Advice from Alumni: Tips for Career Success

As part of Ryerson’s Alumni Weekend on October 1, we held a panel discussion with five grads from our most popular certificate programs.

Our panelists (from left to right) Ellen Vanstone; Film Studies, Melanie Vail; Human Resources, Joanna Kader; Data Analytics, Big Data and Predictive Analytics, Michael Jacoby; Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Management, and Anita Dundys; Fundraising Management.

The career-focused discussion covered a wide range of topics – from industry specific skills to the importance of networking and mentorship.

Below are the top 5 takeaways from the event.

1. The 3 Ps: Patience, Passion, Preparedness

Patience: “When I’m not patient, I leave the room,” said Melanie Vail. In her role as HR Coordinator at Anderson DDB, a Toronto-based ad agency, she deals with people every day. She onboards new hires, deals with employee complaints and criticisms, and she loves her job.

She credits her ability to work hard and well to her patience.

Taking a few seconds (or minutes) to clear her head when needed, helps her regain focus, feel more prepared, and better tackle the job at hand.

Passion: When asked about necessary soft skills for success in their industries, both Anita Dundys and Joanna Kader said “passion.” They work in two very different fields; Kader in tech and Dundys in nonprofits, but here the skill set crossed over.

“If you’re not passionate about the cause and the work, it’s obvious you’re doing this job for the wrong reasons. If you don’t come with passion, you won’t succeed and you won’t be authentic,” said Dundys.

For Kader, passion is a main source of motivation. “In Big Data, every minute there’s something new. The tech world is very fast paced and you need to be continuously learning. This is much easier when you have a passion for your work.”

Preparedness: Ellen Vanstone said her biggest career mistakes were the result of poor preparation. Vail echoed this sentiment, citing a job move made out of anger. Michael Jacoby concurred, discussing his decision to pursue a Master’s degree without researching other options.

Do everything you can to be as prepared as possible. Network, ask questions, read about prospective companies on their websites, social channels, GlassDoor, etc.

You can never be too prepared.

2. Understand the value of experience.

If you’ve recently been job hunting you’ve probably noticed that most entry level jobs list 3-5 years of experience as a “necessary requirement.”

“You need experience,” says Vanstone. “If you don’t have experience you can’t get the job. If you can’t get the job you can’t get experience.”

Sometimes you’ll have to push on, through demanding work and cruel bosses. Sometimes you’ll have to work for free or for minimum wage to build your portfolio. It can be hard, but the value of experience is worth it.

3. Speak up. Share your thoughts. 

Communication is crucial.

If you want a raise, ask. If you’re overloaded and can’t commit to a project, say no. If you make a mistake, ask for help.

4. Everyone has something to offer. Everyone is a mentor.

“I don’t have one mentor,” said Kader, “but I have a lot of people I look up to.”

Of all the panelists, only Dundys has ever had a formal mentor – someone who eventually became a dear friend. But the other panelists agreed that everyone has a unique perspective to offer. Being open to hearing and learning from those perspectives is incredibly valuable.

5. Find your source of motivation and leverage it.

Knowing what keeps you motivated helps you set goals and get better work done.

For Kader, it’s herself. She feels proud after having solved a problem.

Dundys is similar. She’s motivated by defined goals.  Knowing what she has to do, doing it well, and her history of great performance keep her motivated on “bad days.”

For Jacoby and Vail, motivation is rooted in community and making sure others feel valued.

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