More Praise for the Internet

Sorry lovelies, but today my head is just a giant pile of mush. I had a few glasses of red last night and the got assaulted with cuddles all morning by the surprisingly loving Bowser Kitten. It’s already after 11am, and I have done exactly nothing all day. I played a game on my phone, checked my Twitter, messaged my mum to see how dad is doing (she’s supposed to be at work, so I can’t just call), and have been hiding in my room from roommates all morning. Even the super snuggly Bowser Kitten is in a mood, burrowed into the blankets on the bed with only his little head poking out.

I just can’t wrap my head around anything today. I’m going over to-do lists, trying to get things done, but no one else around here gets anything done so I get side-tracked. This morning, I got up to make coffee around 9:30. Instead of my usual “put the coffee on, go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, go grab coffee” routine I do most mornings, I had to wash a sink full of dishes, scrub old macaroni and some sort of brown sauce off the counters, and clean off the stove. My 10 minutes routine was more than half an hour thanks to that! And I seem to be doing everything in super slow motion today, too.

I think part of this is because I spent so much time looking at my schedule for work. They decided to open our store later on Sundays for the holidays, and the first night of this is the night of our Christmas Party. The Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend and I are supposed to head out to the party around 6:30 with the work BFF and her fiance, but I am scheduled until 8:15pm. So I have to do a little finagling of the schedule, perhaps a little bribery to switch some things around and get an earlier shift. That’s my only 8-hour shift that week, so I can’t afford to just give it up. Actually, it’s one of the few 8-hour shifts I have in the 21 straight days I’ve been scheduled. Yes, after working a 30-day stretch and getting hell from my manager for working that many days, I take two whole days off just to be thrown into a 21-day stretch. If I hadn’t taken this past weekend off, then I would be working 53 straight days.

There are a few really crappy things that come with this. First off, in our collective agreement it states that we can only be scheduled 6 days a week unless we agree to pick up hours on that 7th day. I could totally go to management and tell them I can’t do all these days in a row, and they’d just give away a shift a week. But they don’t have to make up those hours anywhere on the schedule for me. That means I would be losing 5-8 hours a week just to have a day off. Another crappy thing is that I’m working 7 days a week, and still not being scheduled for 40 hours. In the past, I’ve had weeks where I’ve worked 7 days and not even gotten 30 hours! If I want to pay the bills, then I have to work all of these shifts somehow.

The weird thing is, my managers just gave me hell for doing a 30-day stretch! True, part of the streak was my own doing. When people needed shifts covered, or we knew in advance that we would be short on certain days, I volunteered to pick up hours. But I also did that with the assumption that the days off I was already scheduled for later in the schedule would remain as days off for me. I’d plan for a 14-day stretch, only to have my day off on day 15 rescheduled as a closing shift, give me 20+ days. Even at the very tail end of my streak, I was supposed to get days 27 and 28 off, but the manager tweaked that and gave me shifts instead! On day 30, when I made it known that I had survived yet another 30-day stretch, my manager said I can’t do long stretches anymore and have to take days off. Then he turns around two days later and schedules a 21-day stretch!

All of this scheduling, re-scheduling, and long stretches makes having a life outside of work nearly impossible. It’s already hard to schedule around my job since my shifts change so often. I can be scheduled to close at 4:15, just to get a call at 8am to come in at noon instead. Or I can get a highly coveted morning shift with the expectation to be out of there by 3pm, only to get extended until 6pm. And we just found out recently that the company as started to log everything you do regarding the schedule, possibly to use against you. Every time you request a day off, call in sick, refuse to switch shifts or come in early or pick up an extra shift…….. this all goes in a report they add to your annual review. They even log the reasons why you turn down shifts!  This makes scheduling anything else in my life damn near impossible!

Take, for instance, doctor’s appointments. It’s time for my full physical, something that I simply cannot ignore. We have a history of cancer in my family, and cervical cancer is one of them. I’ve had to have cryosurgery before, to get rid of pre-cancerous cell growth that was caught before it became full-blown cancer. It’s uncomfortable enough for me to make an appointment like this already, but my doctor left his practice and was replaced by a brand new doctor. My down-under exam will be my first time meeting this doctor! I have been trying to find the time to schedule this appointment for almost a month now, and it looks like it will be another few weeks before I know for sure I can have the time to do so without penalizing myself at work. I have a physical to book, moles that need to be checked, I haven’t had my eyes checked in 6 years and need to get new glasses, and I should probably see a dentist someday to check on that wisdom tooth that started coming in a little over a year ago.

What really gets to me, though, is that one of the only ways to really advance in this company is to learn French. Actually, not being bilingual is one of the things that has really been holding me back from getting a government position in my field. There are places around here where I could learn French, but it’s impossible to both afford this and take the time to make it to these classes with the way schedules are done. The work BFF has it in her file that she is only available until 7pm on Mondays and Wednesdays. There are 8 different shifts that the manager has given out on the current schedules that she could possibly work on these days. Still, since she’s not available to close, he doesn’t schedule her at all most weeks. Taking even a few hours off of my availability each week to take French classes could mean giving up 10-16 hours of paid work each week! I really can’t afford to do that.

