Let’s get a myth out of the way. Walking into the job market with a diploma demonstrates to employers that you’re intelligent. But at the end of the day, it’s a piece of (very expensive) parchment that tells the world that you made it through roughly 4 years of all-nighters.
A study conducted in 2012 by The Chronical of Higher Education found that your GPA matters WAY LESS than other activities such as work experience or volunteering. Is it important to be competitive in school (and in life), but remember that there are other more important things that you should focus on to give yourself an edge over others.
So What Are Employers Actually Looking For?
Things You Didn’t Learn In School.
Nowadays, higher learning and specialized skills are good, but developing what employers call ‘soft skills’ are “needed to do the jobs in today’s labour market”.
Soft skills involve things that they’re not going to teach you in the classroom, such as initiative, professionalism, open communication, and even having a sense of humour. Taking on a co-op or an internship is an opportunity to field these soft skills, not to mention get a foot in the door for future employment with a particular company. Chris McCluskie, a Communications student from Simon Fraser University who is set to graduate this year, is thankful of his experience with co-op as he gets ready to move on from school.
“Taking part in a co-op definitely gives you some practice with interviews, writing tailored cover letters and resumes, which is something everyone should do before they get into the real world and begin their job search,” McCluskie said. “It also connects you with other people in the field, and networking with others can be a big help in finding future work.”
Through his co-op, McCluskie was able to land a job with SFU’s Work Integrated Learning, which focuses on helping students “build experience that can lead to employment after graduation”. He stresses the importance of finding some form of work experience to show on a resume, beginning with customer service jobs or co-ops in your dream field of work, to show skill development and “tangible evidence and skills that you have to contribute to the workplace”.
Experience. Any Experience.
A 2015 article by CBC stated that, “volunteer work can give graduates a big leg up when it comes to launching their career”. Jocelyn Loi, who works at SFU’s Career Services, works with students and recent graduates in the career exploration and personal development, says that a student can make themselves stand out by choosing a diversity of activities outside of work experience. Something like volunteering and community involvement can help students build on those soft skills mentioned above, as well as build connections for students to help them in their quest for greatness.
Loi says that an area that students tend to overlook in the midst of choosing activities is getting involved with student clubs. “Running a student club is not only a fun extra-curricular activity that offers opportunities to meet other like-minded students, but also great to build leadership and teamwork skills, which are great assets to have.” Clearly explaining to employers how these experiences can transfer into the workplace is also very helpful when considering what activities to take on.
McCluskie also adds that taking part in activities such as field schools and exchanges are excellent ways to have a more worldly experience that you can bring to any job. McCluskie spent some time in India on a field school, where he was able to gain “life experience outside of school”: “It gave me a chance to see what I could do out in the world, and made me more confident in my abilities.” The invaluable opportunity of travel enables you to build up your soft skill set, helping you to step out of your comfort zone, and bring a different perspective to a prospective company.
Passion and hustle!
Loi goes on to say that students should avoid doing nothing. “Always try to take action, try new things and build new connections.” Furthermore, engaging in a wide range of activities will show “flexibility, adaptability, motivation, passion in development and learning skills, which are all key competencies for success.”
Employers are no longer looking for students that just spend their days and nights studying. The key is to take what you have learned and put it into practice through practical activities such as a part-time job, volunteering, or otherwise. With the summer approaching, take the initiative to do some resume building activities that will further your professional and personal development.
Congratulations to Tracy Nguyen of Woodbridge College, winner of Week 4 in the 10K Study break!
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