In Hindsight

Ok, so I didn’t do things in what you would call a conventional manner. I took a few years off after high school, went to college for a year, worked for a few years, and then went to university for 5 years. I kind of jumped around the stages of life, and did shit when I was ready for it.

Do I regret any of that? Hell naw!

But there are things I could’ve been doing WHILE I was jumping around that would’ve been so incredibly, totally, unbelievably helpful to my life right now. While I was going through everything in each phase of my life, I sort of focused on one task at a time: college certificate, show up to work on time, write papers, etc….. I never thought to branch out to OTHER things, things that may interest me.

Now, some of these things probably wouldn’t have occurred to me way back when as something I may like. Some of these things, I thought I was actually doing sometimes. And some things are just stuff I wish I had considered, sort of like for a Plan B for my life.

All That Free Stuff In School

Now, I thought I was the MASTER of free stuff on campus. I have given away more t-shirts over the years than I’ve bought in my entire life, thanks to free t-shirts for pretty much everything on campus. I went to events with free food. I never passed up a booth on campus without checking for free things. Years later, I’m still using free pens and highlighters.

I missed so much though!

There were free classes, lectures, and seminars all those years I was a student. I just never paid any mind to then because you can’t bring a class home with you like a t-shirt, or 47 free pens. So I didn’t go to them.

What did I miss out on? Well, there was training in ALL the Microsoft Suite programs. Training in programs for statistics, publishing, graphic design, and accounting. There were seminars full of people in my chosen field who were looking to meet possible future employees. There was discounted software, forensics training, book exchanges, and so much more I just ignored.

And I really could’ve used a lot of that.

I mean, any sort of Microsoft training is a god-send these days, especially in this job market. Hell, any sort of computer training is a HUGE plus on any resume! And a lot of them don’t expire: as newer versions come out, you just list the version you’re trained in.

This sort of free training I skipped out on way back when could cost me hundreds or thousands of dollars now!

The Almost Free, or Severely Discounted

At one point, I was given a weird offer: work security at a really shady, crappy, dirty bar for crap wages at first, and the bar would pay for me to get my security license. A job counsellor I was seeing (professionally) at the time talked me out of it.

“With your education, why would you ever even consider that?”

Well, since my degree is in Criminology, it turns out it would’ve been a damn good idea to take this offer!  Most of the jobs I’ve been looking at lately require this license. And to get it now would cost me more than $400, out of my own pocket.

Get paid minimum wage for 6 months, and get this license for free? Or pass on a paying job, and shell out $400+ to get the same license?

Yeah, looking back, this should’ve been a no-brainer.

But, I passed on the opportunity (and am still kicking myself to this day). If you have a chance to get something for a deal like this, even if it means working in a bar where the waitresses sometimes wear body paint instead of a shirt (and the male clientele are of the grabbier persuasion), go for it if you think you can handle it. I mean, I could’ve been working a nice office job with a security firm by now, if I had this damn license.

And on that note….

Get Some Certification!

If there is some sort of certificate you can get, even if it costs you a few bucks, go for it! Varying licenses, first aid and CPR, even certificates showing you can use different equipment or programs…. it’s ALL good shit! The most of this stuff you have, the better you AND your resume will look!

What’s Good For The Workplace?

We had seminars and workshops in things like Conflict Resolution and Training New Workers. Do you think I took any of that?

Well, if I did, I wouldn’t be writing about regretting not taking it, would I?

I am lucky right now. My current VERY part-time job has online learning available to us. We have to keep up with certain training modules. But aside from that, anything else we want to learn about is free for the learning.

So far, I’ve taken online classes in Conflict Resolution, dealing with problem customers, handling stressful situations, and what to do when a situation turns violent. Only problem with this? I don’t get any sort of fancy certificate in the end (although I do list them on my resume, and keep a list of them in my portfolio).

If I had taken the seminars and workshops in school, I would’ve had that little piece of paper that says “Hey, this chick KNOWS what she’s talking about! I prove it!”

Somehow, prospective employers LOVE that little piece of paper.

