Career Conversations

Written by: Clarissa Huffman
Sociology Level III
Anthropology ’14

As social sciences students, I’m sure you’re all familiar with the Experiential Education office and the emails that they send frequently. One of the recurring things they do for us as students is something called a ‘Career Conversation’, which is exactly what it sounds like – a group of students come to a meeting with an established professional, listen to him/her talk about their position and how they got there, tips and tricks for the field, and students have the opportunity to pick the brains of these professionals who so nicely put aside time to come and give us advice.

One of the things I hear often is this: “But why should I go? He’s not talking about anything I know about, or even anything I’m interested in learning. He’s not even working in my preferred field!!” Last week, I decided to put this statement to the test, to discover if I could learn anything new by listening to someone speak about their experiences in a field VERY different from the career I’d like to pursue. The conversation I went to was with an Associate Director at RBC. If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know that I’m a geography student, so banking and finance is most DEFINITELY not my thing. But I’ll let you in on a secret – I learned a lot!!

So what did I learn from listening to somebody talk about their experiences in a discipline so very different from mine??

1. It’s NEVER too late!! You might think that you can never get to where you want to be because you had a really crappy first year, or almost failed a class. You’ll never get into grad school with that on your transcript, right? Wrong. What you need is to be able to prove that you have improved (and keep improving) since that blip. And you need to be able to show that you have strong marks in the courses that are relevant to the graduate studies you are applying to. In his case, the speaker had his profs vouch for him and explain in their references why they believe that those poor first year marks aren’t representative of his work ethic as a whole. And he got in!! In my case, I decided to go back to school for the field that I love, which was a huge change in trajectory. When I was in my first degree, I never thought I would go to grad school. I was getting 6’s and 7’s, with the occasional 9 or 10 – not grad school material!! Now, in geography and environmental science courses, I am getting significantly higher grades!! I managed to get all 10’s last term, and hopefully, if I can continue that trajectory, I might have a shot at getting into graduate studies. Even if that’s not your goal, the story here is simple – it’s never too late to start over, or to try harder, or to reach for higher goals. It will pay off, even if you got a ‘late’ start doing what you love.

2. Talk to people! It was mentioned that one of the biggest weaknesses of new graduates coming in to the work world is that they have a lack of interview skills because they don’t know what the jobs are, or what they entail. If you don’t know what a job entails, how can you show an interviewer you have those skills? Talk to anyone and everyone. Hear about what they do, who they work for, why they love it, how they got there, anything. Make smart connections. The more you know, the more confidently you can walk into an interview and show your potential employers that you know what you are talking about and you are the right fit for the position you applied for.

3. Every field is interdisciplinary. I saved this for last because it’s my personal favourite. As you all know, I am a big advocate that everything is going to be interdisciplinary on some level, and it was great to hear someone other than me mention this. Imagine that, the Associate Director of RBC talking about how his company has an environmental scientist working for them! Maybe that’s also why I liked this point – because it was the one time he spoke about my field (haha). Joking aside, I this is a crucial point that encompasses one of my main philosophies about education – everything is related. Though you may not understand why at first glance, what I’m studying in the School of Geography and Earth Sciences is somehow related to day to day life at RBC. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure exactly what the environmental scientist at RBC does, because that was beyond the scope of the Career Conversation. However, just knowing that the job exists is uplifting. Do you think that everyone who has an economics degree is an Economist? The answer is, quite obviously, no. And a pretty good reason for that is because most fields are interdisciplinary, allowing for people with vastly different skill sets take on roles in a given company.

What I hope you take away from this post is simple, and is the same message that is in everything I post: experience as much as you can, while you can!! I hope after reading this, you will sign up for the next Career Conversation!! 🙂