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

  • When asking for a raise be confident. Don’t go in saying something like “I think maybe, possibly I need a raise” tell them you deserve a raise for x reasons. Do your homework and know your worth! Have a concrete number in mind and justifiable reasons.

    • Good one, Catherine! That actually reminds me of a story I need to include in next week’s post. :)

  • I think having a clear list of why you should get a raise would help too. I recently negotiated my salary at my new job and was pleased with the outcome (honestly, I’d’ve taken the job for like $10,000 less – but they don’t need to know that). Knowing the cost of living and what I would need to make to qualify for my own apartment here really helped.

  • Hi Cait , I stumbled upon your blog from RateHub last night. I just wanted to thank you for the marvelous writing I am a 20’s something living in Vancouver and even though I am a male you really connect with everyone really well. I realized wow I have never had a budget but now its time. I am in the process of purchasing my 2nd investment property but my finances have been all over the place.


    • Congrats on the second investment property, Anthony! And it’s always nice to hear when people connect with something I’ve written here. So, thank you for commenting. :)

  • Hi Cait

    Forgot to mention you have really inspired me too really look at whats important with my finanaces. I love what you do and its really pushing me reading all your blogs to do something I love instead of my current job as a letter carrier. I want to be an entrepreneur just taking those steps are really hard but I am hoping to there.


  • So I’m literally in the throes of accepting a new job offer. I promised myself I would negotiate this time but I didn’t, because the offer came in way above what I expected (as in, bang on the very most I might have dared to hope for but would not have asked for). #firstworldproblems. I don’t know if that means I seriously undervalue myself (it’s hard to accurately research salaries for these kinds of positions since they’re so new and there aren’t that many of these jobs around). Or maybe it’s just moving from publishing (which is basically the equivalent of nonprofit…) to a more commercial operation.

    I think I’ve been lucky in that my job offers to date have always been reasonable/generous.

    I’ve also never negotiated a raise yet – it’s kinda hard to ask for raises when you work in an industry/company that’s not actually making a profit. I wasn’t really at my first job long enough to ask for a raise anyway. In hindsight I should have asked for a raise in my second year in my current job but I left it a bit too long and then decided I was going travelling, and then decided I couldn’t in good conscience ask for a raise if I was going to be off a couple months later.

    • Congrats on the job offer, E! How exciting for you. :)

      I’ve never negotiated a raise before either. I was part of a union for 5 years, so all of my raises were just… obligatory, so to speak (and very minimal). And I was given a raise at my current job this past September, which I felt was fair, so no negotiation was needed.

  • Great questions and answers. As for the negotiating thing, it really comes down to having the facts to back up your ask. Know the salary and compensation you would expect in your situation in your area. If you’re already with the company and it’s a raise vs starting salary, make a case for the value you brought to your employer since you’ve been working there (keep track through the year if you might forget by the time performance assessments come up). Drop the qualifiers… I’ve been working on this a lot lately.

    I think the biggest trick I’ve learned is that silence can be scary, but it can also be powerful. Just waiting a bit longer in a live negotiation can sometimes be the difference between being walked over, and being respected with a good salary offer. I am by no means an expert, but I’ve just gone through this myself and got a 12.5% raise.

    I’ve included my post about my recent experience if anyone is interested (Cait, obviously delete if you’re not cool with it).

    • Totally cool with relevant links! Thanks for sharing your insights with readers, Alicia.

  • Hi Cait
    Thanks SOOOOO MUCH for posting the PayScale website. Last year I felt that I was making a lot less than others in my job. So I emailed 3 people in cities the same size as mine and posted what I made a month (to the penny) and asked them for feedback – they didn’t have to tell me what they made but I asked if they could let me know if it was more or less, good, fair or poor.
    Not one person told me. One told me to contact my HR department (I worked in an office of 8 people – we didn’t have one).
    So as for salary negotiations I’m coming up to my 1 year mark at my current job and I’m going to use PayScale (you know managers can’t argue with numbers).

    So glad I read your blog.

    • I remember you writing a comment about that before, Amy! I hope PayScale helps a bit. Good luck!

  • I highly recommend the book “Ask For It: How Women Can Use Negotiation to Get What They Really Want” by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. IMHO, it should be on every woman’s “must read” list, regardless of her age and employment status.

    And on another note, I’ve never regretted the $ and time I’ve spent on my education, and always felt my “perfect job” (which was where I worked with you) utilized the knowledge I gained from all the programs in which I enrolled.

    Keep up the great work, Cait!! Am rooting for you and am thrilled everytime you document another personal achievement.

  • Love this! As for salary negotiation tips, lord I’m still learning. Figuring out the average salary for your job using a site like Payscale is super important, and it’s also really important to never low-ball yourself just because you really want a job. I did that I grew bitter at my employer because of it. Definitely a learning experience. It’s difficult because you never want to be turned away for asking for money (or a raise), but nothing will happen if you don’t just do it!

    • It’s definitely important not to compromise yourself (including your salary expectations) just because you’re worried that you may not get the job. It may take multiple applications and job interviews, but the right one (with the right salary) will come along.

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