Archive for the ‘Finding a Path’ Category

A New Year Is A Great Time to Dream

January 3, 2013 7 comments

dreamsI asked my 4 year old son what he wants to do when he grows up and he said “sleep in hotels and go down water slides.”

The first question I ask students when they come into my office is “If you could get paid to do anything you want, what would you do?”  Shockingly I find that often the answer to this question seems to have very little to do with their so-called ‘real’ career goals.  When did they stop dreaming?  Perhaps they have been brought back to ‘reality’ by a parent or counsellor or friend who, out of a sincere desire to ensure their ‘success’, has encouraged them to focus on getting a secure job with a big company rather than actually pursue their passions, strengths, motivations, and preferences.

No matter what the state of the economy, however, there are people who get paid to do what they love: hockey players, sports announcers, sommelier’s,  marketing executives, lawyers, counsellors, teachers, doctors, authors, chefs, computer programmers . . .Unfortunately, on the flip side there is the majority of the population who spend 94,000+ hours of their life doing something they dislike.  In fact, according to Forbes magazine 71% of employees are disengaged from their work. What a horribly depressing thought.  No wonder there is so much road rage and so many grumpy people at the grocery store, bank, Tim Horton’s, Dollarama, movie theatre, dog park, shopping mall, Boston Pizza, walking down the street, . . .   we are subjecting ourselves to lives of misery on a massive scale.

So how did those other individuals end up getting paid to do something they love?  If you look at what it was that got them that job you will find that it was not just luck, but a combination of dreams, determination and serendipity.  If we remove any one of these elements from the equation, we are certainly going to be one of the 71%.

Instead, let’s allow ourselves to dream for a moment about a future where we are not slaves to a weak economy, but instead optimistic and excited about our future.   Take some time and watch Professor Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture.  Professor Pausch, who was dying of pancreatic cancer, gave his last lecture at the Carnegie Mellon University on Sept. 18, 2007. His talk, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” highlights his lessons learned and provides advice for students on how to achieve their own career and personal goals.

waterslideI am not suggesting that my son will actually become a hotel and water-park consultant when he grows up but, if he is determined, I would certainly support him.  However, I am saying that we need to pay more attention to our dreams if we want to end up leading a healthy, happy and balanced life.  If you are going to spend thousands upon thousands of hours doing something, why not at least try to make it something that you love?


Disclosing a Disability? Know Your Rights

December 10, 2012 Leave a comment

access to employment for persons with disabilitiesIt is always stressful seeking employment; however, another layer of stress is added, for those with disabilities, when it comes to making a decision on when and whether to disclose that disability to a prospective employer. Although there is plenty of research that illustrates the potential benefits to an employer of having a diverse workforce that includes persons with disabilities, there are certainly many misconceptions that could stand in your way. When trying to decide the best way to proceed, it is important to first know the laws and how they can protect you. What are your rights, responsibilities and obligations?

Take some time to review The Canadian Human Rights Commission website at:

You will find on their site information on Duty to Accommodate, A Guide to Creating an Inclusive Workplace, and examples of past cases that are viewed as significant in forming and upholding the Canadian Human Rights Act.disability

The more you know and understand our laws, the more confident you will feel about what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour on the part of employers. This will ensure that you know what your rights are and how you can work together with a prospective employer to protect them.

However, regardless of how many laws there are to protect us, we still need to use common sense, instinct and judgement when it comes to any topic that may leave us vulnerable to discrimination. Thus, I encourage you to do research on prospective places of employment. Seek out companies that have a track record of hiring and supporting individuals with disabilities. Some may have company policies that promote and advocate for a more diverse and inclusive workplace. If you know this in advance, it may impact your decision on whether you disclose a disability and when. A great place to start is the 2012 list of Canada’s Top Diversity Employers. You can check out the list and the reasons they were selected at:

Along the same lines, if you know another individual who has a disability and is working at a company that you are interested in, set up an informational interview to talk about his/her experiences and get some first-hand advice on how he/she handled the job application process and how he/she was treated during and after hiring. Take some time to review my blog post on Informational Interviewing at:

If you have experience with disclosing a disability or hiring a person with a disability please share your story with us.

Further References:

Myths About Hiring Persons With Disabilities: This article is targeted at employers to help them recognize and address myths and negative stereotypes that are often associated with hiring persons with disabilities. It is a great resource for strategies for addressing these concerns with employers, should they arise. (, Retrieved November 30th, 2012)

Disclosing Disabilities, University Affairs, November, 2012: This brief blog post opens the conversation about when and if to disclose a disability to a prospective or current employer. “Every option has pros and cons, and planning can help reduce the risk that your abilities will be misinterpreted.”

