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The Vicious Circle:
Entry-Level Positions and the Experience You Need

Is there anything more frustrating than being told that you don’t have the experience for an entry-level position? If you are not given a chance, how are you supposed to get the experience and get your career started? It can be a vicious circle but not one that is unavoidable.

The fact is, almost 300,000 graduating students in Canada are entering the workforce this year.1 With that kind of competition, you cannot afford to wait until you graduate to start acquiring experience and employable skills. Here are a few ways that you can gain very relevant skills and set yourself apart from the pack.

1 – COOP/Internship programs

Coop and internship programs are a great way to gain relevant work experience, be exposed to different workplaces, and see where your strengths and interests truly are. As an employer, I want students to work at MD Financial Management and return to us for each of their work terms (and after they graduate!). The career coach in me, however, would encourage students to work in different organizations and in different sectors (public, private, and not-for-profit) to really explore what type of environment is best for them.

2 – Go on an exchange

The opportunity to see the world through a different lens can be life-changing and will help you build much sought after employable skills such as adaptability, cultural awareness, language skills, and self-sufficiency. Besides, who doesn’t love travelling?!

3 – Volunteer in the community

Volunteering with community organizations is not only a great way to build skills, but also a great networking opportunity. Social responsibility is very important to many organizations and is often sought out on resumes. You also never know who you might be working beside in the soup kitchen. He or she may be the CEO of that company you want to work for. Ideally, take advantage of opportunities to work on special projects and take on leadership roles.

4 – Get involved on campus

As a student, you have the unique opportunity to have volunteer and leadership opportunities right at your fingertips. No matter what your interests, there are more than likely clubs, organizations, competitions, research opportunities and much more, right on campus. Get involved! Go to career networking events and employer information sessions, join case competition teams, be a class representative, join your academic club or student council, play varsity sports or create your own club. Again, look for opportunities to take on a leadership role as those skills are often difficult to gain from your typical “student job” (retail, service industry, summer jobs, etc.).

5 – Go above and beyond in all of your jobs

Very few students have zero work experience when they graduate, however many do not take full advantage of their “student job”. Always do your best work, and look to take initiative such as taking additional training, staying late or taking extra shifts, offering suggestions, and taking on additional projects or duties. I have handed my business card out to waiters and retail workers who truly give excellent service because I know that is someone I could work with every day. Make the effort to stand out and you will be noticed.

I realize that these suggestions may take time away from your personal lives, but take it from someone who is working full-time, teaching part-time, pursuing a Masters full-time, and volunteering with a community organization 10 hours per month - the rewards more than outweigh missing the last season of Game of Thrones, and will be crucial to your career success.

1 Universities Canada. "Back to school 2016 quick facts." Univcan, 8 Aug. 2016, www.univcan.ca/universities/facts-and-stats/back-school-2016-quick-facts/.