Back to basics: Job search advice from a school counsellor
What happens when a high school student enters his school counsellor’s office to get advice on how to look for a summer job or a first job after graduation?
Beth Zazula, School Counsellor and Off Campus Programs Coordinator for Peace Wapiti School Division in Grande Prairie, Alberta has invited us to listen in on how she advises the students she works with every day on how to conduct a job search. Zazula has been more than a source of knowledge to the myriad of students she has inspired over the last 28 years. She is a mentor, a confidante, a cheerleader, a task master and often a friend.
Zazula knows the ins and outs of student employment from the ground up, having pioneered career development youth initiative programs for Alberta Employment & Immigration and her school division for over a decade.
"The first question that I ask a student is where they would like to work. I advise them to choose places where they like the environment and the type of work the company offers." If you choose the wrong dynamics and setting, then right off the bat your happiness quotient drops.
(Similarly, one client recently told me that he really liked the idea of putting on a suit and going to work every day - until he walked into the building. His day went downhill fast from there. He eventually quit his banking job and now teaches yoga and does massage therapy.)
"I then conduct a skills assessment inventory. These tests determine transferable skills derived from their interests, hobbies, volunteer work and school subjects." For instance, if a student has played hockey they may be a good leader, be physically strong and have good hand eye coordination. With those transferable skills a job which requires some or all of those skills can be identified and sought out.
"Next we build a resume." Students with no job experience are often particularly daunted by wiring their first resume. To creatively and articulately put together a document that highlights transferable skills is no easy feat. Enlisting the help of a professional can usually produce better results. Zazula advises, "State a specific objective and be honest with yourself as to what you want from your employer." If you don’t want to work weekends or evenings be sure that is communicated somehow. A limitation like that might be problematic and reduce a students’ employability, but it is what it is and the employer needs to know. You don't want to be hired for a job that you don't want to do.
"Ask yourself some self-reflective questions to gather material for the resume. How have you helped out with your family, at school, on class projects or in the community? What personal experiences have you had? Have you experienced different cultures, done volunteer work locally or abroad?" Don’t take your abilities for granted. Just because you are a natural athlete, musician or computer whiz, doesn’t make you less talented than people who have taken courses in a subject. Proper formatting is key. Research various resume styles, and pick one that suits your volume of content and easy to follow.
A cover letter is usually, but not always, required with your resume when you apply for a job. Your cover letter does not simply regurgitate your resume, but it informs the reader as to what you can do for the company. A cover letter also addresses each of the requirements mentioned in the job description. If you are delivering a resume in person to the hiring manager, more than likely you won’t need a cover letter. When you apply on line, a letter is required.
Along with the resume and cover letter, you'll also need a list of references. "When compiling a list of three references, do not choose family members," says Zazula. "Make sure you ask permission of each reference you choose, and give each of those people a copy of your resume."
References can be teachers, neighbours, your doctor, your friends’ parents, a religious head, bank manager, someone who can vouch for you personally and who knows enough about you that they can provide an example of your credibility.
"Once all their documents have been prepared, I send students home to show their resume and cover letter to their parents or a respected adult who knows them well for added opinion and perspective," says Zazula.
A fresh set of eyes on any document can usually help catch any overlooked mistakes or typos.
The final tip is to do your research. Having a knowledgeable advisor like Beth Zazula can help get you started. But at the end of the day, you need to seek out opportunities, find out about the company that is hiring and tailor your base resume and cover letter to their needs in particular.
Colleen Clarke, Career Specialist & Corporate Trainer
Author of Networking How to
Build Relationships That Count, How to Get a Job and Keep
Co-author of The Power of Mentorship; The Mastermind Group
Category: Job search strategies, Student