( Retrieved November 30th, 2012)

Duty to Accommodate Fact Sheet: This article, created by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, outlines and gives examples of an employers obligations when it comes to accommodating individuals with disabilities. Further, it also outlines the duty to ensure accessibility in the provision of service. “The duty to accommodate recognizes that true equality means respecting people’s different needs. Needs that must be accommodated could be related to a person’s gender, age, disability, family or marital status, ethnic or cultural origin, religion or any of the other human attributes identified in the two federal acts.” (, Retrieved November 30th, 2012)

Dos and Don’ts of Applying to Grad School

October 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Do take the time to visit the school you are applying to and connect with faculty and prospective supervisors.  Having that face time with a member of the selection committee or a prospective supervisor can go a long way in helping you to get into a program.  Many programs will not admit a student unless they already have a faculty member who is willing to supervise his/her research.  If you take the time to research who is out there, and connect with him/her about your area of research interest and he/she seems interested in your ideas and approach then you are half-way, at least, to getting in.

Do take time before you start the application process to reflect on what you would like to research while in grad school.  The most successful applicants are those that have a clear research interest, one that is innovative, or takes a new approach to an old question.  You need to know how you want to conduct your research, what resources you intend to use, what the burning question is that you want to address and why it is important.  I know it is difficult at this point in time to know the answers to all of this, but the closer you can get, the better.  Take time to chat with your current professors and to get their insights on your research.  This is also the sort of thing that you can connect with prospective supervisors on.  They can direct you to other resources that may be of use to you.

Do write a statement of purpose that is personal and well thought out, not cliché or filled with broad sweeping statements and random flattery of the program to which you are applying.  Know what your purpose is? Explain who you are, what you want, and why you want it from where you are applying. Follow the department’s directions to a tee. Rewrite, give drafts to your family, friends, etc. Make it punchy, personal and free of TYPOS.

Do apply early. Programs get flooded with late applicants who are making sudden life changes or who have just received a rejection letter from law school or med school or dentistry or . . .

Do give the people writing your letters of recommendation at least 4 weeks’ notice.  You want them to be thinking of you positively when they write that letter so the more leisurely and the more prepared they are the better the letter will be.  If they are rushed at the last minute they may be feeling frustrated and stressed and that will have a negative impact on your recommendation. As the American Psychological Association states, “Too often, admissions committee chairs said, students received unflattering letters because they failed to ask whether the potential recommendation author would write a “strongly favorable” letter.” To help in getting a good letter, be sure to take the time to get to know your professors: Go to drop in hours, have good attendance in class and be an all around engaged and diligent learner.

Don`t just apply to a whole bunch of programs hoping that one has got to work out. Students need to learn the key details of a program-including faculty research interests and specific courses offered-before they apply. It is better to take the time and identify the programs that are best suited to you, tailor your application to that program and make connections with people there.  Take the time to do your research and know who their faculty members are and what they are known for and play to those strengths in your application.

Don`t hand in an application that is unclear, disorganized or contains spelling or grammatical mistakes.  This will give the impression that you are not clear about your purpose or do not take this application seriously.

Don`t overdo the flattery. “A number of admissions committee chairs have cited distaste for applications that include insincere flattery, such as praising the program in an obsequious manner. Other chairs added inappropriate name-dropping or blaming others for a poor academic record as potential kisses of death.”  (APA, 2006, The don’ts of grad school applications)

A New Student’s Guide to Career Planning

August 8, 2012 2 comments

At our fall and spring open houses I offer sessions on career services and planning.  There have been many times when I have been standing outside of the room encouraging prospective students and their parents to join me and I have been told “Oh, we don’t need that for another 4 years.”  This is exactly the mentality that results in a student sitting in my office a month before graduation feeling completely lost and desperately looking for answers to the question “What do I do now?”

You need to begin the process in your first year.  Here are some suggestions on how to get from admission, to graduation, to career.

Keep in mind that finding a career that you love is not a strait path from point A to point B.  It is a process of self-discovery, assessment, exploration and pursuit that requires you to re-cycle through these stages time and time again.

ASSESS – In your first and second year, in particular, you should be focussing on discovering your interests, skills, values, and personality.  Understanding yourself is critical to finding a rewarding career.

  • Book an Appointment With a Career Counsellor – Ask about doing some personality and career assessments that will start to give  you some ideas of career direction
  • Take a Look at Your Aptitudes – Your natural talents and things you are good at. We sometimes assume that something that comes easily to us comes easily for everyone, but this is usually not the case. Ask friends, family, and others who know you to suggest some areas they see you succeeding at or having natural abilities in.
  • Book an Appointment With an Academic Counsellor – For those of you in your first year you are going to need to start thinking about degree options and what you want to major in.  Get some help with this process.  An academic counsellor can advise you of your options and guide you to resources that will aid in making the decision.
  • Understand Your Values – The last place you want to be is in a career that does not line up with your personal beliefs and priorities.

