Job advice for Calgary grads

"The worst thing you could do is sit in the basement and become an expert gamer while waiting for the price of oil to rise.” Calgary in a downturn and things are tough. But there are things young people can do to put them on the right path.

'Reset your expectations and get to work creating your own opportunities,' says career expert

It's a scary time for new grads entering a workforce where even the most experienced can't land a job. (Credit: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

EDITOR'S NOTE: It's kind of a lousy time to be a new graduate. Ink still fresh on your diploma, city in a downturn and a rough job market. As thousands of young people prepare to enter the workforce, we asked some folks at Calgary's various academic institutions what they're telling young people these days. We'll share them all, but we start with the University of Calgary.

Asked what a new graduate needs to know about looking for work in this climate, the first thing that I say is that looking for a job needs to become your full-time job.

This is particularly true for new graduates whose first job out of university marks a huge transition in their lives. This is when you are entering adulthood, leaving the proverbial nest for the first time, and applying your hard-earned skill set.  The one for which you now have framed document hanging on your wall.

But in our current economic climate, this first "real job" may also look a lot like a student job and therein lies the problem. 
Looking for a job in Calgary today can be defeating. But what you can't do, is let yourself be defeated.

That can be a career killer.

Backpack to briefcase

Now is the time to give your head a shake. Put your game face on. And figure out what you can realistically achieve.

The reality is that the economy is in a slump and the backpack to briefcase pipeline is not flowing as steadily as it was when you entered your program. So whatever you thought would be waiting for you once you passed the finish line, may no longer be an option.

Every day there is another doom and gloom story in the news about layoffs and cutbacks. This is scary, terrifying even for students who are preparing to cross the stage and face the world as an adult.

Even though wallowing in defeat and deeming the last four years useless might seem like a reasonable option, it isn't going to change the price of oil. Make a plan and stick to it. Reset your expectations and get to work creating your own opportunities.

Check your ego at the door

In times like these every job-seeker, particularly the new grad, needs to realize that options are still available. But if you were hoping for your dream job right out the gate, think again.

Every year we see reports telling us that the top skills that employers look for, at any level, are soft skills. Effective communication, problem-solving, ability to work in a team, adaptability and organization. These are skills you can pick up in any job – whether it's fast food or the corner office.

The important thing is understanding that every experience is valuable.

Just. Do. Something.

Work as a server downtown and make connections, take an entry-level admin position and learn the business from the ground up, volunteer for organizations that do great work. The worst thing you can do is sit in the basement and become an expert gamer while waiting for the price of oil to rise.

The administrative assistant with your same degree, the one who used the downturn as an opportunity to get some experience, will become the internal applicant who is at the top of the pile. This, while you are still looking for filler to explain what you have been doing since graduation. 

Seek out opportunities to network, even if it means showing up at job fairs that don't have anything to do with your intended career path. Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg (David Ryder/Bloomberg)

Work the system

People like me get paid to help people like you get paid.

Colleges and universities are a breeding ground for resources. It's our job to create tools to help students be successful in life. For the new grad who never stopped in for an appointment for career advice it's not too late. Call your career centre and see if you can still access appointments. If not, hit all the career websites you can find: ours here at the university, or LinkedIn, Talent Egg or Indeed.

But, by going through the resources I do not just mean click through and acknowledge that they exist. I mean put some time aside and really pay attention to the advice and information that is available. Then, make a plan to apply it.

A good resume is not something that you can bang off in an afternoon. It'll take hours of assessment, reflection and wordsmithing before the first draft is even complete. A great resume will be targeted and revised every single time it is sent out.

Again, finding a job, is now your job.

Get the word out

Network, network, network. We hear it all the time, but what does it really mean?

Networking is not just creating a LinkedIn profile and going to mixers. It's a lot of work and requires risk-taking and perseverance. This means doing your research, reaching out to people who are in the place that you want to be and finding out how they got there.

Bend the ear of everyone. Talk to your parents' friends, past professors and old supervisors to sniff out any potential leads. Put the word out to anyone who you can think of that might help you get your foot in the door that you are ready, willing and able to kick-start your career. That you'll work hard for anyone who gives you an opportunity.

This probably sounds like the same old, same old. But the truth is that most people aren't willing to do the work, or will deem themselves a failure after one or two attempts. It may take 10 attempts, 20 even, but eventually one of these connections will come through.

And on that note...

No job is a waste of time, but a chance to learn something new. REUTERS/John Vizcaino (John Vizcaino/Reuters)

Be patient

That old adage "good things come to those who wait" rings true in the world of job search. If you are willing to do the research, put in the work and see the possibilities in every opportunity, success will come.

Being patient also applies when choosing which positions to apply to.

Now here's the thing. I've said earlier "just do something." But you need to balance that. Don't just apply to any old job out of desperation. Be thoughtful and ask yourself if this is work that you can find meaning in and does it connect with your ultimate career goal. Give yourself time, give every opportunity thought.

But at some point you will need a survival job. And the patience comes in doing your survival job while still hunting for the right entry point to something better. It will come.

Then, once you are in the interview chair, it's up to you kid. Knock 'em dead and if it doesn't pan out get back up and do it again.

A lot of patience is required to finally get that job interview, but don't give up. (Getty Images)

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.


Colleen Bangs is the manager of career services at the University of Calgary.