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LIFE AFTER UNIVERSITY: Start planning now!


For many international students, a major reason for choosing to study at a Canadian university is the opportunity it affords to later gain employment (either short or long-term) in the country.

The good news is that it has never been easier for qualified international students to legally work in Canada post-graduation!
Whether you’ve known exactly what you want to be since the age of three, or you’re still a bit undecided over which exact career path you want to take, the trick is of course actually getting yourself there. But, wherever ‘there’ may be, there’s no better time to start planning for this than while attending a Canadian university.

Step One: Play to your strengths… and your interests


The best news – especially for students who are still a bit undecided about which type of career path they want to end up in – is that Canadian universities offer a lot of flexibility when it comes to choosing, changing, and matching different majors or minors. In other words, just because you start out as a History major in first year, doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind and, a year later, start gaining credits toward another arts-related degree instead. Or keep the History major but tack on a minor in another discipline – like French, for example. Or vice versa – major in French, minor in History. The options are nearly endless.

That said, it’s still important to ask yourself a few questions – both before you apply for any program, and after you’ve started it. Specifically, what is it that you’re actually interested in? And also, what is it that you’re particularly good at?

For example, it may have been your high school dream to one day build airplanes. But if you don’t have the skills – or interest – to get through all the specialized math and science courses mandatory to actually earn an aeronautical engineering degree... well, that dream isn’t very likely to come true.

To excel at something, you not only have to have the basic skills necessary for it, you also have to have the interest and passion for it. Especially for students from countries where “good careers” are highly emphasized (and sometimes far more limited), it’s hard to take more ‘alternative’ career paths seriously – and/or to convince parents (parents who perhaps bought you a toy stethoscope for your first birthday and have been urging you to become a neurosurgeon since before you could even talk) to support you in such a decision. But it’s true that the more interested you are in a degree program, the better you’ll do in it – and the more graduate programs or jobs will be available to you later on. So be sure to ask yourself early on, what it is you’re passionate about – and you can always define your career goals from there.

Still don’t know exactly what you want to do –
or how to get there?


Luckily for students at Canadian universities, specialized counselling services are on offer to help students both succeed in their chosen university programs, and to plan for strong futures.

Take the counselling services available at the University of Victoria for example. Through staff support, UVic students can benefit from either individual or group counselling in a variety of areas. As the university’s counselling webpage (www.coun. uvic.ca/career/) attests – this type of support “can also help you cope with stress and anxiety related to career decision-making, identify next steps in your career development and learn about useful resources.

Your counsellor will help you clarify your questions and priorities, and may refer you to other services as needed. For instance, Career Services can help you with work search, while Academic Advising is your best bet for course planning.”

Other services and workshops offered by Canadian universities can also be accessed by international students to help cultivate specialized skills, ranging from English language, to writing, to information technology – all of which can help students succeed at classes and land jobs later on.

Check out the market, see where the demand is


Whether you’ve already decided your dream job or are still uncertain, it’s worth checking out what current opportunities are out there. In Canada, there are all types of jobs available for qualified graduates – and with minimum wages set by provincial governments, it’s hard to pick a “bad” career. But if you want to give yourself as many good options as possible, you might want to consider what the most in-demand professions are.

In Canada, for example, the field of medicine is currently offering up a lot of strong positions (in areas ranging from old age care, to dentistry, to nursing), as is the education sector and the tourism and hospitality industry. You can go to Service Canada’s website, jobfutures.ca, to find out more.

Also, be sure to try out the federal government’s cool job finder tool – www.workingincanada. gc.ca/content_pieces-eng. do?lang=eng&cid=1.

Through this site, you can find out a ton about any career you’re interested in.

For example, try typing in ‘Engineer’ under Job Title – with a few clicks of a button you can narrow down the field to what type of engineering you’re interested in, choose the province and region you’d most like to work in, and just like that, you have access to all the following information – job qualifications, education requirements, wages, a list of top employers, and much more.

Find inspirations


If you can convince a professional in your field of interest to let you pick their brain about what it takes to succeed out in the real world – do it!

This person might be a professor, or perhaps a co-op boss or colleague or you could ask your university to help you find a recent alumni success story who might be willing to let you chat with them on the phone for a few minutes.

Besides being a great way to learn from other’s experiences, this could also lead to some great contacts – for now or for the future, you never know.


Do the research


Finally, to get a better idea of the skills real professionals need, try looking up CVs or backgrounds of people currently holding your dream job.

For example, if your goal is to work in Public Relations, check out what degrees and work experience real-life PR officers hold. Often you can find examples of this online, through networking sites like Linked-In, personal web-sites, and/or short company bios of professionals in your chosen field. You can also try looking up current job postings – for the type of job you want to hold, two, five, even ten years down the line.

If it says you need a degree in “x” and five years experience doing “y”, then likely that is as good a place as any for you to start your plans!
– RWEN KIDD

• ARWEN KIDD currently serves as Communications Director for the Canadian University Application Centre and its parent organization, Higher-Edge. A Canadian university graduate herself, Arwen has spent most of the past five years working and travelling overseas. Among her credits are various documentary film and photo journalism projects in Eastern Europe, Australia and West Africa. Arwen is currently based in Liberia.

Posted: Dec 1, 2011

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