Some questions you may want to consider:

  • Do you value security and consistency or variety and risk-taking in your work environment?
  • Is social interaction and being part of a group or independence and autonomy important to you?
  • Do you value achievement and recognition or being “behind the scenes”?
  • Is your work environment, pace, and/or location important to you?
  • Do you value financial independence? Status? Creative expression? Contribution to society?

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of self-discovery to career planning.  Usually when students are feeling lost it is because they have not spent enough time figuring themselves out, identifying their talents, what they enjoy doing, what motivates them.  Once you have an idea of who you are it will be easier to identify potential options, to network with confidence and to get out there and explore.

EXPLORE – At each stage of your degree you should be looking for opportunities to get involved and explore your interests and options and build your resume.

  • Get Involved in Campus Clubs and Organizations or Volunteer in the Community – This is a great way to meet new people and to build your hands-on experience.  Taking on a leadership position with a club or volunteering with a not-for-profit agency can help you with your project or event management, leadership and interpersonal, communication and organizational skills, just to name a few. These experiences will help you to get an understanding of different types of work and what elements of it you enjoy.
  • Participate in Career Development Workshops – Every campus organizes usually dozens of workshops each year that can help you develop your resume, cover letters, interview prep, networking strategies etc. Check with your career centre for dates, times and locations.
  • Attend Career Fairs – Regardless of whether you are at the point where you are looking for a job, attending a career fair will give you an idea of what companies are out there and who is hiring for what types of jobs.
  • Go to Employer Information Sessions – Throughout the year numerous employers will visit your campus to present information on working for them and what positions they are hiring for.  This is another great way to explore options and to begin networking and making connections.
  • Check out the Graduate and Professional School Fairs – Most campuses are now offering post-graduate fairs where you can explore what options are out there with respect to continuing your education.  You will likely be surprised at the abundance of options and may discover an exciting opportunity or program that you didn’t even know existed.

The more experiences that you can draw on the better prepared you will be for going after your career goals.  You will have a clearer understanding of what you would like to do, where and for whom.  This focus will enable you to pursue your goals with poise and conviction.

PURSUE – As you move closer to graduation it is time to start pursuing your goals.  This will involve Preparing, Planning, and Acting.  This can be the most intimidating step in the career process as it means that you need to really put yourself out there and accept that you are likely to get shot down a few times before you get the outcome that you are searching for.

  • Set Up Some Informational Interviews – This can be an extremely important part of building your network and finding a job.  Often people are interested in a particular career or corporation but do not have any contacts.  By setting up an information interview, you can make a contact, find out more about the company and the career, and get a foot in the door for future job openings. Talk to a career counsellor to get more information on how to set up an informational interview.
  • Review, Revise and Tailor Your Resume and Cover Letter –  The more time that you invest in preparing impressive documents and tailoring them to specific companies and jobs, the more likely you are to have success.  Attend a drop-in –session or set up a one-on-one appointment to review your resume and cover letter.  Be sure to bring a job description with you.
  • Book a Mock Interview – No matter how prepared you feel for an interview, you will always benefit from a dry-run.  A mock interview will simulate a real interview and you will likely be surprised at how nervous you feel.  It will give you a chance to sort out your thoughts, prepare your responses and get feedback and tips on how to best present yourself.  Most career centre’s offer this service.
  • Use Campus Job Postings – Most institutions have career/job boards where employers ask specifically to have positions posted.  This is a good place to start.  Be aware that often employers will post positions in the fall that they expect to fill in the spring or summer.  If you wait until the second semester of your 4th year, you may have missed out on a lot of opportunities.
  • Network, Network, Network – This is often the hardest task and yet is the most likely by FAR to result in you finding employment.  Like dating, you need to just get out there and do it.  Meet as many people as you can, be considerate, polite, and respectful and you are sure to see the results.  Check out your career centre for workshops and resources on successful networking.  You can also see if your Alumni Association offers networking opportunities.

If you get started in your first year by reflecting, deciding, and evaluating yourself and your career options, then you will be well ahead of the game.  Remember that this is not a strait path; be prepared for detours and unexpected turns.  Finding a great career is a combination of planning, assessment, determination and serendipity.  Put yourself out there with confidence and conviction and see what the world gives you back.

