What young people need to know about landing their first jobs

Several Alberta employment experts talk about how young Calgarians might land their first job in a difficult but recovering job market.

Employment experts offer tips for getting hired

A new generation of job seekers is lining up beside thousands of Albetans who are looking to find work in the province's recovering economy. Employment experts spoke to Alberta@Noon on Tuesday who offered advice to young people hoping to land their first jobs. (David Ryder/Bloomberg)

As thousands of Calgarians reinvent themselves in order to adopt to the recovering Alberta economy, a new generation of young job seekers are also entering the market in search of that elusive first job. 

Judy Aldous spoke to several employment experts Tuesday on Alberta at Noon, as well as callers and tweeters who all weighed in with advice for how first-time job seekers —short on experience but long on enthusiasm — can land that all-important first job.

Thousands of young people attended the Calgary Youth Hiring Fair Tuesday to get face time with over 80 different employers, all of whom have hung a Help Wanted sign for the upcoming summer season.

According to City of Calgary's Youth Employment Centre community liaison Jennifer MacSween, that means over 5,000 summer jobs up for grabs.

"Anything from trades to hospitality, non-profit, government logistics, retail [and] that's just to name a few," MacSween said. "There really should be something for everyone at the fair today."

Research hiring companies

One theme that emerged over and over again was quite simple: look interested.

"The big thing is you really want to make sure you look well prepared and you're standing above your competition," said MacSween.

"It's always great to research those companies [that are hiring for summer], get a sense of what they're looking for from their candidates and then create a targeted resume based on that," she said.

Experience wanted

Of course, one thing every company or hiring manager looks for is experience, which is tricky for first-time job seekers — but not impossible to obtain, said University of Alberta's manager of career education, Blessie Mathew.

"There's lots of ways to gain experience," Mathew said.

Jennifer MacSween, with the City of Calgary’s Youth Employment Centre, says young people looking to impress employers should research the company before meeting with them. (Elissa Carpenter/CBC)

"Experience does not need to be paid. Experience simply helps you build skills, knowledge and expertise in certain areas.

"Generally overall, employers do look at volunteer experience and other extracurricular experience as valuable experience — but only if students are able to present themselves professionally, and understand and communicate what they have to offer from those experiences."

Professional presentation, online and off

The other determining factor that the determined first-time job seeker should always pay attention to is presentation — both in person, and digitally.

"Practice beforehand," one listener tweeted. "Eye contact and a confident handshake."

Professionalism is important, both in person and online. Dress for the part, practice eye contact and a firm handshake. Make sure your social media accounts are free of inappropriate photos and posts. (Elissa Carpenter/CBC)

A retail manager from Calgary who regularly hires young people for their first job called in with some advice as well.

"Don't come in with your friends or your parents," she said. "When we see kids coming in with friends or parents, we think, oh, these people just want to hang out with their friends all the time, or they can't do anything on their own, and have to have their parents all the time."

Instead, she said, arrive solo — and take an interest.

'Show a bit of your personality'

"Show a bit of your personality," she said. "Say hey, how are you guys doing  today? My name is so-and-so and I'm really interested in having a job with your organization.

"Rather than kids who just come in and say, I'm looking for a job. It's kind of like, OK — are you just looking for job, or do you really want to work here with this business?"

Stash the phone

Another tweeter advised job seekers to keep your phone out of sight, in order to "give the appearance that you're 100 per cent present, and eager to engage with potential employers."

That was confirmed by Mathew, but with a caveat.

"I would say that's good advice," she said, "because at job fairs, employers are often paying to attend, and are very motivated to meet and talk to people who are attending, so walking around with your cell phone out the entire time, or at least not putting it away when you are engaging with an employer probably isn't the best idea, because most of us want undivided attention — when we are being spoken to or having a conversation.

"Again this ties into presenting yourself professionally," she said, "it's a first impression."

Scrub your social network

Just as critically is the way in which you present yourself digitally, through social media.

"It's so important for young people to know that employers are able to access their profiles quite readily and  easily … so it's important that you represent yourself in the best light," MacSween said. 

"Having appropriate pictures, appropriate posts — because that information is of course public, and employers searching for you can find that information, so it's important to represent yourself in a professional manner."

The art of the network

Everyone — from experts to callers — emphasized the significance of relying upon your network, or of reaching out to others as one of the best ways to find work.

"When we talk about networking, we automatically jump to this mental picture of being in a crowded room, shaking hands, talking to strangers — which isn't exactly the entire picture of networking," said Mathew.

"What we know from decades of research is that networking is the Number 1 most successful job search method — which is why we hear about it, all of the time.

One of the best resources for finding work is your own network of friends, family and acquaintances. (Getty Images)

"But what we instruct students to do is start with what we call warm contacts — so people with whom you've had some kind of interaction [in the past] with.

"What we work with students on is starting to make a list of who those people might be — because each of those people that they currently have contact with has their own network of contacts.

"If a student is able to articulate what they're looking for," she added, "what they have to offer, what they're trying to achieve, those warm contacts are more able to effectively go out to their own network of contacts and connect students to them."


Calgary: The Road Ahead is CBC Calgary's special focus on our city as we build the city we want — the city we need. It's the place for possibilities. A marketplace of ideas. Have an idea? Email us at: calgarytheroadahead@cbc.ca


With files from Alberta at Noon

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About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca