Getting a Job After University: Where to Begin

Monday, July 16, 2012


Graduation is scary. We all have to venture off into the real world, make money and support ourselves. What’s worse is the current job market is a constantly revolving door where employers want a bunch of experience for lower level/entry level positions, yet its very difficult for students and recent grads  get this experience in the first place. This causes a lot of fear, anxiety and overall dread for newly grads or those close to the end of their university career.

This column will cover some ideas and suggestions when it comes to building your resume, and hopefully provide you with a better job search outlook once you finish university. Now this isn't a fool proof plan, and I have yet to graduate from University myself, but hopefully this will give you a little motivation, open your eyes and make graduation seem a little less scary. 


Where to Begin?

It's hard to exactly pin point where to begin, but there are a few steps that you need to consider when it comes to future career choices. First off the type of hiring environment that you will enter is based on a bunch of factors;

1. The ones you can control; 

  • Your resume and the experience's you have gained
  • The way you prepare yourself for the hiring process
  • The way you present yourself 
  • The expectations you have when it comes to future job's that you may take
  • The network you build  (ie. career fairs you attend)
  • (Often a touchy subject but I believe it's true) The degree you choose

2. The ones you can't control;

  • The economy
  • The "lack" of jobs due to baby boomers retiring later
  • More temporary positions versus permanent positions available

These lists aren't exhaustive but they are meant to get you thinking of the different ways that you are able to control your future job prospects.


The Ones You Can Control

When it comes to building your resume and gaining valuable experience students often believe that by getting a university degree it simply means that you will get a job as soon as you graduate. In my dreams I wish that this were true, and that I would be able to land a $100,000 a year job right off the bat. This is pretty unrealistic, and unfortunately our grand expectations at making it big immediately upon graduation, are often the reasons why the older generations say that we are spoiled, entitled etc. I'm sure you have heard it before. The truth is, yes university is a lot harder than it used to be (I believe it and I'm sticking to it), we pay thousands more to get our 4 year degree than our parents, and most people who hold management jobs often have degrees in unrelated fields, but unfortunately its something that we have to overcome and not complain about. 

Here's what you can do.

Build a great resume before you hit the job market after graduation

  • Make the Most of Summers Jobs-The most important thing to do when looking for summer jobs, is to try and find jobs that are related to what you are studying. Straying away from your summer camp job, when you are studying in sciences may be your best bet, it may be good money, but will it be the best thing for you in the future when it comes to looking for jobs after graduation? Sometimes it is impossible to find a job related to your field, make sure to either volunteer, or make the job you do have work for you and really emphasize the transferable skills you have developed when applying for jobs.
  • Volunteer- I know it sounds super lame, and you don't have any time in between napping and watching the most recent episode of How I Met Your Mother but it's often a really good idea to do so even once a week, or even twice a month during the school year. It will provide you with relevant experience for what you want to do (in certain degree programs, real work experience is often hard to come by when it comes to paid jobs) and also look good on your resume since you now have developed excellent time management skills while taking that semester's course load and volunteering..
  • Virtual Internships/Internships- Internships are often seen as controversial at times, but they are also an excellent way to gain great experience that will help you get that PAID position later. It doesn't have to be with the company you interned for and it can also help you decide if it's really an industry that you want to work in. You can also use websites like SpringTern and take on a virtual internship, which is really convenient say..during school, and allows you to work from anywhere without being in the city that the business is located.
  • Join a Club-I have to say that I have failed to do so most of my high school and university career. Clubs offer an opportunity for you to network, build friendships, often make a difference and provide excellent examples of team work, communication, organization and time management on your resume and in interviews.  
  • Take courses at school that provide real world experience. For example at the University of Guelph they offer a course called CBaSE and it gives students the opportunity to work with a local business, network, and use skills learned at school in a real world setting. And it counts as a credit. Investigate at school, ask professors and see if there are any opportunities like these at your university, these would be excellent resume boosters and skill development opportunities.
  • Co-op- If you have the opportunity to opt into a co-op program at your university, do it. I am currently a co-op student, it gives you a better idea of what you want to do, gives you a lot of experience when it comes to the hiring process and ultimately gives you great job experience for when you finish school. Check out the Maclean's university co-op program listing here  
  • Check out the listings for jobs that you want to get. View the experience requirements for that job, do you have what's needed to be hired? If you don't find ways to develop the skills you need. 
  • Build your skills through online courses. Check out our tab on free/paid online courses to develop new skills or sharpen them, or even learn a lean language.


Being Prepared for the Job Hunting Process

Check out the tab on this blog about Job Hunting, and also make use of the resources at your university. There are often cover letter and resume editing resources and online resources for interviews and other job hunting related subjects.


The Network you Build

Have you developed a LinkedIn profile yet? Check out my LinkedIn 101 post

I have also recently found other sites online that provide further online image building opportunities

Some tips on how to build your network

  • Develop a web presence, but one that portrays you in a professional manner 
  • Hiring managers and recruiters will often Google you before an interview, if they like what they see its a good sign, if not you may not get the job 
  • Another great way to develop a network is through attendance at Career Fairs DURING university.
  • Make the connections before you head into the workforce, and you aren't panicked and nervous and also desperately trying to network and find a job after graduation. 
  • Build connections early, and lots of them, and make sure to stay in touch.

The Degree You Choose

Unfortunately the degree you choose can limit you to the career options you have available, it’s the honest and sometimes harsh truth. 

Check out the list from Canadian Business on the Best and Worst Jobs for 2012.

The most important advice I have ever received from anyone was make sure that you are studying and in turn pursue a career path in whatever makes you happy. What I have learned myself is to also make sure that what I love to do is practical and not going to leave me dirt poor.

I feel as though it's an even balance.

But one thing that as soon to be or recent graduates we need to remember is that we aren't going to go out there (for the most part anyways, I wish I loved economics more) and make a ridiculous amount of money. We will have to work hard, and we may have to move back in with our parents after we graduate. And of course always stay POSITIVE, your attitude and negativity towards the job hunting process will be picked up by the people trying to hire you, even though you may not realize it.

I hope that this provides an all around picture as to what YOU can do to help put yourself in the best situation possible when you graduate. 

Lauren Bernardo is a current University of Guelph Commerce student.  Her blog Cheap Students aims to help students save money and keep it. Her writing is inspired by her personal experiences as a student on a budget and by her love for saving money. 

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