Avoid the job maze; Top 3 strategies to build your dream career

Finishing up school can be both exciting and scary.  It is a celebration of years of learning, studying and plain old hard work.  It is also the entrance into the ever-changing world of work.  With youth unemployment rate at 11%[1], this can be daunting.  From side hustle to precariousness to endless job applications, figuring out the best way to build a career is like a challenging maze at best.

I wanted to find out what strategies students were using to build their way towards their career of choice and was grateful for the opportunity to interview Dianne Twombly, Manager, Career Development at York University. 

Dianne has been working at York University to support students in advancing their career for 11 years.  She is compassionate, caring and understanding of the many challenges and stressors students face.  She realizes our workplaces have changed, that it is increasingly difficult to break in to a career without solid preparation and that our approaches and systems have not fully evolved to match the new world of work.

I spoke to Dianne about student success strategies, common pitfalls and the breadth of resources available to support students in career planning and am sharing her insights below. 

Success Strategies  

Strategy is an approach or game plan and building a meaningful career is like anything in life – you can get where you want to go in a number of different ways.  So, for example, you could fall into a fulfilling and well paying career or happen to know someone who can open a door.  These paths tend to be “long shots” for the ordinary person.  I wanted to know which approaches are more “sure shots”.  Dianne suggested three:

1.    Start early & plan:  Career pathing is a process that involves exploration and being clear about where you want to go and what you would like to spend your life doing.  This takes a very solid assessment of your wants, the skills and abilities you have and those you're working to develop during your degree, as well as other factors such as your financial and family expectations.  It also takes an understanding of the marketplace including what jobs exist, associated salaries, what people who do them say about them, what do they like and dislike, what skills and educational courses are required. 

Once you have that assessment, you can establish a clear goal and once you have a clear goal, you can then start working on it.  You can connect with people, build up your experience and skill set, volunteer, look at the postings…   This seems like a lot of work but spread over 4 years it can happen more naturally and with less stress.

The challenge is that many students come to the Career Centre right before graduation.  There is no way you can “pack 4 years into 6 months” and so students who leave it to the last minute often spend their efforts on just trying to get a job.  Without the earlier planning work, they have less knowledge, experience and relationships that will help them get to where they want to go. It is important to realize that this is a marathon, not a sprint and starting early is worth it both for the results and the much better, lower stress experience. 

2.    Use the breadth of available free resources:  Dianne says “I graduated with zero support from my university because I didn’t seek it out …. I was unaware of all the supports on offer…. I thought the career centre just helped you with your resume and cover letter”.  That is certainly not the case today, there are a breadth of supports on offer to students including but not limited to:

·      On-line self assessment to determine your temperament style and related occupations 

·      Workshops on everything from career exploration to resume & cover letter writing, interview preparation & ways to make money while studying

·      Individual hands on support & counselling

·      Drop in sessions

·      Career conversation panels which help students learn about different careers

·      Employer recruitment sessions and career fairs

·      TASTE program where you get to have lunch with an alumna/us to talk about career related interests

Dianne says it is natural that we pick from what is around us, from what we see and know instead of from the multitude of jobs that exist that you don’t see every day.  I think that if we take the time to explore the amazing opportunities, use the breadth of available free resources, we might just be able to identify and build our most fulfilling careers.

3.    Connecting, connecting and connecting:  There is no doubt that the workplace has fundamentally changed in the last generation.  Although we have evolved some of our approaches to job search (we have moved the dropping off resume process online), we have not fundamentally shifted them.  Dianne sees connecting as a core skill for building a meaningful career.  

Connecting with professors about their journey and what they see as opportunities in the industry, connecting with practitioners around key skills and emerging work, connecting with student peers about their process and tactics as well as connecting to develop skills and practice via student clubs or volunteer work are all critical activities that enable students to get to their goals.  An important note is that having a clear goal will help focus efforts as well as provide a key point for discussion.

Common Pitfalls

 Through our interview, Dianne mentioned some common pitfalls that made the career planning and job search process more difficult and lengthy for students.  These include:

1.    Not connecting – Individuals may send out 100 resumes but not work to set up one informational interview.   They are working hard and their resume may be great but they would be more effective by shifting their focus to connecting

2.    Waiting to the last minute - remember you can not “pack 4 years into 6 months”

3.    Picking a job just because it appears stable – “If a job isn't meaningful to you, it's not likely to be a good experience” says Dianne

4.    Not tailoring your resume and cover letter –Competition is too stiff to not tailor your resume and cover letter.  In the long run if these tools don’t open the door to interviews then sending out "generic" versions is not helping.  It is worth the effort to make a case of why you are a good fit for the company and particular position.

We imagine a world where all students build their way towards their dream jobs and hope these insights were helpful.  If you have other suggestions or want to share what has and has not worked for you, please-mail monicadaponte@letsstrive.ca


[1] “Labour force characteristics by age group and sex, seasonally adjusted”. Statistics Canada, retrived October 21 from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/181005/t001a-eng.htm