When I was in the 5th grade, I stole a book off my mother’s bedside table. It was Rites of Burial, the true story of serial killer Bob Berdella. It was totally not appropriate reading for a 10/11-year-old and even had a small section with crime scene photos of his implements of torture. I should have been terrified just pages into that book, plagued with nightmares after the first chapter. Instead, it made me feel alive. I mean, here was this human embodiment of pure evil, who tortured and murdered young men, and there were people out there who trained their entire lives to somehow track this man down and stop him. There were investigators, criminologists, profilers, crime scene technicians, whole teams of people working together whose main goal was to gather whatever information they could in their field regarding these crimes so that all of these smaller pieces could form one whole, and lead to the arrest of a monster.

By 10th grade, I was torn. I had dove head-first into true murder and serial killer books as a passion and collected Max Haines’ books as basic starters to a list of famous murderers. A big part of me wanted to train and study and learn to go out there and catch these monsters; another part wanted to sit behind a desk in a tiny office, surrounded by papers and research, and write about them. I spent the next three years reading anything I could get my hands on in our tiny school library and collecting the few books I could get at the tiny bookstore in town. This was in the days when the internet was still new and scary, and no one knew what it would become. I was being told that writing wasn’t a practical career unless I got into something like journalism or teaching writing.  At the same time, I was being told that post-secondary teaching and journalism were dying careers that would soon be completely taken over by the internet. I actually let people convince me that there would somehow be maybe two dozen journalists in all of Canada, and they would write the news for every single Canadian, who would read their news online.

By the time high school was coming to an end, everyone else pretty much decided what I would do with my life. I had applied to a school for English Writing and Psychology and had to pick a third option to apply for. I was talked into applying for International Relations and Developmental Studies. Both the writing and Psychology would have been great fits for me and would’ve let me figure out which I wanted more: the writing or the investigating. Instead, I let my parents pressure me into the International Relations program. They figured that this would lead to some high powered, big salary job in the government doing Very Big And Important Things. I had no interest in this at all but never bothered fighting them on it. Instead, I quietly hid all of the correspondence from the University over the summer, including my tuition bill. The day before classes were supposed to start, they finally asked me when my tuition was due. I told them it wasn’t because I wasn’t going. I gave up before I even started.

I spent the next few years just…. existing. I wrote a little bit for a time, had a job as an absolutely horrible monthly Arts and Culture columnist for a local magazine. Spent a lot of time in dark, dingy bars writing poetry in corners by candle-light. I got into the local goth scene and listened to a lot of German industrial music (which is still a weakness of mine). And I got engaged to a horrible, abusive, unsupportive shell of a man. After finishing my first novel (a horribly crappy first draft of a love story/zombie science fiction trope), he burned the only copy and permanently deleted all the files I had for it. I gave up on writing, on any sort of future, on myself pretty much.

Even in the years after I had the strength to leave him, I let myself be pressured into things I didn’t fully want. I went to school to be an administrative assistant. I had been out of school for a few years and was pressured into doing something that could lead to a career in the next year or two. I went to school, did my classes, got good grades, and spent way too much money on pizza and weed. I went for one year, just long enough to get my certificate. I had a sort of super personal tragedy incident thingy happen that year (that’s a whole other post altogether for another day when I’m feeling much braver), and decided against going back for the full diploma and spending another year with some of my classmates. I got a job as a telemarketer at a photocopier dealership and worked my way up to service dispatcher for the for service technicians in just two years.

While I was working this job, the show Criminal Minds premiered. Aside from having the sexiest nerdy young genius ever to appear on network TV(sorry Doogie!), it transported me back to that very first book. Mum still had it on a bookshelf in the basement, and I stole it from her again. I had already started taking a few night classes at the university I had dropped out of years before, studying Political Science this time because I was told it was a Good and Practical Degree that would get me a Very Good and Important Job doing things I had no interest in. I was told that was what being a grown-up was: waking up every day hating your life, going to a job you despise, and forgetting every dream you ever had. A few episodes into the series, I had applied for some psychology courses. That summer, I quit my job and went back to school full time to study Psychology and Criminology.

