Workplace tips for new graduates

July 20, 2017

You’ve got your degree. You’ve emptied the contents of your student apartment into the back of a van and you are ready to hit the road. If you are one of the fortunate minority of graduates who already have a job lined up in your field, contacts made through internships or co-op placements may have facilitated that process.

Nevertheless, you will typically be on probation for several months so it’s particularly important in the early days to gain a good understanding of the corporate culture and what is and is not acceptable in your new workplace.

Find out how many hours a day employees are required to work and the start and stop times. Flexible hours are very common now in many establishments, but be vigilant to better understand what that really means. Theoretically, you may be able to work 8-4, 9-5 or 10-6, but if your supervisor and co-workers are all early birds you could miss a lot of networking and useful socializing if you work the late shift. Also, if work-at-home days are permitted they may only kick in once your probation period is over. 

Dress code
In high tech companies, casual dress is the norm. In fact if you turn up in a suit and tie your coworkers will likely start making cracks about whether or not you are looking for another job. But muscle shirts and torn jeans even on more casual Fridays are rarely a good idea. In contrast, if you work in a large urban law firm, business suits and ties for men and stockings and heels for women may be the dress code on even the hottest summer day.

Speaking out
You got the job because the hiring manager believes you have something to contribute based on both your education and experience. By all means, answer questions and offer ideas at team and client meetings. However, particularly in the beginning, do more listening and taking notes than talking. In some cases it may make sense to pull someone aside after a meeting to discuss your brainwave rather than blurting out a half-baked thought or embarrassing a co-worker.

Personal vs. private
You are being paid to work for your employer. Keep personal telephone calls, texting and social media posting to an absolute minimum. If possible step into a meeting room or out in the hall to have a conversation. Most offices these days are open concept cubicle farms and loud private calls will not only bother others, but could result in over-sharing of personal information. 

Company gossip
Many offices have factions or cliques. Try not to align yourself with one group to the exclusion of others. Be positive and do not gossip! Negativity about people or company processes will give you a bad reputation. Finding and working with one or more mentors can give your career a boost, but developing positive relationships with as many people as possible can be just as valuable.

Chances are that you will end up working at something completely different than you envisaged when you started college or university. And you also probably won’t stay in your first job for more than two years. In fact, according to Workopolis, if current trends continue, Canadians can expect to hold roughly 15 jobs in their careers.

But your performance and the relationships you make in your first job will form the foundation of your career, so tread cautiously. After all, you will never get a second chance to make a first impression!

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

How to choose a career

July 7, 2016

By Sheryl Smolkin

While selecting a future career at the end of high school or university may seem like a momentous, life-long commitment, the fact is that few people spend their whole life anymore in the same job or even doing the same type of work.

In a 2014 article on Workopolis Peter Harris noted that from 1990 through 2000 the number of people staying at their jobs for less than two years doubled from 16% to 33% of employees. That trend has only accelerated into the 2000s, almost doubling again from 33% to 51%.  In other words, job hopping is the new normal. In a subsequent Workopolis commentary Harris concludes that if the current trend continues, Canadians can expect to hold roughly 15 jobs in their lifetime.

So if you are starting out in 2016, or making a career change, how do you decide what field you want to go into and how to achieve your career objectives?

It doesn’t hurt to take advantage of vocational testing that may be available from guidance counselors or private consultants. In some cases the cost of these services will be pegged to your means. This will help you zero in on the kind of careers that you have an aptitude for and you are interested in.

You may also be able to leverage your hobbies. Playing in a band or singing in a choir can give you a great sense of satisfaction but these pursuits may not always be the foundation for a remunerative career. However, teaching music, audio engineering or music therapy may be more practical applications of your talents.

Similarly, if you like playing video games, consider becoming a video game designer or a programmer. Sports enthusiasts can become coaches, announcers, agents, trainers or sports event planners. Visual artists may opt for a career in graphic design.

Also, think about the subjects in which you excelled in school. A math whizz may enjoy a career as an actuary or accountant. An English major can aspire to be a journalist, an editor or a lawyer. And if you are good at fixing things or working with your hands, don’t rule out working in the trades such as carpentry, auto repair, construction or electrical work.

The Government of Canada’s Job Bank allows you to explore careers by low, medium and high wages in different parts of the country. When I searched for “Registered Nurse” in Saskatchewan, I found that in Saskatoon the hourly wages ranged from a low of $25.50/hour to a high of $46/hour, but in the Prince Albert Region the average hourly pay range is from $19.45 to $47.

When you have zeroed in on some possible careers you may be interested in, find somebody working in the field who can answer your questions about what it is really like to be an engineer or a plumber. Most people are willing to find time for a ½ hour “interest interview,” and some may even allow you to “job shadow” for a day.

Of course regardless of where your passion lies, it is wise to do a “reality check” to determine whether the career you are contemplating is in a growth area where there are lots of opportunities.  In Canada’s hot jobs, and ones to avoid Nathan Laurie, president of notes that anyone with a computer science, math or engineering degree will find lots of opportunity on the job market. “Those degrees can apply to industries across the board — finance, e-commerce, IT — there are lots of roles for those types of positions. In addition, areas including web development, design, robotics and big data are seeing a lot of growth,” he says.

You may also be surprised to find out that Canada’s Best Jobs 2016: The Top 25 Best Jobs In Canada ranks the following as the top five jobs in the country, based on median salary, wage growth, and five-year employee growth:

  1. Mining or Forestry Manager
  2. Urban planner
  3. Pharmacist
  4. Pilot or flying instructor
  5. Public Administration Director

But regardless of which career you train for and where you or your kids get their first or next job, chances are it won’t be the last one. Today’s workforce must be the CEO of their own careers. That means keeping an up-to-date resume, networking and continuously improving both generic and job specific skills. In this way you will always be ready to embrace the next, great career opportunity when it comes along.

Dec 17: Best from the blogosphere

December 17, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkinblogospheregraphic

If you are lucky enough to have a job you love, you have probably spent the last few weeks shopping and checking things off on your holiday list. But if you have been downsized or you are about to retire you may be holding off on major purchases until you are more settled.

Here are some blogs with hints for job seekers who are looking for a new career under the Christmas tree this year.

In Boomer & Echo, Robb Engen writes about how a lucky break launched a successful career. He worked his way up in the hotel industry, accepting a job in sales which eventually led to his current job at a university. He says rather than jumping from job-to-job, stick around and make your own luck by being in the right place at the right time.

Nicholas Zakas shares the best career advice he has ever received on NCZOnline. “Don’t accept a job where you’re told exactly what to build and how to build it. You need to work somewhere that appreciates your insights into the product as well as your ability to build it.”

On you can find 10 career blogs you shouldn’t miss. A blog from an expert in careers can help you to find original ways to revamp your resume, find a new job, break into a new industry, wow a recruiter or anything else career-related that you need to know.

Even with retirement on the horizon, some people are still trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up. Donna McCaw says almost half of us seek an encore career rather than volunteer work or hobbies.  Many people need to work to pay the bills. Others, however, seek further employment to give themselves a more positive sense of self worth.

And finally, as the world continues to mourn, we end this week’s Best from the Blogosphere with Career and life lessons from Nelson Mandela collected by Kevin Makra on Workopolis.

To honor this great man, we leave you with some of his words of wisdom:

 “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

“ “Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.”

 “Money won’t create success, the freedom to make it will.”

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

 “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.”

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere. Share the information with us on and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.