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