Do You See College/University As More Debt?


A problem familiar to many people has to do with taking on more financial debt in order to return to College or University. Has this got you or someone you know so stressed and anxious that they’ve made the decision to pass on further education and look for work with their existing experience and skills? If so, think again.

There are a number of reasons you might not be willing to take on extra debt. Perhaps you’ve already got a loan hanging over your head and the idea of taking on more is scary. After all, if your existing debt has you this stressed, you don’t even want to think about increasing it now do you? You might even have an existing student loan such as the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) here in Ontario where I live, and is it possible you’ve just been ignoring paying off what you already owe, not because you don’t want to pay it off but because you’ve no income to do so with?

This extra debt you’re closed to increasing is worrying because you didn’t complete the program at school that the first loans were for. There’s that nagging feeling that maybe you’d make the same mistake of taking on debt and not finishing a second time; what a waste of unfinished education and more money to owe hanging like a dark cloud everywhere you go.

I’m no fan of debt myself, so I get it. It’s stressful to think about.

I wonder though if, putting money aside for a paragraph or two, we could just focus on the education you might be wanting. You know, it could be that the reason you didn’t complete that other program is because it just wasn’t right for you in the first place. Maybe you weren’t ready for College or University at that time, needed to mature a bit or it wasn’t school at all but something else going on in your life at the time which made focusing on school and putting in the effort impossible. The consequence? You failed or were failing – maybe academic probation and you dropped everything…except of course the looming repayments.

Back in the present however, now you’ve grown. Maybe those, ‘things’ that kept you from succeeding are taken care of and behind you. Or, perhaps you’ve got a better idea of what it is that you’re passionate about and if you could only have the education needed to get going, you’re sure you’d flourish and succeed. That thought is pretty exciting; to know what turns you on and what you’d love to do!

It’s a shame that earlier failed experience and unpaid debt is keeping you from taking on more debt right?

First things first, let’s shift that viewpoint and stop looking at the education fees as debt. Debt is such a negative word. What you are in fact doing is making an investment in yourself. Consider the money needed to buy a house or a car – relatively big and important purchases. Neither of those two investments maintain their value over time with any guarantee – especially the car. Eventually both get replaced too. Education however, wakes up with you every morning and you carry it with you every day of your life. It shapes the way you think and how you experience the world. That investment is a lifelong investment in yourself.

I sense a second problem that has you reluctant to make such an investment; what if you’re wrong? Again. You know, what if you just think you’d like a certain program but then it turns out to be something you don’t? Hey, come on. Instead of assuming something you haven’t even started is going to be a huge mistake, imagine it turns out to be the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself and you do well in school precisely because you took something you really are interested in!

Some people will tell you that even after they finished school they ended up in some minimum wage, entry level job they could have got without having gone to College or University. There will always be these negative views, and they are basing those views on their own experience so you can’t blame them. On the other hand, there are many more people who will tell you that the degree they hold or the diploma they graduated with were needed to get hired doing what they do now and without it, they wouldn’t have been hired. They love their job, they are making use of that education and their income is considerably better than it would have been without it.

Suppose you owe $10,000. You’re thinking, “Yikes!” Okay, so you spend another $8,000. or even double your original amount – you now owe $20,000. Scary right? Of course. But now you have that diploma or degree in your hand and you’re pumped. You’re self-esteem is high, you’re proud of your accomplishment. The resume is stronger, you’re outlook better, and you compete stronger because for the first time, you’re really invested and qualified to get a job you’ll love. So you get a job making $23.00 an hour.

$23.00 p/hr x 7 hours per day x 5 days per week x 4.33 weeks in a month = $3,485.65 x 12 months = $41,827.8 a year. This is the formula you can use yourself to figure out what you’d make a year.

$23 an hour is just a number, but you can see that the $20,000 it total you’d ow can be paid back soon. That’s $41,827.8 a year. Multiply it just over 5 years and you’ll have earned $209,139.00!

Having your current $8,000 debt suddenly seems small when you think of your potential income. Bazinga!!!!!!!

 

Reflecting On Choices


Looking back on your work history, are you surprised in any way with the jobs you’ve held and the direction your choices have taken you in? Or conversely, if your 20-year-old self could look into the future and see the work you would be doing throughout your life, would that glimpse hold a promise of all the things you expect?

Of the two, we can only look back with 100% certainty at what we’ve done. The best we can do when it comes to our future is to make some decisions that we hope in the here and now will prove to be ones that make us happy in the years ahead. Only the passing of time confirms we’ve made choices and decisions that we regret or we come to appreciate.

