With the end of the school year on the not-so-far horizon, many students are nervously preparing to enter the workforce after graduation. Competition is fierce, so how do you set yourself up for success? Three recent graduates share their experiences, with advice to stand out, focus your search and land a position with a dream team.
Brittany Vucinic, Project Coordinator
I completed my degree during the pandemic, so it was certainly difficult to find a job. There were many places that had advertised that they were hiring, but when I applied I was told that they no longer had the resources to support a new role. Having heard this response over and over, it became a little discouraging when looking for opportunities.
How did you start your job search?
The program I graduated from posted job opportunities on its website, and a posting for a Project Coordinator position at Context Creative caught my eye immediately. I researched Context and learned that we share the same values, and their work is incredible. On LinkedIn, I noticed that one of their current employees graduated from the same program as I did, so I decided to reach out to her, introduce myself, and poke her brain about what it’s like to work in marketing. Our conversation went really well, and the rest is history.
Did you have any experience coming in to the workforce?
I completed two internships during my time at Ryerson University. These positions were more related to print production, which is quite different compared to the role I have now at Context. Having said that, the skills I learned have definitely come in handy when reviewing print jobs.
Has anything surprised you working in a professional setting?
Agency turnaround time is one thing that I believe school can’t quite prepare you for. It has certainly been a steep learning curve for both my organizational and problem-solving skills.
Any advice to graduates entering the workforce?
My number one tip for graduates with little or no professional experience is to stand out and help the employer put a face to your name. It can be extremely difficult to stand out on paper and many employers will appreciate the initiative! I used this strategy when applying to my current job. It really works.
Nicole Persaud, Copywriter
I graduated near the height of the pandemic, so job hunting was definitely difficult. There were no networking events or job fairs to attend, so it was really hard to connect with people in the industry.
What experience did you have going into the job market?
I was lucky enough to be part of Wilfrid Laurier University’s co-op program during my undergraduate degree, which gave me about a year of work experience by the time I graduated. My three co-op terms taught me a lot about what I liked — and what I didn’t — and I got to work at some really cool companies across different industries.
What tools and strategies did you find most effective?
I used LinkedIn Jobs for my job search; I really liked how it was set up and I personally found it a lot easier to navigate than other job sites. I wrote custom cover letters and resumes for all the positions I applied for, which was time-consuming but definitely worth it, in my opinion. I also used Wix to create a simple website to showcase some of my past writing samples. This took a while, but it was nice to be able to quickly send a link to hiring managers or recruiters. I think it’s also something that helped me stand out from other applicants.
What was the application process like for your current position?
When I saw the position posted on LinkedIn, I was immediately interested. In my previous co-op roles I had worked more on the “numbers” side of marketing, so I was excited to apply for a job that focused exclusively on writing, which is what I knew I wanted to do. A few days after applying, I heard back with an invitation for an introductory interview. I immediately felt comfortable and was excited when I got another interview. I then interviewed with the principals, and that was that!
What’s different about learning on the job, compared to in a classroom?
I was in a general business program at school, so although I did take marketing classes, it wasn’t a core focus. We spent most of our time covering big concepts, so I didn’t know much about how marketing worked in a practical setting. I find that at work, I’m less scared to ask questions and make mistakes because I’m not being graded! Everything is treated as a learning experience instead of an opportunity to take away marks, which is a nice change.
Any advice for recent graduates applying for jobs?
Clubs and societies are a great way to add to your resume, especially if you hold a leadership position. I also took some time to complete several certifications that were relevant to the jobs I was applying for; Hootsuite Social Marketing and Hubspot Content Marketing. These certifications were free and a great way for me to learn and demonstrate my knowledge.
Janelle Forbes, Designer
Job searching was a reflective period to understand myself and present myself authentically to agencies I was applying to. The possibilities seemed endless, so I worked to narrow down my personal and professional goals first.
How did you focus your job search?
It’s easy to search a list of the top design agencies in Ontario, but the only way I’d know which one was right for me was by assessing how and where I saw myself growing. I researched each company’s values and philosophies and how they translated into client work and community involvement. This stage does take time, but I appreciated how much I learned in the process of landing my dream job.
What steps did you take to prepare?
In a challenging economy, you need every edge you can get. I used my college’s career development resources, and organized meetings with industry professionals and alumni for advice during my job search — individuals I met through my program or volunteer work at design events. Completing mock interviews and having my resume reviewed was also extremely valuable in understanding how I present myself to the world.
How did you land your job at Context?
From the beginning of my job search process, I was persistent in pursuing the hidden job market through networking rather than traditional job searching. At the time, I was volunteering on the Association of Registered Graphic Designers’ (RGD) Student Committee, and RGD’s Executive Director encouraged me to use their Designer Directory — a list of design industry contacts. That’s where I discovered Lionel Gadoury’s page, one of two Context principals. He spoke about his love for a design community committed to sharing, continuous learning, research, advocacy and mentorship. After looking through the agency’s projects, I knew this was a team I would be excited to join. There was no open job posting, but I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and submit my portfolio all the same. Within a week, I had an excellent interview and was hired as a design intern.
Did you have any professional experience during your education?
I was part of Collaboragency, a communications agency at Durham College, which is made up of a team of multi-disciplinary students. With the guidance of professors, we created unique business solutions for local entrepreneurs — from social media and marketing content to strategic planning. My 14-week internship at Context gave me access to professional mentors who were willing to share their knowledge and enthusiasm about the design industry. We all get nervous when we enter a new job or organization but having mentors who take a personal interest in the relationship helped me feel a part of the company.
What have you learned at Context that wasn’t taught at school?
At Context, I’ve learned to use empathy to inspire designs for our clients and audiences. Every project I work on involves learning about the difficulties people face and designing to their needs. I’ve learned that design is about going beyond creating aesthetically beautiful design to create work with purpose.
Any advice to graduates entering the workforce?
I want to encourage graduates to be lifelong learners who are open-minded and have a positive attitude about the dynamic nature of the design industry. Look for opportunities to expand your knowledge well past your formal education years. While qualifications help with a career, curiosity invites future possibilities. For me, personal development is the process of learning anything that strengthens my mind, improves memory and instills a higher level of self-confidence. I often step outside of my comfort zone. Having a growth mindset has allowed me to embrace challenges, change and critique on the way to my learning goals.