Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers! Hope Turkey Day is turkey-ful, or, if you’re vegetarian, food-ful!
As I’m enjoying this wonderful, school-free day (not really – I’m actually trying to finish my notes for my test next week, and trying to get started on four of my essays that are all due the same week in November, which I’ve appropriately named The Impending Week of Doom), I’m staring at the Career Centre‘s job postings for summer. Given that I am somewhat early, there are understandably few summer jobs available. (But some of the few that are there have applications due really soon, so if you want to work for one of those big companies with lots of steps in the application process – I’m looking at you, Procter & Gamble, and Shell – my advice is to start looking now.) As I scroll through the listings, I realize that there are quite a few jobs that I’d love to try, but have no idea if they’re right for me, or if I want to spend the equivalent of one semester (May-August) doing them.
As if right on cue, my email pings the arrival of an email from the Career Centre about the Extern Job Shadowing Program. And I think, oh right, it’s that time of the year!
Before I tell you what Extern is, I want you to think quickly: Have you ever been interested in a career, but you’re studying something completely different and have no idea what it’s like? Or have you ever just wanted to see what happens during a day in the life of a certain professional? This is essentially what you can do by signing up for Extern (it’s even free!).
Extern is a job-shadowing program offered by the Career Centre for currently enrolled U of T students, allowing them to explore a career by visiting professionals in the workplace. Extern happens twice every year, once during the February Reading Week, and another after final exams in April. As a participant, you get to shadow your sponsor in his or her natural working environment, observe his or her daily work activities, tour a number of departments, and meet with other staff to discuss the industry.
Last year, I was forced to go to I was at a social event of some sort and this person told me that he worked in international trade. After several minutes of conversing with him over some delicious tiger-shrimp cocktails, I came to the conclusion that 1) the shrimps were really, really good, and 2) well, he worked IT, but not that IT. Nonetheless, my interest was piqued, and when I got the same email from the Career Centre regarding the job shadowing program, I immediately signed up and put down “international trade” as my first choice.
I didn’t really know what to expect, but I got an email the next day telling me to stop by the Career Centre. Apparently, international trade is one of those careers areas where you really can’t job-shadow because of security reasons (you’ll see what I mean in a bit). Nonetheless, the people from the program somehow managed to get me a lunch interview at the U.S. consulate, and said, although you’ll only get a few hours, would you still like to go, Cynthia? Heck yeah I would!
I attended a mandatory orientation before setting off to the consulate. It was everything I needed to know. You get information on what to expect, what to wear, etiquette, how to write a follow-up thank you letter, etc. I learned basic business know-hows that were useful and applicable even after my placement. Now, given that I didn’t get a “normal” placement, I didn’t have to wait until February. I went to the lunch interview a few weeks after I applied to the program.
The morning of, I was jittery with anticipation and excitement. After all, I still had no idea what IT was, but I was going to find out. I Google-mapped the building and was there 20 minutes early. Which was good, because it gave me time to go to the bathroom to make sure I looked presentable in my pantsuit, and to buy a strawberry cream cheese bagel (toasted). Exactly 10 minutes before my appointment, I went up the elevator and as I got out, I stopped dead in my tracks.
The door was huge. And metal. Like, the kind of door you see in movies where the thieves try to get in to steal stuff. It was just as heavy as it looked. When I got in and looked around, there was a metal detector, and one of those machines with the conveyor belt that airports have, where they scan your bag to see what’s inside. On the other side of the room was a security guard behind a tinted-glass window and I was asked to turn over my ID and cellphone and any other electronic items I had with me (my iPod). Hooo boy, was I intimidated. See what they mean when they say “security”?
But then, the security guard emerged to show me to the conference room and he gave me the biggest, goofiest smile. Suddenly, laughter bubbled out of me and I felt quite at ease. When I got into the room, I got to meet all the interns (all recent grads) working there. They told me about the projects they are doing and I got to ask them questions. International trade turned out to be much more fluid than I thought, which was why I couldn’t really pin down what the guy who I was conversing with over tiger shrimps actually did. The interns all managed their own projects, set their own schedule, and got their hands dirty right from the start. One of them helped small businesses from the U.S. settle in Canada, and another worked as a kind of middle man for U.S. manufacturers seeking distributors in Canada. To be honest, the rest of the day was much of a blur, but my impression of it was extremely positive, fun and informational, and I’ve stored international trade as a career interest I can seriously consider later. I remember thinking, I can’t wait until my next extern!
According the Program Coordinator, Ron Wener, this year’s application is significantly different from those in previous years, so it is extremely important to go to an orientation even if you’ve done the program in the past. Says Ron, “The biggest change for this year is that we will be posting all available placements to students who register for the program. Students will then apply for the placements that they are most interested in and we will then match the students based on the criteria that sponsors have provided.”
Are you ready to apply? Let me take you to the Extern’s webpage, right here. It lists all the steps to apply for either the February or the April placement. It’s so comprehensive that it would be senseless for me to copy it verbatim.
What are you waiting for, dear readers? I’ve already signed up, so go! There’s no reason not to!