Classes and Clubs that Last

I joined a bunch of crap, and didn’t really do much with it. Most of my volunteering was limited to a few semesters, or a few short years.

The same went for classes. I jumped around with my interests, not really focusing on much. I wanted a taste of everything, I guess.

Now, if I had stuck with just a few clubs for many years, instead of many clubs for a year at a time, I would’ve gotten so much more out of them! That would’ve lead to things like leadership positions, more responsibilities, meeting potential references, and a lot of solid networking.

The same goes for my classes. If I had focused on something like deviance, or youth justice, I would’ve had the same few professors and teaching assistants quite a bit. I would’ve gotten to know them, gotten in good with them, gotten some good references out of them.

Instead, I went for a more broad approach. And what did I get? One reference and a lot of pointless hours as a newbie volunteer.

This isn’t a full, conclusive list of regrets. Neither is it a list of what everyone needs to do while in school. This is just the ones that have been bugging me most as of late.

As for right now, I have had one ridiculously long day (witness to two car accidents, dealing with cops at work, problem customers, and then witness to a domestic dispute on my way home from work). So I’m signing off for now, Sunshine, and setting this to post tomorrow while I’m making strange Dorito-inspired lasagna recipes with the boyfriend.

Stay glorious!

Do You Have A Plan?

I mean beside, “Graduate, find a job, make money”.

So many students go into their post-secondary schooling without any sort of plan in place. It’s almost like they’re on autopilot. Going to college or university just seemed like the logical next step after graduating high school, or not finding their dream job after a few years.

There’s also the outside pressure from friends, family, and “experts” to get some sort of degree. It’s like people seem to think that getting some sort of piece of paper will make the job offers come flying in. I’ve even heard the “advice” that it doesn’t matter what your degree is in, as long as you have a degree.

Well, that’s not exactly true.

Now, you don’t need to have a concrete plan, set in stone, laying out every educational and career move you plan to make in the next five years. You should have some sort of idea of what you’re getting yourself into. You can’t go into this whole “planning the rest of your life” thing blind.

Do you have an idea of what career you want after graduation? If so, that’s great! Make sure you’re on the right track to get there. (I’ll have a whole post next week about how to do this) Not so much? That’s ok too.  Not everyone knows exactly what they want out of life. The main things to focus on are to not panic, and to not pigeon hole yourself into such a small niche that you have no options to look to.

Do you have a major topic of study? Many students spend a year or two as an “undeclared” major, or in a “general arts/science” program. And that’s perfectly fine. If you’re not sure of what you want, then don’t rush into something you could totally regret. It’s perfectly fine to take a variety of courses in order to find out what it is that really gets you going. You may find that you have an undiscovered love of statistics, or geology, or quantitative research. Taking a little time to explore could help you discover your true passions.

Do you have no idea whatsoever what you want to do, but you’re in school anyway because it’s what you’re supposed to do? Then maybe you need to take a little time out here. So many people get pushed into university by well-meaning people and advice, when what they would benefit most from is going into a skilled trade. Or they rush into getting a degree when what they really want is to be a chef. Or they get a job with a company, and would love to just work their way up the chain there, but are pressured to give that up to go to school.

Not everyone needs to run out and get a degree! If you really have no clue what you want to do, or you have a career goal that some seem to see as non-traditional, then maybe you need to take a little time off to figure things out. Some people travel, or take time to explore different career options. I’ve known people who took time off and worked for cruise lines, department stores, garages, fast food restaurants. Some of them found a career path they loved. Others found something they thought they would love, and instead hated with the fiery passion of a thousand supernova-ing suns. Either way, they found something about themselves, and were able to either create or narrow-down their career path.

So do you have a plan? If so, congrats! You’re ahead of myself, and about 3/4 of the people I know. You don’t? That’s ok too. Just make sure not to pigeon hole yourself out of options.

Do I REALLY need a portfolio?

