What I Wish I’d Known in University

1 June 2016
1 June 2016, Comments: 0


Earlier this year, I was a panelist at a Business Executive Networking Night at the University of Calgary. I fondly remember my university days, but I was a little naïve (ok, more than a little naïve) when it came to understanding how businesses worked. There are some things that I wished I’d known during my school days that could have helped my career.

In the discussions, I shared the 10 things that I know now, that I wish I’d known in university:

  1. Marks don’t count – While we don’t usually tell students this in university. I have hired many students out of school and while we look at marks a little, mostly we look at which courses you passed. So learn from each class, but don’t kill yourself!
  2. Know what you are good at and stick to it – I had always wanted to be a teacher, but I thought that programming would make me more money. I hated programming! So I changed to teaching computer courses and loved it. When I got my MBA, I switched into HR and did some other kinds of Human Resources work: org design, job evaluation, generalist, but my heart is in training, facilitating & coaching so I concentrated on that and haven’t changed since!
  3. Ask yourself – what do I really want out of this? – Like all people I can get caught up in the details of the project. Like blogging & posting to social media! I enjoy sharing ideas, quotes & articles with people but I have to limit the amount of time I spend on it because in the long run, what I need is a social presence and that can be done without getting lost in it. So ask yourself before spending lots of time & energy on something, what do I really want as a result of this?
  4. Build a network and keep it healthy – The time to build a network is when you don’t need it – like now! Start connecting with people, not to use them, but to learn from them and share your knowledge with them. Then, when you need a recommendation for a job, you’ll already have people on your team who know and trust you.
  5. Toot your own horn – I worked very hard & long hours, but the VP seemed to favor the people who stopped by her office to tell them all the stuff they were doing. I was resentful, they were wasting time chatting with her, but it was my fault for not telling her what I was achieving! Make sure you get up from your desk, every day and talk to the people you work with – in person. Get to know them, let them know you. And most importantly, let them know what you are working on. If you don’t tell people what wonderful things you are doing, don’t assume they know. No one else is caring about your career, but you. So manage your career!
  6. Look at it from the other person’s perspective  When I was first an HR generalist I didn’t really understand what the managers needed from me. I thought it was around providing information on HR programs. I grew to understand that they needed a trusted advisor with a different perspective. Once I understood that, I approach my job differently and I gave more value to the managers. So ask yourself, “what does this person need from this situation?” That will help you approach it in a way that satisfies their needs, not yours.
  7. Know the business – Wherever you work, learn what the business does – not just your part of it. Learn what their problems & issues are, learn to speak their language. You’ll be much better situated to add value to the organization – and that means promotions, new assignments and raises.
  8. Don’t do anything half-ways – Commit to doing it well, or don’t say yes (if you can). I am a volunteer on a hiring committee. I’m swamped with lots of other work and volunteer commitments, so during our first meeting I stated I would gladly give of my skills in the hiring portion but I didn’t want to chair the group. Even though I was the only one who stated they didn’t want to chair, one of the other committee members hit me up 3 times to be the chair – once at that meeting, once as a phone message and a third time in person. I told him I could not do the kind of job I wanted to do because of other commitments. He accepted this and together we convinced someone else to be the chair!
  9. Focus on solving problems – I worked for a large oil & gas company that had 39 initiatives happening at the same time. Each initiative on its own was good, but together there was so much happening that people couldn’t do their jobs without ignoring most of the initiatives. As a department we were focused on the great programs & initiatives, instead of how we could help employees solve their problems. Keep focused on solving real problems, that’s how you become indispensable to an organization!
  10. Tell stories – When I coach & teach I tell lots of stories to help people remember the concepts. I get favorable feedback all of the time on how well they understand the course because of the stories. And people really enjoy stories! So to get your point across, use a story to illustrate the point. Don’t forget to do your homework & bring in facts, but people will remember the supporting stories.


What have you learned that you wish you knew when you were in university? I’d love to hear!

Do you want to be a better leader? Let’s talk. Valerie.MacLeod@HainesCentre.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *