I recently attended one of the Faculty of Arts & Science’s Backpack to Briefcase events, Humanities/Languages Speed Networking. University of Toronto alumni were invited to talk to students about their career pathways, and how they managed to navigate the workplace after graduation. The first half of the event consisted of discussions with a pair of alumni in small groups, and the other half involved an informal mingling period with peers and alumni. We got to ask alumni about their experiences and main takeaways from their time at U of T, their career pathways, and what relevant skills and experiences they needed to get their jobs. From listening to the various stories and opinions of the alumni, I managed to pick up these four lessons about career exploration.
- Your major isn’t that important. Although the alumni that attended the networking event majored in various subjects in languages and the humanities, they all had very different occupations. From my discussions with some of the alumni, they found that their skills and their degrees were more important than their program of studies. For example, employers were more interested in the communication skills picked up from language and humanities degrees rather than the specifics of majoring in French or Classics. As someone who often stresses about how her majors will look to employers, this was reassuring news. From now on, I’ll focus my stress on improving my skills and gaining knowledge from my classes instead of wondering about titles.
- Careers are dynamic. Some alumni didn’t get the jobs they initially thought they would after graduation, and ended up with jobs they had never considered before—but nevertheless ended up loving them. I’m a control freak who likes to have a plan for everything, so learning to deal with the uncertainty that goes along with the job search is something I need to work on.
- Extracurricular activities matter. Joining clubs is a great way to learn your likes and dislikes, make contacts, and strengthen your skills. From my own experiences with extracurricular activities, I can attest to this. By getting involved on campus, I learned what activities I wanted to focus my energy on in the future, met a lot of great people, and strengthened my skills with the help of my peers in a professional, academic setting. All of these assets helped me assess my career goals (i.e. what I want to do and what I am qualified to do), and incidentally made me more useful to employers.
- Communication skills are all the rage. If you’re in the humanities, then this is good news. If you’re not in the humanities and struggling with your communication skills, then you might want to start working on them. Many alumni were shocked at the number of students who couldn’t string together an email. Resumes, cover letters, and email exchanges are often the first impressions an applicant makes on an employer—especially in today’s digital age—so it’s important to keep your communication skills fresh. Luckily, the Career Centre offers all sorts of resources for crafting the perfect resume or cover letter.
The b2B event inspired me to check out Career Navigator, a Career Centre tool that lets you discover career information relevant to your specific program of study, such as other alumni, career options, a list of skills that employers value, and statistics about life (jobs, salary, etc.) after graduation. As I learned through the b2B event, my degree does not limit me, but rather opens up all sorts of job opportunities. This lesson, along with my other learnings from that evening, are ones I will keep in mind as I continue earning my degree and exploring my own career.