At some point in your own life, you may pause and take stock of what you’ve done and evaluate if the direction you are moving in is still one you’re happy with. To be more accurate, you will probably have many of these times; some of them lasting longer than others. A moment such as this could come 2 years into a university course that you come to realize isn’t for you and so you drop pursuing that degree and change your major. It could also come after years in a job when the thrill is gone and you wake up one day wanting a different work life.

Pausing to reflect on your own direction in life and how happy or not you are with it is a healthy practice. Having said that, there are some who feel very unhealthy and become emotionally conflicted with what they see as second guessing themselves. Envision the person who has someone else paying for their education and suddenly realizes they don’t really want to continue chasing that diploma or degree. Complicating a decision to change the education path is the sharing of their thinking with the person or people paying for tuition. “What will my parents think? How do I tell them? Will they think I’ve wasted their money?” These are some of the questions that one might ask themselves.

The alternative however is to go on giving the appearance to those around you that you are happy working towards your diploma or degree, or happiest in your line of work when you’re not. Questions such as, “So how is work or school going? Enjoying it?” seem harder to answer truthfully for some people who are wondering the exact same questions and weighing their options.

Uncertainty can be paralyzing. Should I continue doing what I’m doing? Is this just a phase everybody works through? Should I be paying attention to the signs and what exactly are all these feelings trying to tell me? Something must be wrong? What’s wrong with me?

Maybe nothing is wrong with you. These feelings are really just self-reflections; taking stock of what you have, what you’re working towards and evaluating your personal happiness with things. The apparent conflict comes not when we continue to move in the direction we were headed but only when that direction is debatable or deemed to be not aligned with where we now want to head.

So what does it take to change direction; do something different? Courage for sure, conviction would be nice and a willingness to take that first big step whatever that means to you. For some it means saying, “I’m not happy in my work anymore” to their partner. For others it could come out as saying, “I’ve made an appointment with the school Guidance Counsellor to talk.” For you personally, it could mean any number of other things said to whomever you’re speaking with.

Here’s the thing. It is often better to pay attention here and now to how your feeling than it is to ignore those feelings and continue down a path you no longer know is right out of some perceived duty to do the right thing. Thinking, “But this is what’s expected of me”, instead of doing what is right for you could take years to undo and might even close doors that are open to you at this moment in time.

Now be assured that many very happy people who are extremely satisfied with their careers did think at one point, “Am I cut out to be a ________. Did I make the right choice?” They might even share at some celebration of their work such a statement as, “There was a time I questioned whether I was in the right line of work or not. I’m glad I stuck with it.” So just because you come to question your current direction don’t take that self-reflection as a positive sign that change is needed.

It’s all very confusing isn’t it? The thing is that you and I, our needs change because we change. We change in response to our age, our environment, our awareness of other occupations, our financial needs, our willingness to jump and take a chance or our conservative nature.

There are no absolute blue prints that come with life and it isn’t neat and ordered and laid out for us at birth. We – you and me – we’ve got to find our way in this world, make our choices and hopefully they work out. However, embrace those moments when something stirs within and give them the benefit of your attention.

 

“What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?”


How many times have you had this question asked of you, and do you enjoy answering it? There’s a time in our lives when most of us actually did find this question an interesting one to answer and were happy to do so. However once we turned 9 or so…

Have you ever wondered why this question is popular? It’s related very much to another question often asked, “So, what do you do for a living?” Both questions are designed to allow the person asking it to mentally categorize you. It’s part of your identity, and it’s how others identify you. “Jim? Oh yes the plumber chap”. “So did you hear? Jessica is a teacher now!”

How we feel about Jim and Jessica is influenced by what we think of plumbers and teachers. Without knowing any more information, we almost certainly start making some value judgements about them based on our view of their profession. The question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, is going to give the person asking some framework to categorize you just like the other question. The real kicker for the person asking the question is when you reply with some vague response akin to, “I haven’t quite decided”, or “I dunno”; the pre-adult classic. They can’t categorize you.

Of course the question itself tends to trap the person being asked into a single response. I mean when asked what they want to be when they grow up, no one answers, “Well, I’d like to explore around a bit, do a little woodwork for a couple of years, go back to school for photography but then decide it’s more of a hobby really, drop out, then work in an office for 7 or 8 years, buy my own car wash, then eventually end up a late bloomer in the photo journalism field. Oh and I’d like to have a smashing good time with a number of ladies not one of which I plan to settle down with really. I may even father a child somewhere along the way.”

