Ali Girard


4 tips for young job seekers in Vancouver

I’m currently organizing an event for IABC/BC Student Services, “IABC & Your Degree“, and as a result young job seekers have been on my mind. The panelists at the event will be addressing the question “how do I get there?” Basically, how they made the transition between the academic world and the workplace. In hearing a little bit about their experiences, I started to think back to my own the summer before last – specifically, what worked for me. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Treat Your Job Hunt Like a Job

This isn’t new advice, but it takes a lot of discipline. It’s so easy to play video games, watch Netflix, clean the bathroom… do anything instead of writing that cover letter. Or maybe you already have a part time job, are finishing your classes, etc. Whatever the case may be, you need to set time aside to deliberately look at job postings, tweak your resume, write cover letters, update your LinkedIn profile, and any other job-hunting related activities.

Knowing I work best in the morning, I got up early on weekdays to do those activities. Putting in my time in the morning also allowed me to avoid feeling guilty when I went for dinner with friends or camping on the weekend. However, I did take advantage of my flexible schedule by putting in the occasional weekday afternoon at the beach!

2. Take Advantage of Organizations and Programs

I joined the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) as a student, and it was a great benefit to me during my job hunt. The industry literature available kept me informed, and they have a members-only job board that I took advantage of. I’ll share the biggest benefit that I experienced from IABC/BC in point number four.

The other thing I took advantage of as a student was SFU Communication’s Co-op program. This might be a bit of a cheat as you have to start prior to graduation. However, it wasn’t just the professional experience I benefited from. If you have a good relationship with your co-op coordinator, they might be willing to step outside the boundaries of their job description and do you a favour. I was lucky enough to have a great co-op coordinator, who not only forwarded me the “unofficial” job description (the job duties minus all the HR-required jumble), but sent the hiring manager (a former co-op student herself) an email informing her of my application and recommending me as a candidate.

3. Volunteer in a Relevant Role

If you don’t have anything else on your plate while you’re job hunting, volunteering is a great thing to keep you balanced. It can fill a gap on your resume and help you sharpen your skills, while making sure your days aren’t spent despairing over job boards. Unfortunately, I couldn’t volunteer with IABC/BC while I was job hunting (it was the summer break), but I found a non-profit looking for someone to help them develop their digital communication strategy. Through that volunteer role I was able to continue to meet new people, flex my strategic planning muscles, and assemble and lead a team for the first time in my career. I was used the work as an example in cover letters and interviews, and I also learned a couple of valuable life lessons.

4. Buy People Coffee

Yes, this is a thing. Buy interesting people coffee, and they will impart their wisdom upon you.

I took two approaches: 1) I asked friends to introduce me to anyone that would be willing to talk to me about their careers. 2) I contacted IABC/BC members on LinkedIn directly and ask if they’d be willing to talk if I bought them a coffee. The latter was intimidating, of course, but to my surprise a majority of people said yes. It’s true what you read in all these kinds of blogs – people like to talk about themselves.

While these coffee chats didn’t lead me directly to my next job, they did result in a lot of new knowledge, and one resulted in a brief job shadow. In fact, Vancouver being such a small city, when I name-dropped in my interview to explain the research I had done I unknowingly named the former employer and mentor of one of my interviewers. They were impressed.

Coffee is one of the best job hunt investments you can make, in my opinion. Half the time, the person you’re talking to will insist on paying for your coffee, anyway.

If you’re interested in hearing more advice and perspectives on making the transition from the academic world to the workplace, check out “IABC & Your Degree“. I’m looking forward to seeing you there!

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  1. Luke Lafreniere |

    It took me a long time to write up a reply to this because of how much it related to my current workload. My company is currently purchasing a new office/warehouse and looking into hiring two more employees. What is different about this recruitment is that we are hiring technical people instead of editors/camera crew which we were looking for in every previous job posting.

    This means I will be their manager – And while I have sat in on every interview thus far, it is much more important this time around and I have found myself pouring over resumes for nights on end as we have quite a few applicants from all around the world.

    You posted this very well written article very early on in this search and I have been pondering my reply ever since – I must agree on all points, but here is a breakdown of my angle on things.

    Point 1 :
    Extremely important. When I am reading over endless resumes I can tell when you don’t care. This reply I am typing right now may not be perfect as I am trying to whip it off during a work break but if I notice even a small spelling mistake in your resume it will hurt you as attention to detail is extremely important at this job. Spend time with your resume, have others spend time with your resume, tweak it, improve it, make it more interesting and engaging.

    Point 2:
    Joining a program shows initiative. We are a small and lean start up company comprised of young, driven people – Passion finds passion, help me find you.

    Point 3:
    Much the same as point two in regards to my thoughts but I must add that this is an AMAZING way to get a portfolio going. For almost any job you can craft some sort of portfolio or raw example of your work… if you’re having trouble finding a way to do so look into volunteering.

    Point 4:
    Or lunch, or dinner, or whatever… I can’t say it has happened all that often but when people have reached out to me in this way not only does it make me feel important and respected but I WANT to help that person. This is invaluable. When someone wants to help you they will often go above and beyond what someone could be expected to do if they were obligated to do so. Even small tidbits of information from people working in a field can be incredibly valuable.

    Things to add:

    don’t make me ask for more, give it to me:
    References upon request – I hate this line. Maybe it’s just me but I feel like this was just a spam resume instead of one custom tailored to this job. This doesn’t make me want to pursue hiring you. This makes me want to grab the next resume and get to work building a profile for that person instead.

    Make me want to know more:
    Keeping your resume relatively short but then giving me some sort of a spring board is a very good idea. Link me to your website, your youtube page, your portfolio etc. If I am interested in you give me a reason and ammo to fight for you in our meetings before we call in interviews

    Anyways – sorry for the late reply, just thought I could be much more knowledgeable on the topic if I delayed!

    • Ali Girard |

      I’m glad that this post struck a chord with you, Luke! It’s funny who things can seem so clear when you’re sitting on the hiring side of the table. Having done a bit of hiring myself (both in contract recruitment and supporting hiring for my department) it’s also interesting to see how different people value different things when they’re looking to hire. For example, I really like it when someone looks at my LinkedIn profile before I interview them – especially if I’m looking to fill my old role. To me, it shows that they’re doing their research. However, to other people it comes across as just plain creepy.

      Building a portfolio is great advice, especially if you work in technology. Showing that you can do the work upfront makes the process easier on everyone. I’ve had experiences where people stuff their resumes with programming languages, and then you get to the technical component of the interview and realise that they have no idea what the hiring manager is talking about. Come on. If I can put together a better answer with a communication degree than you can with you bachelor of computer sciences and 5 years of programming experience, we have a big, big problem.

      Now I’m just starting to rant! But one more – I also hate “references available upon request.” I want to smack my forehead and say “duh” when I see it.

      Good luck with your hiring (and expansion!). I hope that you end up with the right people.


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