I wish I could say that the passion I had when I was 11, that I had when I was 16, that I let die in my early 20s, that it suddenly came back to me in full force. It didn’t though. I spent so much time letting everyone else convince me of what I should do with my life, that I lost it. People were still telling me that Criminal Minds was just a TV show, that people like that didn’t really exist. I knew that I wasn’t going to study and wind up flying around the country on a private jet solving crimes, like some federal Mystery Machine. But I also had books by  John Douglas and Robert Ressler and knew that this career was out there. Instead of grabbing the opportunity and running with it, studying my ass off and finally doing what I had been interested in since childhood, I partied in a frat house for years while getting better than decent grades, but not good enough to make me top of the class.

And where has all of this gotten me? After more than a decade of just convincing myself that everyone else knew what’s best for me, and giving up on whatever dreams I had, I’m sitting here at my computer desk, in the house that me and the Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend (and the always awesome Bowser Kitten) share with at least three other people. It’s a Tuesday afternoon. I got up at 5:30am and started scrubbing the kitchen and bathroom. I worked my ass off cleaning until almost 11am, before deciding to relax on my last day off of the month. Instead of the Awesome Important Job everyone thought I would get, or a job that has absolutely anything to do with my interests, I’m working 6-7 days a week as a Customer Service Representative in a store that sells beverages that require ID to purchase (*technically not allowed to say where I work, according to our Social Media policy). I’m sitting here in a pair of old tights that are wearing out at the seams, but I’m too broke to replace them, and what is supposed to be a “dress” but looks more like a long hoodie on my fat ass. I’m eating reheated McNuggets and drinking cheap red wine that I’ve been crying into for the last hour. Sometimes I think, “Hey, I’ll do some free courses online, get ahead at work” and do some stuff with addiction or wine knowledge, but my heart isn’t in it. I get distracted reading notable deaths for the year on Wikipedia, or reading old academic articles by famous criminal profilers. I’m 35 years old, and my eyesight disqualifies me from serving in the RCMP as an officer, which is the first step in getting into a career in profiling here. I’m too old, too inexperienced, and too much of a failure to really do much these days.

The thing is, I can’t blame anyone but me. Days like this, I wind up sitting here thinking about the stupidest things that have happened in my life and thinking, “What if I had handled that differently? Would my life be different?”. What if I had the nerve to go to University for psychology right out of high school? What if I had studied harder in University and got a job in academic research? What if I studied this stuff harder when I was young, and wound up researching and writing as some sort of child prodigy? Hell, from there my “what if’s” get even stranger. What if I took Grade 13 Sociology instead of Cosmotology when I was in grade 12? What if I made more of an effort to talk to people in high school? What if I I actually talked to the guy I had a crush on for 4 years in high school instead of just being his partner in drama and never practicing with him, so we bombed out final performance? What if I wrote more in grade 9, grade 8, grade 7, grade 6? What if I kept in better touch with my friends from grade school? What if I never lost touch with my best friend’s grade school crush, who I was really good friends with? Then, I start reading Stephen King’s Insomnia, which just messes with my head more. What if fate is real? What if my fate isn’t to actually do anything real with my life, but to exist just so that I can randomly talk to a person on the street one day and delay them just enough that they run into another person, who then runs late for an appointment and takes a cab and talks to the cab driver, who turns out to be an Actual Important Person?

Basically Sunshine, I’m a mess, and there’s no one else to blame but me. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I don’t know what there is that I can still do with my life. Most of the things I want to do are either out of my reach because of finance or age restrictions, and that tears me up inside. I put off so many things because I let other people decide what was best for me when I knew what I wanted at the time. Don’t wind up like this, Sunshine. If you have a goal, a dream, any sort of point to aim for, then just go for it. Pour your whole heart and soul into it. Don’t put things off thinking that you’ll get around to them eventually, or that other people know what’s best for you better than you do. Travel, learn, love, take risks, make history, make memories, and create the life you want and need. Otherwise, you just may wind up 35 years old, half drunk in a rented bedroom while your cat tries to eat your pants and your “Amazingly Awesome” boyfriend needs constant care and detailed instructions on how to be anything close to amazing or awesome most days.

Don’t wind up like me. That’s why I have this blog. If you can’t be a good example, at least be a terrible warning.

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A Little Research Goes a Long Way

I know people have been asking you this since you squeaked out your first words, and you’re probably sick to death of hearing it, but what do you want to be when you grow up? Any idea?

I wanted to do two things, Sunshine: I wanted to write, and I wanted to work in criminal profiling and research violent crimes.  They both seemed like the ideal career paths for me. I mean, I wrote all through my teens and early 20s (and then just gave up hope on everything for a good 10 years before trying to give it another go). And I’ve been reading true murder novels ever since I stole my first one from my mother’s bedside table in the 5th grade.

