember how many applications I received – a lot – but five were from people who had had previous experience with CAPS when they were students, either as a volunteer or Career Peer Educator. My director and I both short-listed those five applicants but I also included a sixth. She was someone whom I had never met but who had the skills and experiences we were looking for and who had recently contacted me by email about employment opportunities at the U of A. In my response to her, I mentioned we were hiring. She applied and, much to everyone’s surprise, she was the person we hired. We could have gone with someone we knew and felt would have done well in the job but we decided to go with the strongest applicant (both on paper and in the interview). And she continues to work with us today!

Second lesson? Even if you know an employer is considering someone known to them for a job you’re interested in – for example, the job ad says an internal applicant is applying – don’t let that discourage you from applying. And if you are offered an interview, give it your best shot. You just might be the one who ends up being hired.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Learning for learning vs. learning for earning

I was just looking at the results from the annual From Learning to Work survey for 2012, which is a survey of post-secondary students from across Canada. Over 28,000 students responded to the 2012 survey and, consistent with past surveys, the top two responses to the question 'Why did you choose to go to college/university?' were to 'get a good job' and 'prepare for a specific career.'

Now, some people within academia will cringe at these results. They will argue that the purpose of post-secondary education, or more precisely university education, should not be so instrumental. Rather, students should go to university to broaden their mind and develop their moral character. They should pursue learning for the sake of learning. Given that I work in a university career centre - and have since I completed my BA - it may surprise some people that I don't disagree with this perspective. I started off at the U of A in the Faculty of Education with the goal of becoming a teacher. I soon realized teaching was not the career for me. At that point I could have taken some time off to figure out what I wanted to do career-wise with the rest of my life but, to be honest, I really liked being a student. Yes, the end of term was stressful with exams and papers to write but I really did feel like I was learning and growing a lot as a person.

Fast forward 13 years. I'd been working at CAPS since I completed my BA. I decided to start a master's degree education. A number of people asked me why. How was it going to help me in my career? Was I planning to look for a different job when I was done? That was not my motivation at all! I had become interested in adult learning - work-related learning, in particular - and it was an interest I wanted to pursue. I completed my MEd in 2005 - and I am still working at CAPS! And while my reasons for doing graduate work were driven by my interests, one of the unintended outcomes was that much of what I learned has helped me in my work (as well as other areas of my life). For example, assessment of learning, program evaluation and project ethics have been, and will continue to be, areas of focus for me. Through my graduate work I learned about research and evaluation methods, as well as honed important skills (especially critical thinking), which help me with this work.

Now having said all this, I believe that 'learning for learning versus learning for earning' is a false dichotomy. We shouldn't balk at integrating some career education into the curriculum. Certainly degree programs that prepare students for specific professions do this (e.g. nursing, engineering) but it can be done in other programs through things like internships and community service learning. Universities should also provide co-curricular programs and services that provide opportunities for students to explore careers, build skills and make connections. The reality is that most students will enter the world of work after they complete their degree. We can and should help to make that transition a successful one.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Undergraduate research: A question can take you anywhere

This week’s guest post is from Crystal Snyder, Coordinator of the Undergraduate Research Initiative (URI). The URI is kicking off its fall awareness campaign, and will be holding a number of events over the next two weeks. Be sure to check out the URI website and Facebook page for updates! 

When a plant gets sick, does it make its own medicine?

This was the seemingly innocuous question that changed the entire course of my career. It was the fall of 2001, and I was in my second year of studying biochemistry on my way to fulfilling a lifelong dream of going to veterinary school. I knew almost nothing about research, less about plants, and I’d barely scraped through organic chemistry with a C+ average. On paper, I seemed like an unlikely fit for a research project with a natural products chemist studying the medicinal properties of stressed-out plants. But my professor (let's call him Dr. K), had a way of talking about his work that made me want to be a part of it. He was an amazing teacher, and the opportunity to work with him was enough to convince me to take a chance on this project I knew nothing about.

