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The question

What would you suggest to start a job hunt for a newly graduated in environmental engineering from Carleton University who also has got her first degree in biology. I would broaden the topic to add something like this: How do I decide where to focus my job search efforts? How do I find companies who would hire someone with this kind of educational background? Beyond looking at job ads, is there a good way to find out what kinds of companies might be in need of someone with my educational background?

The answer

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The key to a strong and successful job search boils down to two things – research and networking. Some of us know exactly what we want to look for after graduation. Some of us are not so sure. Either way, research and networking will find you gathering the right information, meeting with influential people, getting job leads (before they are advertised) and landing that right opportunity.

If you are not so sure where to go from here, I would ask you this question to start: What made you go into firstly, biology and then environmental engineering? What role or function have had your eye on during your studies? If you enjoy both, how can you combine the two? Answer these questions first, and then you should have a starting point for your job search.

Next, research what you know you like. The Internet is full of different occupations and descriptions for that kind of work. Check with provincial government occupation sources, such as ALIS (Alberta Learning Information Service), which lists career, education and employment options, as well as salary information and entry requirements. Get a better idea of what you are looking for.

Next is to contact your network, preferably in the area you would like to work. If the people you know do not work directly in that area, ask them if they know of someone that does. Ask people such as your professors and academic advisers for assistance. Get creative in finding out who can help you.

Speak to those people and explain that you are not calling for a job, but researching the market and looking for information about the department, roles and challenges in a specific area and ask if you can meet them for 20 minutes. They know you are looking for employment but people get put off when someone calls looking for work.

You want to get in front of that person, and this is the most effective way to do it. Make a good impression by asking thoughtful, intelligent questions about the area you want to work in. Dress the part (this is a business meeting) and ask if there is anyone else they can recommend you can talk to for research purposes. This will widen your network.

The next day, send them a thank you e-mail, and invite them to join your LinkedIn network (if you don't already have one – get one). See who is on their LinkedIn network and ask if they can make an introduction for you, again for research purposes.

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All this sounds like a lot of work but it is the single best and most proven way of landing a great job. Scouring job boards all day is reactive and you cannot expect companies to piece together how your background would fit with them. You should be telling them how you fit, and you will know this from your research and networking.

Eileen Dooley is a certified coach and lead consultant for Cam McRae Consulting in Calgary.

Have a question about careers, labour law or management? Send it to our panel of experts: careerquestion@globeandmail.com Your name and address will be kept confidential.

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