Saturday, October 26 was a mentally stimulating day, jam-packed with speakers and sessions intended to aid Arts students with career development. The day began with a frank but encouraging speech from the keynote speaker, Ruth Kelly (’78 BA), President and Editor-in-Chief of Venture Publishing.
Commenting on the common myth that Arts students, particularly liberal Arts students, don’t have a place in the job market, Kelly said: “I’d have hoped we’d be over this existential crisis by now…. What you learn here does indeed have real, tangible value.” This theme was prevalent throughout the Conference.
One of the best pieces of advice that Kelly passed on was to “Go for the need.” Of course it’s important to understand what you want to do—but it is equally crucial to be able to determine where the need is. You have to reach out to an employer and demonstrate how you can provide a solution to one of their problems.
There were multiple sessions throughout the day in three topics: Managing Your Career, Going Global, and Working in… (a series of panelists representing different job sectors). I enjoyed attending at least one session in each topic, and all of the speakers were very open, well-spoken and offered both anecdotes and concrete advice as to what students can do to help themselves get jobs.
Photo: Financial Industry Panel (From L to R: Kim Irving,Vice-President, RFS Strategy, Reputation and Brand, ATB Financial; Cathy Whyte, Sun Life Financial Advisor; and Keith Norby, Branch Manager, RBC).
In a session on how to market your skills effectively, the speaker noted that no degree is going to guarantee a student a job, and that most of the people he deals with in career consultations are actually Engineering students who are struggling to find work. What matters is understanding the skills that you are developing—in an Arts degree, many of these are “transferable skills” that are useful in a wide range of environments—and being able to communicate them to employers (an echo of Kelly’s advice).
Nearly every session that I attended stressed the importance of networking, conducting information interviews (speaking to people about what they do, without expecting to receive a job offer) and finding a mentor—there also seemed to be a consensus that the majority of people will be willing to help you, if you only ask. A great piece of advice from one session for those who are uncomfortable with networking or who don’t know the basics, is to bring two friends who can speak favourably of your skills (two friends ensures that your body language is always inviting to other people).
Jordan Wilson with the City of Edmonton provided excellent tips during the final session that I attended, which was a panel of speakers from the Public Sector:
- Do some personality tests – It’s important to know more about yourself, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and how you can use them to be successful.
- Cultivate relationships with everyone – People succeed by forming strong networks of friends and colleagues.
- Take some risks – It’s good experience, plus it can change you for the rest of your life.
- Get a designation – Join a professional association, or something similar, since it will give you a specific skill set to complement your degree with. These skills will be applicable in the workplace, and potentially offset the weaknesses in your skill set.
Your degree won’t do the work for you, but both you and I are in a great position to leverage the skills we are developing through our Arts degrees towards finding meaningful, even gainful, employment.