The University Record, June 5, 2000

Advance planning will help ensure smooth career path

By Jane R. Elgass

Thinking about a job or career change and don’t know where to start? New to the workforce and anxious to map out your future?

Tips offered by two long-time University staff members at the Workplace 2000 Conference last month will help you get started.

The first thing you need to do is establish goals, Wendy Powell, human resources representative in the Employee Relations and Compensation Office, told her Rackham Amphitheater audience. For baby boomers and those from prior generations, goals were not as important as they are today—“we weren’t taught to be goal-oriented.”

The University has a lot of long-time employees, she noted, who have chosen to grow with the institution over the years. “Many ‘up-and-comers’ don’t understand that philosophy,” she said, but you need to do what is comfortable for you. Some will have a goal of staying with one organization; others want to move around.

Whatever your situation, you do need to periodically revisit your goals and ask yourself some hard questions: Is your job still working for you? Jobs change over time, with new technologies, new emphases. Are you changing too? As some of the clothes in your closet may not still fit, does your job still fit you? Do you still have a passion for your work? Are you still getting personal and professional benefits from your job? Do you know how you contribute to the success of the organization? Are you still challenged? Comfort with a job is OK, but it also makes one complacent, Powell noted.

If you answer “no” to some of these questions, it’s probably time for a reality check, since “you are responsible for your destiny,” Powell emphasized. She also said that any goals you establish should be “reasonable, controllable and believable.” Powell has a child with a learning disability. There are some things he cannot do well, but he has excellent verbal skills. “He’d make a good salesman,” she noted.

She noted that her goals have changed over time. She initially was in the banking industry, with a goal of becoming a vice president. That didn’t suit her and she joined the University. She recently returned to school to prepare herself for yet another career—teaching adults, which is what she said she really loves.

Once you’ve set some goals, find out what you need to do to pursue that new or changed career. “The days of a company looking out for its employees is over,” Powell said. “You no longer can count on your employer to look after your advancement.”

Check out the University’s tuition refund program, review the courses offered by Human Resource Development and the Information Technology Division. Check the offerings at nearby colleges. Think about attending workshops and conferences that will provide you with new or stronger skills.

She also encouraged staff members to do more than just the basics of their jobs. “Don’t say, ‘I won’t take that on unless I get paid more.’ Take more responsibility and good things will come. That shows motivation and initiative. Build a record of increasing and expanding responsibilities and a job well done with them. And create an environment around yourself that will prepare you for and support success in what you are doing.

“Employers are more interested in what you’ve done with your talents rather than the talents themselves,” she noted.

And finally, Powell emphasized, “A formal education is a very important component of career advancement. Are you comfortable with your education level? Find what fits your needs. There are lots of organizations now that cater to the adult learner, to students who also work full time.”

And keep in mind that some degree of computer literacy is needed for just about any job. You don’t need to be a whiz-bang expert, but you should keep current and update your skills.

In introducing the program, Shelley Morrison, director of human resources and staff development at the Medical School, noted that the content was based on a request from a colleague “to think back to the tips and advice we received as we were growing up and entering the workforce and find a way to share those that worked.”

“My mother told me things and so did a professor, but I didn’t believe them 20 years ago,” she noted. When she thought back, however, she realized that much of what they’d advised was sound.

First and foremost among Morrison’s tips: The first impression is the most important one and you’ve got only 20–30 seconds to make it. “It’s all about who you are and how you carry yourself, not what you do,” she said.

Other words of wisdom:

  • Remember names and spell them correctly.

  • Be as professional as possible while coming up through the ranks. “Some people will be assessing you from day number 1. Do they see that you have the capacity to grow?”

  • Be respectful. “We don’t all think alike. Respect others for their thoughts.”

  • Decorate your office/work space within reason. Make it enjoyable, with a few favorite things that mean a lot, while still being efficient. “Your office is part of the image you project. It should look professional.”

  • Remember that everything around you, including those you associate with on a personal and professional level, says something about you.

  • Have a firm hand-shake.

  • Remember that humor that may play well at home might not go over well in the office.

  • Work at getting along with your colleagues, remembering that “those you step on on the way up you meet on the way back down.”

  • Pay attention to how you dress. No matter your position, you can have a professional appearance.

    Morrison noted that “business casual” came into being as relief for corporate employees who wore dark suits, white shirts and conservative ties. Comparatively, the University already was casual. While it may be tempting, jeans and sweats are inappropriate for most employees. “Think about where you work and what’s acceptable,” she advised.

  • Look at the people around you who are where you want to be. What do they have that you might want to emulate?

  • Remember that a job change need not always be for a promotion. A lateral move might provide new skills and experiences to add to your portfolio and prepare you for advancement.

    Most of all: Customize a plan for yourself, have a goal and identify what you need to get there.

    Virtual Career Center

    Yael Liber, employment representative in Employment Services, briefed the Amphitheater audience on a Web site launched last year designed to help staff assess their skills and abilities and determine directions in which they may want to take their careers.

    The Virtual Career Center ( provides a step-by-step guide to help you through the decision-making process, as well as a compilation of the many resources available at the University and locally for both counseling and education.

    The Virtual Career Center includes a link to a University of Waterloo (Canada) site that Liber described as the “best career development site available” as it includes a number of self-assessment activities that can help you get started. She did caution that such things as personal inventories, included on the Waterloo site, are best undertaken with the help of a professional counselor.

    The Virtual Career Center will guide you through three important steps:

  • Assessing who you are, the skills you have.

  • Exploring potential careers.

  • Developing an action plan.

    Employment Services is just beginning to get involved in the counseling aspects of career planning, Liber noted, and also suggested that individuals contact the Center for the Education of Women and the University’s central Career Planning and Placement Office (CP&P). While primarily designed for student job-seekers, CP&P can be a helpful resource to staff during its “off season,” when students are not on campus.