CaPS: Teaching the art of job hunting

CaPS Director Gregg Blachford. / Photo: Owen Egan
CaPS Director Gregg Blachford. / Photo: Owen Egan

By Jim Hynes

One of the main purposes of a place of higher learning – the preparing of young people for the working world – can sometimes get lost in the all-encompassing swirl of academia. Everywhere except for McGill’s Career Planning Service (CaPS), that is, where the eyes never drift from the prize of finding jobs for students.

CaPS assists students in their career development and search for permanent, part-time and summer jobs, as well as internships, by providing workshops, individual advising, a comprehensive job-posting service, and an extensive Career Resource Centre. It serves all full-time students, including graduates, up to one year after the end of their studies.

With students busy with exams, it’s the calm before the storm at CaPS this week. Soon, though, it will become the service centre of attention for those who’ve not yet given any thought to finding a job, graduating students included.

Perfect for the graduating procrastinator is CaPS’ Job Finding Club, a program run four times a year concentrating the Service’s year round offerings into an intensive two-week course. The Club consists of a group of 10 to 15 graduating students learning the most effective means of finding work in the field in which they want to be employed.

One of the things they’ll learn is that finding a job is itself a full-time vocation. Club members take part in morning workshops on everything from CV writing to practicing for job interviews. Afternoons are reserved for what CaPS Director Gregg Blachford calls the “homework of what we’ve been teaching them,” like making phone calls and knocking on doors.

Indeed, good old-fashioned pavement pounding, Blachford says, is still the most effective way to find a job these days, something that may come as a surprise to devotees of jobs websites.

Pounding the pavement

“The Internet has changed the way people look for jobs, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “But, and it varies depending on the industry; no more than 20 to 30 per cent of jobs are found on the public, open job market. Those who just sit in front of their computer looking at one website after another, sending hundreds of CVs out are going to get frustrated.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is that many people still hire people they know, or know of through someone else. Which brings the “N” word into play.

“I try not to mention networking right off, because it scares some students,” Blachford said. “To them it means that they have to speak to strangers, which it does, but to some it also means cheating, taking advantage of their position, and they feel self-conscious about that even though we tell them not to.”

The trick for the shy networker, Blachford says, is to start with the people you know.

“We call it using your warm contacts to help you find cold ones. The cold contacts are more likely to speak to you when you phone them up if you say ‘so and so gave me your name and thought you might be able to help me.’ ”

As for the job market awaiting this year’s crop of graduates, Blachford says it has improved over last year’s, which was a difficult one.

“We are up about 10 per cent in terms of jobs that come to the myfuture database, but it’s still difficult in many fields. But if you are in any of the health sciences, well, you will be chased for a job – physiotherapy, occupational therapy, nursing, speech language pathologists, we don’t have enough students for the jobs that there are.”

Arts and Sciences students, however, often require more attention.

“We are used to the idea that the degree dictates the job, which, when you are in Engineering, or Management doing Finance, is generally true,” Blachford said.

“But that’s not usually the case with Arts and sometimes Science students. When they ask ‘what can I do with my BA in History?’ one answer could be that it’s very limited. But the other answer is that you can do whatever you want. You have to target what you want, assess your skills, values and interests, and articulate those on paper and at interviews rather than pushing your degree in the employer’s face and saying ‘do you have a job for me.’ ”

For more information on CaPS and the Job Finding Club, visit Eligible students can view hundreds of available jobs through the myfuture database, accessible through the site’s Information for Students section.