Some free career resources from the Toronto Public Library

“The best things in life are free.” If you have a Toronto Public Library (TPL) card, this adage is true when it comes to some of the best ways to boost your career.

TPL provides access to helpful resources for searching for a job, refining your resume, and boosting your skills and knowledge.

Career-related workshops

The current edition of TPL’s What’s On publication lists some career and resume-focused sessions at library branches. They cover:

  • An introduction to LinkedIn
  • Job market opportunities
  • Resume writing and critiquing
  • Improving interview skills
  • Networking and job search tactics for newcomers to Canada

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Online education at lynda.com

LyndaTPL card holders have access to lynda.com for free. Lynda.com provides “over 3,500 video tutorial courses led by experts on web design, software development, photography, business skills, home and small office, project management, 3D + Animation, graphic design audio, music, video editing and more.” This perk gets you a Premium monthly membership, which has a value of $29.99 Canadian per month.

Completing courses at lynda.com can increase your knowledge of tasks you’re doing on-the-job or that you’re curious about, impress your boss, and boost your resume or LinkedIn profile.

Need a library card?

September is National Library Card Sign-Up Month, so there’s no better time to get or renew your card. Further to the TPL resources listed above, the other benefits of having a library card are numerous. You can get a TPL card if you live, work, go to school or own property in Toronto. Learn more about getting a card here.

Photo credits: Laine Jaremey; Lynda.com.

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Nine tips for successful informational interviews

Have you ever been on an informational interview?

If you haven’t heard of them before, an informational interview is a meeting with someone who’s already in an organization, field or industry that you’d like to get into, which doesn’t relate directly to a job opening. It’s an opportunity for you to learn, grow your network and get your foot in the door.

Informational interviews can help improve your career prospects. They’re especially helpful when you graduate or if you’re starting out in a new field. In fact, the effectiveness of informational interviews has been described as “engineered nepotism”. Essentially, if you don’t have an existing strong personal connection, an informational interview can have the potential to result in one.

Informational interviews have benefited my career. My first job at a PR agency was the eventual result of an informational interview with a VP there. We were put in touch through connections in our networks, so I didn’t know her personally before the meeting. That said, I diligently prepared for the meeting and it was a success.

That’s why, when a role became available at my level at the agency a month after the informational interview, the person I met with contacted me. She thought I could be a good fit based on what she learned about me in the informational interview. As I had already dipped my toe by meeting with her and learning about the agency, I was immediately engaged. So, we met again to discuss the role and I was interviewed by other senior members of the organization. As a result, the role was a great fit for me, and I was a great fit for the team.

This experience has made me believe in the power of informational interviews. Since, I’ve continued to participate in them, both as interviewer and interviewee. Based on what I’ve learned, I have some tips for acing informational interviews as your start off in your career:

Tip 1: Prepare as you would for a job interview – Would you ever go to a job interview without Googling the company and person you’re meeting with? Informational interviews should be treated the same way. In addition to reviewing the company’s website, check out the social channels of and recent news articles about the company, its leaders, its brands and the person you’re meeting with. Review your contact’s LinkedIn profile and consider connecting with them before or after the meeting. Show you’re really on-the-ball by weaving-in what you learned in your research during your conversation, or even print out and bring an article or two.

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Tip 2: Determine an objective – Understand what you hope to get out of your informational interview. Keep your objective(s) top-of-mind, and even mention them to the interviewee either before or early in the interview. For example, if you’re emailing the contact in advance, you could say, “I look forward to meeting with you to learn about your career path and the trends and opportunities you see in the industry,” if that’s what your objectives are. This will help the interview subject prepare, and as a result, you’ll get more from the meeting.

Tip 3: Prepare a list of questions – Make a list of questions to address anything you’re curious about – the person’s career path, something you learned when researching their organization, industry trends, their organization’s culture or their organization’s open positions (if they’re not posted online). Write the questions down in your notebook (see point 5, below) or print the list. Refer to them during the interview to demonstrate your preparedness and engagement.

Tip 4: Get ready to share a bit about yourself – Ideally, the interview should focus on the person you’re meeting with. However, it would be helpful for the interviewee to know a bit about you so that they have context when sharing information or advice. Rehearse a summary, also called an “elevator pitch”, about yourself in advance. Make sure it’s short, concise and clear. Learn how to craft an elevator pitch here.

Tip 5: Make notes – Bring a notebook and pen and jot down important things that your interview subject says. Write down questions that arise when they’re speaking and ask them later to avoid interrupting them. Even if you’re a digital record-keeper, writing down notes demonstrates to the speaker that you’re fully engaged. Making notes on a smartphone, tablet or laptop can have the opposite effect. (Still not convinced to write in a notebook? Richard Branson has a compelling pitch for using them!)

