U of T grads offer career tips ahead of Next Steps Conference

U of T graduates Madeleine Clark, Hyacinth Khin, Peng Leong, Chizoba Imoka and Tapfuma Musewe will share career advice at the Next Steps Conference this month (photos courtesy of the panelists)

Work well with others. Allow your career plans to evolve – and know that even “bad” jobs can help you grow.

These are just some of the tips that University of Toronto Faculty of Arts & Science students and recent graduates can expect to hear at this year’s Next Steps Conference, Jan. 25 to 27. The online event features a range of speakers, career exploration panels, personal and professional development seminars and networking opportunities all aimed at helping students launch their careers.

Five panelists, in fields ranging from pharmaceuticals to government, shared some advice for job seekers ahead of the conference. 

Try new things and work well with others

“For your first job, join an organization where you have as many opportunities to learn and be exposed to as many aspects of the business as possible,” says Peng Leong, who will be participating in the Next Steps Success Isn’t a Straight Line panel.

Leong earned his bachelor of science degree at U of T as a member of Trinity College followed by a PhD in biochemistry. He then earned a master of business administration from the University of California, Berkeley. He has worked in the pharmaceutical industry for more than 20 years, specializing in research, business development, strategy and finance, helping develop innovative drugs to treat severe human diseases.

His career started with his first post-university job. A U of T degree is a great starting point, he says, because it opens doors to an exciting career path.

“Don’t be afraid to try things. Even if it turns out to be the wrong decision, you will learn something and it will lead to something better,” he says.

The real key to success? Work well with others.

“Most careers require interaction with people and teamwork. Important qualities are collaboration, accountability, trustworthiness and empathy,” he says.

Hyacinth Khin agrees. The U of T political science and English graduate, who is now a senior strategic adviser at the Ontario Treasury Board Secretariat, will be speaking on another panel at the conference focusing on careers in public policy. 

“I realized early on how important developing and maintaining relationships are when progressing down one's career path,” she says.

Re-strategize as your goals change

“I am also coming to the realization that career goalposts, as well as one's perception of their desirability and attainability, shift as one gains more experience,” says Khin, who also earned a post-baccalaureate certificate in public administration and leadership from Ryerson University and a master’s degree in public policy, administration and law from York University.

She offers a range of advice to recent grads depending on their goals. Those looking for a full-time, entry-level job in their field should consistently apply for jobs and aim to grow their network, she says. She also encourages early career job-seekers to prepare an elevator pitch and thoroughly research a company or industry they are interested in.

On the other hand, those who want to move up the ranks at their company should explore the educational professional requirements for their target roles, she says. Even more importantly, she adds, they should arrange information interviews with senior staff and executives in their organization. 

Success takes many forms

Madeleine Clark, a U of T almuna and naturopathic doctor who co-owns a women-focused health clinicin Toronto's west end, says each person has a different vision of success. 

Some pursue careers they're passionate about, while other seek the flexibility to allow them to pursue passions outside work. Some are comfortable with riskier entrepreneurship opportunities, while others want financial stability. Clark, who co-owns Crafted Balance Naturopathic Clinic on Dundas Street West, will be speaking on a Next Steps panel focusing on health-care careers. 

“My advice to students and recent alumni starting out in their careers is to not be married to the idea of how your career might exactly look,” says Clark, who majored in biology and global health at U of T. She then earned her doctor of naturopathy from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine. “Try new things, expect the unexpected and be open to opportunities and projects that at first glance might not be something you want to end up in.”

Chizoba Imoka, an education reform strategist and independent education consultant, also notes that success is subjective. 

“Define what success means for you beyond your career. Keep your eyes on that vision of success but stay open to the multiple pathways toward reaching your success destination,” she says.

Imoka, who earned a PhD in education policy and leadership at U of T, is featured on the Next Steps Young Alumni panel. 

“While having a sense of what you want to do beyond graduation is extremely helpful, stay open because life happens! Don't worry about having all the answers or having your ideal career path figured out from the onset,” she says. 

Adapt to the unexpected

Even “bad” jobs will help you grow, said Clark, the naturopathic doctor.

“Even a job you don’t love is an opportunity to learn,” she says. “I opened a business the day before the COVID-19 pandemic closed the province – having to pivot virtually and throw the entire marketing plan out the window was definitely not what we expected. I also didn’t expect how much I would love owning a business and thrive in the self-directed nature of it.”

Tapfuma Musewe says his career, too, went in an unexpected but positive direction. The managing director at private equity firm Raygan Mills, which invests in companies that provide essential goods and services to Africa's growing consumer segment, will be sitting on a panel about entrepreneurship.

Musewe obtained a bachelor of science degree in biology as a member of Innis College, a global executive master of business administration from U of T and a master's degree in theology from the Akrofi-Christaller Institute. He mentors students through Innis College’s Black Alumni Mentorship Program.

“Where I am today is not where I thought I would be early in my career,” Musewe says, “but at the same time, where I am makes perfect sense and brings me a sense of fulfilment that I probably would have missed if I took a more predictable path.”

Preparing for the long journey ahead by anticipating these unexpected turns will help students and recent grads succeed, he says. He suggests setting professional and personal goals, while remaining aware that these may change.

“Your success will be largely dependent on your ability to navigate uncertainty. Get comfortable with it and seek to future-proof yourself with skills that will provide you with some stability,” he says. “Maybe most importantly, be involved in your community and build strong relationships. These relationships will prove to be invaluable resources in your life.”


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