By: Sharon Sanghera and Cecilia Li
A peer-to-peer conversation about career-ready skills
Get career ready by learning from your peers.
Sharon Sanghera (interviewer) is a third-year Social Sciences student who works as a career peer at the Student Success Centre. Cecilia Li (interviewee) is a third-year Business student who is starting an internship in organizational change management in May 2021.
Note: The following text content is not a complete interview transcript. Some edits and cuts have been made for readability and clarity.
Which skills do you feel you have developed the most through your academic work at McMaster? Could you provide examples of how you are developing them?
I think the first one is definitely the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, especially [since] I am in a Commerce program. When you get into the upper-years, rather than having all the theories in the courses and doing all the multiple-choice [tests] and all the memorization, we’re doing case analyses [and] presentations.
One of the projects that is ongoing throughout the semester is, we have a client company to work with, and we solve their real problem or look at their financial reports. We look at their competitors, we look at their annual marketing things and then we develop a marketing plan for them. So that is how we utilize what we learned and then develop our critical thinking skills.
And then another [skill] I will say is communication — both oral and written communications because [we do] a lot of [group] reports, and then we write essays for some social science class. Then we’ll do presentations.
And then the third [skill] I will say is teamwork. 80% of our mark for one course is group work and the other 20% is participation. So working with others is a really essential skill that we are developing throughout all the four years in the program. And then we learn how to interact with different people. We learn how to deal with people from diverse backgrounds and diverse personalities.
One of the career-ready skills that employers value is professionalism. Can you share ways you might show professionalism in your academics and paid or unpaid work?
I think being punctual and having great time-management skills is how we showcase and display our professionalism. Meet all the deadlines. Be on time for all the Zoom calls and in-person meetings.
The other [way] is with communication protocols and email manners — the way that you communicate with your professors. You communicate with your professors differently than your peers. Are you able to draft professional emails? Did you properly fill in your subject line? Did you meet all the formatting requirements? Those are all the small things that showcase your professionalism.
Students often feel their experiences need to be directly related to a career to have value. But employers value skills that can be developed from a range of experiences. Can you share an example of an experience that wasn’t related to a career but helped you develop a career-ready skill?
Yes, I honestly think that this is a really good question because students always seem to think that, “I need to have industry experience. I need to have a really professional internship before graduation to enter the world of business, to enter the job market.”
However, employers value everything. What leads to your first internship [are] your extracurriculars and your volunteer work. Because the skills you develop through those experiences [are] highly transferrable for when you apply to internships, as well as full-time jobs upon graduation.
For example, I used to be a volunteer [at] the YMCA. I worked with a group of McMaster girls and we [worked] with the new immigrants to help high school students with their homework [and] help them to adjust the new environment. [This experience] doesn’t seem commerce-related or HR-related. However, it [helped me] develop my communication skills and teamwork skills and how I manage conflicts, how I motivate people.
Are there any career-ready skills that have you been forced to develop or use more during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Definitely, definitely, definitely digital technology. Employers these days are looking for the people who are technologically savvy because [they] don’t want to waste time to help [people learn] how to use Zoom, how to use Microsoft Teams. If you are really good at using all those communication platforms, that’s going to facilitate your work in that company very easily. And then, for example, we have learned how to use Zoom, how to use Microsoft Teams. And then even how to use Excel, how to use spreadsheets. I think these are all the things that help you stand out the most during COVID-19 recruitment.
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