So, in my mid-20s I decided to go back to school and start working towards that whole profiling and research career. I studied Criminology (got my BA.H in that one) and Psychology (my second degree, just a BA), worked as a research assistant for a while, and obsessively read books and papers on murderers. I talked to a professor who was a former RCMP officer (those police officers in Canada that the rest of the world seems to think rides horses all day while they wear bright red jackets and doofy hats), and he told me all the steps I needed to get into the RCMP for a research position.

Dumbest fucking move ever.

You see, he hadn’t been an RCMP officer for a while now. Things change over time, like the qualifications for different positions. He told me I just needed my BA.H in a social science, preferably something where I studied crime (hence the Criminology), and a background in research. He sounded like he knew what he was talking about.

One simple Google search would’ve shut that down real freakin fast!

You see, in order to get the position I wanted, now you have to first BECOME an RCMP officer. Not only do I have no want or desire to do so, but my eyesight is bad enough that it disqualifies me from the position. Like, it is impossible for me to ever get this job, ever.

If I had realized this while I was still in school, there is a metric crapload of stuff I would’ve done differently. For starters, I would’ve done a little bit more research into what jobs my damn degree qualified me for. I would’ve gone for more career counseling, volunteered with different organizations, looked into addition certificates and courses to help me out. I would’ve switched to a double major in something else, got a minor or two to fall back on. Maybe even got a part-time job to fall back on once I was out of school (but that’s a whole other post).

As it stands, I have two degrees I got specifically to get me a job I can never have. They don’t qualify me for much specifically in the town I live in. I work customer service in a ‘spirits dispensary’ who would prefer I don’t name them in blog postings. I have tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt from those degrees, plus credit card bills falling out my ass crack from trying to live on 4 hours work a week for months without falling behind in my rent and other bills. And I have to pay this all off with the CSR wages I’m making now, NOT the profiling and research job and salary I had been working towards.

And this was all totally preventable if I had just sucked it up and done a bit more research.

So, as I say way too much to be healthy for my self-esteem, don’t wind up like me. Do a little work towards the work you want to do.

Check Out the Education Qualifications

If you have a job or career in mind, know what you need to get in order to get hired. You wouldn’t expect to just show up on a movie set one day and say, “I’ve never acted, written, produced, or directed in my life, and I have a degree in forensic science. Let me direct your next big budget movie”, and to actually get the job. Some places or careers require schooling, while others prefer you get experience for yourself.

Want to be a teacher? Find out how much schooling you need for that, what courses and majors you need, how many years you’ll be in school. Want to write? You could go to school for creative writing, or you could just write constantly. Neither one is wrong, but they’ll both take you down different paths. Same goes for other creative pursuits. You may be better off just creating content than getting formal school sometimes, while in some situations an education might give you that little something extra that could land you a position.

Have a Company or Position in Mind?

Study and use LinkedIn like it’s your lover: learn it inside and out, make it the best it can be, make it feel appreciated and wanted. LinkedIn can help you get an in with a company, meet people working there, find out more about the company’s culture.

Most businesses have a website these days too. Ever think to look at it? You can learn a shit-tonne from half an hour browsing a company’s website. Find out what they do, their mission statement, who works in positions you’re interested in, who is in charge of hiring.

Find Out Every Step Needed to Get That Job

I knew I needed to get that honours degree. I had no idea I needed to become an actual RCMP officer, which I physically can’t do. A lot of people see that you need to become an officer before moving on to a different job and give up altogether. They’d rather not spend 5 years working in a remote northern community, far from home and everything they love, dealing with criminals and violence and such, to get a desk job doing research. Hell, even if my eyesight didn’t disqualify me from the job, I probably wouldn’t have gone for the officer position anyway. I was just over 30 years old (and still am, btw) competing with people in their early 20s for a physically demanding position, which I am in no physical shape to hold. I’m a desk job person, not chasing perps through vacant lots and hopping tall fences kind of gal.

There are a gazillion different things that a job could require from you that could wind up being a dealbreaker. Believe me, it’s better to know what these are before you throw down $60,000 in borrowed money for a degree that is going to do you no good once you’ve realized you can never get the job you were getting that degree for.

Basically, you need to go and power up The Googles, as my mother calls it. Start researching shit. Look into the jobs you want, the companies you want to work for, the schooling you’re doing, the people you admire. See if what you want is even feasible, and see if it’s something you can definitely be in for the long-haul.

