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July 5, 2018

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The jump from graduate school to the working world is a big one for many university students. The Department of Political Science at Wilfrid Laurier University has launched a new course to help their students land on their feet.

Developed in collaboration with Laurier’s Career Centre, PO691W: Professional Skills for Political Science Students prepares students in the Master of Applied Politics (MAP) program for a successful transition into their careers or their professional lives. During the six-week intersession term, a team of Laurier career consultants led students through critical reflection and experiential learning exercises, helping them to develop a deeper sense of self while building a tool kit of career development and communication skills.

“Students don’t always realize the skills they have acquired through their studies and extracurricular activities, or how to articulate them to a potential employer,” says Patricia Goff, Political Science professor and course co-developer. “This course in an opportunity for students to identify and articulate their transferable professional skills and to develop the confidence to show potential employers what they can offer.”

Getting to Know You

Finding a job is no easy task, but having a clear sense of self can ease the process.

“Self-awareness is the key to getting started with your career search,” says Laura Bolton, a graduate programs career consultant involved with the pilot course. “When students really know who they are, they are better able to articulate their career-related values, skills and abilities, and why they are well suited for a particular role.”

The students worked through various assessment tools such as TypeFocus, an online personality type and career assessment tool, and CliftonStrengths, a positive psychology-based assessment that identifies personal strengths and talent themes.

The course’s self-discovery exercises were an impactful learning experience for Selena Jones.

“The assessments reaffirmed who I thought I was,” she says. “That’s something university students can struggle with, especially when it relates to their job search. Really knowing who I am and how to articulate that has definitely boosted my confidence.”

Jones says many recent graduates feel pressure to find a job – any job. But embracing her career-related values has led her to take an intentional and focused approach to finding a job.

“I now know that I don’t have to feel stressed to find a job,” say Jones. “It is a process and one that is about identifying where I am best suited.”

A Hands-on Approach to Career Learning

In addition to self-discovery and personal reflection, the course was designed to immerse MAP students in a range of hands-on career-related experiences. Students learned how to conduct informational interviews, build a personal brand on social media, and enhance their professional writing skills with workshops led by Laurier's Writing Centre. 

Isaac Hewitt-Harris says his ‘a ha’ moment in the course came after completing the mock interview exercise. A different career consultant led each of the three interviews; like actual second and third interview situations, the questions changed as Hewitt-Harris progressed up the simulated chain of command.

“I’ve learned it’s not enough to talk about myself during an interview,” says Hewitt-Harris. “I have to paint a picture for the employer to show how I will fit the role and the overall work environment.”

Bolton says employers see value in applicants who can present hard skills related to their studies as well as soft, or transferable, skills.

To demonstrate this, students participated in a site tour of Communitech, a local technology innovation hub, where they met with community relations manager Beisan Zubi. She holds degrees in political science and communications, and worked in the House Leader’s Office on Parliament Hill after graduating from university in 2014. But Zubi realized that working in government wasn’t for her. What she really wanted to do was work more closely with the community.

“Students may not expect to find someone with a political science degree working in the tech sector but Beisan’s experience demonstrates how applicable their degree can be,” says Bolton.

Zubi’s story resonated with Jones, who once thought her degree would lead her to a career in law. Instead, she has discovered that she too would like to work closely with the community, particularly its marginalized members.

Both Jones and Hewitt-Harris are interested in pursuing jobs in policy, although they know that career values and interests can change with time and experience. Either way, Hewitt-Harris feels good about the skills he has acquired through the professionalization course.

“These aren’t just skills for breaking in to the job market; they are for maintaining your career and moving it forward,” he says.

For more information about PO691W: Professional Skills for Political Science Students, email Patricia Goff, associate professor and chair in the Department of Political Science. To learn more about Laurier’s career development programs and resources available to graduate students, contact Frances Humphreys, associate director: Career Development and External Relations.


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