Aunt Edna might have nothing to say after that answer, and decide it’s best not to ask in the future either. It will however give her plenty of fodder to fill up the knitting circles for weeks to come, or conversely silence her completely when asked about you. You see for Aunt Edna’s friends, her reputation is associated with yours. If you’re successful, by association her status rises. If you’re unemployed and living rough, well…best we don’t tell her friends shall we?

The question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” also implies two things; one you haven’t grown up yet and two, what you want to be is something other than that which you are at present. In fact what you are at present must be somehow juvenile; the ‘growing up’ hasn’t finished. When it does, you’ll ‘be’ something other than what you ‘are’ now.

In previous historical periods, a person grew into a single profession and their family name in some cultures was defined by the job. Hence the Millers, Carvers, Masons and the Weavers. Say the name and their profession was known without asking. In 2015 however, our surname at birth doesn’t limit most of us in any way nor pre-determine what our future will be.

Some people I imagine would like things to be as they were. It would for some be ideal to just be told or expected to get into a line of work without the pressure of having to decide. For the majority of people I suspect however, the freedom of choice is sometimes confusing but still much more desirable; as is the freedom to change professions at any time.

Seemingly having to have it all figured out in your high school years in order to choose the right College or University and launch your career comes with immense pressure. I mean by 16 or 17 years of age, you’ve only had exposure to a very limited number of people in your life. Many of those people do the same jobs, and you’re so self-absorbed in your own world, you’ve probably very little sincere interest in what others do, and haven’t really ever sat down with them to find out. Most teens I know only have a superficial idea at best of what their parents do for a living let alone others.

So with limited exposure, how then are you to settle in on the right University or College courses that are going to lead to a career or job which you will find fulfilling later? Your own brain is still evolving, your likes and dislikes are still being shaped, and you’ll find as you grow you meet people doing things you don’t even know exist at present. Not to mention some things you find tedious now may suddenly become appealing later. You might be setting yourself up for anxiety if you want to change careers mid-school and somehow disappoint the family, or ‘waste’ the money.

So what’s the answer? Generally speaking; (for there is no one answer for all) it’s good advice to do a great many things when you are young. Try things. Talk with people. Observe. Let the next 45 years of your life evolve. Plan for the next 3. Make mistakes. Learn. Make more mistakes. Learn some more. Most people change careers 3 times and have 8 or 9 jobs over their lifetime. Ease up on the self-inflicted stress to have it all figured out at 17.

 

 

LinkedIn: Don’t Teach It If You Don’t Get It


“My teacher in College told us we should be on LinkedIn but I don’t get it. They said it’s like Facebook for grown-ups. What does it do?” I’ve heard this sentiment expressed almost word for word with three different College students I know just this past week alone, the latest only yesterday. It almost makes me wish those introducing LinkedIn to their students would skip it entirely if they don’t really get it themselves.

Yes it appears from talking with these students that their teachers told them they should be on LinkedIn but didn’t go on to demonstrate to them exact what they could do with it. The result I’m noticing is that these students either don’t see the point in even attempting a profile, or they start to construct their profile and stop almost immediately, leaving little more than a shell which then has the undesired impact of being entirely underwhelming. Ouch!

Telling college-aged people that LinkedIn is like Facebook for grown-ups accomplishes two things; it makes them think it’s just another socializing platform and this demographic is turning away from Facebook in droves, so it’s like being saddled with something else they don’t want. In other words, you’re not turning them on to LinkedIn at all, you’re turning them off.

Yesterday there was 10 minutes left in the day when a placement student who was sitting behind me suddenly said she didn’t get LinkedIn and didn’t know if she should be on it or not. I turned to her and said, “Well, in my opinion if you don’t use it you’re a fool.” Notice what I didn’t say is, “if you don’t GET ON IT you’re a fool.” There is a huge difference between just being on it and knowing how to use it and maximizing its benefits.

She’s 21 and I’m 55. I’d like to use this experience in some future job interview when the interviewer shows concern about my ability to grasp and use technology! I’ve been using LinkedIn for years now, and she didn’t know it’s been around for years.

So I started my pitch. “What do you want at this point career-wise?”, I said. “A job in Probation”, she replied. So I then asked her how valuable it might be to assemble a room full of people currently in Probation, all at various levels of seniority, then have a corner of the room full of job postings solely in her field, and as she walked around the room she could join various conversations people were having related to probation. “That’d be great, you mean like a convention?”

