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!