Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Meetup - A high tech, high touch networking tool

This week’s post comes from Christine Gertz, CAPS’ Library and Information Specialist. 

When students are about to try something new career-wise, such as starting a business or moving to a different city for an internship, we often urge them to talk with people they know to get advice or ideas. I’m not skeptical when people tell me they don’t know anyone they can reach out to. There are plenty of people on this campus who have left their families and friends behind to study here or who don’t want to go into the family business but pursue something else. There are also many new things a person might want to learn more about but of which people in their current network have no knowledge.

If meeting people in person matters to you when trying to learn about something new or to build your network, one tool you can use is Meetup.

Meetup is an online service you can use to find groups in you region and then get together in person. Meetup’s tagline is “neighbors getting together to learn something, do something, share something.” To form a Meetup, the organizer commits to getting people together face-to-face. (If you don’t want to meet in person, then try Google Hangouts.)

Joining a Meetup group is usually free. Some organizers ask that you pay a fee, which is not unreasonable because Meetup charges the organizers to create and maintain a group, and other organizations use Meetup to advertise ticketed events.

Without signing up for Meetup, you can see events in your area or search for events in a location you want to visit. For example, if you are going to Los Angeles for a conference, search Los Angeles for groups that interest you and message the group’s organizer to see if you can attend their Meetup. Any open group will allow you to see the information about the group, its organizers and its members. Closed groups will appear in a search, but you have to apply to join and it is up to the organizers to decide if they will let you join their group or not.

You can sign into Meetup using your Facebook account or you can create a separate account on the Meetup service. If you connect your Facebook profile to your Meetup account, you can see the groups your friends are members of and you can join a group where you already know someone. Meetup will also ask for permission to push out notifications on your Facebook feed of the groups you plan to attend, but the decision to turn that feature on is up to you. You can also sync your Meetup calendar - either all events in your groups or only the events that you have RSVPed to attend - with your Google, Outlook or iCal calendar so you don’t have to manage a separate calendar of Meetup events.

Two Meetups that are career-related, which you can use to see some of the upcoming events and how events and memberships are managed on Meetup are:

· Business Link Alberta

· Startup Edmonton

You can also select groups based on your hobbies, such as playing games, or based on your educational interests, such as studying Spanish.

Meetup is a simple tool that you can use to build your local network and improve your social and business connections.

Monday, 15 April 2013

When degrees 'work'

This week's guest post comes from Jonathan Faerber, CAPS' Communications Intern extraordinaire!

About two years ago, CAPS and the Faculty of Arts created a joint initiative called the Arts Work Experience (AWE) program. I applied for the program on March 23, 2011. A year later, on March 23, 2012, I was interviewed for a communications position with CAPS, and am now wrapping up my one year internship to become the first ever University of Alberta student to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts Co-op Degree.

How did that all happen, and why did it happen? More importantly, what did I learn?

The truth is, I did not plan this: I certainly would never have guessed that I’d be writing this six years ago. I began my university degree in 2007 with limited work experience and with little idea, as with most students at an early age, of what I wanted to do with my life. Looking back, I can see I was not thinking about long-term career goals too much or, rather, I was thinking about my “career” in all the wrong ways: in terms of what class and what degree might hypothetically get me to careers I didn’t really know enough about to choose between. I was just like the next stereotyped “newbie”: the science first-year calling their degree pre-med, the arts undergrad going for law, or the engineering student studying, well, engineering and engineering only, just because.

But career success is never that easy to engineer. It’s not about taking A, B, and C courses, this or that degree, to get such and such a job. Not that there’s anything wrong with such goals; it’s just that goals, in and of themselves, don’t always tell us much about ourselves. But despite this, we still insist on worrying incessantly about our choice of classes and degree programs, even when we already have to worry about simply getting to class on time, feeding ourselves, finding a place to live, and so on. In my case, it was these other immediate worries of affording university life now, rather than obsessing over my future, that made me work things out.

And work I did. It took over two years of minimum-wage labour before I found a couple of jobs on campus. Around that time, I decided to major in English, and stumbled across the now-defunct English co-op program, which at the time I tried getting in on it, was already on its last legs.

So, in a way, I was watching for the AWE program when the e-mail from the Faculty of Arts arrived in my inbox about a year later. I would like to say at this point that the rest is history, but it really isn’t that simple. I had to learn how to write a resume/cover letter, and applied for five jobs and interviewed for four over a year before I landed this job (and a good thing too, since this was the best fit of the bunch).

