Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

5 ways to succeed in the toughest job market ever

Tips for career seekers in “an incredibly challenging time”

Even under the best circumstances, grads have to hustle harder for places in the workforce. They have knowledge but may lack industry experience, while veteran competitors tend to have both. The disadvantage is clear in youth unemployment rates that trend higher than average.

Unfortunately, those rates have spiked now that the provincial economy has suffered an unprecedented one-two combo of sucker punches, with the price of oil hitting historic lows followed by the pandemic that shuttered businesses beginning in mid-March. It’s so tough that Shannon Neighbour (Marketing ’00) cringes at checking the employment forecasts, despite being founder and partner at Svensen Neighbour Recruiting.

“I wish I could say this in a nice way,” she says. “But I think that this is an incredibly challenging time for tenured, experienced workers. And it's worse when you're a new grad and you don't have practical workplace experience.” The pandemic, she adds, limits opportunities outside the province as well.

So, what now? Don’t even try? Of course not, says Neighbour. All is not lost. After more than a decade in the recruitment business, she knows the tricks of the trade when it comes to getting into one, and knows how to put them to work even at times like this.

1. Build your network virtually

connecting to others through virtual networking for better career prospects

“The advice that I always give people is to get out and network, and now that's quite impossible,” says Neighbour.

But while physical mixers are on hold, virtual meetups aren’t, and they’re being held by various business associations. Check with local groups such as chambers of commerce, get on newsletter lists, scour Eventbrite for online opportunities to make new career connections. Often, they’re free.

The digital format may even be to the new grad’s advantage, Neighbour adds. Rather than trying to casually insert yourself into a conversation while snacking on canapés, “it’s actually in some ways less intimidating to jump onto a video-conference [meeting].”

NAIT Hub is another networking option for recent grads and students. Each month, participants will receive invitations to connect with alumni in fields that match their career aspirations. Conversations can happen online or, when pandemic restrictions are eased, in person.

2. Use LinkedIn a lot, and well

linkedin app

At a time when there may not seem to be much cause to dust off a resumé or polish up a cover letter, grads should turn their attention to maximizing the impact of LinkedIn, says Neighbour. “It's so important right now.”

In many ways, it’s an extension of conventional networking, but more focused. Neighbour recommends searching the platform for groups that share your interests and who may be having conversations that you can contribute to or learn from. The more you post, comment, reshare and otherwise engage with content and other users, the more you’ll be noticed.

The more you engage with content and other users, the more you’ll be noticed.

And, thanks to the inner workings of LinkedIn, the more likely you’ll be to come up in searches by recruiters.

All the while, “focus on having the best profile possible,” says Neighbour. Load it with information about you. This will also help when you eventually begin to send out professional, personalized notes to people you don’t know but feel you should. As a recruiter, Neighbour gets these connection requests often. Usually, she accepts – unless she sees an obvious red flag.

“If you don't have any information and I don't know who you are, I'm not going to connect with you. That just makes me suspicious.”

3. Don’t write off your experience

students doing a class project

A great way to flesh out that profile is by highlighting your experience. This needn’t be industry experience, says Neighbour. A major class project qualifies if you explain your role and impact. Same goes for involvement in clubs related to the career you’re after, and volunteer work.

“It shows initiative and shows that you were looking to enrich yourself in some way.”

And don’t be afraid to ask instructors for recommendations, Neighbour adds.

Once you land that first job, you can start to replace those warm-up projects with workplace accomplishments.

4. Have reasonable expectations

stepping stones on a hill

If an opportunity does come up, don’t feel that you should take on something you know will make you unhappy, says Neighbour. But manage your expectations.

“Just know that you might [not get] the dream job right off the get-go, but something that will be a stepping stone. Maybe you're working at the dream company, or at a large company that will give you other opportunities, or for a small company where you can affect change and really put your mark on something.”

"You might [not get] the dream job right off the get-go, but something that will be a stepping stone."

With that in mind, Neighbour adds, amend your short- and mid-term goals so that they ultimately point in the direction you hope for your career.

5. Hang in there

young man connecting with friend over video call

This time isn’t easy, but it isn’t easy for anyone. Even if Alberta has a plan for re-opening following the closures brought on by COVID-19, it doesn’t mean that the world will return to what we knew any time soon, Neighbour points out.

Until then, in addition to keeping in touch with supportive family and friends, keep talking to classmates who get what you’re going through. Bounce ideas off each other. Trade tips. Be a team that tackles the new normal while two metres apart. And commiserate as needed.

“Everyone is in this together,” says Neighbour. “Take some comfort in that.”


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