Elizabeth Walker

MA in Canadian Studies (1988)

  1. What field of work are you in, and what duties are required in your position?

I’m in the second phase of my career and have been working since 2012 as an independent consultant in the field of organization development and culture, and as an executive coach. Both roles require a lot of listening and observing, shifting perspectives, imagining possibilities, and supporting people as they plan for and manage change.

  1. What challenges did you face when looking for work after graduating?

The non-academic career path for a Literature graduate is rarely obvious! I knew I wanted to be a writer but I didn’t know that there were jobs for people with writing skills in business. I have a cartoon I cut out at the time that mocks the idea of English majors in business: “Translate these minutes into sonnet form, pronto!” I was thinking narrowly about working in creative fields but had no connections there. I worked in a variety of apparently unrelated jobs while I was in school and, in retrospect, all of them provided something—skills, experience, connections—that became part of a coherent narrative that helped me find a permanent position after graduating.

  1. How did you arrive at your current position?

The long way! I responded to an ad for “Writers” with the tech start-up Newbridge Networks and began an unlikely career in telecommunications writing user’s guides. Eventually I became the leader of global marketing communications for the French company Alcatel, and then head of operational marketing in Europe and other regions when Alcatel and Lucent merged. Working in an environment of constant change and leading people in times of great uncertainty stimulated my interest in organization behaviour and leadership development. When I returned to Canada after five years in Europe, I was determined to use my experience to help other leaders navigate change. Story-telling, character and plot development have been the golden thread throughout my working life. It was a natural move for me to become a coach and advisor.

  1. What advice would you give to a graduate student looking to follow a career path similar to yours?

Follow your interests, treat everything as a learning opportunity, think broadly about where you can apply your skills. If you were drawn to the study of literature because you love stories and the power of language to create worlds of possibility, the world needs you. Go with confidence and when you feel challenged or stuck, ask yourself “What would the hero do?”

Elizabeth Walker has been involved with Carleton’s Alumni Mentoring program. The Alumni Mentors program pairs motivated upper-year students and recent graduates with an alumni mentor. Mentors are established professionals who help students and recent graduates develop skills for the workplace and expand their professional networks.