An open letter to employers (well…anyone, really) – Guest Blogger

July 23, 2012 2 comments

I am delighted to introduce my latest guest-blogger Jenn Nelson.  Jenn graduated from Huron in 2010 with a BA in History and Political Science and then went on to complete an MA in Public History at Western University.  She has a abundance of experience and expertise in the promotion of museums and cultural institutions through the use of social media.  You can check out her blog unmuseum at

I am writing this letter, on behalf of History graduates (both undergraduate and graduate) to explain the benefits, to you as an employer, of hiring someone with a History degree.

“[A] ny fool can make history, but it takes a genius to write it.”

Oscar Wilde

I am sure that you have read many resumes and CVs (hundreds if not thousands) during your time as an employer and have dismissed those who have had said History degree.


Firstly, ask yourself why you may have dismissed said application. Is your first thought, “What can someone who knows everything about the War of 1812 do to support and contribute to our business?” This is the first mistake. Don’t think about the subject matter; focus on the skills. As Historians, we can’t tell you everything that’s happened in History, that’s not what we do. Among other things, we study trends, theories and problems, that are very relevant to today, and communicate and interpret them.

Secondly, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that having a History degree means that we are qualified for everything.

Yes, for the most part (and I’m the first to admit it), Historians are HUGE Geeks, but most of us don’t love the History Channel (that’s another blog post in itself). That aside, we develop a wide variety of skills that are applicable to any workplace.

So, what are some of these skills?

1. We analyze and interpret research. Throughout both of my History degrees, I sifted through hundreds (if not thousands) of documents; primary and secondary sources. I learned how to evaluate what research was valuable and what was garbage. I always had a back up to a back up and learned how to use these documents to my advantage.

2. We are awesome communicators. Personally, I’ve developed this from studying Public History (how we communicate the academic stuff to the regular Joe on the street, who has no knowledge or background in History). Historians develop key presentation skills when studying History. We learn how to speak in a concise way, as well as write clearly and to the point.

3. We pick up on the little things. We pick up on things that you might not event think of! We also develop this through years of writing papers and sifting through the research.

4. We analyze trends. As stated previously, we reflect on the present by referring to the past. This can be very helpful when looking at business success or failure.

I could go on…but this is a blog post and not a book.

Key skills to take away from this (I’m not saying every Historian will have these, but the majority do):

  • Effective communication skills (both written and oral)
  • Key problem solving and the ability to critically analyze situations
  • Independent thinking
  • Highly organized
  • Ability to work with others and on an individual basis
  • Manage time, stick to deadlines and work under pressure

…and the list goes on….

I’m not saying that studying other subjects can’t give you these skills, but sometimes you have to point them out when it isn’t so obvious 🙂

I’d also like to say, don’t rule out extra curricular activities and the skills that can be developed from taking part in them. Just because it isn’t paid, doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

In conclusion, I hope I’ve shed some light on the skills that Historians develop.



Job Search Survival – 3 Tips For Maintaining Motivation

July 5, 2012 Leave a comment

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do.”  Confucius

I try to teach this to my children when they are learning to skate or running on the soccer field.  It is not easy to get up and get back at it especially when your ego and your knees are bruised and scraped; but, if you want to succeed, that is exactly what you need to do.  The same applies in a job search, particularly these days when the economy is in tough shape.

The people I admire most are those that have the determination and resilience to keep going even when times are tough.  Often I find that those who are most deserving of success are the ones that complain the least when things do go wrong.  They are not the students that are in begging for leniency, but instead, are the ones that are rallying themselves, using resources to get things together and then moving forward.

Our ability to do this stems from our capacity to set goals, look at things from a positive perspective, and find the motivation to move on.  Overall, having a positive outlook and approach to life will help to carry us through difficult times.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, a researcher at the University of California, has conducted studies that illustrate that although a percentage of our happiness and resilience is determined by genetics and circumstance a significant portion, about 40%, is within our direct control.  Furthermore, in their book Positive Psychology Coaching, Robert Biswas-Diener and Ben Dean assert “you can manifest your own happiness by making smart choices.  Time and again goals, relationships and positive thinking have been shown to be important contributors to individual fulfillment and a life well lived.” (61)

When you are on the job market, faced with putting yourself out there and facing rejection time and again, you will need to stay focussed on what matters to you, set smaller attainable goals, and find internal motivators that are sustainable.  If you are going to have the ability to pick yourself up, you will need to manage the 40% of your propensity for happiness and resilience that is within your control.

To do this, focus on 3 main strategies that will help build the stamina you need to keep going.

