Backpack to Briefcase: A&S alumna Kara Naklicki on turning an A&S degree into a career

August 7, 2020 by Sarah MacFarlane - A&S News

How important are grades when applying to a job at the City of Toronto?

“It’s more about how you can articulate the work you’ve done and the skills you’ve acquired during your undergraduate degree,” says Faculty of Arts & Science alumna Kara Naklicki.

This is just one piece of advice she offered to students during her recent webinar, Tips for a Career with the City of Toronto. Naklicki is a planner in the city’s planning division, where she conducts research, analysis and mapping of land use, demographic, economic and development data.

Her career with the City of Toronto began with an internship during her undergraduate degree at U of T. As a member of Victoria College, she graduated in 2013 with an honours bachelor of arts in human geography and urban studies. She then earned a master of science in urban planning from U of T in 2015.

Naklicki’s presentation was part of the Backpack to Briefcase (b2B) Summer Alumni Speaker Series, which features interactive Zoom webinars open to all A&S students and recent graduates. The b2B program brings together students, recent graduates and alumni through networking events, mentorship meals and panel discussions. This summer, b2B has moved online, allowing students to continue gaining career advice and guidance from alumni amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

During her undergraduate degree, networking events and U of T’s Job Shadowing program taught Naklicki about the practical aspects of having a career after university — and that’s what motivated her to become an alumni volunteer.

Read as many job descriptions as you can — even the ones you don’t think you’re qualified for. Save postings for more senior jobs to get a sense of where you can go.

“It feels like paying it forward and doing the same thing for current students,” she says. “It’s also been beneficial for me because my team hires summer students every year. We've hired at least three people I met at b2B events.”

During her presentation, Naklicki provided an overview of the opportunities available to summer students. She outlined the hiring process and walked through specific job descriptions, highlighting key words for students to emphasize in their applications. She also offered many tips for students.

“Read as many job descriptions as you can — even the ones you don’t think you’re qualified for,” she urged. “Save postings for more senior jobs to get a sense of where you can go."

“I found the session very useful because it was so practical and specific to my planned career path,” says Denelle Carvalho, a fourth-year New College member studying diaspora and transnational studies and human geography with a focus in urban planning.

Having attended b2B events in the past, Carvalho says there are benefits to both in-person and online formats.

“A big part of attending these events in person is that you get to meet other students in your field, so you’re networking with your peers and the panelists,” she says. “You miss out on that aspect when it’s being done remotely.”

However, she says, the online format allowed Naklicki to focus on giving practical tips. “I think what’s even better than broad advice is that she was telling us about specific internships and entry-level jobs. She talked about the Toronto Employment Survey a lot, for example; she not only mentioned it in passing, but also outlined all the job requirements and how to write a resume for that job, the skills to highlight, the hiring process, the application period. She gave so much information on very specific action items going forward, so I found that very helpful.”

The session was particularly beneficial because she hopes to follow Naklicki’s career trajectory after graduation, Carvalho says. “It’s nice to see a career that models the one you’re aspiring for yourself.”

But Naklicki also has career advice for students in all fields. “If you're seeking an opportunity that you can't find, create it yourself. If you’re not sure if an organization hires interns, rather than just watching their website or emailing them to ask, make a proposal with a portfolio of your work. Think about what they do and what their challenges are. Go the extra step to create opportunities for yourself.

“A lot of times, organizations are just doing the status quo, and if someone has a really well-thought-out idea that has the potential to move their work forward, they’re definitely willing to consider it. With an open job posting, there might be hundreds of people applying. If you're proposing unique things, you have no competition.”

The Faculty of Arts & Science thanks U of T affinity partners MBNA and TD Insurance for their generous support of our b2B programs.