You are in your first, second, third or even fourth year of your undergraduate experience. Graduation and entering the job market may seem a long way. It may seem somewhat premature, but there are things you can do now to prepare – particularly if you are in 3rd or 4th year.
You will be facing a very challenging market. In 2017, more than 250,000 students will graduate from Canadian universities, an increase of more than 10% from just 5 years ago. The number of university graduates is expected to continue to grow. At the same time, the Canadian economy is anemic and companies are just not hiring the way they used to.
The implications for graduates are significant. In its Labour Market Assessment 2015 the
Office of the Parliamentary Budget Office reported that 56% of university graduates under the age of 24 and 40% of the 25 to 34-year-old cohort were underemployed. Clearly, you want to avoid being members of these groups.
Research by the Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers published in 2013 indicated that the skillsets most valued by employers are:
- Communications Skills (Verbal)
- Teamwork Skills
- Analytical and Problem Solving Skills
- Strong Work Ethic
and employers’ most valued pre-screening criteria are:
- Integrated Learning (Co-op, Internship, Service Learning) and
- Extra-curricular activities (Clubs, Societies, Varsity Sports)
What this means is that you need to be able to tell stories about times when you demonstrated these skills in your resume, on your LinkedIn profile and in job interviews.
- Narrow Your Career Focus
Not many people know what they want to do/be when they grow up – many in mid-career still don’t. If everything/anything is a possibility it is impossible to take any concrete action – you will be spread a mile wide and an inch deep. There are several things you can do to narrow your focus even if it is to eliminate what you don’t want to do.
Assessment Instruments – MBTI and the Strong Interest Inventory are universally recognized instruments and used by millions of people in developing career strategies. MBTI assessment has helped millions of people worldwide gain insights about themselves and how they interact with others – and improve how they communicate, learn and work. The Strong Interest Inventory opens the world of work to first-time career seekers by identifying their interests and how they relate to various occupations and careers.
Both of these tools are available online at a modest cost however, you may want to work with someone who is accredited with these instruments to assist in the interpretation of results.
Be Inquisitive – Talk to your parents, relatives, neighbours and anyone who will give you 10 minutes, about what they do. Ask them about their industry and trends in it, their jobs and what they like about them, how they got to where they are and what advice they would give to someone considering their field. You may want to network with them when you actually hit the job market.
Keep Your Head Up – Read newspapers, magazines, blogs, anything – see if there is a company, industry or sector that resonates with you – it can just be a gut reaction. When you go to a bar or restaurant ask yourself if the hospitality industry could be a good fit for you. When you go shopping ask yourself about retail or the products you buy – “Would I like to be a product manager in the sporting goods sector?”.
Hone your verbal communications skills. Practice listening to what others are saying. Focus on the other person and actively listen – don’t think about the next assignment or what you are going to do on the weekend. Volunteer to give presentations in your classes – be the spokesperson for your group. Ask a friend to video or record you speaking – then review it and watch and listen for bad habits – how many times do you use the work “like” in a sentence? Do you fidget while you speak?
Join the debating society. Get involved in a theatrical production. Anything that will help you improve as a verbal communicator.
Employers are looking for people who can contribute as a team member and/or lead teams. Set up study groups or organize a project on campus. Join groups and clubs – strive for a leadership position.
Play an organized sport even if it is at the intramural level.
Analytic and Problem Solving Skills
Seek opportunities to develop and demonstrate your analytic and problem solving skills. If you are involved in extra-curricular activities volunteer to resolve an issue facing the group.
Strong Work Ethic
Work hard to excel academically. Strong academic results are indicators of drive and aspiration, a results focus, organization and planning skills – all of which are valued by employers. Get involved with a number of activities – it demonstrates an ability to prioritize, organize and plan your time.
Co-op programs, summer jobs and unpaid internships provide opportunities to:
- Learn about your field or industry of interest
- Apply knowledge acquired in the classroom
- Gain valuable work experience
- Decide if this is the right path for you
- Develop and build on skills
- Get a foot in the door at a company
- Gain valuable networking contacts
If your school offers co-op programs, consider transferring to one of them.
Start your search for a summer job in the fall for the next summer – do not leave it until the spring – it will be too late. Think about what you would like to get out of your summer job – refer to the above list. Target organizations that offer summer employment. Network, network, network – that is how you will find a good summer opportunity.
If you need to work and cannot find a relevant summer job, should you take something menial? The answer is “Yes”. It is better than doing nothing and there will likely be a way to position it on your resume and in interviews as being beneficial to you – acquiring a new skill or learning about an industry. A friend worked one summer as a telemarketer – within 6 years she was the CEO.
There has been a lot of discussion about the value of unpaid internships. Opponents claim that many organizations abuse them and that they are elitist in that only those who do not need to earn money for their education can take advantage of them. Regardless, employers perceive them as important in making hiring decisions. If you can afford it, find a relevant unpaid internship.
Working as a volunteer for a not-for-profit service organization offers a number of benefits. It shows an interest in working with and serving others as well as a commitment to community service. It is also indicative of initiative and can differentiate you from your competition. There are numerous organizations that provide “gap year” volunteer experiences.
The competition for good jobs is intense – you need to outperform your peers. Positioning yourself now for entry into the job market will differentiate you from your competition and pay huge dividends.