By Moira MacDonald
Special to the Toronto Sun
Don't wait until you graduate.
It's the title of a popular book by Keith Luscher, telling post-secondary students to "jump-start" their careers while they're still in school by taking advantage of non-academic and networking opportunities. It's a common refrain sung by career counsellors at colleges and universities too.
Preparing for the job search process early is "probably the worst thing [students] do," sighs Karen Fast, manager of the career centre at the Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning. Many students "wait until they graduate, and then they panic."
Instead, says Fast, students should take advantage of such opportunities as mock job interviews. Students go through a one-hour, one-on-one interview and get feedback from Humber counsellors on how they did. The centre also offers a free resume evaluation service.
"Often they don't use [the mock interview] until they're desperate, which is unfortunate because we see them at their lowest," says Fast.
Believing students need to start career planning early, Centennial College offers a workshop to prospective students called Towards Career Success, telling them what things they need to do both in and out of class, semester by semester, in order to be prepared for job seeking.
"What you need to do is add [skills] bit by bit so it's not overwhelming by the end," says Linda Lugli, a student employment adviser at the college.
At York University students can attend networking breakfasts with alumni who have gone into their chosen fields so students can see the breadth of career opportunities available to them.
WHAT STUDENTS COULD DO BETTER|
Karen Fast's Top Seven List:
Take a personal skills inventory. Other skills and life experiences besides your academic credentials can be valuable to employers too.
Use the Internet to learn all you can about prospective employers before you go in for an interview.
Develop a career portfolio throughout your post-secondary program. This includes all the documents and back-up information to support your academic and non-academic achievements. Include a list of references. Take it to the interview.
Create a self-marketing package. This includes a business card, a 30-second promo about who you are and your skills, a script to leave on an employer's voicemail when you can't reach the actual person and different styles of resume (e.g. electronic and paper)
Research job descriptions in your chosen area to see the common skills all employers are looking for.
Anticipate what a prospective employer's needs are, possible interview questions and your responses.
Visit your post-secondary institution's career centre or website well before you graduate such as www.careers.humber.ca; York's award-winning Career Cyberguide at www.yorku.ca/careers/cyberguide; www.centennialcollege.ca/findajob; or www.ryerson.ca/career.
"We're very much fans of 'planned happenstance,' " says Cathy Keates, manager of curriculum and service at York's career centre. That does not mean ignoring career planning but instead, taking an open-minded approach that allows students to explore their interests both in and out of class.
Students should also not ignore the growing importance of "soft skills" such as leadership, self-motivation and the ability to communicate well with others, career counsellors say. These are often developed through outside activities, both volunteer and even summer jobs that may not seem directly related to a person's chosen career field. Ryerson University offers a four-year mentoring program where students can build up their leadership and communication skills, as well as get helpful career prep advice from more senior people.
"From the time that students are first here we encourage them to be looking for opportunities, developing leadership skills and exploring their career options," says Liz Devine, skills development manager with Ryerson's student services department.
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