Your College/Career Questions Answered

hatley castle

To stick with this week’s theme of “my career is my top priority,” I thought I’d answer all of your questions related to my education, my career path and this blog. If you think of any follow-up questions, after reading these answers, leave a comment below and I’ll reply there!

And thank you again for taking the time to comment, tweet and email me questions. It’s been fun to look back and reflect on this stuff.

Abby asked: Do you wish you took a gap year? Did you? How did you choose your major? How busy were you in college?

Technically, I went to college the fall after I graduated from high school (June 2003), but I’ve mentioned before that I failed two courses and had to drop out of the business program I had started. After that, I did some research on other programs the school offered and knew, without a doubt, that I wanted to get into communications. It took failing some more technical courses for me to see that I was more likely to excel at something I enjoyed. I’d always wanted to work in publishing, and I loved writing, so communications seemed like a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, the program only accepted 27 students each year, so I was put on a waitlist. I was out of school from January 2004 to August 2005, which isn’t technically a gap year, but I am grateful I had that time off to work, save a little money and learn some life lessons. I started the two-year program in September 2005 (which is where I met Krystal – small world, eh?) and it was insanely busy. There were weeks where I was at school 5-7 days/week from 8am to midnight, going to class and working on all different types of projects. Looking back, I sometimes can’t believe I actually finished the program.

I graduated with a diploma in April 2007 then started working full-time (doing desktop publishing for B.C.’s Ministry of Education). In 2010, I decided to go back and finish my BA in Communications online through Royal Roads University (which is what the picture in this post is of); that was another 2-year program that I completed while still working full-time (a.k.a. I had no social life). I’ll never regret going back to school – it was one of the best decisions I’ve made – but I’m so happy to have (some of) my spare time back.

Julia asked: What was your first job? Worst job? Best job?

My first job was also my worst job: I got hired at New York Fries when I was 15. I think I only lasted there 4-6 months, before applying and getting a job at Mmmarvelous Mmmuffins (which seemed like a huge step up, lol). And the best job I’ve ever had is the one I’m in right now. As Managing Editor, I get paid to write finance-related blog posts and content for our website, manage freelancers and content partnerships, and edit, edit, edit. I seriously couldn’t ask for a more fitting position to be in right now.

Julie asked: Have you ever negotiated yourself an increase in salary? Any tips as a young, female professional? All the tips I’ve read out there for women are written by people in a later stage of their career. Not only that, but the tips are always generic, and avoid the issue of gender and age bias. As a young (20s) female, it’s common to be short changed and not taken seriously. At least in my company. Any tips would be great.

I actually negotiated my starting salary for the position I’m in now! The initial offer was slightly less than what I was making at the Ministry of Education, so I went back with my salary expectations and listed the following arguments:

  • Taking the job meant giving up my benefits, pension, etc. which meant any medical expenses + increased RRSP contributions would need to come out of my pocket
  • Taking the job meant moving across the country, from Victoria to Toronto, which meant I would need to pay for airfare anytime I wanted to go home

The final offer was the same salary I was making at the time (so it was a lateral move) + the company would pay for my cell phone (which is why you never see it in my budgets) + the company would pay for a few flights home to Victoria (for my graduation from Royal Roads, Christmas, etc.).

I can’t say that I have any special tips for negotiating salaries, other than to know what you’re worth and not accept anything less; this means knowing what your skills are and what you can/do bring to the position/company, and being prepared to discuss it (potentially at length). You should also do a little research to find out what the average salary is for a similar position (I use PayScale), so you can feel confident about asking for a higher/more competitive amount.

I also can’t speak to the age or gender biases that exist in the workforce, as I’ve almost always had female bosses (my current one being just a year older than I am). But if my next boss is an older male, I can’t imagine my strategy would change at all. (Or is it naive of me to say that?)

Dear Debt asked: How do you see the intersection with your personal and professional self? I love how open you are with your blog, and see that it has led to other work opportunities for you. Do you ever feel vulnerable about some of the things you reveal? Or how do you deal with that?

My personal self and my professional self are one and the same now. Everything I talk about here, I talk about with family, friends, my boss and co-workers. Like you said, this blog helped me get my current job, as well as my contributor positions with Gail’s blog, Huffington Post Canada, etc. So, when it comes to any of my money-related posts, I’m 100% open and honest, and rarely worry about what I put out there.

With that being said, I have definitely published a few posts that left me feeling vulnerable (even still to this day) – mostly the ones where I talk about my sobriety. I seriously lose sleep the night before a sobriety-related post is scheduled to go live. But then I receive supportive comments, and new emails from readers going through similar situations, and I’m reminded that it’s better to talk about it than avoid the subject – because you never know who could be touched by your words. 

As weird as it might sound, I’m actually less concerned about what future employers would think of my blog (mostly because anyone who is in communications should be writing on a regular basis, no matter what the topic is) and am more concerned about what a potential future partner might find/think if he Googled me, lol. (You may have also noticed that I never talk about dating here…)

Kate asked a similar question: Has blogging changed for you after going from anonymous to identified? Has it changed what you are comfortable blogging about?

It changed what I was comfortable blogging about, at first – especially because I knew my parents were reading each new post (as well as going back and reading the old ones). But then it became this new conversation piece with nearly everyone I spent time with. I found more and more people started to feel comfortable talking to me about their own financial situation, any debt they carried, etc. I quickly realized that no one was judging my situation, because everyone I knew had been in some amount of debt before. And my parents quickly became my own personal content managers. Mom still texts me every morning to tell me what she thinks of my new posts (and is quick to tell me if there are any spelling mistakes I should fix), and Dad is always sending me blog post ideas. So, in the end, putting my real name on the blog has been the best decision I’ve made so far.

Now I’m curious: Do you have any salary negotiation tips for young women?

Flickr: etobicokesouth