Tag Archives: networking

SFU’s Backpack to Briefcase Conference

One amazing situation/question passed on by our audience at SFU’s Backpack to Briefcase Conference last Saturday: In this competitive labour market, where everyone is so driven, so talented, so educated, and so willing to show s/he has the skills and passion to do the job, how do we, as candidates, distinguish ourselves, how do we find that unique side we all supposedly have?SFU-B2B

Theodore Roosevelt’s words, “Believe you can, and you’re halfway there” stand strong when I think about this. We would all benefit from each others’ thoughts on this topic, so I consider the front open to answers and comments. As far as I’m concerned, there are not two people alike, not even after a so called “superficial” 5 minutes conversation. We’re usually not doing a good enough job at getting to know ourselves, and that doesn’t stop at youth or digital gen, but applies to all of us, thus we need help from others (anyone who can be completely honest will do) and we need to access/use available personality tests, such as MBTI, Personality Dimensions etc., to run a comprehensive research on ourselves. We need to start with understanding ourselves, this comes first. When we have a chance to talk to prospective employers at an event, they will see certain traits in us right away (surveys say it’s a game of seconds). We need to be able to help them see the rest of our abilities and soft skills, and we need to be able to convey that in a certain way, we need to become good at displaying it. Not that we should fake it, but do you recall any memories of imagining yourself at this event or party, walking elegant, talking with confidence, smiling, and all that in only a few seconds of keeping your eyes closed? Yeah, that kind of day dreaming.


Then reality kicks in, and at the same event we have just imagined ourselves shining, we stumble in things, or people, or just mumble what was supposed to be a glorious speech. When we look back, we think “gosh, I should’ve said that!” Something’s missing, eh? Yes, you’ve got it, it’s called practice. A gold medal doesn’t come without hard work and lots of perspiration, so imagine the job you dream of is your gold medal. Fight for it. Think about your story. Have it ready. Say it with confidence. One of the students told me he kept a job along to pay for his own studies and I could see the sparkle in his eyes, he was proud of what he has achieved. I liked that. So use your story, make it beautiful, tell your friends about it, become a natural at taking about it. A short and compelling story, told from your heart. That is what will differentiate you from others. People remember stories, and while not all of us can be a good story teller – here’s the good news – most of us have improved by working at it. Once you became good at it – you may add this to your soft skills set.
Good luck!

When in Rome, do as the Romans

If you’re one of those who had a great time at the BC Professional Immigrant Conference this past Saturday at Hilton Vancouver Metrotown, you should read on. Have you missed this event? Then you should read anyway and try to expand your network / become more active on various social platforms, so you don’t miss similar future occasions. New Vancouverites – professionals trained all over the world – came to learn about how to be successful in their new home country. If in theory it’s quite simple – When in Rome, do as the Romans – practice proved as differently. To me, this event was great on a few different levels: I’ve reconnected with some old friends and some of my colleagues I haven’t seen since the Career Development Conference last year, met a few of my former clients from Richmond – so happy to learn about their success stories and even happier they came to see me, made a few new connections, was able to present on such a dynamic topic as Social Media, and to help some of the participants who stayed behind with questions. IMG_0268As a participant on the other hand, I was happy to meet Lionel Laroche, the keynote speaker and the author of – among others – Managing Cultural Diversity in Technical Professions. He addressed an audience of over 500 participants on the topic of Succeeding in Canada. Laroche emphasized many of the points we bring up during our counselling sessions at Skills Connect, yet wrapped in some great stories, these points have moved the audience – myself included – from smiling, to laughing, and to noises specific to suddenly surprised crowds. The learning curve an immigrant expects to go through when s/he arrives to Canada is somewhere from 6 to 12 months, but in reality, as per Lionel’s discourse, this can go up to around 6 to 7 years or more. Once those numbers uttered, I looked around me and I could sense a heavy and silent shock, some heads moved slowly from left to right and back, some sighed heavily, some chins dropped down. As someone who has been here long enough, I could see Lionel’s point very clearly, but this is a hard to accept reality. On the bright side though, as a career advisor, I must say I have experienced beautiful success stories of people who managed to get all settled in a good position in less than a year. Not very many, however. And no matter how fine that position was, it was still at a lower level then what they did before moving to Canada. In a charmingly plain graphic representation, Lionel Laroche illustrated how along this learning and acclimatization curve, some factors proved to be more important than others, and among the central ones we find – again – the language skills and the soft skills. As a newcomer, as soon as you manage to tune your soft skills up to the standards of your new home country and as soon as you manage to develop your communication skills, you’re good to go. Many immigrants come to Canada with really high technical skills. When they fail at securing a professional position, their first attempt to fix this situation is to go back to school to take those technical skills one step higher. And this is unfortunate. Bringing-up an inspiring story about his own start-up in Canada, Lionel Laroche emphasized how it truly is the soft skills newcomers should tackle and improve, not the technical ones. I really enjoyed listening to this stimulating keynote presentation and it is my hope that all the participants have left the venue with some precious information in their pockets. If what you have learned has both inspired and moved you, don’t sleep on it for too long – get started, you’re the master of your own future! If there are questions that worry you, then seek professional advice and try to move on, make a plan and follow it, as time does not forgive. And I’ll conclude with a quote from the American author Wayne Dyer: Stop acting as if life is a rehearsal, live this day as if it were your last. The past is over and gone.

