Networking in the City: It’s About Who You Are, Not Who You Know

Every post-secondary program is served with a side of advice to network aggressively.

“It’s about who you know, not what you know,” we’re told, “so you’d better start marathon shaking hands”.

Well, not so fast. Sure, people with an extensive network boast a unique advantage when it comes to landing jobs. They can save time by sending resumes to people they know will look at them. But for the most part, if a hiring manager or executive doesn’t believe you’ll vibe with their company, chances are you’re not getting the job.

Don’t believe me? Consider this: according to 67 percent of consultants surveyed by Workopolis, the top reason people don’t get the jobs they want is because they fail to set themselves apart from the competition. 

Let that sink in for a moment. The top reason isn’t lack of experience or a company insider’s referral: it’s a compatibility problem.

The Importance of Values in the Startup Scene

But what exactly does this mean? Differentiating yourself isn’t about standing out by any means necessary. If this were the case, we’d all be showing up to interviews drunk, toting a karaoke machine with every intention of using it in the name of making an impression. Clearly, companies are looking for something specific. And that something specific is:

Whether your values are aligned with theirs.

Nowhere is the urgency about values stronger than in the startup scene, particularly in Toronto’s flourishing tech ecosystem. Ninety percent of startups are expected to fail. With a fun statistic like that, startup founders are more interested in working towards their vision than convincing new recruits that their vision is great. Teaching you company policy takes the work of a week. Teaching you to share a company’s convictions, while not impossible, can take forever and even after that investment there’s no guarantee you’ll care. Consequently, who you are and what you value is very important to companies.

Companies Are On the Lookout for People Who “Get It”

The recent TechToronto Meetup powerfully drove this point home. The beauty of this monthly meetup hosted by TechToronto is the mini-presentations given by members of the tech community – just enough variety to leave you satisfied, but short enough to keep you engaged. The most recent event was a veritable smorgasbord of speakers ranging from a marketing manager in a biotech company to the married co-founders of a beauty review site to the hilariously straight-talking, potty mouthed CEO of a healthcare tech startup. While on the surface they could not be more different, what they all shared in common was a strong belief in the importance of people with shared values for the success of an organization. In each presentation, the speakers emphasized the importance of company culture and building solid teams.

Of course, a shared passion for eating is not going to overcome the fact that you don’t know how to code if you are applying for a developer position at a food delivery startup. On the other hand, if you have the necessary hard skills and demonstrate a commitment to creativity, user experience, and healthy eating, it’s clear to the person doing the hiring that you get what the organization is trying to accomplish.

At the end of the day, everyone’s just looking for people who “get it”. It’s why couples with seemingly opposite interests can work so well: they likely share core values about communication and personal growth. And it’s why an organization with teammates who fill different roles – technical, public relations, sales – can come together to make something greater than the sum of its parts.

The TechToronto Meetup and afterparty takes place every month for those looking for a job, those looking to hire, and those who just love learning about tech. The next event takes place December 5. Early bird tickets are $12, regular tickets are $20, and you can buy them at the door for $25.

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Featured image via Pexels

Should I Take a Second Language as an Elective?

By: Neya Abdi | @neyaabdi

Most discussions about electives revolve around two main questions:

  1. Is it easy?
  2. Will it make me more attractive to employers?

To be honest, the best approach to electives is taking courses you are interested in. You are more likely to show up, do the work, and find practical applications for the course material when you care about it. But I digress.

Conversations around electives routinely involve a discussion on the value of the elective. It’s a course you don’t have to take, so if you’re going to take it it should either boost up your CGPA or help you win jobs post-graduation.

Learning another language satisfies two of the most worthy considerations we’ve mentioned: it’s both lucrative and it’s a course that can be enjoyable. While learning a second (or third or fourth) language requires work, it can also be rewarding and impressive giving students more incentive to pursue it.

There are Thousands of Languages in the World – Which One Should I Learn First?

There are more than 6,500 spoken languages in the world, but roughly 2000 of those languages have no more than 1000 speakers. Of the remaining languages, only a few are offered at the university level.

