Summertime Job Scramble for New Grads
The summer months for new graduates can be a time of immense relief and pride, as well as immaculate uncertainty and apprehension. Students with newly obtained Bachelor of Arts degrees may find themselves on the more pessimistic side of the scale. Or at least that’s where I found myself, dreading to walk the convocation stage – because once you’ve reached the other side, what’s…next?
At the beginning of my undergraduate career, graduate school was always on the horizon. Two years later and after some quick financial calculations vis-a-vis tuition fees, the decision between attending grad school and working a full-time job became a no-brainer.
The goal was clear: Secure a job straight out of school. The process to achieve that goal? Complete and utter confusion. For those entering the workforce on a permanent basis, applying for jobs can range from a smooth sailing journey to a downright dejecting one. And the latter is hardly a surprise, with the pattern of impersonal application processes becoming the new norm.
Conventional wisdom for college students hoping to secure a job after graduation is to start early. They’re told to be prepared, which essentially means to account for the competition within the candidate market. So, students start thinking of ways to make themselves stand out from the crowd. These endeavours tend to be in the form of internships, extracurriculars, volunteering, entrepreneurship, self-taught skills, etc. Ultimately, students today are high achievers – but it still doesn’t seem like it’s enough.
The (Digital) Application Process
Students can easily navigate job boards like LinkedIn and Indeed. Just a few exploratory clicks are enough for them to gain a fairly thorough understanding of such platforms. So when it comes to applying to job ads online, two main strategies tend to be employed: Casting the net wide or going all in.
The first strategy is a numbers game. The more applications you send out, the higher the reply rate and the chances of securing interviews. With Easy Apply options available on almost all job boards and aggregators, you’re more likely to attach your CV, put in a few details about your contact information and send it off. The same process can be repeated about 20 times a day for various job ads and it may still not render a reply. At most, students will receive an automated message thanking you for applying and that their application is under review.
The second strategy is a sales pitch. This one can be incredibly time consuming. Students are more likely to have several variations of the same CV, emphasising and subduing various aspects of their experiences based on the job description. In addition, cover letters are meticulously drafted and perfected over a couple of hours. For all its eloquent argumentation of how the candidate’s skills really do lend themselves to be ideal for the job, a cover letter will most likely go unread. Yet, it is understandable that students use that single page document to sprinkle some character into their application bundle.
I tried both strategies. None of them really worked.
I was exhausted by the online application process. So I turned to a good ol’ brick and mortar career fair.
Why Old School Job Fairs Are Still Relevant
Right off the bat – I am bias in this regard. I met my current employers at the job fair. It was a Montreal wide one so professionals at varying levels of seniority could attend. I had been to career fairs in high school and college. But they were mostly geared towards hiring for technical roles. Hence, my issue: I wasn’t accustomed to attending job fairs.
Any guidance was good guidance at that point. And I wanted to come out of it with something tangible like a potential interview, a solid contact, or some insight into the job market. So I Googled the basics:
- How to prepare? Research the companies that would have stalls set up. This information is readily available on the website. Sometimes companies list their open positions too.
- What to bring? At least 10 hard copies of your CV to distribute to potential employers. Turns out, I didn’t need them barring a couple of times. The LinkedIn app on my phone sufficed.
- How to dress? Business casual. I ended up dressing more on the business side of the spectrum and immediately regretted it as soon as I stepped into the hotel’s conference room. I felt out of place. Now I looked out of place too.
In times like these, I tend to push concerns to the back of my mind and run on autopilot. What I should have reminded myself about is that almost every entry level candidate is insecure about their professional career, or lack thereof. So how do you sell yourself as a valuable employee? Thankfully I didn’t have to answer that question all by myself. The answers were guided by the questions posed by the recruiters I was speaking to. They asked me about work ethic, values I’d like to see a company embody, and what I was sure I didn’t want to pursue professionally. I realised that these are points I could have included in one of those cover letters. But the interactive guidance would still be missing.
Out of all the booths I had visited that day, I was most excited about the headhunting firm whose stall was awkwardly positioned right in the middle of the conference room – an area I would have very much missed if it wasn’t for their bold colour scheme. I hadn’t secured an interview with them, neither had I made a “solid” contact from the company (i.e. exchange of emails or a LinkedIn connection). I did, however, follow up later that day via LinkedIn messaging, hoping the recruiters remembered our conversation that was more about me and less about what they were looking for in an employee. But I eventually got that information a week or so later when I was called in for an interview. A couple of more meetings later, and a surprisingly large number of questions designed to gauge my personality as opposed to my professional experience, my job hunt was over.
If students find it difficult to bring forth their personalities into the application process, and hiring managers find it challenging to gauge culture fits within candidates, this gaping disparity needs to be tended to. And there are a couple of effective ways of bridging this gap. Job and career fairs should be marketed big time, whether at the university level or a city-wide one. They should also be accessible to all majors and faculties, especially for people studying inter-disciplinary subjects in which career trajectories are not always easily spelt out, and there is a need for a more comprehensive discussion of options.
A question I get asked quite frequently as students wrapped up their last month of their college career was how many applications I sent out. It didn’t make sense why people with a very different profile to me were asking considering we were applying to different fields and positions altogether. But I realised that people were already accounting for the large proportion of applications that they wouldn’t hear back from. It’s like there’s a threshold of applications to send before something materialises. And this entire process is sans interaction. Ultimately, the job market becomes more inaccessible, at least in the mind.
Job fairs provide tangibility and accountability. You get to ask your questions about companies’ open positions and culture on the spot. You get to hand in your CV in person and get a contact to follow up with. It’s a form of networking students can actually digest, as opposed to be being taught how to perfect your handshake in Networking 101 seminars offered by schools.
Arnavi Mehta is Pronexia’s Coordinator, Talent Strategy. Armed with a BA Political Science from McGill University, she lived in Mumbai, Dubai and Singapore before moving to Montreal. Catch her running around the Plateau, headphones blaring and a book tucked under her arm. Connect with her here.