As students, we’re given a million different pieces of advice everyday. Whether it’s how long a cover letter should be to whether or not you should include a photo on your resume, it can be exhausting trying to figure out what advice to listen to or not. What I’ve realized is that it all depends on your program, but luckily the Career Centre specializes in knowing what is best for every faculty. I talked to Fenella Amarasinghe at the Career Centre who was kind enough to give me an insight to what employers really look for and who broke down what it really means to network.
Q: How does the Career Centre help students with job and internship searches?
F: The Career Centre offers tailored support and one-to-one appointments workshops and tutorials, and we also have events where employers come on campus to talk about their opportunities and to talk about their business throughout the entire year. In terms of the tailored support there’s a Campus Engagement Specialist, a Career Education Coordinator and a Campus Education Coordinator all dedicated to Faculties. All those individuals focus on labour market research and relationship building with students and with employers to ensure students are provided with the most up to date labour market support and advice. The key focus of the Career Centre is to ensure that students are able to both acquire opportunities but also to thrive in the workplace.
Q: How much does social media impact an employer’s opinion of you? Do you think every employer checks social media?
F: There have been various surveys done in the past — Jobvite is a survey that typically comes out that talks about the use of student social media by employers, and we know that they definitely google your name and they will look and see what comes up. They will look at images and videos as well just to see if there’s anything that comes up about you. There are two things the generally look for — one would be something that’s alarming such as references to drugs or alcohol or profanity. Another that’s quite prominent is spelling and grammar errors. They are also looking for things that make you stand out as a candidate. Social media is not something to shy away from necessarily – it can actually be something to leverage to demonstrate your personal brand so that employers can see how what your personality is and what your knowledge is, what you’re involved in that makes you stand out as a candidate. LinkedIN is definitely one of the best platforms to use for the professional branding simply because it’s made for that, for networking and developing your professional brand. But it’s not the only one. You can use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube — whatever platform that makes sense for you in your industry as well. The key thing is it’s not about using everything it’s about figuring out where your particular industry is and using the platform where you know they will be your audience.
Q: Do you think all industries would look at social media?
A: No; that’s not as prevalent in engineering. For engineering it might make more sense for students to be on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. But for a program in FCAD, Instagram makes a lot of sense. So does YouTube, and even Snapchat could be something you leverage. So it really depends on your industry. You have to research and learn where the companies are that you want to apply to, what social media platforms are they using, and decide based on that.
Q: As students we get so many mixed responses from what is expected in our resume. Some people say to have a photo on our resumes, some people strongly advise against it.
A: The key thing I can say is that there’s no such thing as one size fits all. We know from the work that we do with employers and professionals is that what one professional might say can differ from what another professional will say and it can be very subjective. It’s also very much industry specific. Putting a photo on your resume if you’re applying for a graphic design job might be more acceptable and more aligned with what’s trending in the industry. But it’s not something you would necessarily need to do in civil engineering or like a policy role that you’re applying for. It’s all about knowing your audience, bottom line. Do the research on what organizations are looking for. What kind of people are they looking for? What kind of work do they do? What’s their organizational culture like? Do the research to understand how you can demonstrate your value to your employer based on what their needs are, and how you feel like you’re going to add value to their organisation. In terms of how you want to design your resume, how you want to format your resume — that should always be dependent on where you’re applying. FCAD students could design a website for their portfolio, but so could computer science students to demonstrate their programming skills. You might have a website as a business student even just to showcase some of your experiences and knowledge. But it really depends on what you’re seeking to do with that and how it engages your audience.
Q: Do you find that you give students advice based on the different degrees they have?
A: Yes, and that’s why we tailor our one to ones and our workshops because we know it’s very specific to industry. Some things are definitely universal — those things are that you do your research, no matter what industry you’re in. You always have to do your research on what’s trending in companies and you always have to focus on showcasing your value or what you have to offer an organization because that’s what will make you stand out.
Q: What would you say are the biggest advantages millennials have when it comes to applying for jobs? Would you say it’s easier or harder for them?
A: I always think the biggest advantage you have are all the various different platforms you can use to search for jobs and to network. To be able to leverage social media as a tool to both showcase what you know and what you’re doing, as well as to learn about what’s going on and where you should be going. Social media allows you to find out about conferences and events in a way that was never possible before, and then it also allows you to find out about opportunities and meet people. I know students that tell me that they posted something on Twitter and as a result they were able to meet someone in the industry for a coffee chat. Actually showcasing your knowledge really helps you to pique the interest of the people in the industry.
Q: What’s your biggest tip for networking? So many students are told to network but what does it really mean to network and how do you get the conversation started?
A: In terms of networking, it’s not about how many people you speak to. It’s not about trying to be the most charismatic person or asking people for things. It’s not about what you want, necessarily. It’s not about just trying to get things from people. That’s what a lot of students associate networking with and it’s often what scares students the most and I think introverted students and students that just don’t have a lot of time to go out to every event might really shy away from the idea of networking. The reality of networking is think about it as a way of learning something new. You’re talking to someone new or maybe someone you’ve met before but you didn’t get to know very well, and you’re just learning from them. What do they do, what are their interests, what are their motivations? What are some of the things that they love the most about their job? What are some of the things that they wish they had known when they first graduated from wherever they graduated from? You’re using it as an opportunity to learn, and to ask questions and also to talk to another person about what your motivations are and what your interests are, and what you hope to pursue.
Networking is meant to be a professional relationship that you can hopefully develop throughout the rest of your career, because it’s not just about what you need now but it’s about the long term and helping each other. What can come out of that is learning about opportunities that you never knew existed. Referrals to opportunities, bypassing application tracking systems so that you get your resume right in front of an HR person. Maybe a reference in the future. There are so many different possibilities that can come out of it, but it can also be purely mentorship and that in itself is such a powerful thing. I think really dispelling the myth that networking is something that has to be schmoozy or one sided or transactional is what needs to be squashed, and looking at it like ‘this is an opportunity to build a relationship with somebody.’ It doesn’t always work out but there’s definitely the possibility that it could. The key thing is trying to maintain a follow up with someone. So if you meet someone somewhere on the TTC, through a friend, or if you go out and meet them for coffee, remember always to send a follow up thank you. Then based on what you talked about — if you had something in common like you both loved the Raptors, then send them an article about that or you see that they’re doing really well and then you might say “Hey, I noticed that the team is doing really well, and how are you doing by the way?” So just follow up every six months or so.
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