French is one of the most popular languages for native English speakers to learn. Before English took over the global scene, French was the superstar. Today, it is still one of the official languages of a number of prominent international institutions (the United Nations being one of them). It also holds the cute title as the “language of love”.

For Canadians, learning French carries special importance. As one of our two official languages there is much to be gained from learning French in terms of employability. Those interested in a career in public service likely already know that the federal government is the largest employer in the country. And many other industries are increasingly interested in landing candidates who are English/French bilingual.

Look to Your Desired Industry and Your Interests When Choosing a Language To Learn

Of course, there may be some readers who are uninterested in the french language or who have no intentions of finding work in a field that requires French/English bilingualism. In that case, what are the best languages to learn?

There are several factors you should take into consideration in this case. Interested in pursuing a career in international affairs, global security, or energy? Arabic may be the language you want to pick up. There are numerous non-commercial reasons to learn Arabic, including its beautiful script and rich history. From an economic perspective it can also be a very lucrative language to learn considering our contemporary geopolitical climate.

But sometimes it is not just about the commercial benefits of a language. For instance, there has been growing conversation about the benefits of learning Mandarin. Some parents are rushing to put their children into schools that teach Mandarin to make them more competitive in a world that is witnessing China’s growth as a superpower. Other observers caution that parents (and students) shouldn’t be so hasty.

While there is some disagreement, the consensus is that Mandarin is a notoriously difficult language for native English speakers to learn to speak (and even more difficult to learn how to write). In an article for the Harvard Crimson, Jorge A. Araya talks about how the cost of learning Mandarin will likely lead to a global situation where native Mandarin speakers are more likely to pick up English. While the actual difficulty of learning Mandarin could be argued back and forth (difficult for whom, exactly?) sinologist David Moser confirms how tough the language is in his hilarious, slightly bitter article “Why Chinese is so Damn Hard” that tackles the linguistic and cultural gap between East and West. In the case of Mandarin, students must have a distinct interest in learning the language because purely monetary motivation will only get them so far.

Languages Are Fun and Rewarding to Learn, Whatever the Motivation

Then again if ease is what you are looking for, consider learning how to habla espanol. For English speakers, it is considered an extremely easy language to learn. The shared cognates and the relatively simple grammatical rules make the language accessible. And Spanish just sounds sexy, even when you can barely speak it, so the motivation to become fluent will be extra strong.

Whichever language you choose to take, selecting any language as an elective is a great choice to make. Learning how to communicate with a million (or in the case of Mandarin, a billion) more people than you could with only your mother tongue is a beautiful thing. And a nice way to supplement a well-rounded, global education.

The Big Short an unpretentious portrayal of the financial crisis

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Director: Adam McKay
Writers: Charles Randolph, Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling

Now that we’ve gained enough distance from the financial crisis, we’re sure to see more films like The Big Short. In the years since, films about the financial crisis have mostly been limited to documentaries with the topic occasionally coming up in character backstories or in very earnest, matter of fact dramatizations like the 2011 film Margin Call. The Big Short is definitely not a film that takes itself too seriously. It’s a lively film that has a noticeably fun time indicting the behaviour that led to the 2008 collapse.

The Big Short starts a couple years before the key event. It’s the mid-2000s and everybody in the financial industry – from investment bankers to mortgage brokers – is living large. Shady investment practices are legitimized by the widely-held belief that anything backed by mortgages is solid because “who doesn’t pay their mortgage?” One hedge fund manager, Dr. Michael Burry, begins to look into the individual mortgages that make up the mortgage-backed securities, which not many have bothered doing, and notices that they are not as reliable as they’ve been described. So Burry predicts that this credit bubble, which everyone doesn’t want to acknowledge, will burst in 2007 and begins approaching big banks to buy insurance against mortgage-backed securities. Of course, the banks are only too happy to provide this because they can make big bucks off the premiums Burry must pay while they sit pretty in their belief that nothing will ever happen to the housing market. Other players, including the crusading Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his hedge fund, and two savvy young investors, Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley, catch wind of Burry’s actions and begin to do the same. Essentially, as one character puts it, they are betting against the U.S. economy.

