I just graduated with a Masters in Environment Studies from a local leading university and am looking for work.
I am in serious debt because my tuition was steep, and I have outstanding debts from my Bachelors’ program at the same university in history and political science. I am so well educated, but cannot seem to find work or a place for myself in the labour market.My work experience boils down to a part-time job at one of the local malls at a retail store which I have held since high school. I live with my parents and desperately want to start building a meaningful career in Environmental Studies and being self-sufficient, i.e. to become an adult. The university’s career centre as well as the program offers the occasional job posting, but it’s so competitive out there.
I just started to apply for opportunities with my resume and cover letter, but have not received any phone calls for interviews. Please could you help me figure out how I can obtain work in my field?
Signed: New Grad in Debt (NGID).
You are not alone; I worked on behalf of JVS Toronto at this year’s National Job Fair and met countless new grads from Masters and Bachelors programs from local universities and colleges, who were struggling to figure out how to fit into this competitive labour market with their education. The reality of the working world is quite daunting. As Kathryn Blaze Carlson illustrates about a recent chemical engineering graduate in her poignant article in The National Post on this topic, “The chemical engineering graduate, who has a second degree in bio-chemistry, was supposed to graduate from the University of Ottawa and begin a fulfilling career straight out of the academic gate — or so she hoped, expected, even. But her first professional job search has instead marked the first major false start of her adult life, ushering a painful reality check and a severe blow to her self-esteem.”
Further, the journalist points out a cultural shift, advising new graduates and their parents that “they should no longer expect a seamless school-to-work transition because a university degree is no longer the promised one-way ticket to a career. The on-ramp to adulthood is longer and twistier. Thirty is the new 25.”
Please do not despair. Here are a few tips and strategies to consider applying in order to start the process to building your career in your field (notice that I use the term process because this search requires the same amount, if not more time, effort, dedication, and commitment which you engaged in your education, with its papers, exams, studying and hard work):
- Research the labour market in your field. Identify current job descriptions which look interesting to you – ones which are appealing to you and to which you would love to apply, but are not yet qualified because you lack the experience required. Simultaneously identify the companies and departments where you would like to work one day.
- Analyze the data collected. What are the skills, experience, qualifications and education required in these job orders? What kinds of departments in companies are involved in your sector? Notice the language used in the job postings. Notice the language in the content of the company’s websites. Notice the hard skills and experience required. Highlight all these information.
Now that you understand the jobs out there and the companies to target, I recommend that you start doing the following:
- Information Interviews – identify managers/executives in the companies which would likely hire you if you had the experience required. Try to select those professionals who graduated from your university if possible. Cold call them and ask for an information session. To learn how to engage in an information session, please connect with an employment counsellor. This technique helps build your network, gather sector-specific information required for your resume and cover letter and you never know where this contact can lead you – maybe a job opportunity? Maybe a mentor?
- Volunteering – Unfortunately, it sounds like your course didn’t have an unpaid coop placement internship. So, now you must go and get this hard experience on your own. All those job postings, companies and departments which you identified in your research stages are potential volunteer placements for you, especially in the non-profit sector. (CharityVillage is a great web-based job board of all the jobs in the non-profit sector). Cold call the company’s President. Ask to see if you can volunteer. In a non-profit organization, call the volunteer department. Ask to volunteer in the department related to your field. Tell the volunteer coordinator that you will do the jobs which no one likes to do – Cold Calling (this will win every time – because nobody likes cold calling!), filing, photocopying, making coffee, or whatever they need help with. This is no time to be proud. Do whatever it takes to get your foot in the door and start building a reputation that you are a go-to person. Get noticed by your volunteering! You would be surprised how word spreads quickly. Once you prove yourself to your supervisor and team where you volunteer, you can start asking for more related work in your field. .Be flexible with the volunteer tasks This is a great strategy to network, secure some concrete and relevant experience on your resume, learn about your field, gain some references and be engaged in your field of choice and start building your career.
- Networking — Associations, clubs, sector-specific groups are great places to network in your field. Membership to many of the associations cost a lot of money. Research the ones which are appropriate for your sector and industry. Call the Executive Director or the Volunteer Coordinator at a suitable professional association and ask to volunteer. Again, as with volunteering, once you prove yourself, learn more about your field of choice, you can gain references, solid and relevant experience for your resume, expand your network in your sector and perhaps volunteer at the industry conferences and trade shows with professionals and experts in your field!
- Internships — There are programs and services that can help new grads secure Internships: One example of such a non-profit organisation is Career Edge, through which new grads apply for a paid internships. It’s highly competitive and only if the job developers at this non-profit organization have secured a placement available in your field will you have an opportunity. It’s still worthwhile to apply because you never know. Also, the provincial government has The Ontario Internship Program (OIP) student placement program — same story applies with Career Edge: way more applicants than opportunities, but you should still apply.
- Social Media — this a great forum to network and have access to the hidden job market. Get registered and complete your profile in LinkedIn and join its sector-specific groups. If you don’t see a suitable LinkedIn group, then start your own. Keep active in the groups. Prepare and maintain a professional profile in Facebook and if you are so inspired, create and monitor a Twitter account, too.
- Industry and sector-specific job boards — for example, for the environmental sector, I am familiar with Good Work Canada; you can Google other relevant job boards online. Register, subscribe, request job alerts to keep these jobs coming into your email bin.
- Keeping busy — keep a structure in your daily life while you look for work; participate in job search workshops, do something active or a hobby that you enjoy. This will keep you motivated and able to give your ‘all’ to the next opportunity that you come across.
I hope this is helpful. I really feel for you and your situation. You are bright, accomplished and lucky to have had the opportunity to have a fantastic education. However, education alone no longer gets people work; it’s icing on the cake. This misunderstanding of the labour market gets many job seekers in trouble. Notice that ‘Education’ is on the last page of the resume. ‘Relevant Professional Experience’ comes first – this is the priority in today’s labour market.
All the best,
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