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This week's topic was job hunting: Are you a college or university student home for reading week and starting your summer job search? Are you graduating this year and wondering how to go about searching for a degree-related career? Philip Lim, manager of Ryerson University's career centre, and his team answered your questions.
Q: Would you recommend job agencies or do you feel they are only a temporary solution?
A: It all depends where you are in your career path and what your goals are in securing a job. Job agencies are often great at getting someone working who may be in a "I need a job to pay the bills" type of situation, a "I'm not sure where I am going or what I want" situation, or a situation where the person hasn't been working for a while. These entry jobs can be temporary assignments, something that leads to permanent work or something that helps you get some experience or connections to help you along your career path.
On the flip side, job agencies also have the ability to get you into the ever-growing number of large companies who exclusively use agencies for their hiring ... this can be for positions from entry level right up the ranks to top executives. This is often your only way to get into some these companies, and once there, it is your chance to market your skills and grow and move throughout the organization.
Different agencies may have different focuses - entry level, intermediate positions or top executive searches. Some agencies solely do aggressive, competitive searches for top talent on behalf of their clients. Some agencies serve all levels of placement for a few organizations, and there are now many agencies which specialize in serving only a certain industry (accounting, engineering, etc).
Do your research as to what the agency's focus is, and determine if the experiences you are likely to gain with this agency will be beneficial to your career. Set some goals for yourself along with some time frames and discuss these with your agency to ensure you will be growing professionally in your placements.
Q: This summer I will be returning back home for the three-month summer break. Unlike Toronto, the job opportunities aren't that vast (I live southwest of Owen Sound). The past few summers I have worked as a waitress. Although the tips are good, the job atmosphere isn't. Currently I'm in my second year of public relations at Humber College. I would love to get a job over the summer that would incorporate the skills that I have been trained with over the last four semesters. Any tips?
A: Start researching companies and organizations in your home community and surrounding area to see if they might benefit from hiring a student with PR skills. Publications such as The Canada Student Employment Guide, The Career Directory or Who's Hiring 2005 may give you some leads. Ask your local Chamber of Commerce for a list of companies in and close to your hometown, consult the Yellow Pages, or enlist the assistance of a reference librarian who can point out helpful directories to help you identify potential companies/associations. Talk to friends, family, neighbours to see if they can recommend any organizations you could connect with. Think about how you could use your PR skills to help any business, company or organization, even the restaurant where you have waitressed, to promote and expand their business.
Perhaps you may not be able to locate a PR position in town, but can you snag a contract or work for an organization that you can complete on your own time? Are there any small business or entrepreneurs in your community who might benefit from your knowledge? Is there a government agency or any business or service-oriented organization whose message should be shared with the people that live in your community? Perhaps they may be willing to hire you to be their spokesperson. Think creatively as to who might value the skills you have to offer, and pitch to them.
Q: My son is in Grade 11. I would like him to work during the summer holidays. I don't know where and how to find an appropriate job for him. I need your advice. Thanks, Sam.
A: Finding a summer job requires some searching and research. The more effort put into this search will result in the uncovering of more jobs, enabling your son to have some choice in what he chooses to do rather than limiting his choices to perhaps jobs he may not be interested in. This is an excellent opportunity for your son to explore the various methods employers utilize to post positions, especially jobs in the summer for students.
One important thing to keep in mind is that many employers begin their search for summer help in January and February, so it is very important not to leave this to the beginning of summer. Also, if you are beginning your search early, you are getting a head start on other job seekers (many of whom do wait to the last minute) and improving your chances. There are several websites with information on summer jobs at the following link on the Ryerson Career Centre website. Also, depending on where you live, there should be a youth employment centre in your area that can assist young people in finding work.
Q: I recently graduated from Waterloo with a general BA. I would like to try plumbing and have recently started a job as an apprentice, however, the company I am working for has decided to have me work in the office. I understand that the union opens up apprentice opportunities once a year, however I have not been able to get any information as to whether this program will be offered this year. Desperately need help. Any suggestions would be very welcomed. Thank you.
A: Since it is the unions that open up the apprenticeship opportunities, they would be my first point of contact to inquire if they plan on doing the same this year. If you know anyone who is a union member you could also see if they can speak on your behalf, in the way of making a recommendation regarding your candidacy for an apprenticeship position.
A union member may also have a handle on whether or not apprenticeship opportunities will be made available, and what the application process and time frame are. You might also wish to connect with the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities regarding skilled trades in the province of Ontario.
Q: If you don't have a job after graduating, is it better to move back home or start out on your own? It's cheaper to live at home but some people end up getting stuck there and get unmotivated. Is that true in your experience?
A: Many graduates move back home after graduation for a period of time before they start their careers. This is quite normal and should not impede your ability to land a good job. If you live at home, your financial obligations (rent, food, etc.) may not be as high and you may not have to take the first job that comes along. If you choose to move home, you must stay motivated and treat your job search as if it is a job. This means getting out of the house to do your job search work such as researching employers, applying for positions, etc.
Q: Is it better to go home and work there for the summer or stay in the city where your college is? I have to pay for my apartment regardless.
A: Consider which job you feel gives you the best experience for your resume. Also of course, the rate of pay must be considered as there are always bills to pay, especially as a student. A possible advantage to staying in the city could be the ability to take a course at night.
