Thursday, 18 December 2014

Career Advice from the Pros: A How-to Guide for Arts Students

Today’s post was written by Nicole Hoffman, CAPS’ Communications Intern. Nicole is in her final year of her Bachelor of Arts Degree at the U of A.

Careers in the arts aren’t always straight-forward. Professionals in the arts tend to hold many positions before they find one that suits them, and many Arts students aren’t sure where they’ll end up after graduation. When faced with this uncertainty, it’s easy to get discouraged about one’s career prospects, which is why CAPS began hosting the Arts and Culture Career Crawl. The crawl was created to show U of A Arts students what careers in the arts look like, and to give them an opportunity to hear from professionals working in the arts. I had the opportunity to join this year’s crawl, during which 12 students and I visited Edmonton Public Library (Stanley Milner location), the Citadel Theater and the Winspear Centre. We also heard from Adam Rozenhart, digital strategist for Calder Bateman Communications, who talked with us about his career path. The people we met at these organizations had some great stories and advice to share with us. Here is what they had to say about putting your Arts degree to work:

Keep an open mind about your future career. Don’t limit yourself to one line of work; expand your ideas of your future career and be willing to step out of your comfort zone.

Adam Rozenhart, who graduated with a degree in Psychology has since embarked on a diverse career path which has included journalism, the creation of and most recently, designing promotions plans for other organizations. Adam’s advice? “Say yes to everything.” If you’re presented with an opportunity that excites you, give it a try. It might just lead you to your dream job.

Neil LaGrandeur, whose goal since moving to Edmonton was to work at the Citadel Theatre, says that you have to work your way up to get where you want. After several years working as an actor, Neil got a job working in the theatre’s box office. “You have to be willing to start anywhere and be patient,” says Neil. “You have to be willing to wear many hats… You have to work your way up.” Neil is now the House Manager at the Citadel Theatre, handling the theater’s media relations, talent scouting and program development, among many other things.

Alison Kenny-Gardhouse began her career singing in theatre and opera, became a voice coach and teacher, and ran her own consulting company for several years before transitioning into her current position as Director of Educational Outreach with the Winspear Centre.  She says that her career didn’t turn out as she had imagined it would:  “Thinking back to when I started this all 30 years ago, I don’t think that I would have ever predicted this pathway at all, and yet it was a really natural one for me, and I’ve had a really fabulous time.”

While the choices presented to you throughout your career may not be obvious ones, it is important to keep your ears and eyes open for something that catches your interest, or will open the door to the career you want.  

Be confident in your skills and your ability to learn on the job.

Sean Chinery started at Edmonton Public Library (EPL) doing cataloguing. He was accepted for the job despite having no cataloguing experience. His advice is, “If you don’t have the qualifications for the job, go for it anyways.” Convince an employer that you have the required soft skills and are willing to learn, and they will provide the technical training.

Meghan Unterschultz from the Winspear Centre agrees that the values, attitude and capability of applicants are their most valuable attributes. "A lot of the people that work here learn on the job,” says Meghan. “We want them for who they are."

Getting a job with an Arts degree is all about recognizing the skills you’ve honed in university and understanding how they will help you to perform well at work.

Get some work experience.

Karen Chidiak from EPL says that getting work experience while you’re in university can not only help you to make contacts; It can also help you to decide what you want to do after graduation. “Working and volunteering while you’re in school really gets your foot in the door. If you have something in mind in the industry you wish to work in, get that experience,” she says. “It will give you a perspective of the things you want to do once you graduate.”

Ken Davis from the Citadel Theatre says that donating some of your time to organizations in your area of interest is great for skill development. “I have made volunteerism a part of my career for forty years. I’m always volunteering at two or three different organizations over and above my work week,” Ken says. “I’m giving back from what I’m learning, but I’m also getting to practice what I know in different arenas. I’m getting to test my knowledge against a lot of different kinds of problems. That has incredible value back into your career.”

Work experience on your resume can put you ahead of competitors from an employer’s perspective, but more importantly, having that experience will give you new perspectives and skills that you can bring to the table in your next position.  

Build a network. Make professional connections that can give you leads into your next job.

Adam goes for the direct approach with networking, suggesting that if you meet someone who you think is interesting, you should approach them. Ask if you can buy them a coffee, and start a conversation about their work.

Ken says that the key to building a professional network hasn’t changed much in the last forty years: “Making sure that you are connecting with people in fields that you are interested in, building that body of people that are on your side and are willing to help advance you, and then making sure that when you are given an opportunity, you show up and give it absolutely everything you have.”

Actively seeking out new connections and following through on opportunities that they give you shows that you are dedicated and engaged in your career, and showing people that you are hardworking and enthusiastic in your work will gain you the appreciation and respect of your connections.

Follow your values and do what you love.

Holly Arnason from EPL started out with a degree in Political Science. "A lot of the reasons that I was passionate about political science - providing access to information and resources, supporting the public, and facilitating learning in a public space - are the same values that we support at EPL.” Holly now helps to facilitate the Makerspace in Stanley Milner Library, helping the Edmonton community bring their own ideas to life through technology.

Karen, a Senior Marketing Consultant with EPL, stresses that above all, it is important to follow your passion. “Look for jobs that will leverage your strengths. Match your core values in the jobs that you’re looking for. I love marketing, and I’m happy to be at EPL because it matches my core values as well. It’s not just about profit; it’s about impacting the daily lives of others and to me that’s more meaningful than getting another bonus.”

Having a job that pays well is great, but feeling like your work is important is more valuable to your happiness than a little extra on the paycheck. 

Find a mentor; someone who can give you advice and guidance.

Neil from the Citadel Theatre says that finding a mentor is often as easy as asking, and can be extremely rewarding. “I think something that is very important is finding those mentors that inspire you or have those positions that you want, and just reaching out. Ninety nine percent of the time those people are going to come back to you and be willing to help you out, answer your questions and give you feedback.”

Alison at the Winspear Centre says that oftentimes you’ll find a community rather than a single mentor. “I think everybody in the arts tends to mentor each other. We all have strengths that we can offer. I find a generous spirit in the arts community. We know we need each other, so we all help each other.”