Okay so LinkedIn would expose her to these people through connecting with people currently holding positions in Probation. It would also allow her to find them discussing mutual points of interest in the group functions, so she could join and be surrounded by people with similar career interests. Jobs in the Probation sector can be searched for filtering the opportunities in her geographical area, as well as by entry-level, and by connecting with others, she could even ask for advice, inside information about a company or an opening. It’s still who you know much of the time, so you should get to know people.

I asked her to tell me when it’s appropriate to give an employer your professional references in the application process. To this, she replied she’d be taught that you only give these at the end of a face-to-face interview when they ask for them. “Old school”, I said. I told her about recommendations and how employers can read what people are saying about you if you’ve got them BEFORE you even get the call inviting you for the interview. No recommendations and how good can you be? Lot’s of recommendations and your value rises.

“I’m going to make a profile”, she said. I told that was a good move, but as our 10 minutes was up and just before we left for the day I told her I’d only scratched the surface of what she could do with it. We agreed that next week when she returns we’ll find more time to talk about it and how to make it productive.

Like anything else, the best person to learn from is someone who not only knows more than you do, but who can communicate it in a way that you find meaningful and can understand the personal benefits to be realized from. Those who didn’t like math in school usually complained, “I don’t see the point. I’m never going to use that in real life.” Same goes for those who didn’t get Chemistry, Geography or English Literature. If there is no practical application understood, why learn it?

My pitch for LinkedIn is that no matter what discipline or line of work you choose to pursue, connecting with professional people who are in that field has to be valuable. Don’t have the time to invest in using it? That’s your personal choice and I respect your right to use it or not, but understand it first and what it can do for you, and what you can do for others.

Facebook for grown ups? Facebook is, “Look at what I had for dinner!” “Here I am taking a selfie – boy I’m good!” LinkedIn is, “I’m launching or advancing my career and in doing so enriching my life.” Maybe it is for grown ups after all!

Up The Job Search NOW! Here’s Why


If you are out of work or looking to apply for position other than the one you have now, please do yourself a favour and invest in it on a full-time basis now. What’s the rush? It’s the middle of February and the most productive time the entire year to find a new job is in March. That means you’ve got precious little time to get things together!

Soon University students are going to be flooding an already crowded marketplace; some hungry for summer jobs, the graduating class hungry for those entry-level permanent jobs that will speed them on their way to fame and fortune. You of course need fewer competitors to get hired not more!

You might have your resume up-to-date and ready to go. You may still be job searching with the mistaken belief that your resume just has to be shipped out intact to all those employers without any revisions because someone told you it’s a great resume. It WAS a great resume of course for the single job you used it for. However, you’ll soon find that the resume that once looked so squeaky clean, new and improved is NOT crafted for other jobs you may be applying for now. The result is going to be an unemployed but wiser you after the prime hiring period of March is past and you’re competing not with University grads, but high school students!

Many companies are in bad shape these days and are desperately trying to keep that health update out of the media. As soon as a company shares its poor health, workers start job searching, investing less, the top talent stops looking at the company as a viable option for the long-term, and a brain drain away from the company follows. Okay so companies are downsizing, laying off workers, holding off on raises, new hires and some are seriously closing up and moving to other countries or jurisdictions where the labour is cheaper, production costs lower and the result? More workers entering a competitive market.

Now you can make a juvenile mistake and think that all this doom and gloom is going to hit other people but not you. You’d be wiser of course to consider that you aren’t as invincible as you might like to think. There are people out there who really believe that they are easily the best of the best; that they’ve always had an easy time of it when it came to finding work, and that 2015 is no different. I see these people quite a bit actually; applicants of social assistance who exhausted their financial reserves and were reduced to applying for social assistance because they CANNOT find work as easily as they once thought. Hmmm….lesson here anyone?

Think about the six month rule of thumb too. What’s the six month rule of thumb you ask? Well, employers often tell me that when they look at a resume, ANYTHING on it that is older than six months in terms of employment is out-of-date and it’s value greatly diminished. In other words unless your last job was within that six month window, its value to you on your resume doesn’t impress the employer as much as it might you. Times change quickly. Technology moves like lightning these days; don’t know the latest version of MS Office? Your competitors will. Don’t think that out-of-date First Aid Certificate will be much of a problem because it just expired? Your competition is out right now taking the course.

It isn’t enough anymore to tell an employer you’ll get a course updated or become certified once you are hired. Why on earth would you suppose they’d opt for you when there is a long line of people with current and valid certificates that are competing with you? Sorry but in the nicest way possible, you’re just not likely that unique and amazing from many others who believe they are unique and equally amazing. Edge to them not you.