Don’t wind up like me, Sunshine. I kinda love-hate my job most days. It would be great if not for the crushing debt of the schooling and living I did over the last 10 years. I could make a living off of it if I didn’t have all these damn bills.  Make sure you don’t make the same mistakes as me, Sunshine. Do your damn research. Plan shit for the future.

Do What You Love and…….. Starve?

Sound pretty shitty, doesn’t it?

For years growing up, I was told that if I do what I love, then money would follow. The thing is, people didn’t seem to care what I actually loved. What did I love way back in high school? I loved writing, and reading. Even once I finally went back to University (almost a decade later), marking papers and reading student works were the only things I loved more than writing papers.

Who the hell can make a career out of any of that though?

Turns out, plenty of people. When I was told to “do what I love”, people assumed that just meant me sitting in a room, writing. I would be a writer, first and foremost.

But there is so much more to all of this than just writing.

I could have been an editor, or a professor, or a ESL teacher. I would have been happy researching for a company, or a lawyer, or a researcher. I could have become a private tutor, helping students with their academic writing.

None of this was made known to me, way back in high school, before we really knew how to use this whole Internet thing. Back in the days of dial-up, you didn’t have The Googles (as mum calls it) to search for “careers in writing”, or “what can I do with an English degree”. Nope, we had bare-bones web surfing back then: GeoCities for making web pages dedicated to hot celebrities; IRC chat rooms; AIM or ICQ for instant messages; and Hotmail for our email. That’s it. Somewhere out there was porn, but we couldn’t access it at school (believe me, we tried).

Point is, all I ever knew was that I loved to read and write. I still do. I’m broke as all hell, and I just ordered three new(er) books from Chapters this week (damn you Celia Rivenbark for having a book out there that I don’t own!!!!). I was always told that I would be a writer, and needed a career to fall back on.

Well that’s a crock of shit if I ever heard one.

Yes, things are rough out there. Believe me, I know that as well as anyone. I live in the unemployment capital of Canada, where getting 9 hours a week is considered “gainfully employed” to make statistics look good. I know the job search scene, and the toll it takes on you.

And I know what it’s like to feel like a total bitch, because you’re looking at jobs and thinking “well, I need a job, but do I really want to do THAT?!?!”

I am a writer, at heart. I sit at a desk, type things, organize things, research things. This blog is one of many things I do related to my craft, in addition to my part-time job. I know damn well that I would be horrible at certain jobs, because I would spend too much time hating them. Hell, even knowing that, out of desperation I have tried some of these jobs! That is how I know that I AM the world’s worst janitor (it only took me throwing up in a garbage can 7 times in an 8 hour shift to prove that to myself).

My desk-type personality tends to lead me towards other desk-type things. I went to secretary school, and worked in an office for a few years. I went to University and worked in research offices. I am a desk worker. But even that has its limits.

I know that right now, I can’t support myself with my writing. VERY long story short, after being forced out of it for many years, I am only now getting back into my craft. That means no portfolio, no old blog posts, nothing for reference on a CV. I need a job to pay my bills and get the hell out of this house (don’t worry, I have enough Roommates From Hell stories to last a lifetime on here for y’all). While there are a lot of things that I would be horrible at, I KNOW that I can rock a desk job like no-one else. Not a telemarketing job, not a soliciting job, not a call centre job…. a straight up desk job.

Sounds pretty entitled, doesn’t it?

Well, I’ve got the education. I’ve got the office experience. And I am a desk worker. I thrive best sitting behind a desk, typing at a computer. I am a data entry clerk, or a dispatcher, or any other position where I type a lot and don’t have to make phone calls.

And the thing is, doing stuff like that is what I love.

From what I was told for years, even for decades, if I just strive for that, then the money will follow. So where is the money, Sunshine?

Finding Your Faults

I know, no one wants to admit to themselves that they’re not perfect. I mean, we all know that nobody is perfect (oh god, please don’t let my sister know I just wrote that. I swear Tara, you ARE perfect! Please don’t be mad at me!). It’s just a part of being human, I guess.

We all have our faults, and most people try to ignore them. In my experience and observations, that just leads to a lot of denial and fights. Having faults is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it’s something we all need to recognize and embrace, for a number of reasons.