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Tip 6: Dress to impress – First impressions count. But, before you put on a tailored suit for an informational interview, keep in mind that in recent years, attire for job interviews and other professional meetings has changed, just as how people dress in the workplace has evolved. A suit is great, but not always necessary (hello, suit separates!). As part of your research, learn about the culture and dress code of the organization and industry of the interview subject to ensure your attire is appropriate. However, even if the organization’s dress code is very causal on a day-to-day basis, you should dress more formally to convey your seriousness and professionalism. Learn more about dressing for a job interview here.

Tip 7: Find an appropriate venue and time – Allow the interview subject to share their preferences for when and where they’d like to meet. Encourage a venue that’s close to their workplace to minimize their time away from work. Your interview subject might suggest a meeting room at their office. Or, coffee shops or casual cafés are usually good bets, but make sure you can get a table at the meeting time; you might even want to arrive early to secure seats. Don’t order drinks or food in advance, and offer to pay if you’re the one who called the meeting (although if you’re a student or if it’s early in your career, the interview subject may politely decline your offer!).

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Tip 8: Be mindful of time – Try to arrive early, and ensure the meeting ends on time. This shows that you respect the interview subject’s time, that you’re able to manage time effectively, and that you understand they have other priorities in their schedule.

Tip 9: Send a thank-you note – An email or a card sent in the mail that expresses your appreciation is a thoughtful way to follow-up on the interview. Also, if someone introduced you, take the time to send them a short email to share that the interview occurred and to thank them for the connection.

I’ll finish up with a disclaimer. The result of my informational interview scenario, described above, was ideal for me at that time because I was starting out in my career and looking for a job at the same time a position became available. However, not every informational interview will result in a job offer. (And, sometimes, that’s not your objective!)

You might not be able to anticipate how participating in an informational interview now can benefit you down the road. Outcomes can include being approached regarding a job opportunity, increasing your technical knowledge, absorbing perspective based on the interview subject’s experience and gaining connections to the interviewee’s network.

What other tips do you have for making the most of an informational interview? Share in the comments below!

Photo credit: Pixabay.com.

Managing career challenges: Lessons from Sheryl Sandberg

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I was inspired by an interview on CBC Radio’s The Current with Sheryl Sandberg, author of the bestselling book Lean In. As a seasoned strategic business person, Sandberg is well-suited to provide career advice, so I was interested to hear her professional advice.

But this interview addressed a different issue. Sandberg talked about her new book, Option B, which discusses how she dealt with the death of her husband, Dave Goldberg. She talked about how she and her children faced the loss and how she learned to turn grief into joy. She was candid and provided personal anecdotes.

I thought about how the lessons she shared can apply when facing professional challenges. The research and advice that went into her book has far-reaching applications, beyond the type of personal loss that Sandberg faced.

You might find that you’re faced with a professional “option B” if a project has failed, you’ve been laid off or lost your job, or you’re struggling to adjust to a new job. Since work is the biggest stressor for Canadians, it’s likely that any of these work-related situations were to occur, the effects would be far-reaching into one’s life.

The three take-aways that apply to these types of professional situations include:

  1. Build your resilience – The ability to endure tough times is an attribute that can help one both professionally and personally, as with Sandberg’s experience. Sandberg describes a key step in building her resilience as when she and her children set out to play and enjoy a favourite board game, despite their feelings of grief four months after he passed away. Continuing to perform and be productive when faced with a professional challenge, no matter how small, is important for building your ability to be resilient. Making a resiliency a habit will be beneficial in case you face adversity in your career.
  2. Your feelings are impacted by your actions – By changing your actions and your circumstances, your feelings often follow suit. For Sandberg, her feelings of grief changed over time after actively learning how to manage her grief. Facing a professional challenge may evoke feelings of anger, frustration, stress or anxiety. However, taking actions to find solutions can alleviate these feelings. Seeking advice from a mentor, dedicating your time to managing a poorly-performing project, or making (and abiding by) a job search action plan are all positive actions to take.
  3. Rebuild your confidence – After facing a challenge, you might lose confidence in doing things that you once excelled at. For example, after returning to work after bereavement leave, Sandberg lost confidence in her work. She confided in her boss, Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook’s founder), that she felt she wasn’t performing as she once did in meetings. She reported that told her, “you said two really important things today and here’s what they were. He built me up.” This example demonstrates how small steps (such as speaking up in meetings), getting feedback, and engaging a trusted support network are important for building confidence.

Have you read Option B?

Are there any other lessons from this book that apply to a professional setting?

Photo credit: cbc.ca (Matt Albiani/Penguin Random House).

