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How can I get experience if I can't get a job? Add to ...

THE SCENARIO

I am finding myself stuck in my job search. Every employer seems to want many years of work experience and, as a recent graduate, I just don't have this. It is extremely frustrating how narrow-minded many people seem to be about this. How are you supposed to get experience if no one gives you a chance? It doesn't seem to matter if you volunteer extensively, constantly answer job ads, and network. If you are a young person you may as well give up, in my view, because employers are just not interested. Do you have any suggestions?

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THE ADVICE

Although you may feel frustrated, there is hope out there, I promise. Let’s start by reviewing some do’s and don’ts to land that first postgraduate job:

Do narrow your search

The notion that “the more jobs I apply for, the better my chances of landing one” is often false. You would be amazed by how many people apply to random jobs without having relevant experience, which wastes everyone’s time. Focus specifically on companies that hire new graduates in your area of interest.

Don’t underestimate temp opportunities

Workers who are successful in temporary positions are often hired on as permanent employees. It happens all the time, but many job seekers don’t realize this. Temp work can offer fantastic learning opportunities and give you valuable experience.

Do ask for support

Many government programs encourage the hiring of new graduates. Research and take advantage of them.

I also spoke with some experts to get their advice for new grads. Lisa King, spokesperson for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, cited some specific government programs.

“The [federal]government’s Youth Employment Strategy helps youth make successful transitions to the workplace with programs such as Career Focus, Canada Summer Jobs and Skills Link,” she said. “Recent graduates can also find valuable information at youth.gc.ca, and workingincanada.gc.ca.”

Laurine Peters, recruitment manager at IBM Canada, said internships give students and new grads a great opportunity to get real job experience. “We offer hundreds of internships and co-op placements every year, and this gives us a chance to meet and work with upcoming graduates,” Ms. Peters said.

“We want students to communicate how their background demonstrates key capabilities such as leadership, team playing, communication, creativity and collaboration.”

Jennifer Presta is manager of global recruitment and human resource operations at American Express Canada. She said that when it comes to new graduates, her recruitment team looks for well-rounded individuals, who not only have good grades but are also active in their community, do volunteer work and participate in extra-curricular activities.

“I would advise new grads to highlight the transferable skills they gained through their previous summer job opportunities,” she said. “Whether they’ve worked in retail, or in a service-oriented industry, we want them to talk about how their skills can transfer into a corporate environment.”

The students who stand out the most are the ones who show initiative, Ms. Presta said. “They reach out to us via LinkedIn, they show us they’ve researched our organization beyond the first page of our website, and they demonstrate how they understand what we stand for.”

Your search will require hard work, investigative research, and some creative thinking. Stay optimistic, keep at it, and you will succeed.

Julie Labrie is the vice-president of BlueSky Personnel Solutions in Toronto.

Do you have a question on careers, labour law or management? Send it in to our panel of experts: careerquestion@globeandmail.com

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