Have you ever been in a job interview, and the interviewer asked what your biggest strengths and weaknesses are? I know that conventional wisdom (and most job counsellors) will tell you that you need to choose a weakness that emphasizes your strength. For example,  my biggest strength is my ridiculous organization abilities. At one point in university, I had a multi-calendar colour-coded system for keeping track of all of my classes, volunteering, and jobs. It was really quite extensive, and impressive. I always bring that up to show that I can handle as much my bosses want to throw at me without missing a deadline. the job counsellors I saw said to say that my biggest weakness was that I tend to take on too much responsibility. However, thanks to my superior organizational skills, I am able to handle as much as they want to throw at me.

Is that really my biggest fault though?

For job hunting purposes, I say it is. You never want to answer that question with “I have no faults”, or “I can’t think of any faults”. Not only do you look like an conceited asshat, but it shows something about you that no one wants in an employee: you think you can do no wrong, so wrong must be done by everyone else.

Now, this isn’t exclusive to job hunting and interviews. We all have faults in our every day lives. Now these faults aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but they’re something you need to acknowledge, like your whole life is a job interview.

Case in point: you all know that my roommate and I were in a relationship for quite a few years, and broke up last year. Right now, we’re great friends. We can hang out, and tease each other about our faults, and about how everything went to hell in a handbasket between us. Before the breakup, though, was a whole different story.

Before the breakup, it was constant fights. Neither one of us ever wanted to admit to our faults, and they kept coming out in full force to butt heads. After the breakup, when we were forced to confront what it was that came between us (besides the obvious fact that we have absolutely nothing in common and hold completely different values and visions of our futures). That is where knowing and acknowledging your faults comes into play.

He has a serious problem with communication. When something or someone bothers me, or pisses me off, or just generally upsets me, I speak up. Letting people get away with behaviours that bother you without letting them know how they affect you is a lot like faking an orgasm: you’re just reinforcing their bad behaviour, so they keep doing the same thing that isn’t working for you, over and over and over, no matter how little it works for you or how little you like it. While it might make them feel good about themselves, it does absolutely nothing for you, and leaves you feeling unfulfilled and upset.

Now my ex didn’t share this view. I would flat out tell him if he was doing something that was bothering me. He, on the other hand, wouldn’t say shit if begged him too. Seriously, I flat out asked him dozens of times “What is it that I’m doing that bothers you, so I know for future reference”. It wasn’t until AFTER we broke up that he unloaded all of that crap on me. The one and only time he ever actually said anything to me, I tried to explain (not excuse) my behaviour to him, so that he would understand why it is I do the things I do. He saw it as an attack on him for finding fault in me, instead of an attempt to work towards fixing a problem between us, and clammed up.

Now that we’ve broken up and are seeing other people (he has a really sweet girlfriend I’ve friended on Facebook and talked to a bunch of times, and I struck gold with possibly the most caring and amazing man to ever exist), we can look at the things we did wrong with us, and find our faults. He knows that communication was a big problem with us, and is actively working to be more open and understanding in his new relationship. Both of us know that we have a problem with the way we argue subjects that are important to us, and we both act like our opinion is the only one that matters. This is something that I’ve been looking into within myself, and am trying really hard to work on.

Finding and admitting to our faults is not an easy thing, but it’s an essential part of life. There is no way you can grow as a person, without looking at what is holding you back from your growth. I know that I have a real problem with motivation. You’ve probably noticed that I go long periods without posting on here. I have notebooks filled with post ideas, research, and rough drafts of ideas. I have every good intention of sitting down at my computer and just typing on here for hours upon hours, setting up post after post to be posted for weeks on end. But as soon as I sit down….. well there’s Facebook, and Tumblr, and Jenna Marbles on YouTube, and random articles on BuzzFeed………… the next thing I know, hours have passed, and I’ve accomplished absolutely nothing.

Thing is, I can recognize that this is a problem for me. Today, I sat down, threw on a random SOAD playlist, turned off Facebook (but kept Tumblr up because… reasons), and decided to do some research and actually type something today. Sure, it’s not much so far, but it’s a start. It’s something I can admit is a fault, and something I can now work on.

So, Sunshine, knowing your faults is a GOOD thing. You need to know what it is that holds you back, so you can work on yourself and push yourself forward. You will always have faults, and you need to own them. You need to take that fault by the nards, look it in the eye, and say “I know you’re screwing with my life, and it’s going to stop NOW.”

