It’s that time of the year. I am about to graduated with a Bachelors’ degree in economics. I’ve been working for a law firm as a filing clerk on weekends, holidays and the occasional evening during my schooling to make extra money to pay off my debts incurred from the tuition. I am now ready to start building my career in economics. I have started applying for jobs, but cannot seem to get an interview. The university’s career centre as well as the program offers the occasional job posting, but it’s so competitive out there. Please could you help me figure out how I can fit into this competitive labour market.
Signed: Career Hunter
Dear Career Hunter,
You are not alone. I worked on behalf of JVS Toronto at this year’s National Job Fair and met countless new graduates 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 Blaze Carlson illustrates about a 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 and advises 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.”
But, don’t despair. There are several strategies to consider applying in order to start the process to building your career in your field. (Note the term “process” because this search requires the same amount, if not more, time, effort, dedication, and commitment which you engaged in your education, writing papers, preparing for exams and studying):
1. Start by conducting a targeted research for the job opportunities in your field of economics. Use social media, such as LinkedIn, to identify professionals who have an economics background and review their backgrounds, to get an idea of job openings as well as companies in your field. Identify current job descriptions which look interesting to you, to which you would love to apply one day when you have more experience. Also, identify the companies and departments where you would like to work one day.
2. Next, gather information about the skills, experience, qualifications and education required in these jobs.What kinds of departments in companies are involved in your sector? Notice the language used in the job postings, as well as in the content of the company websites. Notice the hard skills and experience required. Highlight all these information.
3. Develop a plan for targeting the companies and jobs you are interested in, using the following strategies:
- Conduct Information Interviews – identify managers or executives in the companies which would likely hire you if you had the experience required, and set out to meet with them and get advice and referrals
- Make a plan to volunteer – Unfortunately, it sounds like your course didn’t have an unpaid coop placement internship. So, now you might want to go and get this hard experience on your own. All those job postings and companies and departments which you identified in your research stages, are potential volunteer placements for you, especially in the non-profit sector (You will find a good list of recommended job boards for non-profit jobs on this blog here). If you’re feeling brave, cold-call the company’s president, and ask to see if you can volunteer. In a non-profit organization, call the volunteer department, and 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, such as cold-calling/fundraising (this will win every time – because nobody likes cold calling!), filing, photocopying, making coffee, whatever they need help with. This is no time to be proud; do whatever it takes to get your foot in the door and to start building a reputation that you are a “go-to” person. You will 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. 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!
- Join and contribute to associations, clubs, sector-specific groups, which can be very effective places to network in your field. Many of the associations charge fees to join, so research the ones which are appropriate for your sector and industry, call the Executive Director or the volunteer coordinator 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. LinkedIn’s groups provide a similar forum to engage in all of the above. If you don’t see a suitable LinkedIn group, start your own.
- Find programs that support new graduates, such as Career Edge, in which new graduates can apply for a paid internships. Keep in mind, however, that it is highly competitive and only if the job developers at this organization have secured a placement available in your field, you will have an opportunity.
- Search for government-funded student placement programs, such as the government of Ontario’s Internship Program . This too is a very popular program, with more applicants than opportunities, though it is still worth applying.
- Keep busy. Keep a structure in your daily life while you look for work.
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 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.