On reflection, I suppose that was lesson #1 in undergraduate research: Find a mentor, not just a project.

Dr. K wasn’t concerned about my struggles with organic chemistry or my lack of experience with plants. I was one of four undergraduate students in his lab that semester, and none of us were poster-children for academic perfection. He assured us that in research, GPA is rarely the strongest predictor of success. He welcomed us into the lab and treated us like partners, each equally invested in the outcome of our work. That immediately made the experience unlike anything I had encountered in the classroom. There was no longer anyone dictating what we had to learn. We were free to start asking our own questions. There was nothing to memorize; everything we learned in the lab, we applied immediately. Chemistry didn't seem so hard when we started using it to solve our own research problems. Sometimes our experiments worked, sometimes they didn't, but that wasn't failure – it was research.

That's lesson #2: In research, you never have all the answers. The real discovery is finding the right questions.

I stayed in Dr. K's lab for another year and a half, working with different students on several projects. I've heard that some researchers discourage undergrads from staying in the same lab for too long, preferring instead that they test the waters elsewhere and explore a variety of interests. I took a slightly different path, participating in a program in which I got to interview researchers and write profiles of their work. I wrote about researchers from every discipline, from education to sociology to astrophysics. It made me realize just how diverse the opportunities were, and how few of my career options I’d actually explored. It made me think twice about vet school. I started considering graduate school. Or journalism. Or maybe even both.

Lesson #3: Trust your curiosity, and don't be afraid to change directions if the right opportunity presents itself.

For me, the right opportunity came in the form of a job that was never posted, which I've since learned is not uncommon in research (yet another reason to get to know a lot of different researchers!). A professor I knew was moving to the University of Alberta, and I'd heard he might be hiring for his new lab. Still undecided about grad school, I sent him an email inquiring about a job. He hired me as a technician, and I ended up working for him for the next eight years. In that time, I traveled to some fun places, met a lot of interesting people, and eventually got around to pursuing a Master's degree. But after almost a decade of doing research, I realized that what I really wanted to do was help others experience the thrill of discovery for themselves. I thought I might go back to writing about research, finding ways to help researchers strip away their jargon and share their passions with students and the broader community.

I never would have guessed that my desire to make research more accessible would lead me to my current position with the Undergraduate Research Initiative. I'm pretty sure that "Undergraduate Research Coordinator" never appeared on any of the career planning materials I'd seen about what you can do with a science degree, and it certainly never occurred to me as a possibility when Dr K first convinced me to take a chance on plant research. And yet everything I've learned since – in the lab and out – made this the right fit at the right time. As author Douglas Adams once wrote, "I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be."

And that was the most valuable lesson of all: In research, a question can take you anywhere.

Where will yours lead you?

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Debunking the myths about Arts degrees and careers

Today's post is from guest blogger Amber Nicholson, Career Development Officer with the U of A's Faculty of Arts.

When I was asked to blog about a career topic for Arts students, debunking employability myths came to mind. As tiresome as myths can be, I think they still deserve a kick in the pants now and then…

The only jobs for Arts grads do not require post-secondary education.

From time to time I hear stories about a friend of a friend who ended up flipping burgers after finishing her or his Arts degree. My response is what does this person’s career exploration and work search look like? Does this cautionary tale, by association, mean there are no jobs for Arts graduates and you, too, will end up flipping burgers? While it’s true that some Arts graduates have a difficult time finding work, the same can be said for a wide range of fields. For example, it’s not always easy to find work as a teacher; or when the economy takes a downturn jobs for engineers can be in short supply.

In the past couple of weeks I visited current Arts undergraduate students who are working in a variety of internship positions through the Arts Work Experience Program. Their job titles and responsibilities include: a Business Analyst reviewing emerging market opportunities for a manufacturing company in the oil and gas industry; a Legal Assistant who works on high level legal research; Student Recruiters who travel around the province delivering presentations and independently manage complex schedules; and a Research Intern who communicates directly with government ministers. Why am I telling you about these students? Because instead of thinking of your friend’s friend, the burger flipper, think about them. Think about the vast number of success stories of people who take chances, take advantage of opportunities that present themselves and are applying their education in meaningful ways.