Having a mentor to go to for advice will help you continue learning long after you graduate.

Being unsure about your career path won’t prevent you from having a successful and happy career. What’s important is that you follow your interests, continue learning, and pursue any opportunities you are given with dedication and passion. 

Monday, 24 November 2014

On the ground: Learning the reality of careers in law and enforcement

Today's post is by Kristen McArthur, who is an undergraduate student in the Faculty of Arts.

I cannot thank the staff at CAPS: Your U of A Career Centre enough for accepting my application to attend the Law & Enforcement Career Crawl on Monday, November 10, 2014. I have always had a keen interest in the legal system, and as a student studying outside of the Faculty of Law, there have been few opportunities for me to learn more about it.

The career crawl was extremely informative, not exclusively on an “informational level” per se; rather, I came to understand and have a greater appreciation for those in the field of justice, corrections, and enforcement. I came to realize how much these working professionals really love what they do, they have a passion for it and most of them had no idea they would follow such a career path. It was all happenstance* which was all the more inspiring.

As an Arts student I thought I would have to start all over if I wanted to pursue facets of the Canadian judicial system, but there are so many opportunities out there for me that I am now aware of thanks to the career crawl. I was given information on the job descriptions, requirements and recruitment processes of the Edmonton Police Service, probation officers, and corrections. I learned about the challenging and enthralling work involved in being either a defense lawyer or a crown prosecutor. Many of my misperceptions were corrected in terms of what you see in the media and what is reality for some of those involved in the criminal justice system—which was very enlightening for someone who is interested in the same field(s).

I learned about salary, expectations, requirements, and the wide variation of backgrounds from a sheriff to a probation officer. Most people “happened” upon a career in the legal system. For someone who pursued a BA in Psychology and Sociology, meeting professionals within the system possessing the same degree was extremely encouraging and reassuring that it is not too late for me, that I too can have a career in this field with or without a law degree.

I learned a little about the cultural aspects of the judicial system like the types of cultural sensitivity training police officers undergo and if you were an undercover officer, whether you would be matched based on ethnicity. I got to see a whole other side of corrections officers, who are really passionate about their work, and their efforts toward objectivity and safety (not just for themselves, but for the accused as well). All in all, I would rate this experience as a highlight in my academic career. It has helped shaped my perceptions and understandings about the various opportunities I have available to me, not only as a student but also as a citizen and human being. Wonderful experience, I would do it again, any day.

*Editor’s note:
The concept of happenstance in careers was reinforced by the speakers as they shared with participants their own career stories. Where they ended up had less to do with planning and more to do with their responses to both positive and negative chance events, or happenstance. The speakers’ stories demonstrated that to successfully manage your career it is important to remain flexible by actively exploring your many areas of interest and keeping your options open. It is important to say 'yes' to new opportunities even when you don’t know the outcome. It is also crucial to reflect on what you learn from engaging in new opportunities. The speakers’ career stories suggested that making plans is fine, but plans should be revised regularly to reflect new possibilities. You can find out more about CAPS’ approach to career management here.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Career advice for international students

Today's post was written by Nicole Hoffman, CAPS' Communications Intern.

In September, I attended a meeting of the International Student Advisory Council (ISAC), a student group created with the purpose of making sure that the concerns of international students are heard on campus. I wanted to know what sorts of challenges international students experience when looking for work in Canada. At the meeting, we discussed the concerns of international students. The following article outlines these concerns, and provides direction and resources for international students to help them overcome obstacles.

I’m worried that I won’t have enough relevant work experience when I graduate.

Part-time and summer work provides experience you can include on your resume, as well as helps you develop soft skills and build a professional network in Canada. There are several options for international students seeking work experience.

In 2014, the law was changed to make it easier for international students to work off-campus without a work permit. To find out if you are eligible, visit the Government of Canada website. CAPS online job postings can help you to find part-time and summer work before graduation, as well as work upon graduation. Jobkin, run by the U of A Students’ Union, is also a good source for job postings, particularly part-time campus jobs.

The International Student Work Study Program (ISWSP) is a program dedicated to helping undergraduate international students find on-campus summer work experience. Participating employers specifically hire international students, so you will be competing against students with similar experience.

It is also good to have some volunteer experience on your resume. It shows an employer that you are dedicated to pursuing your interests, and you may also find that it is easier to find volunteer work that is relevant to your interests and career aspirations. There are several volunteer opportunities that are conveniently located on campus, some of which only require an hour or two time commitment per week. To find out where you can volunteer on campus, visit the Student’s Union Volunteer Registry.

I don’t know if I have the soft skills that employers are looking for.

One great way to work on your soft skills, such as communication, leadership, problem solving and teamwork skills, is by getting involved with organizations on campus. Visit BearsDen to find student groups related to your interests. If you can’t find any, consider starting your own. Get involved with your faculty student association or the Students' Union by running for a student government position. Not only will you gain experience working with others, you’ll be able to put that experience on your resume to show employers the skills you have acquired during your studies.

There are also programs designed to help you develop these professional skills; for example:
Decide what skills you’d like to focus on, then do some research to find which program on campus can help you to develop them.

I haven’t had time to build a professional network in Canada.

It’s true that many positions are found through networking, and that networking is an important tool in the work-search process. It’s never too late to start building this network. Start by making contacts within your faculty. Get to know your professors. Participate in events on campus to meet other students. Attend Clubs Fair at the beginning of each semester to see if there are any on-campus groups that relate to your interests, and get involved.

Another great way to build your professional network is to attend conferences and like events related to the area you are interested in working in. They are a great way to meet people that are working in your industry. The connections you make could be invaluable to you as you search for work. If you find a conference that you’re interested in attending, be sure to check out the Green and Gold Student Leadership and Professional Development Grant and the Shell Enhanced Learning Fund (SELF) to see if you are eligible for financial support.

