Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Extern job shadowing and you

One day you’re reading the Intranet and you spy this entry about a U of T job shadowing program, and, intrigued, you open it. You fill out a few forms about your vocational interests and sign up for an orientation meeting, and just like that you’re in.

You show up for the orientation meeting with a sort of mild social anxiety because you’re not sure what it’s going to be about, or whether you’ll have to do much talking. You’re not even 100% sure you’re going to the right room at the right time, because the instructions were a little like, information overload; there were so many numbers and dates and there’s the possibility that you might have gotten confused. But you end up showing up to the right room anyway, and are lured into comfort by the nice solid wooden surroundings of the room and the cherubic program leader. This is the part where you discuss which kind of vocation you’re going to job shadow in, and your overall attitudes/knowledge/stage of self-actualization in regard to your career choice. There's this sinking feeling when the program leader makes you talk to the person next to you about afore-mentioned attitudes/knowledge/stage of self-actualization but you strike up a comfortable rapport and it’s OK.

The next stage is to apply via the Career Centre website to various employers, filtering by field (e.g. journalism, medicine, finance) and then choosing a specific company. You get to  apply to three or four locations, ranking them in order of preference. And then in the application you have to write several 250-word essays about various topics, e.g. what you know about the vocational field, what makes you interested in it (incld. relevant experiences and skills you might possess), and then you have to repeat this process for every position you apply to (the cherubic program leader was not lying, you come to find out, when he said that you should not leave this stuff to the last minute)--and if you're like me you probably end up applying to positions within only one field so you can copy-paste some of your application answers to other positions.

If you come up with some fantastically deep and philosophical answers to these questions, and/or at least show some rudimentary mental engagement while writing them, you’re accepted into the University of Toronto’s Extern Job Shadowing program! Next up is a second meeting, this time to discuss logistics of contacting your host and what to wear/how to act, planning questions to ask them, and generally how to represent U of T flatteringly and not appear like a slobbering York neanderthal. Rules: no begging for employment, no inappropriate dress, no bluntly asking how big someone's salary is, etc etc. You have to again talk to the person beside you, this time preparing questions to ask your host, a lot more painful than last meeting because it’s like, unless you’re actually really on top of things you’re thinking about this for the first time and a lot of the conversation is umms and ahhs and blank stares. After this meeting you have a month before your job shadowing starts.

And so like if you’re as bad as I am you left all the preparation to the last minute, and so on the morning that you’re supposed to first meet your host you’re scrambling to think of questions to ask and picking clothes, and the pants you were vaguely planning to wear end up being too tight (because of course you only try them on right before having to leave, pants  which the last time you wore them was in 2011) and the zipper won’t go all the way up so that pretty much eliminates wearing a tucked-in dress shirt, and all your nice sweaters are in the wash or lost somewhere, adding to the stress of a blizzard outside and the fact that you’ve gained weight seeing as your pants no longer fit. And so by the time you’re out of the house you’re completely out of your mind with confusion and general social anxiety and a lack of sleep because of said social anxiety the night before, and of course there’s a huge accident on the DVP so that you arrive half an hour late (something you should emphatically do everything that is humanly possible to avoid doing to your host) to the office of Canada’s #1 News Station with traffic updates on the 1s of each hour so that your host has already finished the whole tour with the other job shadowing students. Basically, don’t be like me.

But then things go pretty smoothly. Your frazzle and anxiety appear outwardly like flushed interest and you get to meet all the employees and they’re all friendly and nice and give you some valuable tips on how to approach your career, and you leave the offices feeling much better than you did when you entered and it’s OK.

The final steps are to write a physical thank-you letter to your host and to fill out an online reflection form from the U of T Career Centre, and once all that is done you can request a certificate of participation. The experience is truly valuable, in my opinion: there’s no better way to see what a job is actually like than to visit the workplace and talk to the workers. If you’re on the fence about your career path, as many people probably are, this is the thing for you. It’s completely free, and runs twice a year, and is easier than I make it sound here. Go for it.

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