Monday, December 17, 2012

Advice to Undergrads Regarding their Job Prospects [Comments Invited]

Job prospects are pretty grim at the moment, particularly for those taking humanistic courses. Moreover, the BC government wants people to retrain in trades, and not seek traditional education ends. Notwithstanding the value of traditional educational goals, it is wise to do some career planning, and take some action now so as to be in a good position to make good on your aspirations. 

What advice I can offer is to try balance these competing demands. One way is to make sure you graduate with a major in at least a 'knowledge' and a 'skill.' A knowledge might be Communication, Political Science and so on. A skill might be Health, Business, or Geography. Employable students are those that have the knowledge to know when and how to use a particular skill-set.

Even if you are not going to do business major, try take a few finance, accounts, or economics courses. In general, everyone should know more about these areas. The same goes for some learning how to write code. Don't waste your WQB courses on 'easy' courses. Use them to advance your general educational goal.

The most important skill a humanistic or social science student has is their ability to produce quality writing quickly. So take the time to learn how to write. Writing takes constant practice. Begin by training yourself to write 300 words everyday, even if it is not for your assignments. If you don't you will lose ground to your peers. If you cannot write, it means you cannot express your thoughts in a clear, coherent, and communicable fashion.

Seek out as much free training as you can. This should be obvious, but many students do not take up this opportunity. Not all training can be represented on your CV, but it accrues. 

Whichever major you decide to pursue, make sure you attend that department's weekly talks and events. It will provide a means to network both with your Profs and your TAs. Networks and friendships open doors. It may be scary at first, but persist. Have fortitude. And have faith in yourself. Listen. And don't be afraid to talk. People will make allowances for you.

Extending from the previous point, make sure you visit your TAs and Profs' office hours every second week. Ask questions. Show that you care about the material. It can only help you.

Volunteer within civil society. This is one of the best places to put what you learn into action, gain skills, and experience. Civil society groups are often more than willing to take on the help. Don't do too much, you still want to focus on your school work, but one day a week seems reasonable. (There are some problems here; unpaid interns are unfair. But if it is to be unpaid, at least try advance the social good, and not a corporate end.)

Invest in your education. Education, it seems is one of the few things people are prepared to pay more for, but want less of. Don't be like that. You have four odd years to read as much as you can, write as much as you can. Demand more from your classes and yourself. When I was an undergrad, the guideline was that in addition to your assigned readings, you should read a book per class per week, and a novel or book of poetry a week. As a rough guideline, this equals about 1000 books over four years. Think how well versed you will be once you have done that activity. You will certainly be better positioned than the student who maybe read half of their assigned readings, and that difference will show.

This might seem burdensome, but as soon as possible select an economic sector you want to work in (not marketing, advertising, or PR; unless your parents are in this economic sector the likelihood of getting a job here is negligible) and focus all your projects on that sector. For instance, say you decide now that in four years you want to work for BC Hydro as their spokesperson, try to ensure that all the papers you write relate to BC Hydro and their area of concern. Further, for ever paper you write, seek to interview at least one or two people who are working in your desired sector. This will help you build up a contact list, and could well present opportunities.

Try not to become too indebted. Debt makes you think instrumentally, and thus robs of the best of the classical education. Post-university debt can also cripple your life chances. So try to go without sometimes, being frugal and thrifty will pay off. 

Lastly, apply for every award you can find. Search the internet for student awards, grants, and free events. Remember that a $300 award puts you in a position for a $1000 award. And that puts you in position for a $5000 award and so on. Never overlook the small awards.