Women in Leadership Part 1: Career Advice for Recent Graduates & Job Seekers

The Women in Leadership Foundation, a national charity that provides mentoring, networking and learning opportunities for women across Canada, recently invited me to share some career advice with their members in Montreal.

When I asked attendees what they most wanted to hear about, they mentioned career progression as top-of-mind — the journey from job hunting to establishing yourself to leading a team. So I structured my talk to cover those distinct phases and will be sharing my tips in a three-part series covering apprenticeship, “mentship,” and leadership.

While I originally wrote these for a largely female audience, it’s pretty universal, and I’d love to hear your ideas, too!

Starting Out: Apprenticeship

Whether you’re on the job hunt or just getting going in your first career-path job, it’s especially overwhelming in the early stages. It can often feel like you’re the first or only person to go through these new steps. but we’ve all been there so it’s a great opportunity to connect with others who can relate.

On the Job Hunt

Looking for your first job or to change careers can be really stressful and demoralizing, which makes it even harder for us to nail those interviews! Never fear, we’ve got your back with these tips…

Ikea Job Interview Cartoon
Ikea Job Interview

Hustle for the job you want

Employers can sense when you’re applying for anything. Ask around and meet with people to help you figure out what you’re really going for and make a shortlist of the companies you’d like to work for in that role. Research them, connect with people who work there at related events. You can hustle and still be human by thinking about the bigger picture and focusing on the long haul beyond your immediate goals.

Love a pet passion project

Always have something running in the background that gives you meaning. Where you can have fun and a certain measure of control, try things out, network, do good… Whether that’s volunteering or running a meetup group… Have something semi-professional you can play with or lead that helps you spread your wings and gives you access to a whole other set of resources.

Create, don’t just consume

Code, write, film, garden, don’t only consume media or products, create some of your own. It’s true for all of us, but society especially encourages women to consume at every corner. Ads for kids toys would have us believe putting glitter on things is “creative” when creativity is actually about solving problems across disciplines, and bringing something forth from nothing. Taking a project all the way through from ideation/conception to production/execution and delivery/promotion is one of the most rewarding and educational experiences you can have. So do it. Often. In whatever capacity makes sense to you, and not just for school. I wrote, directed, and produced a play after hours while I was looking for my first job. It helped me manage my frustrations and reclaim some of the agency we can lose when applying for work, but more importantly I actually ended up getting my first gig as a result of the press for my show. Maybe you’ll code a game, run a YouTube channel, build a charity or draw a graphic novel… People respond to creators.

Go to industry events

The number of recent grads or job seekers I have to tell to go to events boggles my mind. Get on out there! Make business cards for yourself, if you’re between jobs introduce yourself with your specialty, you don’t need a role or title at a company to have a card or to approach someone. And above all, follow-up with people who interest you, who you can help or who can help you and connect in a meaningful way.

Get out of your own way

Early on in my career I was at a networking event with a friend and told her, “Oh, I wish I could meet [Keynote Speaker.]” She said, “Introduce yourself, then… Get out of your own way!” I worked up the courage to go up and present myself, we ended up having an awesome chat and forging a relationship that continues today.Try not to block your own impulses with self-imposed limits. People respect you for going for something if you’re genuine and clear with them, and the worst someone can do is turn you down.

Get your empathy on

One of the most important soft skills I look for in a new hire, especially a young hire, is undoubtedly empathy. Is this a person who relates to others across backgrounds, who can put themselves in someone else’s shoes? Is this someone who thinks about consequences, ethics, current affairs? Empathy is extremely difficult to teach, but it is a skill like any other, and we can practice turning it on, just as we learn how to turn it off in situations like when we know someone’s trying to scam us with a sob story.

Loading Empathy

Early Days at Work

You’ve landed your first real job: success! But the hustle isn’t over: now you’ve gotta bring it every day. But don’t worry, you’ve got this!

Pile of work first day cartoon

Develop attention to detail disorder

Spell names correctly, Google and triple-check every “fact”, develop an eye for design and detail, take nothing for granted. The earlier in your career that you can spot issues, the better you’ll set yourself up because it gets harder the higher up you go to keep a handle on the little things so if your grip is loose to begin with, it’s not gonna be pretty.

Drive & follow-through: tell, don’t ask.

Over time, learn how to drive your work to better conduct conversations about deadlines, timelines, scope and budget. Instead of asking “when do you need this by?” try saying, “I can get this to you on Wednesday morning, does that work?” Putting yourself in the driver’s seat after a brief makes you immediately more effective as it can be hard for those not doing the work to get into the details around delivery.

Learn to Speak “Exec”

If you have a problem and need help from higher ups, learn to summarize and front-load an ask or an issue. Don’t tell them a long linear story like you would a friend or colleague, they have a meeting in 5 minutes. You’ll understand all-too-well when you’re the boss. Write out bullet points before making a phone call or approaching your bosses. Go to them with a synthesized, cogent thought, not random stream of consciousness. Communicate effectively.

#SorryNotSorry

Early on in my career I had to weed out that habit of over-apologizing for everything: from replying to an email half an hour later instead of instantaneously to sorrying furniture I bumped into, needless apologies were common. Studies show women in particular can be prone to this, but Canadians and other Commonwealthers in general also have a penchant for the sorries. Review and edit your emails, you’ll be surprised how often we use “Sorry” as a passing expression.Apologies are important and shouldn’t be taken lightly, save the sorries for when you actually did something wrong: handle them thoughtfully. meaningfully and earnestly.

David Tennant Sorry

Write well, speak well…

No matter what you do, learning to write and speak effectively will further your career. Invest in these areas early on, and know that these are lifelong pursuits you can always improve no matter what your level. Show up to the table, be present, and speak up. When it counts, write good, clear, effective emails, blog or social posts. It makes such a difference if you edit them and read them aloud before sending or publishing.

Be gracious, stay humble

You will make mistakes. Honour those mistakes by acknowledging them and apologizing for them, and by quickly finding ways to solve ensuing problems. Learn from them, and remember them to stay humble. Never forget how easy it is to do, it’ll help you relate to others who are learning your craft.To this day my heart skips a beat when I think about an early mistake in my first career-path job. I’m really grateful that my boss stood up for me back then and helped me take the heat. Speaking of being grateful…

Be grateful

I start out every day thankful that my parents immigrated to Canada. Studies show that the single best contributor to a positive outlook is shared by those who cultivate gratitude and are aware of their privilege. If this isn’t routine for you, start by writing out one thing at the end of every day that you’re grateful happened, and pick one every week and every month as a highlight. We only have so much space in our brains, so when we focus on the good things we edit out a lot of the negative background noise and actually change our disposition by reframing past events.I even like to go a step further, so if I’ve had a bad day I nullify it by thanking someone from my past for something they did (like getting me a speaking gig or a job) or by doing a favour or good deed for someone (LinkedIn recommendations, introductions, you name it). Thanking or helping someone else is an instant lift when I’m feeling down.When we started Third Wunder, I wrote down all the things I’ve appreciated about my previous employers and business owners. This was both educational AND helped keep me positive and excited about a big decision. Tasking yourself cognitive mind exercises like that have a lot more impact than you may think going in, so give it a whirl!

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 coming up! If you have any other advice or suggestions for recent graduates or job seekers, let us know in the comments…
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