 

 

Should I start my career with an internship?

Internships are very topical right now. Last week, Bank of Canada head honcho Stephen Poloz recommended that unemployed young Canadians should take on unpaid internships to gain experience in their professional fields. The fact that today’s job market has evolved to the where even top government officials accept that unpaid work is the only way to get ahead is telling, and many critics have pointed out the flaws in this advice. Further, the competition to actually get an internship – paid or unpaid – is fierce.

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A Means to an End…

That said, it doesn’t seem like internships will be going away anytime soon. From the job hunter’s perspective, an internship, paid or unpaid, is a means to an end. The ultimate goal of an internship is to put you in a more competitive position as you launch your career.

I had two internships in the early days of my career, both of which were paid or associated with an educational program. Although I was not paid great sums by any means, I had the benefit of living at home and also was a part-time server to help balance the books.

officeSo, I’m of two minds when it comes to internships. First, I know from experience that taking on an intern role is one of the best ways to get a start in your career with some key benefits:

  • My first internship was my first time in an office where I learned how to cut it in a nine-to-five job and began to cultivate my professional identity
  • With broad exposure to many different activities, I learned in leaps and bounds about marketing, communications and advertising, and also determined what I did – and didn’t – like to do
  • In these roles I made great connections with smart, professional people, many of whom I’m still connected to today
  • I learned how to work with senior leadership and executives, including VPs and presidents
  • Having internships on my resume demonstrated I was eager to learn, willing to try new things and could take initiative, which was a huge asset that bolstered my resume

At the same time, it can be difficult to take on full-time unpaid work. It’s tough even if an honorarium is provided. Some ways to make an internship do-able include the following:

  • Plan ahead – To help save money before taking on an internship, I first took on full-time work outside of my career field to squirrel reserve funds away for the future.
  • Academic internships – If possible, an internship associated with an academic program are great ways to learn how to apply what’s learned in a university or college program. Your school may also help you find an internship, giving you a competitive edge in the job hunt.
  • Working part-time – Consider a combination of paid and unpaid roles while completing an internship. For example, being a server in the evenings or on weekends can help supplement your income.

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Do you have any other tips for making an internship role realistic?

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What to wear when driving a Vespa to work

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As the summer is about to officially come to an end, I’m reflecting on how much I enjoy driving my Vespa to work on a daily basis in the warmer months. I really love it, not only because it’s really fun, but also because it can turn a 25-minute walk into a five-minute drive.

In the past few years of “Vespa-ing” to the office, I’ve also learned a few tricks to adapt my warm-weather work wear to keep me safe and warm, helping to make driving a scooter realistic. They involve Superman-inspired quick changes that are really easy to incorporate into my routine.

Below are some awesome outfit additions I often make to my office looks when I drive my Vespa to work:

A Lovely Leather Jacket

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Photo via Mackage.com, at http://www.mackage.com/ca/en/lisa-f4-black-biker-leather-jacket-for-women.

Driving a Vespa is one of the only reasons I’ll wear a leather jacket in the summer. Although it can be hot and humid during the day (although not this past summer!), the morning and evening temperatures can be quite chilly as I drive to-and-from the office. Combine that with the breeze one always feel while driving, and the warmth of a leather jacket is greatly appreciated.

Some Sturdy Flats
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Photo via Michaelkors.com, at http://www.michaelkors.com/p/MICHAEL-Michael-Kors-MICHAEL-Michael-Kors-Fulton-Moccasin-FLATS/prod25760030_cat2501__/?index=7&cmCat=cat000000cat121cat2501&isEditorial=false.

Like many Toronto commuters, I like to wear flats or flip flops for the trek to work, and then change into one of the many pairs of heels I keep under my desk for the workday. I like these Michael Kors flats for my scooting commute because they have a sturdy rubber heel, which is perfect for gripping the ground when stopping. Depending on the style and colour, flats can also go from the street to the boardroom in a pinch.

A Backpack. Yes, a Backpack.

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Photo via MEC.ca, at http://www.mec.ca/product/5026-315/mec-high-jinx-daypack/?h=10+50042+50093&f=10+50093+50587.

As a professional who tries to keep it sophisticated when I’m going to work, a backpack isn’t something I wear everyday – but it can be handy when it’s needed! My Vespa has storage space under the seat which conveniently fits my purse. If I have to bring a laptop, heels, books or lunch to work, it’s great to have a backpack available so I can just toss things into it at the last minute in the morning before I leave. The above Mountain Equipment CO-OP backpack is a great example because it’s light and can be folded quite compactly, so if I’m not carrying anything in it on the way home it can be tucked into the under-the-seat storage space.

