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Career Advisor Jennifer Coombs speaks with student Eric Snow in Halifax (PAUL DARROW/GLOBE AND MAIL)
Career Advisor Jennifer Coombs speaks with student Eric Snow in Halifax (PAUL DARROW/GLOBE AND MAIL)

Careers

Start your job hunt early, students Add to ...

Eric Snow figures that, come the end of March, he'll have a summer job all lined up.

It's a pretty cocky attitude in the midst of an economy that has seen belt-tightening and layoffs. And it comes amid predictions of another summer that may match last year's, when the student jobless rate hit a dismal 19.2 per cent, the second-highest figure since comparable data began being compiled in 1977, according to Statistics Canada.

So why is Mr. Snow feeling so confident?

The 23-year-old student, wrapping up the first of a two-year masters in public administration program at Dalhousie University in Halifax, has been pounding the pavement for the past two months.

And he's flogging what he believes is his secret weapon: a résumé packed with volunteer and part-time jobs directly connected to his studies. He figures that makes him a prize catch for his summer-job target: a public-sector employer on the lookout for students armed with related experience.

The summer job hunt is on, and for students aiming to find work that will connect to their career path, employment and workplace experts say Mr. Snow's strategy is on the mark.

Not only did he make an early start - by the last week of February, he'd sent out more than a dozen résumés, with more ready to go - but he's long been preparing himself to impress potential employers.

During the past six months, he held a volunteer position as vice-president of the Dalhousie Association of Graduate Students. He has also had a paying job working for the university's school of public administration. Earlier in his university career, he volunteered with several other on- and off-campus groups.

He believes all that experience will stand him in good stead against the tide of other students he'll be competing against for this summer, and when he eventually searches for a full-time position, likely as a policy analyst. "Having practical experience... and being able to relate it to the job can help you set yourself apart from the flood of other applicants," Mr. Snow says.

Practical experience will help, says Anna Montesano, branch manager for the Vancouver office of staffing firm Robert Half International, who predicts this summer's student unemployment rate may match last year's. "By second or third year, students should be looking for jobs in the industry they want to work in."

There are many tactics students can take to get noticed, career experts say.

One key is to increase your visibility - and the Internet and social networking sites are ideal vehicles, says Lauren Friese, founder of Toronto-based TalentEgg.ca.

She says students need to "show off" when looking for jobs. One way: set up a personal website that includes on-line portfolios of work, articles that demonstrate expertise, and testimonials.

Blogging is another way to display what you've got to offer, especially if you keep up regular postings on topics that relate to the career you're focusing on, Ms. Friese suggests.

Students can drive employers to their websites or blogs in several ways, from setting up links on their electronic résumés, cover letters or e-mail signatures to making mention of them in Twitter posts, she says. Employers scouring the Web as part of their own recruitment efforts could well stumble upon your work, especially if it's in their industry, she adds.

"At the beginning of your career, you have no track record, so how is the HR department supposed to know you are good at something or what you have done to stand out? You need a novel way to show why you rock," she says.

Another little-used but valuable job-hunting tool to use on Facebook is to run targeted ads, says executive recruiter David Perry, managing partner of Perry-Martel International Inc. in Ottawa and the author of Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 2.0.

When people you have targeted - say, all marketing directors in Ontario or all sales managers in British Columbia - fire up their own Facebook pages, a photo and a tag line, such as "your company needs me," will automatically appear; when the person clicks on the photo, up pops a detailed ad that could include qualifications, testimonials, résumé and links to a personal website. "You are getting into the face of the person you want to have the interview with. You are also doing it in a way that is novel and tells them this guy has a lot on the ball," Mr. Perry says.

Another strategy he likes is what he refers to as the "coffee cup caper." That involves packaging an empty cup from one of the coffee chains with a one-page résumé, cover letter and contact information, and sending it off by courier to a boss you want to reach.

When the delivery is made, you get an e-mail confirmation and make a quick follow-up call to the recipient, saying, 'Here I am. You just got my package, can we have a chat?'

"The hardest part of getting a job is starting the conversation, and you've just started a conversation," Mr. Perry says.

Students should also make full use of school career service centres, says Laura Addicott, director of Dalhousie's centre. Mr. Snow, for instance, used the experts there to help polish his résumé and cover letter, and hone his interview techniques. He has also attended university job fairs and job information sessions set up by his school.

Networking is also key, says Aino Lokk, an employment counsellor at the career development and employment centre at Ryerson University. Mr. Snow has spent long hours connecting with every contact he has.

Students determined to gain meaningful experience should be willing to broaden their searches to include not only full-time jobs but also other career-enhancing options, ranging from internships to co-op jobs, temporary or volunteer work, the pros say. "Employers are looking for anything that demonstrates a strong work ethic," Ms. Montesano says. Even work that "may not pay money does bolster a résumé."

Reaching out to employers, rather than waiting for a job to be advertised, shows persistence and creativity. "Don't wait, create," says Carol Naylor, associate director of career development for the University of British Columbia.

A creative streak will give students an upper hand when Sybil Taylor, marketing communications director at Steam Whistle Brewery in Toronto, and her staff sift through applications for 10 summer positions as brewery tour guides.

Ms. Taylor remembers one applicant several years ago who delivered his résumé and cover letter in a Steam Whistle beer bottle, another who sent her résumé electronically with a link to her own cleverly designed website, and still another presented homemade muffins to the art director doing the hiring.

Ms. Taylor can't say which of these students were hired - but all were rewarded with interviews. "If you can show some character or personality, that will be memorable," she says, adding that less flashy strategies can also be effective.

She remembers landing her first beer industry job because she and the woman who hired her shared a love of rowing.

"If you can find a personal hook, use it," she says. "It's an employers' market and we get to pick, so try to stand out.''



SEARCH SMARTS

Start now

January through March are the key times for landing a summer job.

Do your homework

Research potential employers thoroughly. Check out corporate websites and read newspapers and annual reports to find information on companies and key contacts. Get in touch with key people to learn more about the company; ask for informational interviews.

Get noticed

Take advantage of the Internet to give yourself a high profile. Create a personal website, start a blog, take advantage of social networking sites to broadcast yourself, your expertise and your skills.

Use your school

Take full advantage of university and college career service centres, for everything from help with your résumé to interview techniques. Attend university job fairs and job information sessions set up by the university.

Focus

Tailor your résumé and cover letter for each job you apply to.

Network widely

Use school connections - from classmates to alumni to professors - as well as family, friends, neighbours, former bosses and people you've met through extra-curricular activities. Use social networking, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, to post your credentials and tell people you're looking for work.

Broaden your search

Beyond full-time work, look also at other potentially career-enhancing options, including co-op jobs, temporary work, volunteering and internships.

Pick a direction

Aim for summer positions relevant to your future career path; pitch experience that will catch an employer's eye.

Remember the basics

A neat cover letter and résumé, dressing well, showing up on time for the interview and sending thank-you notes later all pay off.

Interview smartly

Learn challenges the company faces and be ready with a response of how you'd handle them. Practise and prepare for interviews. Highlight your enthusiasm and eagerness to work hard and adapt to change. Follow up.

Randy Ray

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