I’ve often heard people both laud and gripe about the broadness of GBDA as a program. It definitely isn’t an easy road to travel, especially when the road forks, turns, and loops around and around. Being a unique individual and professional in the GBDA community, however, is not hard at all. It’s actually quite the contrary; we’re encouraged and enabled to be different from each other, even if we all get the same degree at the end of the day. What’s difficult is setting yourself apart in a meaningful way that will give you an edge when starting your career.
Full disclaimer: I’m not some guru with decades upon decades of experience. I have some, and that’s where my opinions come from.
1. Specialize on your own time
When there are hundreds of people in your cohort alone who all have a very similar skill set as you and are trained in the exact same classes as you, it may seem like a daunting task to start applying for jobs. The thoughts of, “What makes me so special?” and “Why would they hire me when they can just hire that person instead?” might be keeping you up at night. You’re definitely not alone. Been there, done that.
There’s one common trait that I’ve noticed from successful GBDA students. They’re the ones who can embrace that they are a jack of all trades, but they also take the time to become masters of some. It’s no secret that our program introduces us to so many different areas of interest to the point that we don’t get to specialize and focus on a specific skill. It’s both a blessing and a curse. But there’s a beauty in this: we’re taught the fundamentals of so many different subjects by world-class professors. We can decide to take those core skills forward on our own time. We’re not forced to specialize in anything so we’re not pigeonholed into something we may end up hating. Admit it, you’ve probably changed interests a few times over the past few years. Can you imagine yourself just being a photographer forever? Didn’t you eventually pick up graphic design and dabble in videography? It’s a GBDA student’s story written over and over again.
If you find yourself getting more and more interested in a topic, go out there and look for the resources yourself! There are mountains of books and podcasts. There are an endless amount of free courses on Lynda, Khan Academy, and Youtube. There are professors who would gladly sit down with you and talk to you (shout out to professors like Karin Schmidlin and Laura Fong).
2. Get involved
Over the past two years, I’ve gotten involved with so many clubs and organizations on campus. There’s a direct correlation between my career growth and the time I put into extracurriculars. I found my first job at Now Creative Group as a Creative Content Producer by attending a lunch and learn event run by two of Communitech’s student ambassadors, Victoria Vandenberg and Katerina Durmanova. Vic and Kat have become good friends ever since, and I would never have landed my job nor would I have made such great connections if I didn’t attend that event. Contrary to popular belief, joining a club and being part of a team gives you industry related and transferrable professional experience. It’s like being part of a small company that’s run by highly capable students. And trust me when I say that there IS a club for you. Waterloo has a juggling club, a cheese club, and a philosophy club. Let that sink in.
Immersing yourself in something that you’re interested in beyond school is a very easy way to be different in a meaningful way. It’s also a fun and simple way to network, build long term relationships and diversify your perspectives without going too far out of your comfort zone.
3. Surround yourself with people who will push you
It can be very easy to sink into comfort and safety, especially when you’re surrounded by friends who may coddle you from time to time. While everyone does need that kind of friend, we also need people in our lives who will push us to go further and try harder. Ask yourself this: When I make a mistake, are there people around me who can call me out and help me improve? If the answer is no, it might be time to add more people to your circle who can give you constructive criticism and meaningful feedback.
As GBDA students, we’re surrounded by a lot of very social and friendly people. Take a look around and notice that we’re all cut from very similar cloths. The close proximity to likeminded people can be a good thing and a bad thing if you don’t know how to take advantage of it. Everyone can celebrate with you when you succeed and empathize with you when you mess up. This has the potential to create a bubble of positivity and glorification. Now, I’m not telling you to go out and look for people who are going to criticize you to no end. That’s not good either. What you should be looking for are people with whom you can celebrate your wins, support you through your losses, and prevent you from making the same mistakes. Treasure those friends that you can rely on to tell you the truth and frame it in a constructive way.
While this is not an exhaustive list on how to set yourself apart, it can start you off on the right track. Our program can seem very vague at times, and we can either take that as a bad thing or learn to appreciate it for what it offers us. Being different in a meaningful and career-oriented way is a struggle that people across all fields and faculties have difficulty with. It’s especially hard when there’s a lack of inherent specialization in your program, but hopefully, with these tips, you’ll be able to get ahead and reach your goals.
Kalil Magtoto, GBDA '21
Kalil Magtoto is a 2nd year GBDA student at the University of Waterloo. He is a passionate creative and tech enthusiast known for his unfailing drive and enthusiasm. As a content creator, he has won multiple awards and certifications. He’s now branching out his skillset into digital marketing strategy. He’s currently the Co-Lead for StarterHacks, creative producer for What’s Up Waterloo, and heavily involved with multiple other clubs and organizations at the University of Waterloo.
Instagram: @KalilSM @whatsupwaterloo Facebook: /whatsuploo