In one of my job search seminars (I attend a whole lot of those lately), it was suggested that we each create a portfolio and bring a copy of it to every interview we go to. We were told tales of the people who had done that and were then hired on the spot, with employers impressed by their readiness. After talking with a lot of professionals in different fields through personal contacts and LinkedIn, this seemed a little wonky to me. Is a portfolio really needed?

The long and short answer is: kinda. You should definitely create a master portfolio for yourself, with both an electronic and a printed copy, with the originals put somewhere safe (a fire-proof safe or lock box is ALWAYS a good idea for anyone to have, and the perfect place for original documents). It is always a good idea to have all your documents and proofs in one convenient location, in case you need them.

So what is actually in your portfolio? To start with, put a copy of the resume you applied with. If at all possible, also include the cover letter you used to apply with, even just for your own reference. You should scan copies of any educational documents (high school diploma, GED, degrees, diplomas) and print copies. Any certificates, transcripts, letters of reference, or other documents that prove that you have knowledge are a good idea too. Basically, your portfolio is a presentation of the very best of you (in a professional manner).

But do you need to bring this to every interview? From what I’ve been told, no! Not every employer is going to need or be impressed by this. There will be jobs you apply for that are not interested in everything you have to offer.

So how do you know when to bring it? Easy: check the job ad! Most job ads list the required education, skills, and knowledge needed for a position. Do you have documented proof of these? Then bring copies! If you are up for a creative job, bring examples of your prior creative works! But you don’t need to have copies of EVERYTHING for every job.

Basically, you NEED a portfolio in order to have one file for yourself , even just for your own piece of mind, that shows all of your accomplishments. At the same time, you need to tailor your portfolio to each job you bring it to. A job involving spreadsheets and data entry may not be excited about your experience creating magazine covers for your Creative Media courses, but would love to know that you have certification in Word and Excel. At the same point, a photojournalism job may not require an advanced knowledge of Microsoft Access, but sure as hell needs proven knowledge of photo-editing software.

So yes, you do need a portfolio, even if it’s just for you. You do not, however, need to bring then entire thing to every job interview you go to. Just like your resume and cover letter, you need to tailor it to each specific job.

Get The Most Out of EVERYTHING You Can

Yes, once again I’ve been gone for quite some time. While I am working part-time at a liquor store, I’m still looking for work. There have been quite a few obstacles in my way, that it turns out I could have taken care of a lot of these obstacle while I was still a student. Which brings me to today’s post: Certification matters!

When I was a University student, the school offered a variety of workshops, seminars, free classes, volunteer opportunities, and all the things that you need to prove that you are an educated, responsible grown-up person who deserves a job. And, for the most part, we all ignored them. I did quite a bit of volunteering, but didn’t bother trying to get that put onto my Co-Curricular Transcript (a transcript of school-approved clubs and societies, and the different positions you could hold in each). In five years, I went to maybe a handful of workshops and seminars. For the most part, I figured that I didn’t need them, since I already knew what they were about.

There were Microsoft workshops offered at one point. For a very small (less than $30) fee, you could take a weekend workshop on a specific Microsoft Office program, and receive an official Certificate upon completion. Back then I thought, “Hell, I know Microsoft Word! I type essays, and wrote out a resume, and even create meeting minutes for one of my clubs! Why would I need  to waste a weekend learning about it?”

Turns out I needed it for that CERTIFICATE. After school, all those jobs I thought I could get easily wanted PROOF that I knew how to use that program. Instead of paying $30 back then to get that piece of paper, I am taking a $225 workshop. Yes, $225!

It turns out, all those things I had shunned in my University days actually mean something afterwards.  Sure, I joined clubs, but never strove to get a leadership role. I used Microsoft Office programs, but never got proof that I can use them. I worked on-campus positions, and volunteered with students and staff, without securing professional references. Basically, I wasted my time.

So take the time to get those little bits of experience (and paper) that will propel you higher than your peers. It’s not always good enough to type out papers and volunteer; you need proof! Get a certificate, a letter, some sort of documentation that proves your knowledge. And while you’re at it, make as many contacts as possible.

(I’ll cover making contacts and creating a portfolio at a later date. They are both VERY important things that never seem to get taught to students.)