LinkedIn can be a great tool to stay in touch with contacts you’ve made, to build your career network and to keep up-to-date with what’s trending in the workplace. A strong LinkedIn profile can even help you catch the attention of employers and recruiters in your field. If you meet someone you’re interested in keeping in touch with, send them a follow up email and add them on LinkedIn to maintain a connection.

The hiring process in Canada is different from my home country, and I’m not sure how to prepare.

If you are unsure how to present yourself to an employer, CAPS offers resume reviews and mock interviews to prepare you for presenting yourself professionally, both on paper and in person. We also have several books in our Resource Centre that give tips on the interview process, how to write a resume, and more. You can interact face to face with employers at career fairs and student/employer mixers. For more information on these and other services, visit our website (

Find a mentor to give you advice. Choose someone you admire or someone who is in a position that you’d like to hold in the future. The CAPS Career Mentoring Program connects students with professionals to help them prepare for their entry into the workplace. Mentors can explain how they got to where they are, while encouraging and guiding you to achieving your career goals.

I’m worried that employers won’t want to hire me because I’m an international student.

One of the best things you can do to help you succeed in your work search is to recognize your own value. Show employers you are confident in your knowledge and abilities, and that you can contribute to their organization in a positive and impactful way. Zhaoyi, a member of ISAC explains how international students can make an extraordinary impact in the workplace. “International students were born and raised in different backgrounds, which means we experience things differently than (domestic Canadians)” says Zhaoyi. “We have different experiences and a different understanding of the world.” These different experiences have the potential to nurture growth, innovation and progress within an organization.

It is also important to keep in mind that everyone has the right to be treated fairly and be given an equal chance to be hired into a position. Discrimination based on race, cultural background, religious beliefs, ancestry, gender, disability or age is illegal under the Alberta Human Rights Act. If you feel that you are being discriminated against by an employer or in the workplace, contact the Alberta Human Rights Commission on their confidential inquiry line at 780-427-7661.

At CAPS, our approach is to encourage career engagement throughout your degree. This doesn’t mean that you need to know exactly where you want to work when you complete your degree, but it does require you to actively seek out experiences that will broaden your career options. The university has several programs and resources to help you. Take advantage of these opportunities learn more about the Canadian workplace, to show employers you are committed to your career, and to maximize your chance of success after graduation.

Special thanks to International Student Services (ISS) and the International Student Advisory Council (ISAC) for the guidance with this blog post. To learn how to apply for a Social Insurance Number (SIN), get advice regarding immigration issues, participate in workshops that help with communication skills, connect with mentors who can help you navigate campus life and more visit 

Thursday, 30 October 2014


FURCA logoIf you haven't heard already, the Festival of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities - affectionately known as FURCA - starts on Monday, 3 November and runs to Friday, 14 November. One of the many exciting events planned is Tomorrows Ideas, Now: Hacking Social & Cultural Innovation. My first question when I heard about the plans for this event was, "How do you hack social and cultural innovation?" I had heard of hackathons before, but always in relation computer programming. I now know that the concept of bringing people together to collaborate in creating innovative solutions to problems or opportunities can be applied broadly.

In planning the hackathon, the fearless FURCA team sent out a call for challenges just waiting to be hacked. Responses included creating a campus to which international students feel welcome, combating cheating and plagiarism, promoting connections among U of A students and marginalized populations in our City in order to have an impact on social justice, and developing a social strategy to combat homonegative language on campus.

These and other challenges will be presented on the evening of Friday, 7 November after a keynote presentation by Rt. Hon. Kim Campbell titled "Students as Leaders for Social Change." Students will then have the opportunity to network and form interdisciplinary teams that will meet the following day to tackle the challenges. Facilitators will be there to work with teams and connect them to potential resources (e.g. funding, mentorship, courses) to support their project.

Why should you spend a Friday night and Saturday hacking social and cultural issues with my peers?

I can think of lots of reasons:
  • It's an opportunity to make a social contribution: Who knows what positive impact you and your peers might have on our campus and beyond?
  • You're bound to learn something: Who knows what interests might be sparked and where they might take you?
  • You'll will find out about resources available to you as a U of A student that perhaps you were unawares of: Who knows how you might access those resources in the future?
  • You'll meet new people: Who knows what those connections will lead to?
  • You'll be challenged to think outside of the box: Who doesn't love a challenge?
  • We will feed you: What student doesn't doesn't jump at the chance for free food?
  • You'll have fun! Need I say more?
If you're interested in taking part but feeling a bit nervous, here's are some general guidelines about what to expect:
  • It's OK to start simply.
  • No matter what you do, it cannot be all things to all people.
  • Experience matters as much as expertise. (Knowledge comes from many places, not just university).
  • Technology stunts participation -- face-to-face dialogue & interaction are encouraged.
  • Each person participates differently. Listening is itself a valuable form of participation.
  • Safe and inclusive spaces are created, not stated.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

One student's journey with undergraduate research

This week’s blog post comes from Bo Bao, a 3rd year Peer Undergraduate Research Liaison (PURL) with the Undergraduate Research Initiative. We asked him to reflect on his undergraduate research experiences and his work with URI.

Why did you get involved with URI?

I became involved with the URI in my first year of university back in 2012 because I wanted to inspire others to explore and discover the various learning opportunities offered through undergraduate research. Undergraduate research has benefited me personally because it has been integral in supporting and enhancing my academic learning experiences. I first got involved in mentored research with the Sanofi Aventis Biogenius Challenge (SABC) at the recommendation of my high school biology teacher. Getting started was extremely challenging. There were no resources available to advise me on how to approach a research professor and there was no database informing me of potential mentors interested in hiring a student. While I was fortunate to obtain a position, there were many other motivated and qualified students who were not given the opportunity to pursue research.

How did your involvement with URI & undergraduate research benefit you?

My participation in a mentored research project was significant because it invigorated my interest in sciences and it inspired me to pursue an undergraduate career in Honors Neurosciences program. The process of pursuing a research opportunity can be very challenging without a support network. This past summer, I once again got involved in undergraduate research with the assistance of URI. Through URI, I was able to connect with a research professor for a research position, get advice on funding resources available to support my research project, and I have an opportunity to present my research at the Undergraduate Research Symposium. During my research project, the whole process of designing a research plan, carrying out experimental work and analyzing data encourages collaborative problem solving and facilitates an interactive learning environment. I learned to collaborate with an interdisciplinary team of professionals, critically solve problems and conduct myself professionally.

