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.

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!