And on that note, I am done my non-procrastination for the day. That amazing man I mentioned is here for a visit tonight, and I’m going to introduce him to the amazing world of Jenna Marbles and how to call in sick to jobs you don’t work at. So until next time Sunshine, keep on keeping on!

 

Google Yourself

I’m guessing you’ve figured out how to use this whole internet thing by now (how else would you be reading this?). You’ve got your Facebook, your Twitter, your Instagram, a few blogs on Tumblr, maybe even an old MySpace page kicking around out there. You’re a master of the hashtag, know which filters make your selfies look best, and even made a Facebook page for your kitten. Years of your life are out there, where you and your friends can relive them.

But who else can see this? And what can they see?

Here’s a little Me Moment I’m not entirely proud of these days, but it’s something I had all over Facebook that had to be taken care of. When I was first starting university, I’d moon people. A whole lot. Like, there were dozens of pictures each year with my bare ass in there somewhere. I made pantsless snow angels. I would press my bare ass up against the front window of my friends’ frat house (this is apparently called a “pressed ham”). Classy event where I’m in a dress and heels? Lift the skirt and moon the camera! Out having drinks on a patio with the guys? Moon them on my way to the bathroom! Bored on a Saturday night? Swing by a friend’s place, drag her out to a party, and moon everyone! As you can see, I got more than a little carried away. And there was plenty of photo evidence of this out there.

Ok, so this was all fun and good at the time, but eventually I bought a belt and kept my damn pants up. I also started looking at things like graduate schools, and employment. And apparently, a lot of companies out there will Google your name to make sure their potential candidate would fit in with their company. And apparently, companies like employees who can keep their ass in their pants.

Now, knowing that you may be searched online and scrutinized may make you want to delete every bit of social media you have. But wait! There are skills you can put on resumes, and market out to employers that you can get just by using social media. And one job recruitment centre here once told me that the only thing worse than having a bad online presence, is having no online presence at all.

So what the hell do you do?

Well first, look at your damn Facebook. Would you be embarassed to show it to your mother? Your grandma? That little old lady you always see at the grocery store who calls everyone “dear-y”? If so, you’ve got some work to do. First, delete anything truly horrible, offensive, or just plain wrong for a potential boss to see. Don’t worry, you can always save these pictures to your computer to cherish always. But you don’t want to be tagged in 45 pictures doing keg stands in a skirt. Now, look at your privacy settings. If someone were to click on your Facebook profile from Google, without being your friend first, how much can they see? Go to your profile, and click on the little button with the three dots. Now pick the option that says “View As”. You can see what your profile looks like to the random public, and to certain people on your friends list. Use this to mess with your privacy settings. You don’t want the general public to have full access to everything. I let them have my name, birthday, education, and profile pictures. Then, for when I add family members or co-workers who I don’t want to see everything I have on there, I make groups. I can sort people into these groups, control what and how much they can see, and they don’t know that they’re even in these groups! This is great if you have a lot of very conservative or religious family members who wouldn’t take to well to your current lifestyle, or vice versa.

Now, once your Facebook is all straightened out, go Google your name again. See anything funny on there? You should be looking for things like fake social media accounts, online posts mentioning you, or job sites posting your resume. Depending on what site is hosting the fake accounts, it could be a little tricky to get them taken down. Aside from having everyone you know report the account as fake, I’ve heard of people having to send in photocopies of their ID, with pictures of themselves as proof of identity, just to get their account verified and a fake one removed.

Another thing to look for in your Google search is old websites you or your friends may have made in grade school or high school. Some classes have students make up mock websites, as practice. And quite a few students find a free web-hosting service and put these websites online. Before Geocities went away, most of the people I ever went to school with had some sort of old site from high school that was just sort of hanging out online, long forgotten. I found it about a year ago, while Googling myself. It took me more than a month to get that damn site taken down (I wasn’t using the email address I had more than a dozen years ago, because pajamadpicklesintheclub@hotmail.com just doesn’t sound all that professional).

It’s probably a good idea to look through all your social media, and make sure nothing can be traced back to you specifically. I never use my real name in my profiles for anything these days, so that none of my other social media shows up in a search. I don’t know anyone not famous who actually attaches their names to their Tumblr account, so most of us are safe (except for John and Hank Green, but we all follow them anyway). Try and do the same with your Twitter, Instgram, and any other social media you have. You can still follow all your friends, and they can follow you. But if you say something a little NSFW, it most likely won’t pop up in a Google search of you, meaning new employers won’t find it. Also, it’s a good idea sometimes to play around with your privacy settings, especially if you’re someone who likes to post NSFW things. And make sure you Google yourself after making these changes, to make sure they’ve worked. There’s nothing worse than a false sense of security biting you in the butthole after an interviewer finds Tweets he never should have read from you.

