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.


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.


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


What’s behavioural finance and how can it help me save more?

A few years ago I watched this TEDTalks video by economist Shlomo Benartzi, entitled, Saving for tomorrow, tomorrow. Although it’s a few years old, and is based on US data, there were a lot of key messages that really resonated with me and still do.

Benartzi discusses how the general population’s lack of saving is a result of behavioural challenges related to self-control, loss-aversion and immediate gratification, and presents a solution to help increase savings – all related to an area of his expertise, called behavioural finance. In fact, a Bloomberg article discusses the growing influence of behavioural finance in many different, and even unsuspected, industries, and how it’s changing the way organizations reach their target markets.

I thought it was particularly interesting when Benartzi discusses a study of people who contributed to their retirement savings following the “save more, tomorrow” strategy, at 12:00 in the video above.

Keeping in mind my recent post on career transitions, I hope that many of you are progressing in your careers in a positive trajectory. As you move up in your roles – and your compensation moves up accordingly – I think it’s a great idea to keep this “save more, tomorrow” strategy in mind and “pay yourself first” by contributing more to savings incrementally.

What did you think of the tips in this TEDTalks video?

Tips for working from home


Working remotely or from home can be a big perk of a job.  In an earlier post, I shared some benefits of working from home from Minute MBA. I’ve also been fortunate enough to work from home in my professional role, which has been awesome in terms of work-life balance.

Whether you’re in a role that lets you work from home occasionally like me, or if you’re telecommuting from the home base 100 per cent of the time, there are a lot of ways to make sure you’re being as efficient as possible getting work done while you’re away from the office.

I’ve definitely developed my skills and abilities in terms of working from home. In university, I struggled to get homework or assignments done at home. I often lost focus and was continually tempted to step away from my work by endless distractions, including cleaning, walking the dog or watching daytime TV, and it was challenging to stay on track.

Over the years, I’ve become much more focused and efficient when working from home, and have found that the following tips have really helped:

  1. Plan your workday – Having the self-discipline map to your day, including laying out tasks and deadlines, along with meetings and calls, can really help you can stay on track. A daily and weekly to-do list helps to put immediate and medium-term deadlines in perspective. There is no better feeling than crossing something off your to-do list!
  2. Now, plan for the things you’ll actually do – If you absolutely love watching Maury at 11 a.m., or if you need to run out to pick up your dry cleaning by 4 in the afternoon, pencil these activities into your schedule too. Use your judgment, but as long as you don’t have an important call, deadline or deliverable, you can try to work your day around these “wants” or “needs”. Just make sure you update your calendar so others know you’re unavailable, and advise team members you won’t be as reachable at a certain time.  Otherwise, you risk veering off track if you’re suddenly enthralled by an episode of House Hunters International, and may miss a deadline or fall behind on a task.
  3. Improve communication with your team – I’ve learned that being clear and concise in emails is even more important when you can’t just pop over to someone’s desk to ask a quick question face-to-face. Make sure action items and owners, along with timing of next steps are spelled out clearly – bullets and lots of white space help! Picking up the phone and having a brief chat (gasp!) is another way to get to the bottom of a question or to discuss next steps.
  4. Pick your environment based on your work – I find I can be more creative, efficient or analytical in different settings. For example, quiet places are better for working on financial documents or complex problems. When brainstorming creative ideas, a coffee shop or a restaurant may help yield more exciting results. If you’re writing a report, a serene setting like the couch or a chair on a dock at a lake (above) could be appropriate. I’ve found that being conscious of the impact of my surroundings on my productivity has allowed me to love working out of the office as I get stuff done.

Do you ever work remotely? What tips do you have for staying focused and productive?


Interview: PR pro Alanna Fallis shares career transition advice 


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!




Why should employers let their staff work from home?

When you’re interested in a new position, there are many things that can be selling features for you.  Not only does the work itself matter, but the office culture and its relation to how you work is important too.  Workplaces that let their employees work from home (WFH) provide many advantages for staff and employers alike, which I understand first-hand as I’m someone who’s lucky enough to WFH every once and while.

This white board video from Minute MBA highlights the many benefits of telecommuting.

Minute MBA developed this video in light of Yahoo’s ban on telecommuting in 2013, which received a lot of media coverage and spurred career experts to comment on the pros and cons of letting employees WFH.

Do you agree with the benefits of telecommuting outlined by Minute MBA?

Photo credit:



“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

– Canadian author Kurt Vonnegut when describing his take on illusionist and master manipulator Harry Houdini, who plays a role in the book, The Confabulist, via the Calgary Herald.

How much can I embellish my experience on my resume?

Moving forward in your career is important.  Whether it’s moving up to a manager role, a new job, or changing industries, you may be faced with a lot of competition and may be pressured to put your best foot forward. But, what if you’re tempted to exaggerate your management experience, technical skills, on-the-job results or education just to get your foot in the door?

Here are three things to think about before embellishing your experience on your resume:

  • Your references – Whether your reference is a former employer, a past manager on your team, or supervisor from a volunteer position, this person must truthfully speak to your skills, abilities and other merits if approached by a potential future employer.  If, for example, you mention on your resume you’ve managed a team of five direct reports but actually haven’t, the truth may come out in a conversation with your reference, raising a red flag.
  • The pre-employment screening process – Large or small, many companies conduct sophisticated and thorough screening activities before making a hire.  This goes beyond just checking references.  The pre-employment screening process often involves criminal record checks and verifying the education and other credentials you’ve listed on your resume.  So, if you think you can get away with adding a fluency certificate in Spanish from a college to your resume, but you’re actually only at a conversational Spanish level after a few trips to Mexico, think again.
  • Your actual performance – Let’s say you’re a long-lost relative of Harry Houdini, and despite embellishing about your education, training or management experience on your resume and during interviews, you’re a master of illusion and therefore are hired. Now comes the challenge of proving your worth in your new role.  Without the actual experience, skills or education, this may prove difficult, and can result in several negative scenarios – company re-evaluating you as a new hire or a demotion in your role.

At the end of the day, embellishing your experience on a resume can result in a loss of trust from a potential employer, or at least, someone new in your network.

Can you think of any other reasons to stick with the truth on a resume?