Ryan Gosling is an engaging narrator as Jared Vennett. From the jump, he informs the audience that he isn’t the hero of the story, but you develop a respect for his ability to not let his self-interest cloud his ability to see the truth. While everyone dismisses Burry as a lunatic creating big paydays for Wall Street, Vennett is eager to see what’s up. Carell is an audience favourite as the designated bullshit sniffer and caller. One of the standout performances is by Jeremy Strong as Vinnie Daniel, a member of Carell’s hedge fund team. He is refreshing to watch as the brash New Yorker who hasn’t allowed his fancy job to turn him into a brown noser or a liar. But the – dare I say Oscar? – biggest props must go to Christian Bale in his role as Michael Burry. His portrayal of Burry’s awkwardness is generous without being glamorous. You root for Burry throughout the movie, but that’s because we already know he’s the hero of the story. If you’d just met him you may have possibly been one of the many people who dismissed Burry, or in the cases of some of the characters in the movie, laughed while taking his money. But we also grow to like him due to his honest and – despite his self-described social awkwardness – self-assuredness.

The Big Short is a spirited and self-aware depiction of the financial crisis. Its portrayal of the colourful characters and outcasts who challenged the status quo by asking questions and refusing to place their trust in authority figures position them as ready made heroes. Their commitment to their work (in Burry’s case), the truth (in Baum’s case) and their future (in the case of Jamie and Charlie) is a source of mild frustration to their families and derision by their colleagues.

It’s also a self-reflective film. Wall Street made much of what they were doing sound incredibly complex leaving the average person eager to leave it to the guys in suits, and the guys in suits to trust what they’ve been told. Past movies that handle the financial industry often fall into the trap of using this same jargon, leaving the audience unable to follow along with the technical details and just satisfy themselves with the obvious drama. Through The Big Short, characters break the fourth wall to explain different concepts. Actors and entertainers make cameo appearances to explain certain concepts, hence why Margot Robbie shows up in a bubble bath to explain mortgage-backed securities and subprime mortgages. And it’s a great way to remind the audience that The Big Short knows what it’s doing. For instance, as the events of the film move from 2005 up to the financial crisis, the story is punctuated by pop culture references in the form of clips from The Hills to music videos, as a way to remind us of all the things we were distracting ourselves with while all of this was happening. By including those cameos, the movie recognizes the irony in using itself, a form of media, to tell people to stop being so damn distracted by media.

But beyond hilarious clips of Lauren Conrad on The Hills, The Big Short does something even more remarkable. It reprimands us as individuals – not simply for our distraction but for our own actions that contributed to the culture of self-interest and dishonesty that led to the crash. Throughout the film, we’re introduced to different characters that work in important institutions, albeit in the middle ranks. A woman at the ratings agency that isn’t responsibly evaluating the securities outright says that her hands are tied because she has a boss to answer to and anyway, the banks will just walk on over to the competition. We all use that justification in our everyday lives, so at what point do we stop? Naturally, if you’re using the go along to get along mentality to get ahead once you get to the top it’s most likely you’ll continue compromising your integrity because you’ve convinced yourself that’s the way things are. While the movie does not place the blame on average people – it’s clear in its criticism of the financial industry – it doesn’t allow the audience to consider itself victims.

We learn that Burry goes on to focus his investment interests on one resource: water. Who hasn’t heard the saying, “Today’s wars were fought over oil. Tomorrow’s wars will be fought over water.” After spending two hours wondering why on earth no one will listen to this Burry guy, we go off to dinner unconcerned about the future he’s currently thinking about. Perhaps the most disturbing takeaway from this movie isn’t how little we knew, but what little action we’re willing to take even once we do know.

Spotlight an intelligent film about institutions and responsibility

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Director: Tom McCarthy
Writers: Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams

The first thing you notice about Spotlight is all the greys and blues. Decidedly dreary, the lighting and colour scheme is a fitting choice since there is absolutely nothing cheerful about the subject matter. Focused on the story of the widespread sexual abuse of children by members of the Catholic Church, the film focuses on the investigative reporters of The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team that broke the story in 2003.