by Magdalena Mot

Did You Consider an Informational Interview?


Well, most of those I have asked, would say something like “I’ve never heard of it. What is an Informational Interview?” An Informational Interview is a business meeting between two professionals, with the purpose of learning more about an occupation, a specific role, or a company. What makes this interview uniquely useful is the nature of the information you gather. Not only will this be specific to a certain geographic area, but it will also speak to a particular life experience. This type of meeting can be arranged by a third person (by referral) or directly between two professionals: one seeking information and the other willing to help and provide it. The informational interview is usually very short and the purpose of the meeting has to be clearly outlined to your interviewee from the very beginning. For example, if you are an internationally trained engineer, you may want to conduct at least 15 informational interviews with professionals working in the same filed, but in your new country/ location. There are so many things, besides the licensing process, that you may find rather different and your path needs to start with understanding these differences. An Informational Interview helps less experienced professionals, such as new graduates, to have their questions answered by someone who is seasoned and has at least 5 years of experience in a certain position/ filed. This is a exceptional way to exchange ideas and learn directly from the source. How can you schedule such an interview? By all means, there are very strict rules to go about it, especially if you want to succeed. To begin with, you need to conduct extensive research to identify your target organizations/ professionals and learn more about them. Carefully analyze your intentions. You’re mistaken if you think that an informational interview is a job search activity, don’t set yourself for failure. These meetings are meant to help you create a professional network, build relationships, and expand your understanding while shaping your own path success. Therefore, to schedule an appointment, you may contact the selected interviewee by telephone or someone may introduce you. When calling, it is preferable to try a few times before leaving a voice message, especially if you did not have a chance to meet this person before. LinkedIn direct messages or email may be other options for the first contact, but most would prefer a phone call.

What are the steps? You need to know how to introduce yourself (remember that elevator pitch you practiced?) and have outlined a clear way of presenting the purpose of your request. Be flexible and set the time of the meeting around the schedule of the professional you’re going to interview. Make sure to specify that this would be a very short meeting, 15 to 20 minutes, and can be easily done during a coffee break. The preferred location would be at the workplace of the interviewed professional, as this will help you learn even more about the workplace, but if this is not possible, a coffee shop or cafeteria nearby may work as well. Sometimes people agree to be interviewed over the phone and you may conduct your interview this way, but most don’t find it as effective as a face-to-face and I don’t really recommend it, unless you have no other choice.
You’ve been successful in setting up the meeting. What’s next? Research, of course. Based on information about that specific organization you can easily reach, you will need to come up with 12 to 14 questions to be asked during the Informational Interview. To ensure efficiency, have them ready or even print them off. This meeting has to stay short and respect the time frames agreed upon beforehand. Please note that time is a very sensitive matter and you risk to make a poor impression and ruin everything ion case you will not abide by the agreed schedule. The questions you can ask may vary from position specific to organization/ workplace specific, feel free to look at other resources available on this topic or talk to a career advisor if accessible.
What do you gain? You will leave with invaluable information about your targeted occupation and, most likely, about that employer/ organization. How will you organize and use this information it’s totally up to you, but if well organized, your informational interviews will help you tremendously in the long run: at a certain point in the future you may interview with that organization and, as a job candidate, you will have inside information and the advantage of knowing firsthand what other candidates may not know. Moreover, you will be able to keep in touch with people in your field and expand your connections. Keep in mind that building trust takes time, created relationships will not become your trusted network overnight. Set realistic long-term goals and follow your strategic career development plan step by step. My grandma use to say – big things don’t happen overnight, there is always an incubation time, so be patient.
Why bother? You’d ask me now why spend so much time and energy planning and conducting these informational interviews? And you are right, they do take lots of time. Yet this is easy to explain, as we all know that good things don’t come easy. I also have a great quote that speaks for all it’s been already said: If I had 8 hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend 6 sharpening the axe (Abraham Lincoln). If it happens you are new to B.C., trying to find a position that matches your personality and skills, consider that this may take lots of preparation.

Magdalena Mot