Leggings: Key for Avoiding Wardrobe Malfunctions

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Photo via Lululemon.com, at http://shop.lululemon.com/products/clothes-accessories/pants-yoga/Wunder-Under-Pant-IPLUX?cc=0001&skuId=3548143&catId=pants-yoga.

In the summer, I often wear dresses and skirts to the office. A quick way to make these outfit choices work while driving a Vespa is to have a pair of simple leggings handy. Wearing them under a dress allows me to move freely as I’m driving because I’m not worried about making sure my dress stays down, which can be really distracting and therefore dangerous. Leggings are also compact enough to be tossed in my purse after I change when I get to the office.

In conclusion, driving a Vespa to work is totally possible for professionals!

By incorporating these minor outfit additions into my work wear, I’ve made driving a Vespa to work realistic. I avoid major outfit changes, making the commute process simple, short and sweet.

As a side note, although I’m a Vespa driver, these outfit hacks would work well for driving a motorcycle or bicycle as well!

What other clothing suggestions do you have for riding a Vespa to work?

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How do I dress for a job interview?

I love the tips that Stacy London and Clinton Kelly from “What Not to Wear” share for dressing for a job interview, whether you’re just entering the workforce or looking for a new job.

What do you think about their tips?  How would you make a neutral suit look more interesting for an interview?

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Interview: PR pro Alanna Fallis shares career transition advice 

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I recently sat down with Alanna Fallis (@lanifallis), a communications professional who has just recently made a move in her career.  Below is a summary of our interview, in which, Alanna highlights how taking on new challenges and building her network has allowed her to grow in her career, as well as some advice for others who are considering a transition into a new role.

1. Tell me a bit about your education and career path so far.

I completed my undergraduate degree in Communications Studies at York University in 2011. I loved the smaller fourth year tutorial courses I took and it increased my interest in communication theory.  Thus, I felt encouraged to continue learning and exploring, and applied to graduate school programs in Ontario.

Between third year and fourth year undergrad I did a summer placement at GCI Group, a mid-size public relations (PR) agency in Toronto, where I was introduced to the PR industry. I didn’t know quite what I was getting myself into, but enjoyed every minute of it. At first, when I overheard PR jargon in the office I had to Google it at my desk later in order to keep up with the team. Over time, I thrived in the role, and loved participating in new business brainstorms and learning the media databases used to track coverage.

Before attending Ryerson University for post-graduate studies in 2011, I completed another summer internship with GCI Group. The work was tougher and projects were bigger, which was great, as it meant they trusted me more! I had gained confidence during the placement that turned into a steady growth period personally and professionally. I was able to make media calls, write pitches and send clients media monitoring reports. My career path became clear to me, I would work in an agency after graduating Ryerson as I truly felt it was a place that I could learn and grow, constantly.

I then completed Ryerson’s Professional Communication Master’s degree program in 2012. This was a fantastic experience full of combined professional and theoretical learning.

After graduating, I returned to GCI Group as an Account Coordinator. Daily interactions with bloggers and writing pitches became second nature. I took advantage of every opportunity to take on new tasks, even if they were above my level and beyond my job description. I tried to prescribe my role based on the work being done above me; therefore, dismissing what level my job title indicated I should be at, and working at the level of the job title I wanted to move into. This proved to be beneficial for my growth, as I received a promotion to the Consultant role. Several peers of mine were instrumental in my growth, allowing me to face challenges head-on and learn new skill sets.

Because of this fantastic experience, I was able to explore a new opportunity at Ryerson University in a communications and event management role, where I would be directly involved in the branding and strategic communication planning in the Dean’s office in the Faculty of Arts. The new adventure started in July 2014 and I anticipate it will be full of continuous learning experiences and professional growth opportunities.

2. Transitioning from one job to another can be nerve-wracking for some people.  What tips would you give to make the move easier?

Never stop learning, exploring or experimenting and be willing to share your knowledge from your previous experience with the team at the new organization. I also think that an open-mind and the eagerness to try new things can help to smooth the transition.

3. Would you say relationships are important in helping to shape your career path?

Indeed. Networks are a key element of shaping one’s career. Some relationships can veer your career towards a path they may not have considered otherwise. Relationships are a key resource in the “career toolkit”.

4. What advice would you give for expanding your network and professional relationships?

Be yourself and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, for example, connect with former colleagues, or cold-email people you’ve never worked with before. In my experience, more times than not, there is someone willing to help at the other end of the email you’re sending, so don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.

Also, leverage your strong relationships and introduce people in your network to each other. For example, if Bob at Bell wants to know Roberta at Rogers, offer an introduction and help them build their professional relationships. Chances are it will likely help you expand your network too!