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!

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