As an Arts graduate myself and now, working in career services with Arts students, I appreciate the challenges involved in deciding how to apply your degree in the workforce. Let’s face it, if you take nursing or mechanical engineering, your career path is much clearer and there isn’t a lot of room for ambiguity. It’s true that broad undergraduate programs lead to a number of undefined career options and that can seem overwhelming but, looked at another way, the endless possibilities can also be exciting.

Beyond reviewing employment statistics that clearly state that Arts graduates do, indeed, find work (see University of Alberta Graduate Survey, Alumni Employment Surveys), talk to people who have been successful. Plan to attend the Arts Career Fair, listen to an alumni panel presentation at a Career Forum, attend a Career Chat or take advantage of Career Exploration Programs, like Job Shadow Week. The highly successful professionals who participate in these events are using applying their degrees in a wide range of fields. They have Arts degrees and are gainfully employed. You can be too!

There is no association between what I’m learning in class and what’s needed in the job market.

As part of the Arts Work Experience Program, I ask interns students to reflect the relationship between their academic experience and the applied experience of their working environment. Without fail, these students comment on how their degree helped them to develop skills they use every day on the job. These skills include: time management/organization, the ability to communicate ideas, effective writing, the ability to collaborate and work independently, etc. The interesting thing is that their supervisors also comment that these broad, yet hard to teach ‘on the job’ skills, are the reason they targeted Arts students for their work experience opportunities. Although these students learned their specific job tasks at work, they learned how to approach learning, problem solving and decision making in their degree program.

Finding a job is all about who you know, I don’t know anyone in my field, so I’m never going to find a job.

Okay, so this bit of despair isn’t specific to Arts students, but I think it’s worth mentioning. Are most jobs found through personal and professional networks? Yes, a good number of them are. In fact some sources report 80% of jobs may be found through networking. Does that mean if you don’t have professional connections, you have no way to make them and will, in turn, be living in your parents’ basement forever? Absolutely not! There are a vast number of opportunities to explore career options, build your network and get relevant workplace experience while you’re a student.

For Arts students, consider attending the Arts Career Fair next week to learn about the range of jobs participating employers have to offer. Do your research and approach employers with well thought out questions…they love that! If a career fair setting is not for you, consider attending a discipline specific career forum, find a mentor, or conduct a career information interview with a professional in a job that interests you. Earn money while volunteering through the SCiP Program, take a Community Service Learning course, get involved in undergraduate research or join a student group. Basically, get out there, meet people, take advantage of opportunities that present themselves and take an active role in your career exploration!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

It's been a long time!

Today marks 24 years since I started working at CAPS. Next year on this day I will be able to say (if I'm still here, that is) that I've spent half my life working at CAPS! (Okay, I just gave away my age.) When I tell people how long I've been working here many are surprised. I make sure to add that I haven't been in the same job for the whole time! I actually started as a Clerk Typist 3, which wasn't the job I applied and was interviewed for. Perhaps I'll write more about that in a future post.

While it is the case that the percentage of workers who spend their entire career - or a large chunk of it - with a single organization is less today than it used to be, you might be surprised to learn that this is something many of today's students desire. The 2010 From Learning to Work survey, which involved 27,779 post-secondary students from across Canada, asked 'Would you like to find an organization where you could spend your whole career?' Only 14% of respondents said no, while 57% said yes (the remainder were, presumably, undecided).

There are a myriad of reasons why people would want to work or end up working for the same employer for a long time. And those reasons vary from person to person. Often, they can provide insight into what someone values. Two things I value are variety and stability. While they may seem somewhat contradictory, I have been able to uphold those values throughout my career at the U of A. The work environment at CAPS and our raison d'ĂȘtre (basically to help students) are also well suited to my values.

