It’s that time of year again. When the summer sun starts to heat up, and university classes have let out for the year. When scores of new graduates take those first sweet breaths of freedom, forget about the stress of final exams, and prepare to join the permanent work force for the very first time...
If only it were so simple.
As almost any recent grad will attest, getting hired post-degree isn’t always a smooth ride. And particularly for international students, who also need to worry about such things as visas and work permits, the process can be daunting. But according to international graduates from the University of Victoria – or “UVic”, located on Vancouver Island, BC – one of the best ways to ensure success is to start preparing early. And one of the easiest ways to do so? Take part in your university’s own co-operative education program.
“Co-operative education is a great way to develop the competencies that employers seek in graduates,” agrees Joy Poliquin, who works at UVic’s own Co-operative Education Program and Career Services office. Besides helping international students to find work experience with employers both in Canada and elsewhere around the world, co-op programs like UVic’s also aim to prepare students to better understand – and meet – the demands and expectations of the Canadian workplace. Through taking part in the program, Joy explains that students are able to alternate terms at school with terms at work for organizations across Canada – earning credit, and often competitive salaries, while at the same time building essential job skills.
“We encourage all of our students to develop competencies through their work experiences; these include core competencies, cross-cultural competencies, program-specific competencies and professional competencies to help their excel in the workplace,” Joy continues. “Graduating with up to 16 months of relevant work experience is a great way to enhance a student’s employability and demonstrate their ability to succeed in a wide range of workplaces.”
Keep an open mind
For some students, co-op positions can kick start careers and even lead to full-time job offers from the same employers after graduation. But even if you don’t get a co-op placement with one of your ‘ideal’ future employers, it doesn’t mean the position won’t result in extremely valuable career experience – as one recent UVic MBA grad found out for herself.
Originally from Taizhou, China, Qi Ke spent one of her co-op terms working at a local store, called Lugaro Jewellers.
“I never thought I wanted to work in the jewellery store for my co-op,” she admits, “but it turned out to be a very positive experience for me. I learned how to communicate with customers in an English speaking environment and improve my understanding of the Canadian culture. All these are important if international students want to work in this country.”
Another UVic grad, Erinc Mullaoglu – hailing from Istanbul, Turkey – also took part in the university’s co-op program. In addition to furthering his Bachelor’s education in Computer Science and Economics with a co-op work term as an IT Management Assistant, Erinc also worked as a freelance web developer throughout his studies – valuable experience he says he never would have landed had he not gotten himself ‘out there’ in the local community.
“It is important to realize that your GPA will not automatically land you a job,” Erinc explains. “Your networking skills and what you do outside of the class are much more important and these will help you stand out. When I was in my second year, I offered my services to several local non-profit organizations, designing their websites for free. After a few of these volunteer initiatives, I started charging, and by the time of my graduation I had dozens of websites in my portfolio.”
“As an international student, you might feel disadvantaged by not knowing many people (in Canada),” he continues, “but you can easily overcome this by joining your local community. I not only became the Vice President of Turkish Society in Vancouver Island, but also founded the Turkish Students Association at UVic. These roles helped me meet hundreds of people, and demonstrated my leadership skills to potential employers.”
Don’t give up
Although not every student automatically gets offered their dream job – or any job, for that matter – immediately upon graduation, it’s important not to give up.
For some students, opportunities can arise from employers they’ve previously worked for, such as co-op bosses or even the university itself. Qi Ke, for example, was offered the chance to turn a part-time job she had during her studies into a full-time position.
“I was working part-time doing International Student Recruitment Liaison for UVic when I was still in the MBA program,” she explains. “I was lucky I didn’t spend any time searching jobs, since I love this job very much. I moved to full time before I graduated.”
For most students, however, getting hired involves a much lengthier process, so it’s a good idea to start applying early, cast your net for a variety of opportunities, and consider different locations. The more applications you make, the higher the chance you’ll get something good.
“I applied for five jobs in the Victoria and Vancouver areas one month before my graduation,” explains Erinc. “After a few weeks of interviews with three of these companies, I had two full-time job offers as a web developer. Before writing my final exams, I accepted a position at Neverblue, Vancouver Island’s technology company of the Year 2007. I immediately started taking responsibilities and it was very satisfying observing my impact on the company. After the first three months, Neverblue nominated me for the Provincial Nominee Program and I became a permanent resident of Canada.”
After a few years of work experience, Erinc eventually switched to running his own education-based company full-time – and he remains grateful for all the career help UVic provided him.
How Canadian universities can help
“UVic co-op department was extremely helpful in preparing me for the job market,” Erinc explains. “Not only did they offer several workshops on writing resumés and cover letters, but also they constantly emphasized the importance of networking skills. This was an eye-opener for me and helped me in landing both my co-op and full-time jobs. I also attended several career fairs on campus and was surprised to see how accessible some of the world’s top companies were.”
“Our goal is to help students identify a career pathway that matches their goals,” explains UVic’s Joy Poliquin. “International students can come to us for help connecting with government sponsored programs that allow them to work in Canada while applying for immigration to Canada, and our career educators offer several programs to help students who are seeking work after they graduate. This includes our Horizons and Navigator programs, which help students identify their post-graduate career goals and develop effective job search strategies for realizing these goals. We also offer online resources such as Going Global, which has job postings from companies in 30 countries including Canada.”
The most likely to succeed, according to Joy?
“Most successful job searchers are hard working,” she says, “motivated, willing to put in the extra effort, willing to connect with potential employers and engage in networking, and are able to ‘sell’ their international competencies and the knowledge they can contribute as a result of coming from a different country.”
Maneuvering the immigration limbo
Interested in working in Canada after you’ve completed your degree? The good news is that, under the Canadian government’s Post-Graduation Work Permit Program, international graduates are eligible to work in Canada for up to a maximum of three years (exact length varies depending on how long a student’s program of study was for) – and many choose to apply for permanent residency or citizenship after that.
If you would like to learn more about working in Canada post-degree, be sure to visit the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website at www.cic.gc.ca.
– Arwen 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: May 30, 2012