How has URI changed since you got involved?

As one of the first group of student to volunteer with URI, a “first generation PURL”, I have grown alongside URI, witnessing the expansion and the impact that URI has made within the community. The expansion of Undergraduate Research Symposium into Festival of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (FURCA) reflects the growing culture of undergraduate research and creative activities here at the University of Alberta. FURCA provides undergraduate students the opportunity to engage in cutting edge research and put their curiosity to work through programs such as the Research Crawls, the Undergraduate Research Symposium and the Undergraduate Research Resource Fair.

How can other students get started in undergraduate research?

I encourage you to check out URI’s events calendar (we’re having a session about getting started in research on November 18th), the Undergraduate Research Portal on eClass, or visit URI for advice. You can meet with the URI staff or one of the PURLs to find out about resources available to support your project, such as the URI Undergraduate Researcher Stipend.

This year FURCA will be supported by our crowdfunding campaign on the USEED platform so that that whole community can be involved in our celebration of undergraduate research. To support and be a part of the growing culture of undergraduate research, I encourage everyone to check out our campaign page and help us by contributing to the campaign or sharing it with your friends!

Friday, 19 September 2014

The relationship between mindfulness and career objectives

Over the past number of years at CAPS, we have been moving away from using terms like 'career planning' to using terms like 'career engagement.' Today's post, from Justin Pritchard highlights why this shift in the way we approach career development is important in a world characterised by on-going change and complexity.

At the career centre, we speak about your career being ‘now' and also of 'preferred futures.' What are the intersections of mindfulness (now) and hope (future)? As the President of the Mindfulness Meditation Student Group on campus and a Graduate Career Advisor at CAPS, I felt compelled to share my opinions on the relationship between mindfulness and career objectives.

Most mindfulness concepts stem from ancient philosophy but have now been empirically supported by research in many disciplines including psychology, neuroscience, education, leadership development, etc. When thinking about mindfulness and career development, there are two important concepts to note: the attitudes of 'non-attachment' and the attitude of ‘non-striving’.

Non-attachment means that we should not grasp or 'cling' to things, ideas and/or beliefs about ourselves because we are constantly evolving. This concept aligns with the Chaos Theory of Career Development which highlights that life is full of change, uncertainty, and complexity. One of the problems we can run into when we ‘cling’ to our preferred futures is a ‘tunnel vision’ mentality. In my opinion, having a narrow view on life ultimately limits our faculties of self-wisdom. Since mindfulness is the practice of awareness and noticing, it’s not a bad thing to notice a pull towards certain career options. This noticing of preferred career options can lead to career objectives. However, if we become too attached to our career objectives, we may strive too hard to plan out our future and lose our sense of creative exploration. I would argue that this creative exploration is an important ingredient to happiness.

According to some philosophies, lasting forms of happiness come from purity of mind (freedom from hindrances) and purity of view (seeing things in their bare simplicity). These states can relate to concentration, awareness, attention and clarity. The more we focus our attention on being aware in the present moment, the less we ruminate on the past or worry about the future (potential triggers to unhappiness). To me, experiencing purity of mind and understanding the simple fact that everything in life—even our career objectives—ultimately change leads to deeper self-wisdom and happiness, in comparison to being trapped in an endless ‘cycle of searching’ because of hopeful thinking.

We have been trained in our society to value conditional forms of happiness which may result in this never-ending path of searching within our own lives. We are always searching, wanting, craving and seeking for something other than what is here right now.

            Once I make X amount of money, 
            I will be much happier.
I will be the person I want to be 
                                              when I attain my dream job.

These mindsets complicate and distort our perceptions about ourselves resulting in a whole whack of mental clutter. It’s as if we spend so much of our lives running around like a chicken with its heads cut off trying to frantically figure out where to take its next step. Even though life is a ‘pathless path,’ we can experience a cessation of searching by understanding that everything we need is actually right here within us in the present moment. Sharon Sherman, a colleague of mine, presented a wonderful training session this month on career exploration. She closed the session by stating, “Your career is right now.” This statement is the epitome of a ‘mindful mindset’ and highlights a proactive step away from the traditional ‘career planning’ approach.

I believe that there will always be a clash between striving for and attaching to our preferred future and acknowledging that our career is right now. Personally, I value the freedom we have at being able to creatively and mindfully explore different career options, and I worry that this exploration can be stifled by hopeful thinking. I also think that the phrase ‘preferred future’ might perpetuate this tendency we have to attach to the future. I wonder if there is a better way to describe our career objectives that are continually evolving because of change, complexity and uncertainty. Maybe we simply replace the phrase ‘preferred futures’ with ‘evolving career objectives.’ It’s inevitable that our career objectives will always evolve because we will always evolve and to me, that is one of the many beauties about life.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Career mentoring: From novice to professional

The application for CAPS' Career Mentoring Program is coming up so I thought a post about the program and the value of mentorship from a career development perspective would be timely. It comes from Amy Roy Gratton who, among other things, coordinates CAPS' Career Mentoring Program.

Confusion, frustration and anxiety about career options often lead students to explore the CAPS Career Mentoring Program. A mentor can offer clarity and guidance on where you are going and how you might get there. They can give you support right when you need it. The CAPS Career Mentoring Program is different from other mentoring programs in that we don’t require you to choose from  an already existing list of mentors. Instead, we find mentors based on your specific needs and goals.