So what might this all mean for you? Regardless of whether you find the thought of working for the same organization for most of your career appealing or not, finding work that fits what you value most is, I think, sage advice.

Friday, 21 September 2012

When I grow up I want to be a...

CAPS launched an awareness campaign this week. The purpose of the campaign is not only to raise awareness of the (fantastic) services and programs we offer at CAPS (shameless promotion, I know), but also to raise awareness about the importance of thinking about your career. When I say 'thinking about your career' I don't mean deciding now what you are going to do with the rest of your life, but rather considering how what you are or could be doing as a student - both inside and outside of the classroom - shapes your future (see previous blog post).

Our awareness campaign includes a contest, one aspect of which involves completing the sentence, 'When I was a kid, I wanted to be a...' It can be fun to ask little kids what they want to be when they grow up. While many will come back with what you might expect - doctor, vet, fire fighter - you will sometimes get an answer that gives you a good belly laugh - like fire truck instead of fire fighter. One of my co-worker's nephews once said he wanted to be a hockey stick when he grows up. "You mean a hockey player?" she asked him. "No, a hockey stick!"

When he was about four or five years old and learning how to swim, one of my great nephews told my sister he wanted to be an Olympic swimmer when he grew up - but only if he was allowed to take his noodle in the pool with him!

My first career goal was to become a nun. I think it was probably because my older sisters worked at a seniors home that was run by nuns and I used to go there a lot. The nuns seemed so cool and confident. And I loved the outfit! I also remember wanting to be a fashion designer, gymnast, actress and novelist. (That last one's still on my list.)

When I finished high school I wasn't sure what I wanted to do next. I knew I wanted to go to university but knew little about the the number and diversity of degree programs offered and what they could lead to. I chose Education because teaching was one profession I was familiar with. I had two older siblings and a brother-in-law who were teachers (not to mention having had almost daily contact with teachers from the ages of six to 18!). It is not uncommon for young people to say they want to work in professions or occupations their parents or other adults in their life work in.

I've found that pop culture can also influence young people's career goals. When I first starting working at CAPS, it seemed there was a relatively high number of students who asked about becoming an archeologist. Guess what the blockbuster movie of the day was - Indianan Jones! The next hot job was jet fighter (Top Gun), then paranormal investigator (The X-Files), then criminal profiler (Profiler) get the picture. Of course, there are risks with basing your career aspirations on what you see on television and the movie screen but I won't go into them here.

The point I want to make it is that it is kind of unfair to ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. It's asking them to predict the future (and we all know how great adults are at doing that). And if you ask people well into their career if they are doing what they thought they would be doing when they were a kid or even a young adult, the vast majority will say no. The reality is that most people's career emerge as they experience new things, make new connections, etc., etc. So I think we should stop pressuring kids by asking them what they want to be when they grow up. Of course, you might have an ulterior motive for asking. As stand-up comedian Paula Poundstone says, "Adults are always asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up because they're looking for ideas." Not a bad strategy...

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

What (and what) are your career influences?

Today’s post comes from Alexis Lockwood, CAPS’ Manager, Student Engagement. Alexis runs CAPS’ Career Mentoring Program, which is currently accepting applications (deadline is Thursday, 4 October).

I have friends who argue that we are the total of the ten people we spend the most time with, and thus should choose our company wisely. This idea of people influencing, shaping and directing me, whether or not I am aware of or agreeable to it has been sitting with me lately. In Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie writes, “I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I've gone which would not have happened if I had not come. Nor am I particularly exceptional in this matter; each "I", everyone of the now-six-hundred-million-plus of us, contains a similar multitude. I repeat for the last time: to understand me, you'll have to swallow a world.”

