Monday, July 22, 2013

Becoming a PhD

On June 11, 2013 I received official notice that I’d graduated from university with a PhD in Human and Organizational Systems, thus ending the doctoral journey that began in the fall of 2007. I hadn’t anticipated the journey to take this long but life has a funny way of forcing you to pause, often when it’s least convenient. The bumps in the road, however, are not the focus of this blog. Instead, I want to focus on the unexpected turns life can take and the untapped potential that can be missed when we define ourselves, or view our clients, from just one perspective.

When I was a little girl I dreamed of being a ballerina. I started dancing when I was 3 and never looked back. I performed in countless recitals, progressed through the Royal Academy of Dancing’s examination system, and entered a half day professional program that allowed me to attend high school half time while furthering my dancing career. Needless to say, high school was something I had to do, not something I wanted to do. None of the subjects were relevant for my chosen profession – ballerinas rarely have to calculate the square root of anything. Lack of relevance led to lack interest, then to lack of effort. In turn, this led to poor grades and the firm belief that I wasn’t smart. If ballet didn’t work out, I was in big trouble! Of course, like thousands of little girls with big dreams, ballet didn’t work out. Near the end of grade 12, the bloom had firmly fallen off the rose. For a wide variety of reasons, I knew ballet wasn’t a fit for me . . . it wasn’t an environment in which I could thrive and, therefore, be successful. But if I wasn’t “the dancer” then who was I? I’d rarely paid much attention in school, was lucky to graduate, had a belief that further education was completely out of the question, and had no clue of what to do next. At the time, the future seemed quite bleak.

Fast forward to today and I find myself among a small contingent of individuals with PhDs, am a leader in my field, and just finished some pivotal research around what factors help individuals maximize their career engagement. So, what changed? How was I able to re-write my belief system, create a new identity, and find hope? Honestly, I’m still not sure how it all happened but can recognize now, what I couldn’t then . . . whether I wanted it to or not, ballet had left an indelible mark on my soul. It taught me life lessons that helped me to grieve the loss of my future, my “self” as I knew me, and move on. Things like determination, dedication, perseverance, and passion . . . with a good dose of stubbornness and perfectionism thrown in for good measure.

I distinctly remember people encouraging me to frame a future attached to the “dancer” identity. As if, somehow, all those years would be wasted if I didn’t do something related to dance. “Why don’t you teach?” was a common question and I did give it a try, finding it really wasn’t for me. Others saw me from a different perspective – through my lacklustre academic performance, believing that I had sabotaged my future by not doing better in school.

My story, however, is not unique. There are countless young musicians, hockey players, dancers, and singers who dedicated their youth to pursuing their passion, not caring about academic performance, then finding themselves unable to “move up” and uncertain how to “move on.” As CDPs we may see these clients after, perhaps, becoming young parents, hopping from job to job, or dropping out of college. I’m reminded of the teenage mother who had once been on the fast track to Olympic stardom in figure skating and the young man who, after an injury sidelined an incredibly promising tennis career developed a problem with addiction; both of these people were defined by this new life, with their counsellors not realizing or recognizing the highly skilled individuals they still were, underneath their current circumstances. 

I realize our time with clients is often short but it is important to take the time to consider your clients’ stories – what their journeys to your office have entailed and the skills and personal strengths they’ve developed along the way. Focus beyond the skills developed in work or school to consider how the full range of life activities has influenced the individual sitting in front of you today.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

10 Tips For Building Self-Confidence As A Mature Job Seeker

by Sharon Welch

Photo by Microsoft Images

1.  Stay current with today’s workforce. Many jobs are based on contract work, and workers can expect to move through several jobs throughout their careers. Longevity with a single employer and job security are far less prominent than in the past. Legislation has also changed, so do some research to understand your rights and responsibilities.

2.  Improve your computer skills. For practice, make documents, conduct online research, and email or text friends and family. Explore websites such as for tips that will maximize your experience. Also look at and to get started.

3.  Participate in assessments. Try face-to-face or online assessments to help you determine internal factors such as interests, abilities, personality, and values that may influence your job search or career decision-making process. Consider reading Reinventing Yourself: Life Planning After 50 Using the Strong and MBTI® by Sandra Davis & Bill Hanschin (1998, Consulting Psychologists Press, Palo Alto, CA). Even if you feel that you are on the downswing to retirement, your day-to-day pleasure and satisfaction at work could be at stake.

4.  Make a list of transferable skills. These are "soft skills" that you have learned through prior experiences that are relevant to the job that you are applying for. For instance, for a customer service position you might highlight interpersonal skills (team building, communicating orally and in writing), organizational skills (scheduling, planning, organizing), and technology skills (using point-of-purchase equipment). Think of skills you developed through work, volunteering, group participation, and personal experiences.

5.  Target your resumes and cover letters to each specific job you are applying for. Use the job description to determine which skills and abilities you should highlight. Don’t try to include everything – only the relevant points.

6.  Use a functional or combination (also known as hybrid) resume style. This helps to minimize gaps in employment or limited experience with a single organization. These resume styles highlight your skills rather than your work history.

7.  Ensure that your resume's look doesn’t date you. Use a modern layout, format, and language. Avoid dates that go back more than 15 years.

8.  Network, network, network! Actively participate in groups such as Toastmasters, Rotary, Probus, or job clubs. Expand or strengthen your skills by volunteering with local non-profit agencies. Conduct information interviews with employers. And remember to avoid negative words when networking. Focus on what you can do and why someone should hire you. Socializing will increase your community profile and keep you feeling more positive and effective. Don’t get trapped by the "stay-at-home blues".

9.  Build a strong support network. This will help you obtain a new job and maintain it. Consider friends, family, former co-workers, acquaintances, business people, and others who bring expertise in different areas. For instance, some will provide emotional support, while others will bring workplace expertise, labour market knowledge, and other critical information to your network.

10.  Believe in yourself.  Perhaps the most important tip for building your self-confidence is to believe in yourself and your ability to make a significant contribution at work. If you are not convinced, others will not be either!

This tip sheet was developed by Sharon Welch, a career development practitioner in British Columbia.  You can connect with Sharon through LinkedIn at: