Hey everyone! To get a little introduction out of the way: My name’s Zachary MacMillan, I’m completing my honours degree in Criminology this summer, am starting law school in September, and have had plenty of experience applying for and finding work – experience I would like to share with you today.
There are many questions that run through a person’s mind when they consider applying for work, ‘where do I look for work?’, ‘what am I supposed to put on my resume/cover letter?’, and ‘what are they going to ask me in the interview?’. To save you the challenge of finding this information on your own, I’m going to tell what I’ve learned through working and participating in my university’s Co-op program. We should start with the ‘where do I look for work?’.
Whether you’re still in high school or are graduating university, keep in mind that they say 80% of all jobs are never listed. It’s simply faster and/or easier to hire from within or to receive recommendations. That being said, many positions just are not advertised online for one reason or another. Finding these jobs requires knowing someone or cold calling, calling an employer out of the blue and inquiring about open(ing) positions. I understand this is incredible daunting, but you can make it easier.
— Make a list of all your ‘dream jobs’, supervisors (if available) and phone numbers
— Prepare a cold call dialogue sheet, it should sound something like this: Hello, I was wondering if __supervisor name here__ was available? Hi, my name is _______________, how are you today? … I’m currently a (e.g., student, technician, cook) and I am interested in the career opportunities at your company. I was wondering if your company has any positions open, or that will be opening in the near future? (If yes) That’s great, is there a best way I can forward you an application for that position. (If no) I understand, would it be okay if I forwarded you my application in the event that a position does open up? (After) Thank you for your time, I hope to hear back from you in the future.
— Practice this dialogue multiple times in a quiet area by yourself, or practice with a friend/family.
— Systematically call each of the numbers you have.
Even if you’re looking for summer work, this technique works for Walmart, Sobeys, Superstore, McDonalds, you name it. Remember, because you called, they can put a voice to a name, making you memorable. The employer may get 75 online application for a job, but you were the one that called. Keep in mind also that the first call or two are always the hardest, but it becomes much easier after – Also, employers are used to making A LOT of phone calls each day and will not be going through every word you say with a fine-toothed comb. Stay relaxed, be confident, and focus on the fact that this is just a phone call. Finally, with online resources being as well-known as they are, it goes without saying to check out CareerBeacon, JobBank, Workopolis, WowJobs, and CareersNovaScotia, not to mention Kijiji and individual employer websites for less visible job openings.
Let’s move on to resume building, which is actually easier than sounds. First, choose a professional template (the Catapult website has a few for you to use). After you list your education and/or qualifications for the job, I typically include a short list of potentially relevant classes I have taken. Maybe you want to work at your local bank and have taken basic economics or accounting courses (add them!). Next we move on to your work experience, and this is where what you write counts.
If you have never worked a formal job, that’s okay! Keep in mind that school and unpaid labour counts as work experience. Mowing your lawn, working on your/your parent’s car, taking your neighbour’s dog for a walk all counts – you just need to word it right and justify its inclusion. For example, school work is Academic Research and Information Collection. Mowing lawns is Grounds/Property Maintenance, and dog walking is Animal Care Service. While this may seem as though you’re exaggerating, you developed important skills regardless and need to be described professionally, which brings us to describing the work.
Your job description below the title is a great opportunity for you to express what have learned throughout your various work experience. But I have to stress this, every job description you write will have to be tailored toward the position you are now applying for. In other words, you have to customize your resume for each job you apply for. How do you do it?
— Limit you job description to 3 bullets, each with one sentence and structure it as follows: Strong Verb, the task, frequency or amount. In action, your Academic Research description may look like this, ‘Successfully completed concurrent assignments while meeting strict deadlines’ and ‘Demonstrated an ability to collect data from various sources, synthesize the information, and present findings in a concise manner’.
— As an Animal Care Servicers, you were ‘Entrusted with the care and well-being of four animals while the owner were away’.
— When I refer to customizing your resume, be sure to highlight the skills that the potential employer might be interested in. For example, I doubt a researcher is interested in your ability to mow a lawn.Very quickly you begin to realize that while the work you did was not necessarily important, the skills you learned matter to employers. Think about the importance of any work, you were relied on to complete a task, you successfully completed those tasks, and you did so consistently and thoroughly. When you’re done with your resume – ask Catapult to review it for you. They have great tips!
Finally, I will talk about the dreaded interviews, which are actually my favourite part of the process! This is the stage where you have the power over how you’re perceived. In my experience there are three types of interviews:
— One-on-one traditional interviews: You’re interviewed by one person.
— Group interviews: You and other applications are interviewed together, usually partaking in group exercises. These are becoming more popular in customer service areas. These interviews are a different experience as they gauge how you work well with others and your sense of leadership.
— Panel interviews: You are interviewed by a panel of usually three people. These are becoming popular for public sector jobs. This interview seems more intimidating, but remember to focus on everyone present in the room and to be relaxed. Now, I cannot say for sure what specific questions that will be asked of you, however I can tell you they usually fall into one of a few major categories:
— Behaviour questions: These questions ask how you would, or have responded to, certain situations. They sound like ‘can you think of a time when you were unsure what to do at your job’ or, ‘what would you do to ensure you are completing your task correctly’
— Credential and Skills questions: These questions are important, you need to be somewhat knowledgeable about the field you’re applying to. In research, you may be asked ‘what are mean, median, and mode?’, While not typically used in your Walmart position interview, they may be asked for professional jobs.
— Opinion questions: Exactly as they sound, ‘what are your strengths/weaknesses’. A huge tip here is to answer the ‘weakness’ question by explaining a real weakness while also discussing how you are working on said weakness with a real example or by naming a unique weakness that’s actually a strength (e.g., unable to step away from incomplete projects). Do not use ‘I’m a perfectionist’ or ‘work too hard’ as employers will see through this.
— Note, ‘why do you want to work for us?’ is a very real question that I have been asked multiple times, so be aware you may be asked this.Just as much as employers want to know if you’re able to complete the tasks you will be asked of, they want to determine how well you will mesh with the company and team you will be a part of.
Finally, to ensure you rock the interview, follow these tips to show your best at the interview:
— Be sure to dress well, but appropriately. You wouldn’t wear a full suit to an interview at Cineplex, but semi-formal attire is generally expected at most places. It shows you take the employer seriously and genuinely care about appearances and professionalism.
— Do not wear scented body products, you do not know whether or not the interviewer has a scent sensitivity.
— Give everyone’s hand a firm handshake as you greet them, before you sit down and again before you leave.
— Wear your smile and confidence, and make sure to smile with your eyes as you answer questions and address your interviewer(s). You would not believe how far this small detail goes in establishing yourself as a desirable employee.
— Bring a copy of your resume! You may not be asked for it, but having one handy if they want to go through it can make or break the interview. For more professional jobs, bring a copy of your best work relevant to the position. If the employer asks what kind of work you’ve done before, you now have something to show them.I hope some of this information is of use, and if you have any questions or would like further (more detailed) assistance, please don’t hesitate to add me on Facebook!
All the best, Zachary MacMillan