Calgary in transition: Advice for new graduates trying to score a job

“This is about how Calgary as a city is struggling with the loss of identity and certainty.” Finals are underway, and then what? Some tough love advice from Heather Heasman for new graduates entering a workforce, where the downturn has been a game changer.

'How you present yourself' in the new reality of Calgary's downturn 'will determine your ultimate success'

Congratulations, you've graduated! Now what? Mount Royal University instructor Heather Heasman has some job-hunt advice for those looking for work during Calgary's economic downturn. (The Canadian Press)

Editor's note: Calgary in a downturn. Not the best time to be looking for a job. As thousands of young people prepare to enter the workforce, we asked some folks at Calgary's academic institutions what they're telling young people these days. Here's some advice from an instructor at Mount Royal.

The cat's out of the bag.

It looks like this downturn thing is here to stay. Calgary is clearly in transition.

Just look at the statistics regarding the total jobs lost in the recent months.

Traffic downtown? My iPhone continues to tell me that "traffic is light" any time I am heading to the core for an appointment.

Need a place to park? No problem. People are still waiting for the next round of cuts to hit and wondering if they will be impacted.

Downtown Calgary has been noticeably less busy since the downturn, says Heather Heasman. (Drew Anderson/CBC)

As a contract faculty member at Mount Royal University, I wonder if there will be any jobs for the students when they graduate.

I have many friends who have lost jobs and are seeking employment. These are highly skilled individuals with on average two decades of experience. What kind of a chance do new university graduates have? The game has definitely changed.

We won't see $120 oil for quite some time. We need to adapt and find work in this new reality. This seems unfair particularly for those coming out of university who may have chosen a specific educational path in hopes of being guaranteed a successful career. There are no guarantees anymore.

As we approach the end of the winter semester; here's my advice to those students who are struggling to find work in Calgary's new reality.

Apply for everything

You no longer have the luxury of waiting for your dream job to come to you on a silver platter.

On average, 40 per cent of students apply to between one and five jobs at a time.

Change your thinking. Apply for everything.

Apply for jobs in your area of education; apply for jobs that are related to all facets of your skill set; apply for jobs that interest you but only pay $15/hour. Apply for them all. At any given time, you should have at least 10-15 applications on the go.

In this economy, any opportunity you have to build skill should be explored. There is no place for ego. Take it from me, I run a consulting business, I am a contract faculty member at Mount Royal University, and I most recently started working one shift a week at a newly opened ballet barre studio in the city.

Put yourself out there. Start now.

Skills and reality

If you think you need to have 100 per cent of the skills required to apply for a job, think again.

Too many people fail to submit applications based on the sentiment that they don't have "all the skills requested."

Guess what? Employers can train "hard" skills, but it is more difficult and costly for an employer to train soft skills (i.e. interpersonal skills, integrity, dedication) that may be integral to the role.

'Hard' skills can be taught. Don't worry if you don't have all the skills listed on a job posting, says Heather Heasman.

When you read a job posting, if the only thing stopping you is your concern with not measuring up in the skills department; apply anyway. Have you volunteered anywhere? Remember that those skills count too and should be listed in your resume.

Use your cover letter to demonstrate what is unique about you that will make you the best overall fit. Be passionate and confident. Remember that you have more to offer than those hard, trainable skills.

To quote Dr. Seuss: "Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You."

Leverage your networks

How many people do you know who got their job by hearing about it through the "grapevine?"

Calgary has a large "underground" job market. This market still exists; it's just constricted now.

Leverage your networks. Spend less time on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Work on your LinkedIn profile. Please do not complain that universities do not offer enough networking events for you.

You have an amazing network at your fingertips within a university. Talk to every professor you have ever had. Give them a copy of your resume. Ask if they have any connections to university alumni who may be able to help you.

All of this networking should feel like your full time job until you get a full time job.

Pitch perfect

In the entrepreneurship class I teach, we work on the art of the pitch.

We talk about things like passion, confidence, body language and basic concepts like: when does the pitch start? This is relevant because who you are and how you present yourself in this new place we know as "Calgary in a downturn" will determine your ultimate success.

You pitching yourself starts with your cover letter and resume in a formal application process. Please be mindful of professional style, tone, grammar and spelling. Do not let errors in these areas define you. Have someone you respect review and edit everything.

Proofread, proofread, proofread. Don't let spelling or grammatical errors sink your application or job pitch. (CBC)

Meeting someone in your network for coffee to discuss career ideas? Dress for it. Ripped jeans, sneakers, baseball hats and messy hair speak for themselves and do not deliver a positive message. Show the individual you are meeting your respect for them by dressing conservatively and professionally.

Be on time. Be prepared. Send a handwritten thank you note. Remember that you are not the only one that your contact is speaking with.

Be unforgettable.

Never give up

Winston Churchill said, "Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm." Please don't give up.

This advice doesn't apply only to those about to be newly minted university graduates. This is about how Calgary as a city is struggling with the loss of identity and certainty.

And this is the sucker punch of the downturn. It's not just jobs lost and really grim economic forecasts.

One of my friends told me yesterday that she feels invisible. I facilitated a workshop with recently unemployed people a month ago and some of them told me that they felt forgotten.

We are in this together and things will eventually improve. However, in the meantime (literally, it does seem like a "mean time"), don't give up. Don't take "no" or no response from a potential employer as the final answer.

Innovate. Be persistent.

Keep calm and persevere on.

Calgary at a Crossroads is CBC Calgary's special focus on life in our city during the downturn. A look at Calgary's culture, identity and what it means to be Calgarian. Read more stories from the series at Calgary at a Crossroads.


Heather Heasman


Heather Heasman teaches at the Bisset School of Business at Mount Royal University.


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