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Improving Your Employability in Tough Economic Times


by Jen Davies

Youth unemployment in Canada has rarely been worse. In an economic period that has seen retirement savings shrink, Boomers aren’t retiring as expected. Long-time program funders like the federal and provincial governments are cutting the number of dollars they are spending on summer jobs programs and even on ongoing employment-related services, so there are fewer openings and recent graduates are competing for positions with recently laid-off experienced workers.

What is a recent graduate in the career development field to do?

In addition to networking, both in person and on social networks, there are ways that students can improve their employability, including being flexible on location, taking on co-ops or internships, and making your skills and training “stand out in a crowd.”


Flexible on Location

It’s difficult not to be attracted to ”big city” life of places like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Recent graduates would be wise, however, to explore opportunities in smaller communities in the east and west of Canada.

For example, a quick look at the job postings on the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA) website found 3 jobs in B.C. (Victoria, Kelowna), one job in Alberta (Drumheller), three jobs in the Territories and two jobs in Saskatchewan (Saskatoon). Another quick look at ads for “counsellor” in Ontario on the Canada Job Bank found 31 jobs outside of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), 12 jobs in the suburbs of Toronto, and only eight jobs within Toronto’s city limits. It is worth noting that the Toronto-located jobs also only offered hourly wages between $10.25 (minimum wage) and $15 per hour, while the suburbs and other cities were offering more.

This tells us one of two things, or both may be true: first, that there are not as many job openings in Toronto, most likely because there are already so many job-seekers looking for work there; and two, that jobs are being filled through networking and word of mouth.


Volunteering and Internships

How do I build a network if I don’t have a job? you may ask. Volunteering is the most straightforward – volunteering at a workplace, for conferences, for non-profits, and most importantly, for professional associations. You might also pursue temporary work in your field, as well as internships.

The Canadian Association of Career Educators & Employers’ (CACEE) 2011 survey found that only 4% of employers hiring new graduates offering a signing bonus in 2011, while 31% of employers were offering a relocation allowance. See what I mean about flexibility in location? While 50% of job offers came from Ontario employers, a full 25% of offers came from the Prairies. It is worth noting that this finding could be a result of many graduates seeking work in Ontario, and not many graduates applying for work in the Prairie provinces, and/or more employers who use CACEE for recruiting coming from Ontario than from anywhere else.

South of the border, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) annual survey, almost 59% of 2011 just-graduated interns were offered and accepted full-time employment. Doing co-ops and internships works. Visit for some suggested sites for internships. Organizations like Career Edge and AIESEC also help to connect recent graduates with internship opportunities in Canada and abroad respectively. Don’t hesitate to research organizations you would like to work for and inquire as to whether they offer internships to recent grads.


Make Your Skills “Stand Out”

There are two keys to standing out on paper and at an interview, among a sea of competing candidates: make it sound good, and make it look good. With regard to making it look good, there are lots of websites you can refer to on Canadian resume format and how to dress and behave at an interview. With regard to making it sound good, you have to highlight the skills and training that you have in a way that makes them appealing to a manager or human resource professional.

One simple way to make your training and skills stand out is to state them! Know what your skills are, and provide an example that demonstrates each skill you claim. With regard to training, don’t just say that you have an XYZ Diploma or an ABC Degree – identify specific courses that you took, specific topics that you covered, and include your GPA if your grades were A/80% or better!

Ensure that you focus on a resume or in an interview on the skills and training that you know the employer is seeking as prerequisites for a position. Skills that are always in demand are the “soft skills,” like clear communication, critical thinking and coming across to others as genuine. If those are weak points of yours, it would be worth finding ways to practice them.

In addition to practice, you can find cost-effective training solutions at a wide range of organizations. Colleges and universities offer courses, of course. Even better-suited to a student budget are courses offered at places like the Toronto Hostels Training Centre (, or programs offered by groups like Toastmasters. For a very small fee, you can access targeted training from knowledgeable trainers, and it sounds good on a resume or in an interview, to identify that you were working to improve your soft skills.

The labour market isn’t kind everywhere in Canada, but if you are willing to be flexible on location for your first few years, take temporary work such as internships, and if you practice making your skills and training stand out, you can find employment in our field.


Jen Davies, MA, C.C.C. has worked as a career counsellor and as an employment advisor in colleges and universities, and in social services. She is currently working on her Doctor of Education in Counselling Psychology at OISE/University of Toronto.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 10:57

Career counsellor and employment advisor in post-secondary settings

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