Getting a university education is an important step in making yourself a desirable candidate in the job market, but finding and being hired into a career after you’ve completed your education is a completely different challenge which many students struggle with.
Joy Poliquin, communications officer for UVic’s Co-operative Education Program and Career Services, says, “Don’t worry you’re not alone. I think it’s a very typical sort of panic when you graduate and think, ‘Okay, now what the heck do I do?’ But I would encourage students just to come and see us.” Career Services holds regular cover letter, resumé, interview, and social media workshops, which are great tools for students to cover the basics of finding work. But with so many students coming out of universities with degrees, there are extras that employers are looking for in that resumé or cover letter.
Sheryl Boswell, director of marketing for Monster.ca, says “In terms of grads, we’re starting to see that it’s becoming more and more important to round out your education with extracurricular activity or volunteer work or some kind of leadership programs within the community. Definitely just having that degree, it’s getting harder and harder to just rely on that.” Boswell also says there is a big trend in online networking with things such as LinkedIn and Monster’s own Facebook app BeKnown, which can be important tools in the job search and raising of your profile.
Poliquin echoes Boswell, and also encourages students to gain skills beyond their education. “Something that we recommend to our students is to get out there and volunteer. Just gaining things like time management skills, and teamwork skills, and all these things that they can then include on their resumé, and even though it wasn’t a full-time paid position, they’re still gaining really amazing work experience that they can then relate to employers when they graduate,” she says.
For those students that are able to fit in approximately an extra year to their degree, UVic’s co-op program is a great way to gain the skills and experience recommended while getting some sort of remuneration, most often in the form of a paycheque. A built-in part of the co-op program is not only the obvious work experience, but also seminars on things like cover letters and networking. Poliquin says, “That’s built into part of the co-op programs so that students are quite practiced by the time they’re looking for full-time work.” Students who have less time to spare may be more interested in the work experience program, which requires the completion of one or two work experiences during a degree, rather than the four required by co-op, while still gaining the same benefits.
Co-op, unlike internships which have come under fire lately with reports of abusive conditions, requires the students receive pay, room and board, or other similar compensation in place of pay, as well as a restriction of the amount of hours a student is worked. But Boswell does not suggest internships are necessarily bad. ”Every intern needs to look at it as you put as much into it as you get out of it. And it definitely gives you that foot in the door, and we see a lot of students who do these kinds of internship that it actually leads into something more permanent, so it’s another thing to think about,” she says.
UVic’s career services also offers the Horizons program and the Navigator program to students, which are meant to guide students on how to find the type of job they are interested in. They also look at a student’s interests if they are unsure of a career path and guide them to an area of work that fits their interests. However, Boswell notes a few particular fields that are going to have a higher demand for employees in upcoming years. “Definitely green energy and sustainability. That’s going to become more important in terms of monitoring our environment, and the other big one is health care. As baby boomers are starting to retire and grow older, there’s the demand for health care workers.” Boswell says that sectors such as finance, engineering, and information technology are also still strong areas of employment.
While Boswell and Poliquin both suggest there are lots of resources out there for students, it is each individual student that needs to take advantage of these opportunities and make themselves stand out in the competitive workforce. As Boswell says, “it’s never too early to start, and it’s certainly not a passive sport.”