Now, after cleansing your internet presence, your next step is to……. create an internet presence! I know, why the hell did we just spend all that time taking our lives off the web, just to put it back up there?

You should have some sort of social media presence out there that showcases and highlights you, your achievements, and your talents. Two great ways to do this are with LinkedIn, and with your very own website.

First, LinkedIn is a professional-type social media website. Basically, it’s like an interactive resume that also lets you network with people online. Here, you can showcase things a traditional 1-2 page resume just doesn’t have time to show. On my personal page, I have listed all my work and volunteer experience since starting university. Each entry explains my role in the position, what I learned, any training I received, and any special tasks or projects I completed. This is so much better than your basic resume, for a whole host of reasons. For starters, here you can list out everything you did in your volunteer positions, which a lot of resume formats just don’t give you the room for. In a lot of these positions, you’re gaining skills and experience that are just fantastic to have and showcase in your job search. But your resume just doesn’t do these positions justice. A LinkedIn profile does, though. Also, on LinkedIn there is plenty of room to list any extra training you may have done. With my current Customer Service position, we are constantly going through online training and retraining, and are able to use our online training centre for any additional training they may offer. For example, after completing my latest Safe Lifting online module, I also went through our course catalogue and did a course in Conflict Resolution. While this does not relate directly to my position, it’s a great skill to learn. And as it doesn’t relate to my position, there’s no little spot in my resume to put that in there. But on LinkedIn, I can list every single training module I’ve ever done if I really want to. Here, you can list and show off all the things you WANT a prospective employer to see. There’s no pictures of me mooning people, but there are samples of my academic writing right below the list of activities and charities I worked with in university. It’s like having a portfolio online, where you can show off all the things you’re most proud of.

Now, once you set up this account, don’t neglect it. Try to use it at least once a week. Look for friends, co-workers, co-volunteers, clubs coordinators, professors, or people who work in positions or industries you are interested in. Go through your profile, keep it up to date. Share things in your news feed, endorse people’s skills, interact with people. Part of the charm of LinkedIn is how it lets you network with people, and how it helps you to grow your network with others. This can be hugely important when you’re looking for a job, or an opportunity to volunteer. Sometimes who you know can be more important than what you know.

The other great way to increase your positive online presence is to have your own (professional) website. This doesn’t have to be fancy, as long as it is the exact opposite of the website I spent more than a month trying to take down. For those of you who are a bit more talented with more visual arts than I am, it should be easy to create a webpage that not only showcases your talents, but also says a little bit about you. Basically, you should be creating this website as if you needed something out there so you could start a business with your talents some day (because who knows, you just might). Love photography, or photo editing? Then take your best works and create an online portfolio showing them off! Same goes for graphic design, clothing design, interior design, landscaping….. well, you get the picture. Anything that looks good as in a picture will work here. Turn your arts and crafts into a webpage that shows off your hobby.

What about those of us who don’t do anything worth photographing? Well, you’re looking at what you can do right here. That’s right, if you can string together a coherent sentence, then start blogging. It doesn’t have to be anything ground-breaking, or have a large readership, as long as it’s out there. Just remember, whether you’re posting pictures or blogging your little fingers off: you’re doing this to create a positive internet presence. That doesn’t necessarily mean that all of your content with be G-rated, or completely safe for work. You’re trying to create a representation of yourself out there. If you want to get into a career doing politically charged articles, then do that in your blog! Just remember that this is what the world will see when they Google you.

Make sure that what you put out there is what you want to be known for. The whole point of cleansing and then recreating your web presence is to make you the most desirable person out there to potential employers. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt to do this if you have parents who have learned to “do the googles”, as one of my former co-workers puts it. Basically, you’re just making you look good. Damn good.

Bye for now, sunshine!

Why I’m Writing This Blog

I went back to school at 25, part-time after work. At 26, I quit my job and went back to University as a full-time student. At that time, I was an office administrator and dispatcher, making decent money with benefits, had my own car and more than enough fun money to throw around. And my total debt was only a few hundred dollars in car repairs on a credit card.

