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The Inside Scoop From Top Employers: What’s Going to Land You a Job (Pt. 3)

Written by Lauren Marinigh

This is part 3 in the SLN Investigates: What’s Going to Land You a Job series. Read part 1 here, and part 2 here.

They hold your future in their hands, but what are they really looking for in fresh talent to add to their teams?

In 2015, both Global News and Huffington Post reported that industries that were experiencing the most growth were science, technology, engineering, math, web development, design, data analysis and careers that focus on our aging population. Although these industries are seeing an increase in job opportunities, there is still an evident struggle with young people finding employment upon graduation.

I spoke directly with employers at leading brands like Steam Whistle Brewing, Shopify, Edelman and Hootsuite, about what factors play a role when deciding to bring candidates in for interviews for entry-level or junior roles.

What may come to many people’s surprise, despite the fact that employment statistics weigh slightly in favour of grads with a bachelor’s degree (74% versus 70% of college graduates), employers agreed that although a related degree or diploma is beneficial, they didn’t necessarily weigh one over the other.

“It entirely depends on the position, but when we recruit summer students—experience, attitude and cultural fit are more important for these roles,” Lorna Willner, Director of Human Resources at Steam Whistle Brewing, a workplace that has won countless awards for being a top employer. Alex Bowden, Talent Acquisition Associate at Hootsuite, explained that when hiring they don’t necessarily classify either university or college as being better than the other; Hootsuite hires from all sorts of backgrounds.

“Your education can establish a solid foundation for your craft, and we value people who are driven to learn more about their craft.”

But each employer I spoke with seemed to agree that experience could set you apart from the competition—like volunteer work, part-time jobs or extracurricular activities, where your education gives you evidence of your knowledge and helps build essential skills. “We tend to look for unique experiences, and the potential to have high impact on projects rather than educational background,” Brady Paron, Talent Acquisition at Shopify explained. “In many cases though, your education can establish a solid foundation for your craft, and we value people who are driven to learn more about their craft.”

So if education played a role, but wasn’t the key factor in hiring decisions for employers, what is? Here is what the hiring gurus had to say.


News flash! Stop thinking that just going to school is enough. Experience can be in the form of volunteer experience, co-op placements, or part-time work experience. “Having some form or practical experience gained while in school through co-ops or summer work terms,” Adam Walsh, President of Elby Professional Recruitment explained as being critical for new grads. “This shows that they have a passion for their chosen profession, it shows that they did the necessary extras to land those roles.”

Motivation & Curiosity

We’ve all had times where we can’t get motivated, no matter how much we like the field we’re in (or going in to). My advice? Fake it until you make it since candidates who show that they are motivated and curious to continue to learn and grow within their industry are the types of young people that employers are looking for.

“In your first few years, you should look to be a sponge.”

“This is the number one thing I look for in entry-level candidates. In your first few years, you should look to be a sponge,” Dave Fleet, Senior Vice President of Digital at Edelman explained. “Try as many things as you can, both to find out the sub-set of what you may enjoy, and to learn from those around you.”

Cultural Fit & Attitude

A study by Deloitte revealed that culture was one of the top talent challenges business leaders are facing, and a challenge that many employers are looking to urgently fix and work on. Because of this shift, it’s critical for employers to find someone with the right attitude and adaptivity that will fit within their corporate culture. “Are you open to receiving feedback in order to improve your work? If you’re junior or new to a field, it’s absolutely critical that you’re not set in your own ways,” Brady Paron, Talent Acquisition at Shopify explained.

Attention to Detail & Critical Thinking

Being able to pay attention to detail and problem solve are key skills that can help you in any role. Employers want to know that they can trust you and the work that you do, without having to constantly “babysit” you. Companies want an employee who can think on their feet, and get shit done on their own when need be. “The most important things that we look for are motivation, critical-thinking skills and adaptivity. These can be skills learned in college and university, but can also come out of life experiences such as travel, living abroad and extra-curricular activities,” Alex Bowden, Talent Acquisition Associate at Hootsuite said.

After learning the skillsets that employers are looking for in candidates, I also talked with potential employers about the advice they had for new grads in their job hunt, and it wasn’t surprising to hear that the biggest tip was to network (I can see you rolling your eyes as you read that). It may not be the easiest, or our favourite thing to do, but Dave Fleet, mentioned building relationships before you need them can be extremely beneficial. So don’t wait until you graduate and are in desperate need of a job to start your networking. Erin Ashton, Employee Success Manager at EventMobi, said that it’s almost rare that anyone can get a job solely through an online job board nowadays and suggests finding hiring managers on LinkedIn and connecting with them. Putting yourself out there cannot only show enthusiasm for your industry but also help you build connections and put you ahead of the job hunting game.

“Companies want an employee who can think on their feet, and get shit done on their own when need be.”

After interviewing students, recent graduates, post-secondary institutions, human resource professionals and senior industry leaders as part of this three-part series, I learned a lot about whether or not a degree outweighs a diploma, and what is really going to help you get a job. As someone who has been fortunate enough to be hired right out of college, that doesn’t mean I haven’t endured the highs and lows of job hunting and had self-doubt over the years on whether or not my college education was going to be enough. I’ve faced rejection, and at times, felt like I was having a quarter life “what am I doing with my life” crisis on occasion. In the end, I’ve learned that by continuing to build my experience, networking, and showing dedication to my industry, I’ll eventually end up in the place I’m looking to be, aka in my “dream job.”

Lorna Willner of Steam Whistle Brewing had some of the best advice that I’ll leave you with: “Keep an open mind. Network, make sure people know you are looking for opportunities, and remember to be patient! It may not be your dream job or dream company, but focus on doing a really good job, and the rest will follow.”

Illustration by SLN’s Satesh Mistry.

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.