We all have people in our lives who affect us and contribute to our world, those who push, pull and prod us. We may call them mentors, but we might also call them role models, heroes, ideals, coaches, counsellors, guides and advisors. Or, we might think of them as examples of what not to do or be. Regardless, the people we meet throughout our lives will change us and contribute to our multitudes.

In career services, the push to find an official mentor to guide us can be incredibly intimidating. We are frequently informed of the benefits of having professional mentors: industry connections, insider tips, first-hand information, accelerated skill development, reality checks, encouragement and so on. I often explain to students that mentors provide a combination of challenge, vision and support. Mentoring guru David Clutterbuck says that a good mentor doesn’t even have to be in your career field, as long as they know how to ask BDQs, or Bloody Difficult Questions, that get you thinking, reflecting and questioning.

However, what I want to emphasize is this: identifying and approaching someone with the express intention of recruiting them as your career mentor is not most people’s reality. For those of us pinballing along our career paths, the idea of finding a wizened mentor we can sit at the feet of is very appealing. Luke had Obi-Wan. Wolverine had Professor Xavier. Raphael had Splinter. And yet, this formal teacher-learner dynamic rarely exists in our professional careers. In fact, many of us tend to identify our (informal) mentors in hindsight, once we’ve realized how much impact they had on the development of our knowledge, skills and attitudes.

My friend D is relatively new to the work world. Reflecting on his career path thus far, D shared that he’s always had informal mentors and sources of mentorship. And what I found most interesting is that the majority of his mentors were not professional colleagues, and some weren’t even actual people he knew.

When D was contemplating taking a job in Africa for a year, it was a close friend and roommate who pushed him to make the move. Later on, a member of a listserve emailed him information about a unique out-of-province internship that he ended up pursuing; support from his parents kept up his confidence and drive on this new challenge. Over time, watching online TED talks of his favorite speakers helped him develop his presentation skills, and mimicking admired essayists honed his writing style. And when D struggled for direction and a sense of meaning in his work, it was the pontificator Christopher Hitchens, the blog BrainPickings, and the movie In The Loop that helped him reflect.

So continue to identify the gaps in your workplace knowledge and the skills you can improve; seek out and ask career questions of those you admire and who exemplify positive professional behaviors. Participate in formal mentoring programs and professional mentorship matching. Yet, keep in mind that we don’t need to officially call someone a mentor in order to learn from them. We don’t need to formalize a relationship in order for it to be impactful.

Instead, my experience and the experiences of those around me has been that we can glean inspiration and lessons from multiple people and sources throughout our lives - not just from professional supervisors or formal mentors, but also from neighbors, quotes, politicians, YouTube videos, movies, family members, writers, musicians, friends, books and art. In fact, our various sources of mentorship and inspiration may disagree with or oppose one another, forcing us to sift out and select the learning that fits with our own values and perspectives. Remember that you are the one creating your complex self in your one world, so draw from and spend time with mentors and sources (formal and informal) that make you the student, friend, worker, partner, parent, volunteer, crafter, athlete, gamer, dancer, and person you want to be.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

'All the time' is when you should be thinking about your career

Okay, maybe not all the time. But your career, or perhaps more precisely what you might do once you leave these hallowed halls of the U of A is something that, when not at the forefront of your thoughts, should at least be at the back of your mind. The reason I say this is because what you do as a student will have an impact on your future career. And when I say 'what you do as a student,' I'm not just talking about the courses you take. When you ask people how they ended up where they are, the majority will say happenstance (e.g. unplanned events, chance encounters) has played a greater role in their career than planning. This concept of happenstance has received increasing attention within the career development recently because the theories which shaped practice in the field for so many years, and which focus on goal-setting and planning and see career development as logical and liner, simply do not reflect people's experience.

