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Careers Café

Reinventing the wheel


This is a bit of an odd blog post, because I’m asking you not to do something: don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t need to.

Many of you reading this have access to a university career centre. Chances are good that that centre competes with lots of other offices, services, events and clubs for your attention. Your attention is a finite resource and your career centre has a limited marketing budget, so there are probably hidden treasures in your career centre that few students are aware of.

What tends to happen, when services fly under the radar, is that those services are re-created in miniature elsewhere on campus. Someone has an idea for a service or event that would be useful and, given the range of related offices and clubs, it’s a challenge to figure out which of those might already offer a similar service or event. For example, you might rightly think that it would be useful to have a panel event in which people in academic and non-academic careers share their career stories. And it could be that your university career office already does something like that – or, if they don’t, that your alumni or student success office does.

It’s common knowledge that career centres help with resumés, interview skills and the like. But there may be lesser-known services that your university is struggling to tell you about. At the University of Waterloo, we have a few off-the-wall options. And, much as I’d like to think that we set the bar for off-the-wall-but-useful options, your university’s career centre may have some equally interesting offerings.

For example, our career office, alumni office and faculty of science collaborated on a database of Waterloo science alumni career stories that’s beautifully searchable, explicitly states how people use what they learned in their degree, lets people rank the careers they read about and save notes in a password-protected space. This coming term, we’re focusing on grad students in the faculty of arts, offering traditional services, such as a workshop on careers beyond academia, and less traditional ones, like our living library.

So, if there’s something you wish your career centre could help with, go ahead and ask them. Ask, even if you can’t find the service you’re looking for on their website – sometimes professional jargon gets in the way of clear descriptions of services. And ask, even if a colleague has assured you that a service isn’t offered – offerings change over time.

Finally, if there really is a service that you want which isn’t already available, find out whether it’s something that the relevant service office would help you develop. That way, whatever wheel you invent together will continue to be available to the students who come after you.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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