Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Even 30 minutes can make or break your career

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

When it comes to engaging in career exploration activities time is important. Every year, CAPS organizes U of A Job Shadow Week, which relies on the willingness of professionals to volunteer their time to support students’ career development. This past February we recruited over 150 professionals to host over 220 students over four days for a workplace visit.

Job shadowing is unique in that it is pretty much an “all access pass” to the workplace. Students get to see the inner workings of an organization through the eyes of their host. Most of our job shadow hosts say they wished they had had these types of opportunities when they were students.

The benefits and outcomes are a great pay off for the amount of time U of A Job Shadow Week takes to coordinate. Recruiting enough people to volunteer as job shadow hosts is challenging and requires the ability to build relationships, negotiate and handle rejection. There are policies, protocols, red tape and administration to negotiate that students would have difficulty navigating through on their own. There are work schedules to arrange and requests to manage so that the job shadowing experience doesn’t become a one-sided activity that only benefits the student.

So as the facilitator of over 220 job shadow experiences imagine my frustration when I was copied on an email from a student to his host asking, “Is it alright if I come [for my job shadow] at nine-thirty as opposed to nine? I'm not much of a morning person and that extra half hour would help.” The sense of entitlement that came across in the e-mail from a student who “wanted to sleep in” made me wonder, was I like that at his age? Sadly, the answer is yes, I was.

I was the young “professional” who showed up two hours late on my second day at my first job because I slept in. At my internship I declined an invitation to an event for all staff members designed to build teamwork by hitting reply-all and saying, “Sorry, but I’d rather sleep in.”

The student’s email reinforced for me that sometimes job seekers can be their own worst enemy by sabotaging their own success. They don’t realize that by asking for these “exceptions” and compromises they may be compromising future professional relationships. His preference to sleep-in over seizing this learning opportunity could have cost him the breakthrough he needed in his career.

There could have been any number of scenarios as to why the host wanted the day to start at 9 a.m. as opposed to 9:30. Maybe the job shadow host had arranged a meeting with his senior administration team to participate in the job shadow process. Maybe he arranged to have all of his staff participate in a morning discussion on teamwork. Getting co-workers all together at the same time and place can be a challenge. I just look to my own colleagues as an example. There was only one other day in the whole month of March when all CAPS staff were available at the same time. One day! Seems ridiculous and yet it’s true!

In addition to coordinating people there are also hands-on activities that require time to plan and prepare. One of our job shadow hosts flew three students from Edmonton to High River to see how the flood of 2013 affected our province. (If you don’t think 30 minutes matters, I guess you’d have missed the flight!) Another host arranged to have the student try hands-on geological tasks, putting their science degree to work on the job. Another had a student develop a graphic design pitch for a client – a real-life client whom I’m also sure has a very busy schedule to maintain.

After getting over my initial frustration, I wondered how I might respond to the student. Do I express dismay and frustration at his seeming lack of professionalism or do I express empathy and show vulnerability based my own mistakes as a young professional? I chose to make it a teaching moment rather than react out of frustration. After calling the student to discuss the e-mail, I came to realize he genuinely didn’t think about how his request might affect others and didn’t think it really mattered. I encouraged him to call his job shadow host and explain the e-mail as an unintended oversight. I then e-mailed the host expressing my apologies for the student’s request. Lucky for the student, the job shadow host was quite forgiving. His response to my e-mail was, “It’s ok, I had a bit of a chuckle and he called me afterwards to discuss. I remember when I was 18 so I can’t be too critical.”

At CAPS we enjoy helping students learn how to present their best selves - from learning how to prepare for a job interview to presenting a professional image online. Even though some of the real life learning opportunities require students to fix their own mistakes, we are eager to guide them on how to do that effectively because we’ve all been there! Thankfully we can all learn from our mistakes so that every moment counts in our career – even if it’s as little as 30 minutes.

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