Quintessential Career Profile of Jim Runka
Networking propels rock-star wanna-be from the Canadian Rockies to successful career in Australia
by Jim Runka as told to Katharine Hansen
Jim Runka, 41, describes himself as a “boy from the Canadian Rockies who took a chance on an opportunity and made his way, step-by-step, to a fulfilling career.”
His earliest ambition was to be a rock star. “Seriously!” he says. “I used to play drums to Beatles albums from the time I was six years old.” His pie-in-the-sky ambition is still to be a rock star.
“Hey, I’ve been playing electric guitar for the last three years,” he says. “I have a good friend who is a drummer and is moving back here from England, and we love the Blues. Pete’s always in a band of some sort. I may never be famous, but I will be playing on stage one day in the near future — probably more as a hobby. But I’m fulfilling the dream, just in a different way.”
Runka began to fulfill his career dreams nearly three years ago when he moved to Western Australia from Jasper, Canada. “I had no job, no contacts, no leads — and no idea how things operated here in Oz,” Runka recalls. “While it was a struggle to begin with, I am now in a full-time, well-paid position with the University of Western Australia Student Guild.”
Runka’s position with the Guild is education officer. “My primary role is to provide counseling and advocacy to students, along with managing a peer support program that I am setting up,” Runka explains. “The program uses volunteers to cover topics such as drugs and alcohol, sexuality and sexual health, and dating violence. Basically, I assist students with personal and educational issues that may be affecting their studies and their lives as a whole.”
Runka’s background is in career counseling and general counseling. “Much of my success is a result of my knowledge about career counseling,” Runka continues. “What I like most about my story is that much of the literature out there on networking, tapping into the hidden job market, having a top-notch resume, being able to sell yourself etc., really works.”
Runka describes his textbook case study in successful job-hunting this way: “When I arrived in Australia, I had no idea how anything really worked, and I didn’t like the idea of employment agencies finding work for me, because I believe no one can sell me better than myself. I was answering ads through the newspaper, but couldn’t quite nail one, although I came close a few times.”
“I hit the pavement cold and started networking through a government-funded employment agency — Job Link — to learn how things operated in Western Australia,” Runka relates. “I wanted to know what the government offered and provided in terms of career planning and assistance to people.”
Runka ended up volunteering there and assisted in writing an employment initiative funding proposal, which was submitted to the Department of Training. He ultimately secured a six-month contract with the department.
“Volunteering is absolutely one of the best ways to find work — I’ve seen it work so many times, both for myself and others,” Runka says enthusiastically. “And by the time I left the department, I had substantial experience to add to my resume.”
After he left, Runka set up his own career counseling business that he has been running for 18 months.
The initial impetus for Runka’s odyssey was not career ambition. He journeyed to Perth, Western Australia, “to pursue a relationship with my lady friend Tracey, whom I had met while she was living in Edmonton on a teaching exchange, which is a four-hour drive from Jasper,” Runka says. “We’ve been married now for two years, and having her support all along has made all the difference.”
Runka says the single biggest influence on the direction of his career was his mentor and good friend in Jasper. Meeting his mentor, in fact, was probably his luckiest break.
“He believed in my abilities and helped build my self-esteem. No one had ever said to me ‘You’re a smart guy, Mr. Runka,’ consistently over time, and in a way that I truly believed. My mentor gave me an opportunity to prove myself. What I learned was invaluable,” he states emphatically.
“If it weren’t for the way he helped me to build my self-esteem and develop skills,” Runka remembers, “there’s no way I would have believed in myself to make the successful transition from Canada to Western Australia.” Runka definitely recommends a mentor to anyone who is lucky enough to find one.
People who believed in him have continued to make their mark on Runka’s life and career, including the woman he describes as the best boss he ever had.
“She was only my boss for a year — my director who recently left from the UWA Guild. She gave me the chance, gave me lots of space, and lots of praise. She cared so much for her staff and always spoke in praise of their talent and professionalism. I don’t think you see that enough from employers,” Runka states.
You might expect Runka to say that making the move to Australia was the turning point that changed the direction of his career. But for him, an even bigger event was the day he gave notice to the company he was doing contract work for after the Western Australia Department of Training and Employment.
“I told them that if I was going to work that hard for that kind of money, I would rather work for myself. I also didn’t share their philosophy in the direction of the work I was doing, which was writing occupational profiles for the department’s new Web site [GetAccess] I had helped develop,” Runka states.
“So I rode off into the sunset to work full-time on my career-counseling business, and a month later found myself doing general counseling at the UWA Student Guild,” he notes. “I saw a newspaper ad and went for it. Definitely a serendipitous piece of good fortune, because when I really wanted a job through the newspaper, I couldn’t land one!” Runka says with a laugh.
“I probably would have felt extremely desperate for that job, had I still been working at a place that wasn’t meeting my expectations or needs, when I saw that ad,” Runka explains.
Runka feels the biggest factors in his career success have been believing in himself and taking calculated risks that had great potential to pay off.
“I have always felt that, even if things don’t work out, at least I tried and that’s more than a lot of people will do. There is always success in failure — it’s all how you look at it. Regret gets you nowhere,” he asserts.
“I think taking the chances to do something uniquely different throughout my life has probably been my greatest asset. I definitely believe my success is both from luck and talent. When you push your limits, that’s often when you find that bit of serendipity,” Runka states.
Runka firmly believes in balancing personal life with career.
“Work is only work,” he says. “Leave it at the door at the end of the day. You have to do it to the best of your ability, but you also have to spend a great deal of your life doing it.”
“Keep your needs simple. Too many people want what they haven’t got. Go home and appreciate your family for all the great things they give you — love, support, compassion, laughter and the like. Who cares if someone else has a bigger house or a newer car — they probably have a lot more debt and a lot fewer choices about what they want to do. The more you make, the more you spend, and the harder you need to work to maintain your lifestyle. It’s a vicious cycle that often detracts from the enjoyment of your family,” Runka says.
What does the future hold for the transplanted Canadian would-be rock star?
“I would like to go back into the Western Australia Department of Training and Employment on contract to do some work on career development initiatives,” says Runka. “Career development is definitely a passion. I would also like to expand my career-counseling business.”
“Also, my wife’s a teacher and in global demand. A year or two in the English countryside appeals to us. I’ll find work wherever we go,” Runka says.
“Right now, my wife and I want to have the mortgage paid off within five years so that we’re free to travel and holiday. I have better things to do than work five days a week, 9-5, for the rest of my life,” Runka says emphatically.
Of course, some of Runka’s ambitions don’t exactly align with his professed philosophies. “For some strange reason, I’ve always wanted to own a motel in a resort community. How ridiculous is that? I just said that I want to work less, not more!”
Runka continues to stay in training for rock-stardom. “I’m working out in the gym four or five times a week — rock stars don’t have beer bellies,” he grins.
And Runka’s advice to young people just starting out in their careers?
“Follow your passion and your intuition. Listen to what is inside,” he suggests. “I knew when I was 18 that I wanted to be a counselor; I just didn’t know how to get there. But you can do things like job-shadow or talk to people who do those jobs; you can do research and gather information over the Internet and talk to peak bodies that represent that industry, etc. The purpose is to find out all you can before you make your decision. Good decisions are based on good information.”
“And remember, whatever your choice is, it’s not something you have to do for the rest of your life. Set new goals as your needs and desires change,” Runka adds. “Listen to, and know yourself.”
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