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Tony Botelho engaging in conversation
March 11, 2024
5 mins read

Let’s talk careers: A Q&A with Tony Botelho

In August 2023, Tony Botelho became the new face of the UBC Career Centre. An award-winning leader in the field of career development, Tony came to UBC from Simon Fraser University, to lead the department that supports students in their transition to life after UBC.

In his role as Managing Director, Tony supports the Career Centre team in delivering top quality, accessible and evidence-based career development programming and support to UBC students. His role was created as part of UBC’s Student Strategic Plan goal to expand and enhance career supports

But once upon a time, Tony was a young man not unlike the students his team supports - partway through his university education and trying to figure out how to break the news to his parents that he wasn’t going to be an accountant after all. 

We chatted with Tony and he shared the personal story of his own post-university challenges, some of the misconceptions that students can have about careers, and the less obvious things a student can do to ease their career transitions (hint: it’s not necessarily to execute a foolproof plan!)

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. 

Looking back, what would you say were some of the biggest career-related challenges you faced as a student transitioning into a career? 

I went to university to be an accountant. This decision was based on the fact that one of my teachers told me I should go into accounting. I was pretty good at math, so I just said, “Oh, okay, I’ll be an accountant.” That was my entire thought process. I went to university with the full intention of being an accountant…until I took my first university accounting course and realized it wasn’t for me. 

I know now that changing your mind about what to study, and what your career might be, is a normal and even expected part of the process. But in my first years of university, coming from a small town with immigrant parents, I had no idea - the only path I saw was to choose something and stick to it. It was really scary to even think about changing my program. Meanwhile, my parents were out there, telling their friends and folks in our community, not that I was planning to be an accountant, but that I was an accountant. 

So as I was realizing that I needed to change majors, I had to process what that meant to me, personally, and then deal with my family and my community. It was not a fun place to be, but once I made that decision and started to move in a new direction, things started taking shape. 

I experienced my next major challenge after I graduated and I started looking for a job. I took my time at first, and did odd jobs here and there, and then started looking in earnest. Altogether, it took me about a year to land my first “real” post-university job. I remember so clearly how hard it was, and how alone and vulnerable I felt looking for work. I didn't know a lot about job searching, and I didn’t have a lot of context or connections, so I was just grasping at job postings. Eventually something landed, but even that was somewhat lucky. 

It was a really challenging transition - one that, in retrospect, I realize didn’t need to be as hard as it was. Every year, in every graduating class, I think about the students struggling with some version of this transition: questioning themselves, struggling, and feeling alone when they don't have to. I’m not saying the Career Centre can solve everything - transitions and change are hard - but there’s so much we can do to support that process and make it less difficult, and less lonely for students. 

What's the least obvious thing a student could do today that would help their career prospects when they graduate?

One thing I like to tell students is that it’s good to imagine. This just means taking an expansive view of your future, and being creative and open about what’s possible. Having this mindset can really open up pathways that you may never have imagined for yourself. To be clear, this doesn’t mean we can all be whatever we can imagine or want to be. It’s just that we don’t want students to feel artificially limited by what they currently see.

It’s also important to have some kind of strategy to help you explore the possibilities you have identified. This won’t look exactly the same for everyone, but it’s key to have a mix of activities. This could include a bit of work experience, or volunteering…it’s about looking for big and small ways to get involved in environments, organizations, and groups that are interesting to you. 

And finally, it’s important to connect with people. We all know about networking but its less obvious cousin is to just ask people questions. It could be your instructors, classmates, parents, parents’ friends, aunts, uncles, advisors - just get into the habit of being curious about the different things people do. You never know which conversation might trigger thoughts, ideas, or connections that might open up an opportunity or a pathway you might not have considered before. Being curious and engaging in those conversations is a great foundational thing to do.

Tony Botelho sitting in a chair in his office while looking up at someone, smiling and engaging in conversation

What’s a misconception about the transition from academics to careers that you often see?

There’s still this pervasive myth that the key to success in life is knowing exactly what you want to do and having a plan to get there. There's actually no evidence that this approach works. In fact, research shows that very few people end up doing what they thought they were going to do. Things change, people change, and plans definitely change. My career has been a series of jobs and roles that I hadn't initially considered, and then something in me changed, or some context around me changed. It’s so key to get into the habit of being curious, open-minded, and flexible because the norm is change. Things are always going to change. 

What might you say to a student who is anxious about finding work after graduation? 

There’s such a strong narrative out there that everyone else has it figured out, that “I’m the only one struggling”. It's actually the reverse - those who appear to be following a relatively linear career journey are absolutely the exception.

I often call this the Sydney Crosby or Wayne Gretzky phenomenon. People ask pro hockey players when they knew they’d make it to the NHL, and they’ll say it was when they were around nine years old. And so people think the key is, when you're around nine, you commit yourself to being a professional hockey player and that’s what will make you successful. What everyone forgets is how many tens of thousands of other kids said, at nine, that they were going to make it to the NHL. A linear career path is the exception. In reality the norm is messy and non-linear, and a lot of research shows that people who actually switch and change jobs more actually end up being happier in their careers. 

What’s a book you’ve read recently that you’ve really enjoyed?

I loved the Trickster trilogy by Eden Robinson. It's beautifully written and I'm also personally connected to it because it’s set around Kitimat where I grew up, and in East Vancouver, where I live now. A big part of why I enjoy the books and value them so much is because, growing up, I didn't realize I was living uninvited on Haisla territory. It's not something that was meaningfully discussed back then. I never properly appreciated the people and their stewardship of the land and it's important to me to make up for that. 

If you could be an instant expert in any skill or hobby, what would it be and why?

I love music. Outside of my admittedly superior triangle skills (in my opinion, the hero of the percussion section), I do not play any instruments. I'd love to be able to just pick up anything and play it. Those people who can go into a room where there's a guitar or a piano and just play…I would love to be able to do that.