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A primer for student job hunters Add to ...

Summer's almost here and for university and college students, the arrival of warm weather signals the start of job-hunting season. Many of the new graduates will be looking for full-time work, preferably in their field of study, while the ones returning to school in September will be in search of summer jobs.

The job market can be tough for young Canadians, with unemployment in that demographic currently about 14 per cent. So we asked career and human resource experts for their tips and advice for young job seekers on how to find work and boost their career prospects.

Build a solid résumé

Students and new grads often struggle with their résumés because they feel they don't have enough work experience relevant to the jobs they're applying for. But they can still present themselves well on paper by emphasizing the contributions they made and the skills they learned on the job, said Peter Jeewan, CEO and president of Lannick Group of Companies, a Toronto-based recruitment firm that specializes in accounting, legal, IT and administrative placements.

Instead of simply listing the tasks that had to be done in a certain job, your résumé should describe what skills were used to complete these tasks, Mr. Jeewan said.

Nor should job seekers be shy when it comes to talking about their individual contributions.

"A mistake many students make is they tend to always speak about themselves as part of a group instead of talking about their individual accomplishments," he said. "For example, if they took part in a fundraising event, they'll say they participated in raising $1,000 for the event instead of saying they personally raised $1,000 for the event."

Of course, having a résumé that shows your ability to work as part of a team is important too, he said. He strongly advises students and new graduates to include team sports on their résumé.

"This tells potential employers that, yes, you can function well within a team setting," Mr. Jeewan said. "It also lets them know you have a competitive drive, which is useful in any role because it's what makes you want to succeed."

Do your research

Whether you're a new graduate or a seasoned worker, it's important to cover the basics of job hunting, said Eric Appleyard, manager of corporate recruitment and university relations talent management at Toronto-Dominion Bank. For starters, he stresses the importance of proofreading cover letters, résumés and any other written material sent to the recruiting company.

"Unfortunately, some students trip up on these things and we see things like typos, which are avoidable," he said.

With easy access to the Internet, students looking for work have no excuse for not doing their research about the hiring company and the job they're applying for, he said.

"This is more than just finding out what the company does," he explained. "By doing your research, you'll understand the core values of the organization and be able to relate these to your own values and traits, and you can come to the interview well prepared to highlight these attributes."

Look smart, dress smart

Money can be tight when you're on a student budget. Nevertheless, it's important to wear your best professional clothes for a job interview, Mr. Jeewan said.

"Dress as well as you can possibly afford, because people are very visual and you have that one opportunity to make a good impression," he said. "I always tell candidates, 'Don't buy the suit if you get the job, buy the suit because you want the job.' "

Mr. Appleyard agrees, adding that students don't need to break the bank to buy a Hugo Boss suit. What's more important, he said, is for a job seeker to come in looking clean and well groomed, with hair combed neatly, clothes freshly pressed and shoes polished and scuff-free.

"Sometimes students are rushed or they just pulled an all-nighter and they come in looking a bit rough for the interview," he said. "But it really doesn't take much to pull yourself together, and it makes all the difference because it shows you made an effort to look presentable."

Tap into your school's network

Universities and colleges are among the best places to make career connections, said Anna Cranston, director of management career services at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Most professors have ties to industry and are happy to recommend their good students to potential employers.

Schoolmates with jobs might also be able to open doors to their place of work; some might even be motivated by referral bonuses paid by their employer as a thank-you for recruiting a new worker.

Students and new grads should also remember to tap into their school's alumni network, Ms. Cranston said.

"Talk to the people in alumni or career services, or perhaps your alumni association, to find out how you can connect to alumni who are currently working in your field of interest," she said. "Many of these people are happy to help someone from their old university."

However, Ms. Cranston cautions against asking about work prospects too soon during these networking efforts. Instead, she suggests an informational interview, where a student or new graduate can inquire about the nature of a particular job or discipline, and ask for suggestions about breaking into a particular field.

An information interview doesn't have to take long, she noted. A 15-minute phone conversation can yield a lot of useful information - and set down the foundation of a long-term business relationship.

"If you do a good job at this conversation, you could establish a good relationship with the person on the other line," Ms. Cranston said. "Then maybe down the line, you could broach the topic and ask, 'Do you think there could be an opportunity for me in your organization?' "

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GETTING THE JUMP ON CAMPUS

Students who are heading into their graduate year of university or college should be poised to jump into job-hunting mode at the very start of that final year, said Anna Cranston, director of management career services at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

That's when most major companies looking to hire fresh graduates start recruiting on campus. "Companies like Microsoft, IBM, the big oil and gas, accounting and finance firms, they all start doing their job fairs in September and October, and by November they're interviewing and offering positions to the students they've chosen," Ms. Cranston said.

"So if you're one of the chosen ones, think what a great spot you'll be in for the rest of the school year because you know you've got a job to go to after graduation."

Companies recruiting on campus usually go through the school's career centre, Ms. Cranston noted, so it's a good idea to drop in regularly or at least check the centre's website for notices about job fairs and other networking events sponsored by hiring companies.

"A lot of people miss these opportunities because they're not looking for them and then it's too late," she said.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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