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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Finished university -- now what?

By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to The Sun

Post-graduation shock: it's a condition that creeps up on thousands of newly minted university graduates each spring when they find themselves trying to penetrate a less-than-hospitable job market. The lack of structure, rules and support systems that defined their university experience, says John A. Dwyer, leaves many students feeling helpless and frustrated.

"In university, you are used to people establishing all the guidelines and an agenda for you, and you can get by if you're not proactive and engaged," says Dwyer, co-author of A Practical Guide to Getting a Great Job After University (York University Press, 2003). "In the workforce, nobody will put up with you trying to get by on charm and image. After a while, everybody knows who's reliable and does the work."

Dwyer and colleague Thomas R. Klassen, both professors at York University, penned the guide as a way to help students maximize their school experiences and prepare for the labour market before leaving the ivory tower. Dwyer says many students fail to realize the value of the skills they've already mastered in the context of the job market.

"I find that people who've done well at university and then enter the workforce develop amnesia. They forget all the things they learned that really helped them," he says. "They need to understand that what they learned in the classroom can be relevant to a workplace."

The authors illustrate this point in the book: "Doing oral presentations, working in groups, meeting deadlines, overcoming challenges, looking at problems from different perspectives, concisely summarizing information, and dealing with peers and people in positions of authority are almost certainly involved to some extent in your ideal job."

The most involved students will be able to tweak their studies and attitudes so that they are also preparing for the workforce, Dwyer says.

"You can build your own unique interests into a smart career strategy," the authors write. "Once you have identified a particular area of interest, you can then explore this through a variety of courses. Over time, you will know more about the subject than most other people. This makes you more of an expert, and ultimately more marketable."
When a job interviewer asks you if there's anything you'd like to ask them, be prepared.
In A Practical Guide to Getting a Great Job After University, authors John A. Dwyer and Thomas R. Klassen offer these 10 useful questions:
  • Can you describe a typical day on the job?
  • What are your organization's three top goals during the coming year?
  • What are the biggest challenges in this position?
  • What are the major challenges facing your organization?
  • What are the career opportunities for someone who excels in this position?
  • What is your organization's management style or philosophy?
  • How do you rank this position in terms of the organization's bottom line?
  • What kinds of people succeed best in this organization?
  • What kinds of people have not succeeded in this organization?
  • What is your ideal employee?

  • When it's time to start job hunting, Dwyer says, begin researching the companies for which you want to work by visiting their web pages, attending industry events and talking to others in the profession.

    One valuable strategy Dwyer recommends is requesting information interviews with individuals working in your desired profession.

    "Find people in the job you want and ask what they enjoy about it and what it's like," he says. "This kind of information is invaluable in helping you hone certain skills and perhaps tone down others."

    For your first job, Dwyer says, be prepared to start at the bottom and do work you may not necessarily enjoy, but remember that it could be a stepping stone. Also, expect at first to find mainly contract work, but be aware that this lack of stability can work this to your benefit.

    "The great advantage of contract work is that you don't get too settled and cling to structures -- you have more flexibility, and you know this won't be your last job," he says.

    Dwyer says the guide is also useful to parents who may be misguidedly pressuring their children into "financially secure" professions -- a tactic that can prevent students from exploring the full range of career options.

    "Some parents don't understand how many kinds of jobs there are. Students need to be free to do some exploring and discover what really interests them."

    Ultimately, the more students invest of themselves in their university experience, Dwyer says, the more they will get out it at the time and later in life.

    "The more students enjoy university, relish it, chew it up and embrace it, the more chance they have of being really successful outside university and being happy," he says.

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