Putting yourself in a position to take advantage of an opportunity by getting your resume updated now and re-certifying yourself means you’ll be more likely to get an interview and then a job offer. Others will say you got lucky. I’d say you put yourself in a situation where you could demonstrate your preparedness and your qualifications are current now. Edge to you.

By the way, tell people you are looking for work and what it is you are looking for. Get everyone you know in the know; give them your resume as a reminder of you and what you want. When you update your resume, give them all new versions. Update your social media profile. Get a better picture on LinkedIn than that cute but entirely inappropriate one you are using right now. I actually saw a close up of someone’s eye today as their avatar. Seriously I did. That stands out of course, but not in an immediately clear way.

Pick yourself up off the ground and get back in the job search game on a full-time basis. You’re worth it!

Conversations With Young Adults


If I were in the position of being a Professor in a University or College, or if I found myself commanding the attention of any young people in fact, I’d tell them that above all the other skills they could master, communicating effectively through conversation would top my list.

The stereotypical young person is pretty savvy with most forms of electronic devices; they use cellphones with ease, have I-pods and or I-pads, tweet their friends, and are knowledgeable when it comes to using various apps. However, put away the electronics, turn off the phones and start a real conversation and often a weakness arises.

Now to be fair, what I’m saying doesn’t apply to every young adult I know. But with some, once past the surface issues such as the weather, health, recent school performance and known personal interests, I’ve observed a lack of comfort engaging in meaningful conversation. I can read the expression on their faces as they blankly look off to the left or right, the tight forced smiles which come as they strive to survive a conversation as if they are being interrogated.

Maybe it’s the intimidation factor of being young and talking with older people in general. Is it having a lack of things to talk about or not knowing what to share or ask? I do give young people credit for being information smart. Once a topic is introduced that they have discussed in school for example, they can readily give you their own take on what was presented and what they think of it. In fact, these moments wash over them like a wave of relief when they can share what they know.

Conversation fundamentally is a two-way interaction. If one person is doing most or all of the answering and one is doing most or all of the questioning, it’s trying on both people; the one to keep coming up with questions and the other to keep answering. There are some things one can do to improve the flow of conversation.

For starters, create an atmosphere or environment where questions and conversation in general is encouraged and safe. If you were hosting a University placement student, you’d do well to introduce them to everyone, and to have told everyone prior to their arrival who they are and to have encouraged everyone to welcome them and make them feel comfortable. It’s hard enough on anyone when you meet many people at once. Having one person specifically prepared to play host also gives the student someone to adhere to and look for support and guidance from.

As a young adult, it’s also good practice to keep up on some current affairs in the news. Being ‘in the know’ about some major news story can readily give you the feeling of inclusion; you’re able to participate from a position of knowledge in a conversation. If you don’t know what’s being discussed, you are again in the position of being informed or taught, and that separates you again from those around you.

Sometimes when I’m sitting with young adults in my workplace, I’ll ask them a question such as, “What would you like to ask me? – no question is too bold or off the table.” This allows them to ask anything, go anywhere, and because the invitation has been extended, the conversation begins. Sometimes it’s a tried and true, rehearsed kind of question like, “How did you get started?” Fair enough. Their young, I was once young and in their shoes, wondering at that time how to get started myself. Be prepared to answer or volunteer this information for a young person.

People generally like to talk about themselves, what interests them and share things they find interesting. One thing a young person can do – all of us in fact – is consciously make an effort to ask about the person we are talking with. If you turn all your conversations back to you and how you are doing, what you are feeling and what you hope to do etc., that gets tiring real fast. It’s important to ask about others, how they are doing, feeling and what they are up to.

You can and should practice just talking. Get beyond one syllable answers and really engage in conversation. Every parent can probably identify with the teen/young adult where the conversation goes like this:
“Did you have a nice day today?”
“Uh-huh.”
“Learn anything new?”
“Not really.”
“How are things generally?”
“Fine. I’m going to my room.”

Come to think of it, we can probably remember being on the other end of that conversation too if we are old enough. That wasn’t so much a conversation as it was a mandatory daily interrogation where both parties go through the motions; the parent struggling to engage, the teen or young adult seeking to disengage at the first opportunity without being overtly rude. Neither leaves feeling entirely satisfied.

The world of work demands verbal communication skills. Few people can just turn the art of being a true conversationalist at will like a light switch. You’re going to need to speak with co-workers, clients, customers, your boss, folks in other departments, on the phone, in-person. People skills take time to truly master and the sooner you start, the more you enhance the skill – as with any skill.

Love to hear your thoughts on this.