Prior to the start of their investigation, the team is anxious about their future in the midst of a changing media landscape. From the beginning of Spotlight it’s clear that this is a movie that highlights the self-preservation of institutions not only by the Church, but by the newspaper industry as well – the Church when it comes to a monopoly on morality, and print media when it comes to relevance. Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) is brought in as the new editor of the Globe and quickly questions why the smattering of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church has not been more thoroughly investigated. It is the sort of long-term investigative work that the Spotlight team specializes in, and it’s clear that tackling this story is one way to prove the team’s relevance to a changing audience beginning to prioritize quick news stories over in-depth reporting. The script allows room to incorporate factors like timing and proper coverage of a story, effectively demonstrating how complicated it is to do something as simple as tell the truth.

Consequently, the audience is able to feel the same frustration as Spotlight’s journalists. Victims are understandably hesitant to talk, there is resistance from high profile figures and profiteering lawyers, and maddening legalities that stand in the way of giving the team access to damning documents. Incidentally, using the challenging nature of accessing sealed documents as a key plot device effectively maintained an appropriate degree of suspense during the movie.

I say appropriately because injecting this film with high drama would have been ludicrous, and mildly inappropriate. It’s a biographical drama; a thriller it is not. Spotlight is an exploration of individual responsibility in the context of institutions. It’s exceptionally easy to condemn horrific acts after the fact, but it is desperately hard to point it out while it remains protected by the institutions whose credibility could be undermined by such exposure. These institutions, which are not just limited to churches, but schools and even the family, provide a convenient framework for dismissing unacceptable behaviour through constant reminders of the chaos that would ensue should they no longer exist to provide structure. That lack of structure is portrayed as infinitely worse than the institution’s flaws. Instead it’s seen as better to suffer in silence for the greater good, even if a great number of people are suffering.

Spotlight is not a movie that condemns religion. In fact it spends a fair amount of time examining the prominent role religion plays in the lives of the Spotlight team, all of whom were admittedly raised Catholic though they’ve largely lapsed. Sasha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) is unable to take her grandmother to church anymore once she learns more about the widespread abuse. As an audience, we witness her concern over shaking her grandmother’s faith, but beyond that we watch the Spotlight team losing a religion they didn’t know they still had. Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) admits to Pfieffer that while he did stop going to church, he enjoyed it as a kid, and always thought that someday he’d want to go back – a feeling that is broken now. Instead of being a film that condemns religion it examines the difference between faith and organized religion. Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), a lawyer advocating for abuse victims, admits that he is Christian; he just doesn’t go to church. For him, the Church is an institution made up of men and is fleeting, but faith itself is eternal.

Garabedian’s words are one of many references to the fact that institutions are simply a collection of ideas and individuals. Throughout the movie we hear stories of families who cooperated by keeping the abuse quiet in an effort to honour the directives of the Church. At one point a cop, whose ideology, if any, should be to serve and protect, tells one of the Spotlight reporters, “Nobody wants to cuff a priest.” Finally, a system’s vulnerability to change is made clear by Garabedian who explains that it takes an outsider to come in and change things – in his case he is an Armenian while Baron is Jewish. Makes sense considering an outsider will experience more difficulty and confusion about the flimsy logic of “how things have always been”. They are less accepting of people’s reasoning that they are just doing their job, keeping their heads down, or protecting themselves. Garabedian says at one point, “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.”

The film – if not entertaining due to its subject matter – is engaging. The script is smart, it doesn’t waste time on long-winded dialogue about guilt and shame, and it effectively conveys what we need to know about Boston’s people and culture. In one great scene, Baron is given a copy of the Catechism and told to consider it his guide to Boston. Spotlight is made up of an all-star cast that is enjoyable to watch no matter how hard the hair, makeup, and costume teams worked to make them look like burned out journalists. Spotlight is a great film, and easily worthy of its Oscar nods.