When starting the program, some of our past mentees had a specific plan about what they wanted to do while others had no plan at all. Yet they all benefited from their participation in the program in both expected and unexpected ways. All of our mentees had the unique opportunity to interact for eight months with their hand-picked mentors, developing knowledge, skills and connections that advanced their careers. Here are just a few of their stories:
  • A year ago Ruslan, a Masters student in Modern Languages and Cultural Studies, thought he’d only start looking for work after he graduated. However, because of the CAPS Career Mentoring Program, he became employed well before he graduated and landed what he calls his dream job and a career in communications. 
  • Yvette, a student in ALES (Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology) felt “utterly confused and frustrated” when she applied to the CAPS Career Mentoring Program. She knew there were career options beyond academia but didn’t know how to match her knowledge with the unconventional career she felt would fit her best. She craved a new perspective and needed clarity on her goals. Her mentor (who had a background in sustainability) helped Yvette learn how to appreciate her accomplishments. Yvette also discovered that pursuing a non-traditional path, which at times can feel like having no clear direction, forced her to be more proactive and creative – allowing her to create her own opportunities and design her desired future.
  • Shahed, a student completing his Masters in Engineering, wanted to develop his soft skills; in particular his relationship-building, leadership and team-based conflict resolution skills. Shahed learned that he didn’t have to be in a leadership position to be a leader in an organization. He discovered becoming a technical specialist could be just as impactful and fulfilling because he would be the person his colleagues and clients depended on to get things done. Shahed also learned how to prepare effectively for meetings and saw how this preparation can lead to results. 
These students had great experiences to share and yet, it’s not just the mentees who benefit from the CAPS Career Mentoring Program. In the past year, the mentors made new friends and colleagues, learned about themselves and their own abilities and were able to understand their professions in new ways.

Both our mentees and mentors offer these words of advice for making the mentorship relationship work:
  • Make mentorship a priority. Even when other deadlines were pressing, our mentees pushed themselves to reach out to their mentors. By reaching out to their mentors in times of chaos, they actually gained confidence in their abilities and found greater motivation to complete the tasks they felt were overwhelming (such as writing or defending a thesis). A mentor can help a mentee develop time management, problem solving and goal setting skills, all of which help make stressful times more manageable.
  • Create SMART goals with your mentor and evaluate your progress. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Much of the growth that happens in the CAPS Career Mentoring Program is personal growth, which is not something you can easily measure. Setting a goal like “I hope to feel more confident” can be difficult to measure. Instead, break goals down into smaller goals. For example, if feeling more confident is your goal you might first start with the smaller goals of identifying where you lack confidence (e.g. public speaking) and then identify activities that will help build your confidence. 
  • Practice your professionalism. Mentees can feel uneasy in professional situations. A mentor is a great resource to help you practice skills in a non-threatening environment where mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities. For example, mentees often ask their mentors to help them practice networking. Even if the process is initially awkward for the mentee, these are seen by the mentor as teachable moments rather than career hindrances.
  • Make the relationship beneficial for both the mentor and mentee. Although the mentor-mentee relationship is typically viewed as being mainly beneficial to the mentee, this does not have to be the case. Everyone can add value and our mentees suggest finding ways to share information, skills and connections to demonstrate that you are eager, interested and able to take initiative. Ask yourself, what can I do for my mentor so that they benefit from knowing and working with me? Sharing current and trending information about the U of A, and your faculty and program can be interesting to your mentor and add value to the relationship. 
Admission to the CAPS Career Mentoring Program is competitive since a limited number of participants are accepted each year. Undergraduate and graduate students as well as postdoctoral fellows are eligible to apply. Attend one of our information sessions to learn more about how you can benefit from this program and how to create a strong application. Visit our website to view the deadline date.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Learning from career u-turns

This past Labour Day The Tyee, an independent, online magazine based out of B.C., launched a four-part series called Career 180. Each article in the series profiles someone who has made a major shift in their career. By major shift, I mean they went from doing one thing to doing something completely different, like going from running a wireless products company to opening a bakeshop, from being a media relations manager to apprenticing as a heavy-duty mechanic. In each case, there was something that precipitated the change, such as being laid off or personal health problems. Bruce Grierson, who studied and wrote about career change in U-Turn (2008), is quoted throughout the articles. He found that while a lay-off or other factor (outside of one's control, I'd add) can often be a catalyst for career change, it is not the cause. Rather, a person must be 'emotionally ready' to make a change. "U-turns happen because the tuners are ready for them to happen," he says.

Even though each of the articles profiles someone who had been working in one career for an extended period of time before transitioning to another, I think the series offers something for students who have limited work experience or who are just starting their careers. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that the approach to career development we take at CAPS is one that recognizes the significant role that chance plays in people's lives and careers. Talk to family, friends, acquaintances about how they got to where they are and you’ll soon see a trend of people’s careers being shaped by unplanned, random and unpredictable events and encounters. 

So we recommend taking a 'planned happenstance' approach to managing your career. This means being open to new opportunities, thinking about and following your curiosities, reflecting on chance events and encounters and asking questions like, 'What possibilities does this create?' By being open, you will discover career opportunities you never knew existed and maybe even create your own.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

From Airport to Internship: How a semester abroad prepared me for work

Today's blog post comes from Nicole Hoffman, CAPS' Communications Intern, who recently completed a semester abroad at Universit√© Catholique de Lille in Lille, France.

When my parents asked me why I wanted to spend a semester in France, I told them “studying abroad will make me more employable.” I had read it somewhere on a travelling website, and at the time I had suspected that it was an exaggerated statement, but it was reassuring to feel that there could be practical value to my trip. When I decided to go, it was to improve my French and to see a bit of Europe, but what I didn't expect was how much studying abroad would change me.

It wasn't until I returned that I discovered how much I had evolved during my exchange, and it wasn't until I started my new internship that I saw how the skills that I’d gained abroad have improved my competence in the workplace.

Adaptability and Openness to Change. On the first day of orientation in my French university, I met a student who was majoring in Languages. He had hardly introduced himself to me before he was complaining about life in France. He hated the food, his residence, the northern French accent, the weather and the university policies. Despite only having been there for a week, he seemed overwhelmed and was struggling with culture shock. He didn’t seem to know how to adapt to his new circumstances, and while I felt for him, I came to think of him as an example of how I didn’t want to spend my semester. If I concerned myself exclusively with the ways in which France was not like Canada, I would be perpetually unhappy, and would be unable to enjoy the amazing, exclusively French experiences. This goes doubly in the workplace, which can often be subject to change. You and your employer will both benefit if you are able to thrive in an evolving work environment, and are willing to try new positions or responsibilities.

