Wanted: User experience designer at Focus21, a fast-growing startup in Kitchener, Ont.
By millennial standards, Filip Jadczak came to this high-tech job smack dab in the middle of Canada's so-called "Silicon Valley North" region in a surprisingly low-tech way: passing out his business card. A paper one.
"You basically have to try everything," he explains now. "You can't discount any method, especially as a new grad, because finding a job is so hard."
Focus21 Inc., which builds custom software platforms, actually approached Mr. Jadczak back in 2016 after pulling out his card after a networking event. They needed a freelance software designer for a new contract. But he was still in school, getting a degree in global business and digital arts at the University of Waterloo's Stratford, Ont., campus and was off studying abroad for a few months.
Although he couldn't take the gig, networking with tech companies in the area made sense while he was still a student, says Mr. Jadczak. He didn't know when one of his contacts might help him eventually.
That time and energy paid off. Only a couple of months after graduating in June of 2017, he noticed the user experience position listed on the job board site workintech.ca. Mr. Jadczak decided to send his résumé and portfolio directly to Focus21's founder. He still had the e-mail, after all. Within a few weeks Mr. Jadczak had the job.
This happy ending is what university and college graduates are hoping for once they're pounding the pavement looking for full-time work. But landing that all-important first job – particularly as the workplace landscape continues to sway toward high-tech positions requiring at least a few years of experience – can be frustrating. It's the age-old Catch-22. How do you get experience if no one is willing to hire you?
Maybe experience is the wrong thing on which to focus. As Mr. Jadczak's story illustrates, schmoozing, especially with those companies that have just recently launched or are in growth mode and are looking to hire numerous people quickly, may be more likely to lead to a job perfect for launching a career.
Startups and early-growth companies are known for giving hires more autonomy, a greater breadth of experience and the ability to make a bigger difference internally. And job searchers don't necessarily need a computer science degree to get in. There are also usually marketing and finance positions on offer, too.
Even high-school students should start learning how to network, says Michelle Cook, a career and education advisor and job-search strategist at Canada Career Counselling in Calgary.
"I really encourage students to get out there at the high-school level. Building references is a huge part of networking. If you can have somebody who will speak highly of you and your work ethic, when it comes time, you can present yourself in the best light," she says.
From learning how to navigate social media to standing out in a crowd, here are five other ways everyone from savvy high-school students to new graduates can use to stick their neck out to land the best possible role.
#1 Take matters into your own hands
School guidance counsellors are often swamped, juggling students' personal issues along with giving course selection advice, says Ms. Cook, so think of them as another added resource, not your personal career coach. Instead, take the initiative and start developing professional relationships on your own. Volunteer at a maker space, or try job-shadowing for a day at a local company that develops apps or software. Work part-time or join clubs at school. Anything that gets you out meeting people could lead to a job down the road.
#2 Ask your family for help
That means mom, dad, a favourite aunt or even close family friend. Many students, especially those in high school, feel uncomfortable talking themselves up to complete strangers. So start slow with the people you know best. Ask them if they can help connect you with someone who has a job in which you're interested. "The best way to get opportunities in this world is to rely on the people you know and are your advocates," says Ms. Cook.
#3 Some screen time is okay
Although networking face to face will get much better results than trying to land a job through social media, a computer is still a networker's best friend. Open a LinkedIn account with a professional photo and list of jobs and volunteer positions. (It's also a good way to keep track of accomplishments at school and in extracurricular activities.) Looking for local startup networking events? Eventbrite and meetup.com can help track them down.
#4 Rock your minority status
Sure, if you're the only woman in the room at an engineering networking shindig, it might feel intimidating. But according to Corey Johnson, a professor at the University of Waterloo who recently gave a popular networking workshop at a STEM and gender equity conference, being outnumbered isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"I would say, use that to your advantage. Make sure that people who are hiring or promoting know that you're the only woman there – and you are equally, if not more, qualified. They need you!" he says, adding, "Make yourself stand out, as opposed to worrying about blending in."
#5 Keep an open mind and think big
That's Duncan Gould's tactic when it comes to merging a STEM degree with networking opportunities. The 17-year-old high-school student from Guelph, Ont., plans to study physics next year either in Canada or Scotland. But rather than job-shadow researchers in a lab to build connections, last summer he took a job at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and almost singlehandedly ran a theatre space there, acting as ticket-taker, floor sweeper, light and sound technician, and usher. The experience will certainly look great on the teen's résumé, but the connections he made there could last a lifetime.
"I got to meet some really amazing people who I still keep in contact with," he says. "A physics degree can only teach you so much."