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the job hunt

Job-seeking grads need to distinguish themselves in a competitive market.Christopher Futcher

For postsecondary graduates receiving degrees and diplomas in the weeks ahead, excitement about completing their programs may be tempered by the grim job landscape for young people.

The latest labour force survey from Statistics Canada revealed a decline of 19,000 jobs for youth aged 15-to-24 in April. The youth unemployment rate was at 14.5 per cent last month – about double the national average.

"Be very realistic and realize there is a general climate where there are less jobs, but that doesn't mean you won't be able to secure a job that's right for you," said Shirin Khamisa, a Toronto-based career counsellor and founder of Careers by Design.

Here are five ways for job-seeking grads to distinguish themselves in a competitive market:

1. Build a network

Do you have any professional contacts in your area of study or field of expertise? If not, start making connections. Attending industry events, joining a professional umbrella organization or engaging with people working in the field to ask about key needs in their area can help build your network, Ms. Khamisa said. "That's the really powerful thing in a job search when it's a tighter market – to get that face time with people who are in the field you'd like to work in."

2. Explore, then reach out

While many people will be keen to "jump right into job-search mode," Ms. Khamisa said that's not the best way to start a relationship with a potential contact.

The job search should be a time of exploration. It's often easier when individuals are initially seeking information and learning about a particular industry and the needs of an organization before hunting for a specific position, she noted.

"Reaching out and connecting takes courage ... and I guarantee you there will be times where people don't get back to you or are just too busy or aren't receptive," she said. "But the magic happens when you persevere and you keep going. And eventually, you will connect with a group of people who will help you and support you as you move forward."

When you reach the stage where you're submitting applications, a follow-up call is another way to show initiative, said Danielle Bragge, a partner with The Headhunters, a nation-wide recruitment firm.

It can be as simple as introducing yourself, mentioning your interest in the job you've applied for, and highlighting three quick reasons you'd make a great addition to the team, Ms. Bragge said. "When we do get those calls, I tell you, it takes the résumé from the bottom of the pile to the top of the pile," she said. While most résumés are directed to human resources, it's worthwhile to make the call, she added. "It may not go anywhere, but it's the difference between great and ordinary."

3. Give your CV a hook

Planning to blanket multiple companies with identical versions of your CV and cover letter? Don't do it.

The most common mistake made by job applicants is failing to tailor the document to each position and employer, Ms. Bragge said from Edmonton. "They really need to look closely at what are some of the key factors that employers are asking for," she said.

If a company says it is looking for someone to work in a fast-paced environment, use that as a chance to emphasize your experiences in that capacity, be it within a volunteer program or a past project, Ms. Bragge said.

Your résumé also needs to have a hook that distinguishes you from other applicants, she added. Even experiences not directly related to the job in question are worthy to consider including, such as being in a Toastmasters Club or playing sports, she said. "Anything that shows they have the motivation and the initiative needs to be included in their résumé."

4. Practice digital diligence

Many organizations use social networking sites such as LinkedIn for recruitment purposes, and Ms. Khamisa said establishing an online profile can offer added benefits. Beyond fostering connections, job seekers can be exposed to professional groups who convene online, she noted.

And clean up your online presence, such as your Facebook page, because employers could be watching, Ms. Bragge said.

5. Cultivate skills

Simply having the right diploma isn't sufficient any more; students have to develop their employability, said Bruno Castilloux, manager of career services at the University of Ottawa. "Transferrable skills are the new currency in the labour market," he said. An engineer, for example, could highlight his or her writing skills, such as reports, in addition to expertise and training in the field.

While new grads understandably want work in their chosen field, Mr. Castilloux noted that taking a job in an unrelated area is another good way to obtain experience and develop skills.

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