Let me give you an example to demonstrate what I'm talking about. Peter Mansbridge. (For those of you who just said 'Peter who?', Peter Mansbridge is the chief correspondent of CBC News and anchor of The National.) On my way to work one morning last winter I heard him interviewed on the radio. I was shocked to learn he doesn't have a university degree (apart from his nine honorary degrees, that is). He had gone to college but dropped out before graduating. At the age of 19 he was working as a baggage handler at the airport in Churchill, Manitoba. He was asked to make a flight announcement because the person who usually made announcements wasn't available. Someone from a local radio station heard him, was impressed with his voice and approached him about doing a radio show part-time. Up until that point, he had never considered journalism as a career. But he took the offer, and the rest is history!  When Mansbridge was asked in a 1990 interview with the Toronto Star how he ended up with one of the best jobs in Canadian journalism, he said "There was clearly luck - I was in the right place at the right time. Somebody had enough faith in me that they thought I could be a broadcaster, with no experience. I had some natural ability - in other words, a voice. I had enough intelligence to want to ask questions. You can go a long way on those two things but you can't go all the way.  I really worked hard at it...when I started and I spent hours and hours of my own time."

So what does this all mean in terms of what you should do to prepare for life after graduation? Is planning pointless? Should you just sit back and let fate decide where you end up? No! At CAPS, we posit a 'planned happenstance' approach to career development. This involves deliberately and intentionally pursing your interests and taking advantage of opportunities presented to you even when you can't predict the outcomes of doing so. By being engaged outside as well as inside the classroom, you will discover - even create - career opportunities you couldn't anticipate.

Here's another example: One of my (many) nieces graduated about a year and a half ago with a BA in Film Studies, an area of interest she developed as a student. In about her second year, she started volunteering with Metro Cinema and then was hired into a part-time job. At the time, they were still located in the Citadel downtown. Just before she was about to finish her degree, they decided to move into Garneau theatre. The move meant they would be screening films at least a couple of times a day, seven days a week and thus would need more staff. Her part-time job morphed into a full-time one just when she needed it. That was something she could not have predicted but that was partly the result of her taking the initiative to volunteer.

So my advice to you, whether you have a career plan or not, is to recognize that most people's careers emerge as they engage in various educational, work, volunteer and other activities. Appreciate that university has more to offer than a degree. And above all, act on your curiosities and chance events. You never know what opportunities you will create!

P.S. Do you have a 'happenstance' story? I'd love to hear it!

Friday, 24 August 2012

A hesitant migrant’s first step into the blogosphere

Hi, and welcome to my inaugural blog post. My name is Joan Schiebelbein and I’m the Director of CAPS: Your U of A Career Centre. While I’m a blogging newbie, this is not the first blog to be hosted by CAPS. Ms. Metamorphosis, a student in her final year at the U of A who shared her musings about her career and search for employment, was the first official CAPS blogger. Last year we hosted an employer blog. For this year, I agreed to take a stab at it. Why, you (and I) ask? Well, I’ve been working at CAPS for almost a quarter of a century (more about that in a future post) and I thought I might have some wisdom to share. I also have a selfish reason for taking on the task. I am a hesitant migrant to social media. I’ve finally accepted that social media is more than a passing trend and figured being responsible for the CAPS blog for at least the next several months will help me get over my reluctance. Heck, I’m sure I will learn a thing or two along the way. I always encourage students (my nieces and nephews might say preach) to try new things even when they don’t know where it will take them.
So what is this blog all about? (I have put some thought into what I will write about over the next several months. I’m not going into this totally blind!) I will share with you my career experiences, as well as those of friends and colleagues, in the hopes that you might glean something helpful for your own career. I will also share interesting articles, books, movies, speakers, websites, etc. I’ve read or seen that have some bearing on careers and employment. I am planning to invite guest bloggers to offer their thoughts and advice. I hope you too will take part in this endeavor. If you have a career-related question, I will do my best to answer it - or find someone who can. If you have suggestions for topics or guest bloggers, please let me know. If you have a story or piece of advice to share, or a comment on what I or someone else has written, please don’t hesitate to submit it. I want this blog to be interactive. After all, that’s what social media is all about…or so they tell me.