Of course, working at CAPS taught me a lot about communications, about careers, and about myself. I gained a lot of technical know-how in print and web content, layout and design, social media, strategic marketing, and more. Along the way, I learned what kinds of things I like to do and began to think more about what I might do after this internship and what I would need to do to get there.

Career experts use the phrase “luck is no accident” to characterize this job search/career development type of story. I think this is true: I’m lucky to be here, but a lot of getting to where I am now had to do with taking chances and making an effort. Many students, I’m sure, can relate to this. We try out a lot of different things throughout our degree and make the most of what works when things do “work”.

But a whole lot of times, things don’t work out. And I think one of the great things about being a student, and about work experience programs especially, is that there’s a whole lot more room to try things that don’t work than there will be outside of school.

In the “real world”, for the most part, you aren’t allowed to make mistakes. Except you do, all the time. It’s called experience. So working in a setting that’s more forgiving of my mistakes allowed me to get that experience at a lower risk than I would have when stressing out, or worse, losing a job I might have gotten outside of the program, just because I wouldn’t yet know exactly what I’m doing.

In that way too, being able to try out a job before committing to long-term post-graduate plans helped a great deal. I found out that while I love working in communications and will use the skills I’ve learned over the past year throughout my career, I also really, really missed going to school and the many diverse challenges I’ve already overcome to complete a degree. And so, somewhat ironically, I’ve decided to return to more school this fall and do it all over again for my MA in philosophy.

When I tell people this, they look startled and say something like, “Well, that’s okay, I guess.” I don’t blame them. Before this internship, I had similar doubts about whether an Arts degree was a “smart” choice. If it weren’t for the AWE program, the encouragement of its staff, and the confidence it inspires in students, I might have spent a year or two after graduation—perhaps more—entertaining those doubts as well. But now I don’t have second thoughts: my internship taught me that studying Arts—that any university degree, for that matter—is by no means a dead-end, no more than it is a means to an end. Instead, this next experience will challenge me to step outside of my intellectual comfort zone and improve myself as a thinker, as a communicator, and as a person. Ultimately, I know I’ll use the skills I develop during the degree wherever I go, and that employers in our society will continue to rely on these, too, to build our future.

So now, when I notice students worrying about work and about what others think and if they will be lucky enough at all to land a great job I want to shake them up and say, “Hey, it’s not about them, it’s about you and improving yourself and making yourself so awesome that they’ll also be lucky to land you as a great employee.”

I’m lucky enough to have learned that lesson early.

And if you keep trying, you’ll make your “luck” happen too.

Monday, 8 April 2013

If you could have any job in the world...

…what would it be and why? If you had the opportunity to have dinner with four people – living or dead, real or fictitious – who would they be and why? If you could be any animal, what animal would you be and why?

Getting ready for a job interview, most people expect to be asked questions related to their understanding of the job and employer, the skills and experiences they have to offer, and why they are interested in the job. But questions about your dream job or dinner party? Or what animal you’d be if you could be an animal? What’s the point? How does the person sitting across from you expect you to respond?

Generally, when interviewers ask such questions they are most interested in your explanation – the why part of the question. Why would you want to be head of the United Nations or a famous stage actor? Why would you choose your four favourite authors to dine with? Why would you choose to be an eagle or a panda bear or a dog? What they are trying to do is to assess what’s termed in the biz as your ‘cultural fit.’

There are more obvious questions interviewers may ask to determine applicants’ cultural fit, such as what did you like best (or least) about your previous (or current) job (or work environment)? What qualities do you admire in the people with whom you work? How do you like to be supervised? What is the most important factor you need in your work for you to be happy?

These questions go beyond assessing the skills and qualifications you have that are also necessary to perform the job, to assessing things like your values, your behaviours and what motivates you. Your responses to such questions are meant to help the interviewers decide if and how you will fit in with other employees in the organization and within the organization’s culture.

Why is this important? Well, most employers believe when there is a good cultural fit between employees’ values and motivations and the culture of an organization, employees will be happy in their work. And happy workers, in theory, are more productive than workers who dread going to work each day, are less likely to look for another job, are less likely to experience conflict with co-workers and are absent from work less.

I read an article recently (I think it was from Maclean’s magazine) against hiring for cultural fit. The author argued that when employers only hire people with similar values, beliefs, etc., they miss opportunities for creativity and innovation. I get the point. But I also think that if, for example, your organization emphasizes teamwork and collaboration among employees and you hire someone who is highly competitive and doesn’t like working with other people…well, don’t be surprised if you end up spending a lot of your time managing workplace conflict.