Back-to-school job hunting tips for students

An employment application form on a table during a job fair at Columbia-Greene Community College in Hudson, N.Y.
An employment application form on a table during a job fair at Columbia-Greene Community College in Hudson, N.Y. Mike Groll/AP Photo

With soaring tuition prices, ballooning student debt and the cost of everyday necessities going up, the laundry list of expenses for students continues to grow.

So where’s the money going to come from?

In two separate studies done by CIBC between 2014 and 2015, parents feel they’re being stretched thin when it comes to helping their kids financially.

And while parents are willing to pay 67 per cent of their child’s post-secondary education costs, 51 per cent also say their kids tapped them for additional financial support because they ran out of money during the school year.

This is where a part-time job could come in handy.

Global News spoke with Shawn D’Souza from Workopolis and Lisa Kay of Peak Performance, a human resources firm, to talk student employment – the best jobs out there for secondary and post-secondary students, where to start looking, how to stand out and ways to manage that work-school-life balance.

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Advantages of having a part-time student job

According to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, the average cost of a year’s tuition at a Canadian university in 2013-2014 was $5,772 with books and materials ranging between $800 and $1,000.

By the time graduation rolls around, the latest calculation by the Canadian Student Loans Program says post-secondary students are pegged to carry an average debt of $12,314 in federal student loans. That number grows when provincial student loans, living expenses and recreational costs are taken into account.

READ MORE: How to combat the far-reaching consequences of student debt

While making money is an obvious motivating factor for many students to get jobs, D’Souza says students should also think about the connections they’ll make and transferable skills they’ll develop that will benefit them in the future.

“Networking is important because you never know, you might run into your next employer,” he says. “(Jobs) also help them develop commitment skills, teamwork, team management and customer service. So all these things add up and play an important role on your resumé for your next employer.”

Students will also have the opportunity to try out jobs related to their chosen field to see if they’re really the right fit for them.

“Jobs are similar to dating in that you try one out and from that experience you learn what you like and what you don’t,” says Kay. “You can do this until you find something you really want to do.”

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The job hunting process

Before flipping through the online classifieds, think about what you want to do and be strategic in your job search, Kay says.

“What are their interests, where do they see themselves and where would they like to gain experience?” Kay asks. “Do a very strategic search. What are some of the companies you really would like to work for?”

And in that search, Kay says, you may find similar companies you didn’t know existed – but make sure to stay organized.

“Keep a spreadsheet or some way of tracking all the companies you want to apply to,” she says. “Also keep track of who you sent your resumé to and how you sent it.”

That way, she says, it’s easier to know who to follow up with and when.

With a rise in listed part-time jobs having jumped eight per cent in the past three years, D’Souza says now is the time to take advantage of the current job boom.

The first thing you’ll need to start the process is a well-thought-out resumé.

But, D’Souza says, be careful when crafting it because it can really make or break your chances at getting an interview.

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READ MORE: New study reveals top 10 skills Canadian employers are looking for

“A lot of students try the ‘one size fits all’ approach when putting their resumé together,” he says. “But I recommend to take a pause, look at the job description and make sure they tailor every bit of their skill sets and education according to the job description.”

And always make sure your resumé is free of errors and sent to the right person and company.

Part-time jobs for students to consider

Look for a job that you’ll get the most out of financially, professionally and socially, and is flexible D’Souza says.

He also advises students to look at the opportunities right in front of them.

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“I would ask students to look at on-campus jobs,” said D’Souza. “They’re more readily available, making them the best opportunities available for students.”

As for popularity, service jobs remain the go-to for students. Brand ambassador, waiter and positions with event management teams make for great choices for students because of their flexibility, D’Souza suggests.

He adds they may want to check out companies like Datenight Babysitting, an app that connects parents with local babysitters, as well as opportunities with Uber.

Ways to stand out when applying for jobs

For D’Souza, one surefire way to stand out is to build a personal brand and manage a social media presence.

“A lot of employers right now look at social media profiles before they call candidates for an interview just to see who they’ll actually be hiring,” he says. “So make sure you have great branding [and that] your social media profiles are clean.”

This means deleting any posts that may hinder you from getting a job.

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READ MORE: Top 5 things not to do in a job interview

Picking up some volunteer opportunities at places that reflect your interests is also a plus. These jobs can help you gain certain types of skills, demonstrate the type of person you are and help you grow personally and professionally, D’Souza says.

When a resumé is among a pile of a thousand others, make it visually unique if it fits the type of job you’re going after, Kay adds.

“Think about including a portfolio or maybe play with the format of the resumé like with a video, or present it as an online interactive resumé,” she says. “It depends on the industry so it may or may not work because there may be certain limitations on how you can send your resumé. But if it’s a creative type of role you’re competing for then you want to be able to stand out through some kind of demonstration of what your abilities are.”

The balancing act

Finding that balance between work, school and life all comes down to time management, says Kay.

“At the end of the day it really is about managing your time and recognizing what your priorities are,” she says.

Communicate with your work, Kay adds, especially when schooling is involved.

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“If there’s an important deadline don’t wait until the day before to tell your boss you can’t work,” Kay says. “Make sure you’re prepared and communicating deadlines so that you don’t have conflicts. Be organized and think ahead.”

Last bit of advice

For D’Souza, students should be open to any new opportunities that arise.

“Learning new skill sets through new opportunities is good because you might [discover] some skills you never knew you had.”

As for Kay, it’s about knowing your limitations and acknowledging if the work-life balance isn’t working.

“Don’t over-commit yourself,” says Kay. “You don’t want to establish a bad reputation in the workforce. It’s a small world out there and it’s your opportunity to build your network, reputation and relationships so you don’t want it to work against you by building a bad reputation. You want it to be a positive reflection on you. So if you find that you’re struggling then think really carefully and see if this is something you should continue to do.”

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