Fast forward to now: I’m 33 years old, with a BA(H) in Criminology and will be receiving my BA in Psychology this summer. I work very, very part-time hours at a liquor store, because that’s the only job I can get right now. With $60,000 in student loans and coming close to $20,000 in credit card debt, I’m forced to live in a rented room in the same house as the boyfriend I’m desperate to leave. And I’m not the only one in a situation like this. Of my closest friends, only one found a “real job” after graduation, with the rest of us toiling away at whatever we can get to pay the bills.

Looking back on all that schooling and the last 7 years, I can see some of where I went wrong.  I can see some of where my friends went wrong. And it’s not always things that we can control, things that we are taught, or things that we are warned about. I know I can’t help everyone, that I don’t know the answers to everything, and that not everyone needs my help. But if I can help even one person to get their schooling on track, to get the credentials they need, to learn how to adult like a real grown-up, then at least I’ve helped them.

Job Search Journalling and Tracking Applications

So I didn’t know this when I started job hunting after I finished my degree. I just got a resume and cover letter together, started applying places, and waited for them to contact me. Sometimes, if they got back to me quickly, I’d remember details about the job ad that I had read, or the basic qualifications for the job. Usually, though, I’d draw a complete blank on the job and what it entailed. Sometimes, when I got the callback, I would only be given a company name and not the position I would be interviewing for. Now how the hell do you prepare for an interview if you don’t know what job you’re interviewing for?

After a few interviews, I went to a place downtown that helps people find jobs in the community. The first thing they asked me was if I was keeping a Search Journal. Pretty sure my answer was something along the lines of “what the crap is that crap?” Well, it turns out that crap is the crap that makes this whole job search thing a little bit easier, but also a whole lot harder. The best part of this is there is no right or wrong way to go about doing this crap. Basically, you need to find a way to keep track of all the essential crap in your job search.

So what exactly is essential?

First, you’ll need to track where you’re applying to, and to whom. Make note of whether you applied by email, website form, or in person, and who you applied to (an actual person, a web form, a general email address, etc.). If you applied to an actual person, try and get their title or position within the company too.

Next, you’ll want to keep a copy of the job ad itself if you can. I’ve seen ads that are only a few lines long, with no real information about the position. If that’s the case, then just make a note of that. Most of the ads I’ve seen, however, have been these long detailed things going on about specific qualifications needed, a description of the job itself, and sometimes even a little bit about the company. These ads are job search gold, I’ll tell you! And it’s unbelievably important that you keep track of these ads, so you know what you’re getting into if you get a call-back.

Finally, you should keep a copy of the resume and cover letter you sent in for that job. Why? Because you’re supposed to be tailoring these to each job you apply to, emphasizing different skills and qualifications you have, and showcasing why you are the absolute ideal candidate for the job. And if you’re going to get called in for an interview, then you REALLY need to know what the hell you told them about yourself!   There’s nothing worse than going into an interview and having to answer 37 questions about your Microsoft and public speaking experience (because you made sure to emphasize these things on your application), only to completely blank on your answers because you forgot what you emphasized. Believe me, it’s happened a few times to me.

I have experience in a lot of different things (writing, editing, research, volunteer coordination), have different educational attributes I can emphasize (Criminology degree, Psychology degree, Office Administration certificate, Microsoft Word and Excel certificates), and held down multiple on-campus jobs while volunteering for multiple organizations on campus for 5 years. There is no way I can talk about all of that each and every application, and there’s no way that I should either. For office jobs, I would usually emphasize my office skills. Jobs on campus meant I would play up how well I worked with different departments in different ways. Some jobs valued education over experience, or vice versa. I have gone into interviews forgetting that my cover letter for that application talked about my experience with coordinating volunteers with one specific organization, only to have almost the entire interview be about that very specific experience. And do you know what happened next? I didn’t get the job, because I wasn’t prepared!

So how you go about doing this is completely up to you. For a short time, I attended a support group for people who were having trouble finding a job. I don’t think any of us went about this in the same way. One woman printed everything out and put it in an accordion folder, alphabetically by company name. Another kept a notebook where she would write everything down as she applied to job. I decided to make my life as difficult as possible, and came up with some crazy combination of Microsoft Word and Excel, a folder full of folders on my computer, and a notebook. No one else could figure it out just by looking at it, but it was what worked best for me.

So in the end, you really need to start keeping track of all this crap! This crap is important crap, crap that needs to be tracked. Track your crap in whatever crap tracking way works best for you. And good luck out there, sunshine!