Tips and strategies for finding work

Finding work in one's field is difficult even when the economy is booming, communities are growing, and opportunities are seemingly endless. That's because finding a job involves a lot of salesmanship. You have to pitch you to prospective employers. Doing so requires confidence, patience, preparation, and a lot of hard work. Here are a few strategies that will ideally help you find a job or career that you find satisfying.

While in school

Start early

By "early", we don't mean two months before you graduate. We mean two years (or more) before you graduate. Look for summer positions, sign up for Co-Op, ask your instructors about research and work-study opportunities, and volunteer with organizations where you can practice the type of work you hope to do someday.

Cooperative Education is one of the best strategies you can pursue, as it combines career preparation training with opportunities for practical experience in placements that are often much better paying than other jobs in the service sector.

Think about long-term pay-offs

If you're working a part-time job, it may be hard to give this up to look for Co-Op placements or work study positions. Consider the long-term benefits of your current employment relative to these alternative opportunities. Will your current position help you get the job you want in the future? Is it a 'replaceable' job? In other words, can you leave your current job for a temporary one elsewhere, and find something relatively equivalent again if need be?

Consider as well your work-study balance as well as current and near-future economic changes. Remember: the earlier you graduate, the earlier you find a job, and the earlier you begin climbing up the salary scale.

Review job postings

Don't wait until you're finishing your degree to identify what you need to get into certain fields. Begin this search earlier, so that you can pick up skills and knowledge well in advance.

Consider your electives

It may seem like those 'fun' classes that you're interested in, but which aren't related to your career, might not be a good idea. Think again. Oftentimes, courses outside your field introduce you to new ways of approaching problems and developing solutions, and encourage you to explore fields of inquiry that you might not have thought of as important in future employment.

A BSc student taking a creative writing course, for instance, learns more about different forms of expression--including those used and enjoyed by a public that, in general, has a hard time understanding 'science-speak'. A BA student might want to pick up a Kinesiology course, and in doing so, they might think about new ways in which to integrate health concerns into a career in urban planning.

Discuss assignment options with your instructors

If you have specific interests that you would like to pursue after you graduate, see if there are ways to build on these while still in school. One of the best ways to do this is to tailor assignments, when possible and practical, to incorporate service or specialized research questions.

Speak with an instructor well in advance of the class starting. Respect that they may not be able to deviate much from the assignments as planned. But your instructors may identify other options that will allow you to further your interests as part of your studies.

Consider practical opportunities and/or certificate options

Practical opportunities can include co-op, internships, work-study placements, volunteer positions, and even specialized skills training.

If you're considering employment in fields with specific training needs, look to see if there are UFV certificates available in these areas. GIS training, for instance, is valuable for those going into planning, policing, and natural resources management. Agricultural certificates (e.g. in Horticulture) would be of value for those interested in urban gardening policy and planning. If UFV doesn't offer the certificate, look at options at BCIT, Selkirk, or other institutions, and consider ways that you can ladder from your degree into these certificates.

Keep your résumé current

Get in the habit of keeping your resume up-to-date. Your first resume should not be drafted right when you're looking for your post-bachelor's employment!

Once you graduate

Identify your soft skills

Much of what you need to know in a job can often be learned on a job, but that doesn't necessarily extend to your 'soft skills'. These are the hard to quantify but incredibly important abilities that individuals bring to a workplace: collaboration, creativity, patience, humour, timeliness, initiative, etc. Spend as much time identifying your soft skill strengths, so that you can speak to these in cover letters and interviews.

Investigate the full range of career options within your field

A lot of Geography majors want to be: a) teachers and b) planners. These are worthy fields, and if these are your passions, then by all means, work towards these fields as end goals. However, given the interest in these areas, as well as the sheer number of university students graduating from lower mainland institutions, it pays to be as well informed as possible as to what variability there is within your career choice.

For instance, not all education needs to take place in a classroom. Consider public and/or environmental educators, who often work for non-profit and provincial agencies (e.g. in parks and with public health organizations). Planners may find that concentrating on urban planning positions alone may limit opportunities in recreation and/ or rural planning. GIS specialists are needed in natural resource fields--and by the RCMP! In short, think creatively about where your skillsets are needed.


Establish social networks early. Increasingly, jobs are found through friends and colleagues rather than through the traditional routes for employment. Word of mouth is invaluable. Therefore, establish and keep your LinkedIn page up-to-date. Stay in touch with classmates, instructors, and professionals in the field. Volunteer with organizations that are connected to your career field, or which offer access to business professionals. These can include Rotary, your local chamber of commerce, non-profits, and the UFV alumni association.

Be flexible with your career

The reality is that most people don't end up in the career they hoped they would be in. (If that were the case, a lot more of us would be firefighters and doctors!) However, that doesn't mean that the career you do end up in won't be as satisfying, if not more. And who's to say that gaining experience in a different field can't eventually help you get the job you do want, even if it is another 3-5 years down the road?

Keep in mind as well that many jobs that will be around in 20-30 years from now (when you're at your professional peak) don't exist yet. The work world is changing rapidly, in response to new information environments and technologies. Keep current on these, and recognize that you may be a part of a career that hasn't yet been invented.

Put aside preconceptions about the north, Alberta, Ontario, or anything east of Hope

Labour is mobile--but often the jobs are not. Consider that within the lower mainland there are three comprehensive universities (UBC, SFU, UFV), two technical schools (BCIT, Kwantlen), several 2-4 year colleges and universities (Capilano, Emily Carr, Langara), and a number of private institutions. Quick--how many graduates of these institutions are going to look first in Southwest BC for a job? Answer--almost all of them!

The more flexible you are in where you are willing to work, the better your job search will go. The Lower Mainland is a hyper-competitive labour market. Meanwhile, unemployment rates are low in the Peace River District, in Alberta, and, depending on career field, in Ontario and eastern Canada. Many rural BC communities are in need of skilled professionals as well. These areas of the province and of Canada offer tremendous opportunities and are typically much less expensive areas in which to live.

Be willing to travel in order to get the experience you need. Once you have this, then you can come back to the lower mainland with greater qualifications than, you guessed it, the newest crop of graduates from area universities and colleges.

Manage your expectations

Wanted: A 40-hour a week job, starting at $45,000 a year, with paid holiday and sick leave time, as well as pension and full health benefits. Needs only a BA or BSc, and experience in the fast food industry.

Reality: A 50-hour a week job, starting at $22,000 a year, with some paid sick leave and no pension. May need to work on contract. 3-5 years experience desired.

Many students plan on leaving school and snagging a great paying job. You have a Bachelor's degree, after all! However, the nature of work has changed considerably in the past 20 years. A BA or BSc does not get you as far as it once did. Further, many of the guaranteed benefits of past years are gone, replaced by a system whereby employees are expected to pay into their retirement and health accounts. Many jobs are temporary or contract-to-contract.

This may sound discouraging, but remember this. Those with a Bachelor's degree earn much higher salaries over their lifetime than those without any post-secondary training. The more dynamic workplace--the one that sees more contract work and changing career definitions--also offers up new opportunities for careers and business start-ups.

With this in mind, be realistic about what the salary and time commitments might be for your first job out of university. It may not be attractive on paper, but it may give you the experience you need and new networks that you can build on to get into a line of work that you'd prefer to be in.

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