Q: My degree is in sociology, and after four years at university I still don't know what field of work I want to be in. I've been to the career centre at my university and taken all the aptitude tests, but nothing has come up that I think I want to do. I am thinking now that I should go on and do a master's degree until I figure out what I want to do, but my parents don't think that's a good idea. -Career confused
A: Pursuing a master's degree will not necessarily bring you any closer to determining fulfilling work options for yourself. You may want to spend some time focusing more upon yourself and the aspects of self (information that you should have gathered through your aptitude testing) that you'd like to express within your eventual work.
An exercise that can be helpful in narrowing your career direction is to write out a description of your ideal work. Try and avoid using job titles, but rather focus on the interests that you'd like to pursue, the skills that you'd like to be using and the values that you hope to satisfy through that work. Describe the kinds of problems, projects or issues with which you would be dealing, your ideal working conditions and people-environment, and the duties and tasks for which you'd be responsible. Try and incorporate your lifestyle needs and goals as well as where you see yourself 5 years from now.
Once this is completed, list the occupations that you believe would best combine the elements described in your ideal work description. Think broadly and creatively, avoiding the tendency to edit out opportunities too quickly. I strongly encourage you to share your results with people whose opinions you value and ask them to help you brainstorm other alternatives. This should generate some viable work options for you to consider and investigate further.
Q: I haven't really ever had a "job" - I worked in fast-food in high school but that's it, I haven't worked at all during university. Now that I'm graduating, I'm worried this lack of experience means I won't get a good job.
A: This is a very common situation. However, you should not be too hard on yourself. One of the things about being in school is that you are learning skills and gaining experience that can be used to show employers that you ARE able to work, even at an entry level. The packaging of who you are is very important, so getting some help from a career counsellor/coach on your marketing campaign (i.e. resume and cover letter) will help you to be one step closer in preparing your for today's labour market.
Often overlooked, but important to consider, is your involvement in groups/associations at school. What groups or clubs have you been involved in and how can you translate the skills gained from these situations that will allow an employer to see that you have rounded out your academic experience? Have you lead a team in organizing and event?Were you the "project manager"? Did the project get completed on time and on budget (two big considerations for employers)? These sorts of activities are very important to highlight during the job search process, as they often show details of your ability to MULTI-TASK. As well, the team work and leadership skills gained in such activities are also highly desired and will show an employer that you are a good "fit" for the company.
An additional way of showing the employer your talents is through volunteer activity. Have you been involved in any community activities? Have you raised any money for charity? Did you help seniors during the local church bazaar? Situations like these once again, teach you some very valuable and important skills that you can use to leverage your "fit" to the company. The ability to coordinate people or handle money or perform a fund raising functions speak to your transferable skills that could demonstrate for an employer that you can be an asset to their organization.
As you can see, although work experience is often sought in the job search arena, there are many ways to showcase skills and abilities that you do HAVE that make you a desirable candidate for employers. The key is in the packaging ... maintain that positivity and confidence and you'll be showing the employer that your ATTITUDE makes you a winner, and a good FIT for their company.
Q: I have to take a credit at university this spring, and I am worried this is going to put me at a disadvantage when applying for a summer job.
A: Try to find a job which compliments your course - or vice versa. For example, if you can take the course in the evening or on weekends, it may help you if you wish to search for job which would be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. Or you may wish to work evenings and weekends, so try to find a course scheduled during the daytime.
You may also be able to take this course at various colleges/universities which may also help when working out your schedule. Just try to sort it out early on, so you know what your limitations are and then work with them.
Q: Does it matter if my summer job has nothing to do with what career path I want after graduation? Or should I try for something related?
A: It's always nice to get a position that is related to your field of study, but if this is not possible look for a position or field of work that will allow you to gain transferable skills or experience in a similar environment. For instance, if your program of study is engineering but you end up getting a job as a server in a restaurant, there doesn't seem to be a lot in common between engineering and being a waiter. But if you start thinking of what it is that a waiter does, you will see that a number of the skills are the same as needed for engineering. Key among them is your use of interpersonal and communication skills. Perhaps there are daily specials to present to the patrons, or maybe they wish some clarification regarding menu items.
Listening attentively to patrons' preferences you may be able to guide them from a less suitable to a more suitable choice. Perhaps the patron is unhappy with a dish you have brought them - how quickly and efficiently do you resolve that problem?
You are also working in tandem with the other restaurant employees and the kitchen, further strengthening your team skills. Your attention to detail, e.g. filling a water glass before the patron asks, ensures that customer service standards are maintained.
So, what are the skills the server job has in common with engineering? They are: interpersonal skills, communication skills, listening skills, presentation skills, problem resolution skills,teammanship, attention to detail, and a customer service focus. In addition, the very fact that you are working shows the employer that you have a good work ethic.
So the fact that your summer work doesn't relate directly to your chosen career path doesn't mean that it's not a valuable experience.
Q: My question is in regards to salary expectations after graduation. What is the average salary university graduates can expect to make? Does it matter what type of degree they have? Thanks!
A: The salary really does have a lot to do with the type of degree you have as well as how much (if any) previous work experience you have. If you have done a successful co-op or internship within your field of study before you graduate - that should add to your marketability when searching for a job.