Diplomacy and Interpersonal skills. When you’re an international student at another university, your closest friends are likely other international students. Essentially, this means that your friend group becomes a diverse mishmash of personalities and backgrounds. The personality clashes that resulted from this grouping were both frustrating and enlightening. I began to gauge my reactions carefully when speaking with my international friends. What was the source of my reaction? Was it a language barrier? A cultural difference?  How could I explain my position without seeming rude or aggressive? Refining this sort of tact took some time, but the experience taught me to be more open to other opinions. Every workplace is full of people with different ideologies and goals. Rather than allowing these clashes to bring productivity to a standstill, it is important to mediate and compromise with coworkers. After all, the collaboration of different perspectives is an opportunity for the generation of fresh ideas.

Confidence. When I first arrived in France, I discovered that I was nowhere near as fluent as I needed to be. I was embarrassed by my lack of proficiency, and found the idea of speaking to a francophone in their native tongue daunting. It took me a long time to work up the nerve to attempt a conversation with one of my French neighbors, but when I did, I found that she was more than willing to help me practice. She was patient with my clumsy French, and encouraged me to work with her on my speaking skills. The improvement was almost immediate. What I realised then was that I needed to learn to be confident not only in the knowledge that I already possessed, but in my ability to learn quickly. In an interview, an employer needs to be assured that new employees will become an active, growing part of the team. Don’t be shy about acknowledging your strengths, and think about how you can use them to expand your skill set to make yourself an invaluable asset.

Making Connections. I’ve never been one to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Unfortunately, when you have a train to catch and you need to find your platform, you don’t have the luxury of being timid. The ability of approach people was a requirement that, once I got used to it, became a pleasure. I made friends with people that I may have previously been too shy to approach, and every encounter brought me different information and connections from all over the world. It was like a networking crash-course for travelers. By becoming more outgoing, I opened myself up to countless friendships. In the professional world, networking can be invaluable both to yourself and your company. You never know what types of opportunities will arise from the people you meet. Whether they teach you something new, become a good friend, or turn out to be a valuable contact, it is always worth it to take the initial step and just say hello.

Looking back on how different I am now from the person that I was before my trip, it’s strange that I didn’t notice the change until I returned to Canada. While I didn’t truly go to Lille to become a better employee, I came back more open, motivated, independent, outgoing, confident and diplomatic than I ever thought I’d be. While all of these attributes are assets for an employer, they’ve also made me more engaged and happier in my work, which is infinitely more valuable than simply being “more employable.”

Friday, 25 July 2014

Dr. Jim Bright on the Chaos Theory of Careers

I've written elsewhere on this blog (more than once) about CAPS' approach to career development. It is one that emphasizes action over planning, that recognizes the role that happenstance plays in shaping people's careers and that normalizes career uncertainty. These themes are also taken up in many of the guest bloggers who have contributed to this blog over the past couple of years.

Recently, a colleague sent me a link to a YouTube video featuring Jim Bright. Dr. Bright is author of The Chaos Theory of Careers. It is one of the publications that has really informed CAPS' practice. Enjoy!

Friday, 11 July 2014

Publishing opportunities, discovering new interests, finding a mentor and community, and more!

Today’s blog post comes from Monica Chahal, recipient of a Green and Gold Student Leadership and Professional Development Grant. The Green and Gold Grant is administered by CAPS and funded by the University of Alberta Annual Fund. At CAPS, we strongly encourage students to actively engage in their career and follow their curiosities because such action often reveals – even creates – opportunities for them. Monica’s experience shows the career impact of the actions we take and connections we make – in Monica’s case, publishing opportunities, discovering new interests, finding a mentor and community, and more! 

The Green and Gold Grant enabled me to attend the 35th Annual Popular & American Culture Studies Conference.  The reason I wanted to attend the conference was for its uniqueness and the potentiality of including public pedagogy, science fiction and urban culture in the classroom.

The conference itself was a truly unique and extraordinary experience, receiving the Green and Gold Grant gave me a much needed confidence boost and forced me out of my comfort zone. I attended three separate professional development sessions, all of which became extremely important and useful in the months following the conference. For the first time (due to lack of confidence and opportunity), I was able to speak to a publisher, directly, at the session on academic publishing and glean much needed information and direction.  I also had the benefit of being able to chat with the editor of a particular journal, which led to the editor offering to read two abstracts for two different papers in order to provide feedback and guidance regarding future publication possibilities, ultimately resulting in the submission of these two articles to her journal. I was also able to connect with a publisher for Intellect, who was very interested in publishing a journal on Hip Hop Culture and I will be contacting him over the summer to see if I can provide some assistance in the creation of this publication. Currently, Intellect publishes 82 double-blind peer reviewed journals world-wide; to be able to work on this from the ground up would be amazing. Additionally, I also attended a professional development session regarding the job search in academia, my first session of its kind outside of the University of Alberta and hosted solely by American Academics. As an urban researcher, many of my possible job opportunities lie in the United States, and I felt that this session provided me with an immense amount of guidance, advice and information regarding everything from how to write a curriculum vitae, to how to prepare for the interview and the multiple forms an academic contract may take. This session became tremendously important when I had my first academic interview in an American Institution 2 months following the conference.

Next the conference presentations themselves. The presentations I attended were extremely insightful, fascinating and useful to my practice, both as a pre-service educator, academic and beyond. For example, I spent a morning (8:00 am-11:45 am) attending presentations under the heading Rap and Hip Hop Culture 2 and 3.  My own research is linked to my personal interest in marginalized student populations, and as a result I have begun to explore Hip Hop Based Education and Pedagogy.  However, at the University of Alberta, and in particular within my own faculty, I am isolated. This was the first academic session I have been able to attend that focused solely on Hip Hop as an academic pursuit. While attending the first session (Rap and Hip Hop 2) the speaker, a professor from Howard University, offered to mentor my work and research.  Without attending this session, I would not have made a contact that I know I will cherish for many years. 