That’s where the third great love of my life comes in (the first two obviously being AAB and currently hiding Bowser Kitten): the internet. Ever check out Duolingo? It’s free online language lessons! I haven’t been able to keep up with mine much lately, but I’ve been chipping away at them bit by bit. As you learn, you have the option to strengthen your skills and go over things you’ve previously learned. They even have a TinyCards page with little flashcards to help you keep up with your skills. Also, they have an app that lets you learn on the go. And it’s not just French you can learn on there. There are 27 different courses for English speakers to help them learn other languages!

Duolingo isn’t the only free online resource for learning, either. Go do a Google search for free online classes. There are a tonne of resources out there! One of my personal favourites (even though I have a hard time finishing courses sometimes) is Coursera. They have a tonne of courses that you can either take for free (just to gain the knowledge and upgrade your skills), or you can pay to take them to get official credits from schools around the world. You can specialize in things from every area of knowledge in their catalog, from marketing to teaching English as a second language.

Can’t find exactly what you’re looking for on there? Well, try out Open2Study, an Australian-based website that follows the same model. What I love about this site is that it features a lot of self-paced courses. The problem I have when taking online courses is that I’ll start one, get all excited about it, and can only go so far at a time. You have to do a little bit each week, which kind of kills my motivation. With my constantly changing schedule, and putting my writing before anything else online right now, I tend to just drop courses after the third week. With self-paced courses, you can do as little or as much as you want at a time. Have a day off? Laying in bed sick all day? Don’t feel like watching reruns of Friends on Netflix yet again after a long day? You can throw on a lecture video, pull up some online notes, and do just as much work as you’re feeling up to at the time.

One thing I’ve been meaning to look into more is learning a bit of web development online. I learned some very basic HTML way back in my MySpace days, but pretty much stopped there. Having some basic development tools is essential for a lot of jobs out there now. Web development is becoming the new “proficient in Microsoft Office” in resumes. There are a tonne of resources out there, which I haven’t really evaluated for you guys at all. Like I said, this is something I’m looking into, not something I’ve actually thrown myself into yet. Still, I’ve been going over the sites listed here in this article. I’ve heard of a few of them before, like Khan and Code Academy. Maybe one of you out there has a little more insight into which online sites would be best for someone looking to learn online, and would like to leave a comment for us.

It’s actually mind-blowing how much there is that you can learn online. Did you know Yale has free classes online? University of Toronto? MIT? I mean, how great would that look on a resume? “While employed with [XXX], I independently upgraded my skills by taking online courses through both MIT and Yale”. I mean, it just sounds cool. Like, I live in the little border town, working my little retail job, working on my homework for MIT. Need an excuse to get out of a social situation? “Sorry, I can’t make it to your Silly Sock Social and Spritzer Mixer. I have to finish a paper for that class I’m taking at Yale.”

And for anyone who doesn’t think that any of this free online learning is “official” enough for them (I’ve heard that complaint from a lot of people, actually), or you specialized education like a Masters Degree or a few university classes to finish your major, there’s something out there for you too. Almost every single university out there now offers some sort of online learning. All through my two degrees, I took at least two online classes a year, usually during the summer months. I was a Teaching Assistant for an online Sociology class for three years. For us Canadians, there is even an entire university dedicated to online learning: Athabasca University. This online school is a collection of majors, courses, degrees, and certificates from universities all over Canada. Most Canadian universities will allow you to substitute online classes from Athabasca for courses you’re unable to take physically at your school for whatever reason. It’s just a matter of filling out some paperwork and using the online classes kind of like transfer credits. You can pick up a few classes here, or do a full degree. I’ve looked into a few certificates recently that would go great with my degrees, and really add something to my resume!

I don’t know, I’m in one of those moods where I feel like my entire life is falling apart, and I need to do something to get out of here. Like I said, my schedule doesn’t allow me to take the time off to upgrade my education, so I’ve been looking into all of this online learning a lot lately. These classes are perfect for anyone who needs to do a bit of learning but doesn’t have the time to dedicate the same time each week to physically going to a class.

I do have some words of warning, though. Like I said, I took quite a few online classes at my university and was the Teaching Assistant for one course. I know how easy it is to blow off work for these classes. When I had to physically go into class and participate in lectures, go to labs, hand in work, then that pressure to keep up was the motivating factor in me getting anything done sometimes. With my online classes, I could put off doing any reading at all until just before an assignment or paper was due. I once took a course and didn’t even take the plastic wrapping off the textbook until more than halfway through the semester! Unless there is some sort of schedule to the class that makes you hand things in, or take tests and quizzes, and all of this is at regular intervals, then it is ridiculously easy to dig yourself an academic hole that is stupid crazy hard to climb out of.

So, is there anything out there that you need to learn? Always wanted to learn a little bit about Ancient Rome? High school Spanish teacher always tell you that you’d never be able to learn more than a few words of Spanish, and you want to prove him wrong? There is something out there for everyone online. You just need to know where to look for it.*

*Google. Google is where you look for it. Type it into the damn search and look for it.

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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.)