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.

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Like motivational podcasts? Which do you recommend?

It’s safe to say that I adore to listening to podcasts. Any and all types! I usually have them on in the background while I’m at work, doing chores around the house or commuting, and have even listened to them while at the gym.

Over the past few weeks, I spent some time on the dock at the cottage (check out a photo of my view below!) and enjoyed hearing new stories and perspectives from podcasts as I relaxed in the sunshine.

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While one the dock, I got hooked on the genre of motivational podcasts. They generally cover increasing your productivity, thinking differently and transforming yourself for the better, both personally and professionally. Some feature interviews with experts, business people and even celebrities who provide valuable viewpoints, information and tips in an easy-to-digest format.

My go-to shows at the moment are the Tim Ferriss Show, the Tony Robbins Podcast and the School of Greatness with Lewis Howes.

That said, it can be eye-opening (or, ear-opening!) to listen to episodes of new shows that I haven’t heard before. What motivational podcasts do you recommend? Please share your suggestion(s) in the comments below!

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Work emails: Judgement required

From a formal “Dear” line and asking about your weekend, to one-word messages and emojis, to swear words and jokes that toe the line into being NSFW. There are many different approaches to how people write emails at work.

A friend and former colleague, Amanda, recently sent me a hilarious video from CBC’s TV show, Baroness von Sketch, on the topic of work emails. In addition to being just plain funny, she thought the video, which you can view here or by clicking on the screen cap below, was particularly relevant to me given the theme of Pencil Skirts & Punctuation.

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The manager in this video is at one end of the spectrum when it comes to email etiquette. She is informal and unprofessional in emails, and expects staff to act similarly. Although her unprofessionalism is taken to the extreme because it’s *~hilarious~* in the sketch, it’s also relevant for work emails in the real world.

“There’s nothing wrong with throwing in an ‘exclamaysh’… It lets people know that you’re not gonna skin us alive.”

Let’s think about what a real professional work email looks like. In my opinion, it includes a clear subject line, a greeting (such as “Hi Mary,”), short sentences and concise writing, one exclamation mark at the most if required, a clear request or action item, finished with your name and email signature. Don’t forget to proofread. Pretty simple!

As a general rule-of-thumb, being professional (or “profesh”) in emails is important. Why?

  • You may know the person you’re sending an email to, but others CC’d on an email thread – either immediately or in the future – may not know you as well and may not interpret an unprofessional tone in a favourable manner.
  • An attempt to be informal or to make a joke could be risky, because emails lack the nonverbal cues that often make jokes land as intended.
  • An email may be filed for future reference. It would be unfortunate to have an unprofessional email as part of a thread that’s in an official record.
  • Whether you’re starting out in your career or are a seasoned veteran in an industry, email is a tool that helps communicate the type of person you are and your work style. Using a professional tone communicates that you’re polished, dedicated to quality and serious about your career.

That said, know your audience. If you’re emailing a close contact at work, it could be appropriate to include something lighthearted and funny in your email – just make sure it’s suitable for work, and that you think the recipient will be okay seeing it. Showing your personality is an important part of fostering positive interpersonal relationships with colleagues.

What guidelines or rules of thumb do you use for writing work emails? Please share in the comments.

Thanks again to Amanda for inspiring this post!

 

 

 

 

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!

 

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Kick-off your long weekend with some inspiring videos

The next long weekend here in Ontario is just around the corner, and I can’t wait for time outside of the city, taking in some sun, fun and relaxation. What better way to start off the long weekend with some food for thought in the form of videos?

Below are three videos that have inspired me. The folks sharing information in them are brilliant, highly-motivated and successful. Check them and let me know what you think in the comments!

Entrepreneur and author Gary Vaynerchuk talks about making the most of your talent, working hard and getting advice.

Next, life and business strategist Tony Robbins weighs-in on why and how taking 10 minutes each morning can help you prime yourself for having an optimal day.

Lastly, organizational psychologist Adam Grant shares the habits of thinkers who dream up new ideas and take action to put them into the world.

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What makes you feel good about your work?

In his TED Talk, behavioural economist Dan Ariely shares what motivates us to go to work every day. Spoiler alert: it’s more than just a pay cheque or bonus! Other things, like ownership of tasks, attaining goals and being challenged, play roles in making work meaningful. These factors continue to be important, even in the knowledge economy.

Check out his Ariely’s TED Talk below.

As I’ve mentioned, I work as a PR and communications professional in the health and life science industry. I feel fortunate to manage projects from start to finish, giving me a sense of ownership over my work. Further, I find my work meaningful because I am playing a small part in contributing to the health of others.

What makes your job meaningful to you?

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A new chapter on Pencil Skirts & Punctuation

Pop the champagne! I’m thrilled to announce that I’m back to Pencil Skirts & Punctuation. Yes, I was gone for a while, but I swear have good reasons why!

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In the past few years, I switched jobs, got engaged and married, and then started a new job (my current role). With so much on the go both professionally and personally, I easily fell into prioritizing other things over the blog.

But my love of blogging on Pencil Skirts & Punctuation has not wavered. I am returning from my break with a wealth of new experiences, which I hope will add value to my posts and views. I’m excited to start to write, create, share and engage again here on a regular basis.

Is there anything you’d like to see me cover as I start this new chapter on Pencil Skirts & Punctuation? Let me know in the comments!