At the end of the second session (Rap and Hip Hop 3), I received the business card from a professor and journal editor from the University of Maryland. Due to my newly found confidence in networking, I have now submitted an article to his journal and am awaiting a response from another critical contact I had formed. In my final session, I was taught about the Harry Potter Studies, and was able to learn how to integrate a canon that is widely popular among youth of all ages into my own classrooms at the University, while still educating students in science, ethics and morality. Even more beneficial, was the connection, I was fortunate enough to make with the Area Chair for this section, who, after hearing about my focus on marginalized students and white privilege, invited me to submit a chapter proposal for his edited volume. Finally, in between the attended sessions, I was able to further connect with other conference participants inspiring a feeling of community of which I had not felt in a very long time.  Also, as a result of the many contacts I have made, myself, along with colleagues met at the conference, are now leading small publication groups with others at the University of Alberta.

In conclusion, all of this has been immensely gratifying as within my curriculum vitae my weakest section has been that of peer reviewed publications. As a young academic, I have had difficulty in finding a match between my articles and journals, and had become quite frustrated. However, the Green and Gold Grant provided me with the realization that I am supported, giving me confidence and thus encouraging me to put myself forward, ask for guidance, and gain much needed feedback . Consequently, I am certain that as a result of this single conference, I will become a published author.

This was hands down, the best conference I have ever attended. More importantly, it is a conference that has created for me, many professional networks, publication opportunities and a newfound sense of purpose. 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Labour Market Trends and Rising Stars in Fort McMurray - Part 2

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

I often get the question, “what do you do all summer when there are no students around?” I’m fortunate to be able to explore careers first hand in order to be more knowledgeable about career options and labour market information when I advise students. 

This summer I was thrilled to participate the Oil Sands Careers Education Program hosted by Inside Education where I got to explore Alberta’s oil sands in Fort McMurray. I love Inside Education because their programming includes multiple perspectives. This was particularly important with the oil sands where debate continues daily regarding its environmental and economic impacts. In my last blog post I talked about life as a commuting employee – but that was just half of the experience. In addition the tour also explored educational, government, industry, human resources and labour market perspectives.

The packed two-day tour began with an overview of labour market trends over the next 20 years. According to the human resources professionals at Cenovus, a Canadian oil company employing about 5000 people in Alberta and Saskatchewan, the biggest threat to oil sands production is a human resources problem: not having enough skilled workers to make the work happen. Age-related attrition caused by a retiring workforce means creative strategies are needed to develop flexible work options for retiring employees who are valuable in mentoring new employees. There are also the usual concerns such as turnover; however, it’s not just local competitors offering enticing opportunities, it’s now a global market making offers that can’t be refused.

It seems the most common career shortages that we hear about are trades, science and technology. However, on this tour I was encouraged to see the variety of jobs that exist in supporting roles within the oil sands industry. All disciplines including communications, aboriginal relations, workplace health and wellness, information systems, finance, environmental, policy development and distribution are needed, valued and important.

If you’d like to learn more about the variety of people that make the oil industry work, the May 2014 issue of Oil Week Magazine highlights 12 Rising Stars who are key contributors. Not only did they profile a variety of careers, they also emphasized the career theory CAPS supports: that we are not one dimensional people; we have multiple interests and multiple goals, beyond work, that are just as important as the work that we do.

Although there seems to be an impression that people with less than a high school education can find lucrative work in Fort McMurray; this is a myth. The message we heard over and over again is that oil companies need trained (and trainable) people who can learn fast and who won’t cause costly mistakes. Our first stop, to reinforce this point, was a visit to Keyano College. At the college we received an overview of Heavy Equipment Technician, Power Engineering, and the Crane and Hoisting Equipment Operator and the Environmental Technology Program – which now includes a wildlife component mandated by the courts after the tailings pond incident of 2008. The tour was fascinating for me because of the cross over between our university and college programming.  Louis Dingley, Chair of University Studies Science and Environmental Technology, shared a statistic that surprised me: for every Professional Engineer, three Engineering Technologists are needed to support that role which shows how interdependent colleges and universities really are.

Keyano College bring hands on education to another level with their Oil Sands Power and Process Engineering Lab, a $29-million dollar facility that allows students to operate a plant from start-up to shut-down on a daily basis. At a real plant in Fort McMurray there is no time for emergency shut downs. Real shut downs waste thousands of dollars. This plant allows these emergencies to be simulated and training to be tailored around the student’s skill level to prepare them for any scenario. One of the instructors – a retired Process Engineer, was the perfect example to illustrate the labour market trends we discussed at the beginning of our tour: he had enjoyed an international career and was scooped up out of retirement to pass on his experience to a new generation of process engineers.  

Although technical training like this is important, the ability to communicate was highlighted as the most important skills beyond any other. Complex organizations have a dynamic mix of people making them run effectively. The ability to communicate with inter-disciplinary colleagues and cross-functional teams means everyone from public relations to distribution is working toward the same goal, despite their differing viewpoints. Professionals need to be knowledgeable in their field but also need to understand a problem from multiple perspectives and explain their knowledge in a non-technical way.

Although I was aware that soft skills are important in the workplace, hearing this message from a very technical, industry perspective was great reinforcement for the advising I do. The whole experience was myth busting and enlightening. To challenge your own biases toward the oil industry and create your own memories, consider contacting the University of Alberta Oil Sands Student Delegation to learn how you can explore Fort McMurray and see what the big town that has it all has to offer. 

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Book Review - Lean In for Graduates by Sheryl Sandberg

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

Lean In for Graduates by Sheryl Sandberg and Others. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

Since its appearance in early 2013, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead has sparked debate and discussions, not only about the encouragement the book gives to women to devote energy to their careers, while also encouraging both men and women to treat women more fairly in the workplace and at home, but also about the privilege of the book’s superstar author, Sheryl Sandberg. (Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, was ranked number one on Forbes list of the World’s Most Powerful Women in Business, and recently lost her status as a billionaire when Facebook’s stock decreased in value.) If you haven’t heard about Lean In, it is possible that you have seen Sandberg’s original talk on TED, which has now collected over 4 million viewers.