1)Set Modest Goals:  Rather than striving for a potentially unattainable dream job, set your sights on something that is within your grasp and see it as a stepping stone rather than a final destination.  Also set goals that relate directly to the search and not just the final outcome.  This way, even if you don’t get a particular job you can still feel a sense of accomplishment in making it to the interview stage, or making a new contact, for example.  You need to give yourself some credit for the effort if you have any hope of sustaining yourself throughout the process.  Set the goal of making 5 new contacts this week, or conducting 3 informational interviews.  Developing those relationships will help to build your confidence and broaden your network.

2) Focus on Intrinsic Rather than Extrinsic Motivators:  Think about what makes you feel satisfied, interested and rewarded (intrinsic factors) and set your sites on those jobs.  Because those sorts of goals are based on your values and things that you care about you are going to find that it is easier to motivate yourself to work towards them.  If you are looking for a job that is going to impress others or make you the most money (extrinsic factors) then you are less likely to be genuinely motivated to achieve those goals and may burn out sooner.

3) Frame Your Goals Positively: Rather than striving to avoid something negative like unemployment or being dissatisfied at work, (“avoidance goals”) think of yourself as moving toward something positive such as finding a fulfilling job (“approach goals”).  As Biswas-Diener and Dean explain, “There is a preponderance of research evidence linking avoidance goals to increased distress and anxiety, decreased levels of happiness, lower levels of social satisfaction, and poorer perceptions of health.”(66)  By focussing on moving toward something positive rather than avoiding something negative you will find that you have more energy to focus on action and you’re using less energy on worrying.

No matter how you approach it, searching for a job is hard and potentially disheartening work.  You need to do all that you can to look after yourself and find the motivation to keep going.  As hard as it is, try not to take the rejection as a sign of your failings.  Many times, there may already be someone in mind for the position or there just may be really stiff competition.  Do, however, ask for feedback so that you can improve with every attempt and bring yourself closer to getting that job.

For more on this topic check out:

How to Survive Looking For a New Job:

How to Survive if You Cannot Find a Job:

Sonja Lyubomirsky

Positive Psychology Coaching:


From Classroom to Career – What Skills Will I Take With Me?

May 7, 2012 Leave a comment

backpack to briefcaseLast Thursday we hosted a Campus/Community Roundtable where we invited business and not-for-profit managers and leaders to join with faculty and administration to talk about Liberal Arts degrees and their transferability and applicability to the world of work.  Before the session we conducted a survey to discover what attributes are most frequently needed in order to be successful in a variety of fields including: education, insurance, banking, legal, not-for-profit, marketing, communications, business consulting, and government.

The skills that were ranked as “very important” included:

  • Communication oral and written (93%)
  • Teamwork (87%)
  • Problem-solving (87%)
  • Critical thinking (87%)
  • Ethical decision-making (87%)
  • Analytical thinking (87%)
  • Work ethic (87%)
  • Passion for excellence (86%)
  • Accountability (80%)

We also asked our community partners about the frequency with which these skills are used.  The skills that were cited as being used daily by the largest number of people were:

  • Communication written (87%)
  • Communication oral (80%)
  • Problem-solving (73%)
  • Critical Thinking (73%)
  • Teamwork (73%)
  • Time management (73%)

After reviewing the survey responses, we worked in groups on real-life case studies, where we looked at how the skills that students acquire during their degree and the teaching methods used, can help prepare our graduates to deal with a wide variety of work situations ranging from dealing with difficult clients in a call centre, to developing and running targeted promotional events.

What was abundantly clear is that the skills that you use to succeed in a liberal arts degree are the same skills that you will need to succeed in your career.  That being said, many of you do not realize or are not confident in identifying your value to employers.

As we have heard time and again, the careers that exist today are not the careers that will exist 5 years from now.  Even if the job title is the same, the type of work and how it is done is likely to change dramatically as our culture, economy, and technology evolve.  Thus, what employers are looking for most of all is someone who can learn and adapt quickly.  When you write a paper, or prepare a group project, when you participate in a community-based learning course, or deliver a presentation in a class, you are demonstrating and refining many of the same skills and attributes that you will be required to use in your career. It is the process, perhaps even more than the theories and concepts, that is important.  Whether you remember that on this date in 1429 Joan of Arc raised the siege of Orleans or that the protagonist in Much Ado About Nothing is Beatrice is not likely to have a dramatic impact on your career trajectory. However, your ability to work with others, conduct research, synthesize information and convey it in an articulate and concise manner will.

If there are other ways that you think a liberal arts degree helps prepare you for the “real world” or if you have a personal example, please post a comment.

For more information on skills that employers are looking for check out these links:

Top 10 Skills Employers are Looking For

Employability Skills

What Do Employers Really Want

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