Lean In for Graduates includes the original Lean In content, with the addition of about one hundred new pages of content. These new chapters include personal stories about career and life setbacks, advice on job seeking for graduates, and two chapters on salary and negotiation skills. The whole book is highly accessible and well written, including autobiographical examples, as well as examples from research.

Sandberg uses a metaphor for careers and career development, a jungle gym, which is similar to the model developed by CAPS. For Sandberg, she didn’t plan her career path, and recommends that readers move up, laterally and down, if needed, to move toward the career you want.  Sandberg also recommends seizing opportunities, as well as developing focus and “leaning in”, as is the case when she describes the advice she was given when she hesitated over taking her initial position at Google: “If offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on.” She also states that risk aversion, as well as underestimating one’s abilities, can hold a person back from career momentum, including this advice from research at Hewlett Packard which showed that men would apply for a position if they had 60% of the requirements of the posting, while women would only apply if they had 100%. However, when the discrepancy was revealed, women began applying more for positions where they had most of the criteria, but did not cut themselves out of the competition when they did not have it all.

For grads, the message of plans don’t always work out or that make a plan plus a contingency and reevaluate, as well as taking chances when the rewards are worth the risks, is good advice. Sandberg also suggests that coming together to discuss career and workplace issues, the Lean In Circles that were formed in the wake of the original book, are also a viable idea for grads who are looking for encouragement, support and advice. If you read the original Lean In and enjoyed it and if you were looking for a graduation gift for a career-minded grad, Lean In for Graduates includes plenty of good advice and encouragement for the graduate audience.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Career Highlights and Myths Exposed in Fort McMurray – Part 1

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

One of my favourite things about being a career advisor is the chance to explore different careers first-hand. My role at CAPS is to coordinate programs that get students out of the classroom to experience careers themselves so it’s only fitting that I sometimes get out of my office to do the same!

Last month I was one of 24 people chosen to participate in the Oil Sands Careers Education Program hosted by Inside Education, an Alberta-based not-for-profit organization whose mission is to make first-hand environmental and natural resources education accessible to teachers so that they can bring real-life experiences to students in the classroom.
The tour was two-fold: To experience the life of a commuting employee and learn the technical terms and challenges within the oil sands industry. To experience the life of a commuter, we boarded a charter flight with North Cariboo Air from the Edmonton International Airport to Fort McMurray which took 1 hour and 10 minutes. In my past life as a Human Resources Recruiter for Western Canada I took over 500 commercial flights. I can’t begin to describe the ease of flying with a charter airline from a passenger perspective. There is very little waiting around – arrive, check-in, fly out! When you’re commuting weekly into Fort McMurray I can see why the expense of charter flights is justified. Once up in the air it was a thrill for me to see the changing landscape from Edmonton’s farming quadrants to northern Alberta’s forest packed landscape.

When we arrived in Fort McMurray we were picked up and transported by Diversified Transportation, a company that employs 3,500 employees and has been transporting employees from their homes or camps to worksites throughout Fort McMurray since 1967. I held my breath as the bus turned on to the infamous Highway 63. Judging from the line up of cars on the highway, I could immediately see why the pressures exist to twin the highway. As I came to find out, the worksites have introduced many educational campaigns aimed at changing driver behaviors including driver fatigue, passing aggressively, speeding and distraction.   
Our tour continued at SAGD Operations (pronounced: sagg-dee) also known as In situ Operations (Latin for “in place”) run by Connacher. This plant is located one hour outside of Fort McMurray city limits where we got to see everything from the accordion pipelines that expand and contract with weather conditions to the final oil product that gets shipped by truckload for sale.
That evening we spent the night at a camp where we got to see how companies set themselves apart by creating a supportive, clean, nutritious environment for their staff. Managed by GRC Camp Services, camp life is not at all what I expected. I expected to be roughing it “camping style.” Instead I had a small hotel-style room including a bed, a shared bathroom, a television, desk, closet and sink – everything I would need for a comfortable rest before the next 12-14 hour shift. The supper, a seafood medley and pork tenderloin, was prepared by culinary trained professionals and was the best thing I had tasted in months! Menus are planned in detail to include all food groups with two entrees each (like herb crusted lamb chops and slow roasted prime rib with Yorkshire pudding) and side dishes to complement the meal! Although employees are there to make a living, Connacher focuses on giving them a life which also includes a workout facility, pool tables and a mini movie theatre.

Because of its remote location, Connacher places special emphasis on wildlife interactions and survival –
both for humans and animals. From a recruitment point of view it was interesting to hear that when deciding between two applicants, if one has spent time camping and exploring the outdoors and has equal theoretical knowledge to someone who is not familiar with the outdoors, the lover of the outdoors has the advantage. The first-hand outdoor education provides the employee with the know-how of how to deal with wildlife encounters that are very common up north.

The next day we set off for a tour of Syncrude where mining and processing bitumen is a 24 hour, 7 days a week, 365 day operation. One truck filled with bitumen is worth $20,000. In the 15 minutes we were there I saw three pass by. Each tire those trucks is $50,000 and there are six on each truck! The Syncrude tour was informative and addressed many myths regarding tailings ponds and reclamation.

Across the road from the active mining site is Beaver Creek Wood Bison Ranch. Wood bison, once native to the area, were thought to be extinct until 1957. The current herd of 300 bison was recovered from 31 animals loaned from the Elk Island National Park in 1993. I was inspired by the transformation from tailings pond to nature reserve working to nurture the growth of a once endangered species.

Having been a commuting employee for less than 48 hours I came to realize that this life is not for everyone. However, those who have dedicated themselves to their work and made this their life do really love it. Fort McMurray was built on innovation and we saw examples of this everywhere. To get the full picture, make time to visit the big town by applying for the University of Alberta Oil Sands Student Delegation. Fort McMurray is full of enthusiastic people, eager to share their story of how the town welcomes commuters, both near and far.