Undergraduate Students - September 2006
The full version of the September CAPSScoop can be found by clicking here.
Articles in this edition
by Matthew Ruban, BA Economics (2006)
"If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." - Unknown
"I leave McGill much like I arrived four short years ago: very nervous." Those were the opening words of the valedictorian’s speech at convocation in June. He shared those feelings with many graduates, who were faced with uncertain futures and imminent career indecisions. Graduation doesn’t have to creep up that way.
I will start work shortly at an investment bank on Bay Street. The following is my on-campus recruitment story, wherein I hope to motivate you to be proactive about your career planning.
I began my McGill studies in the Faculty of Science. I realized that it wasn’t for me, but I still worked hard for the sake of my grades. At the risk of sounding maternal, I am going to emphasize that getting good grades is the most important step a first-year student can take to help his or her future prospects. Grades offer a quick insight into an individual’s character and are often used as the initial screening process during on-campus recruitment, especially for students with limited work experience.
Another often overlooked student career-booster is on-campus participation, either in a club, student politics, or athletics. The quality of participation overshadows the quantity. It is better to have a large role in one organization than to participate sporadically in a variety of activities.
I loved my studies once I transferred into the Department of Economics, but was still oblivious to potential careers. That changed at the end of my second year when I stumbled upon a CAPS seminar on Investment Banking given by a recent alumnus. He took me under his wing and was my mentor throughout the recruitment process. The first thing he did was point me towards sources that could educate me on the job market. The best of these were the Vault guides. They are annual publications (complimented by the website Vault.com) which cover the labor market in professional industries, provide profiles of important employers, and offer tips on getting your foot in the door. CAPS has many such resources in their library.
Once preliminary research had been undertaken, fieldwork was in order. In September 2004, with two years left in my degree, I began attending company presentations. I consider these presentations a great time investment and a win-win situation. You might find a dream company, with great people looking for individuals with your qualifications. Similarly, you might realize the company, which interested you beforehand, is to be avoided and you can spare yourself some future hardship. My efforts landed me a summer position with a large investment banking firm. I cannot emphasize enough the value of summer internships: professional experience increases your future possibilities and gives you first-hand knowledge of the work you might do.
Cover letters, CVs and interviews require a finesse to be learned. I sought help from CAPS and from friends who were well-versed in the very tailored investment banking. CAPS can polish your CV and run you through a mock interview. This may sound corny but is of great value when you sit down in front of a VP for the first time.
It is a great time to be entering the workforce. Youth unemployment is at historical lows and the imminent retirement of the baby-boomers is only going to improve this situation for our generation. It is never too early, or late, to start thinking about careers. CAPS is a great place to start your search: they won’t place you in a job, but they will lead you down the right path and can help you close the deal. Best of luck with all of your career endeavors and enjoy student life while you can!
by Janice Tester, Career Advisor
If you believe that first impressions are everything, you would have to agree that the CV and cover letter are where it all begins when talking about the job search. These are likely to be the first two pieces of evidence that employers are going to receive from you.
The goal of your CV is to get an interview. You want to convey to the employer that you are worth spending their time and energy getting to know. Therefore, your CV must be targeted to their needs and show your most relevant experiences and academic background, related to the job at hand, to demonstrate you are a good prospect.
Students often ask: "Do I really need to write a cover letter?" My response inevitably will be another question: "How much do you want this job?" Once they have determined they want the job, we conclude that indeed they must send a strong cover letter that will ease the employer into their CV. A cover letter is not a summary, in paragraph form, of your CV; instead, it provides an opportunity to highlight your past experiences with regards to the particular job and grants you the chance to mention the skills you have to offer. It also lets the employer know why you are applying to their company and ultimately can decide if you would be a good fit. I know a student that got a job, not typically related to her field, because of her excellent writing skills, which were displayed in both her CV and cover letter. The fact that she was the only candidate without spelling or grammatical errors paved the way to her job.
If you have sent a fair amount of CVs with accompanying cover letters and have not been successful in obtaining interviews, you should have an advisor check it with you so you can make the necessary adjustments. I would advise you to set up an appointment so you have enough time to discuss your CV and cover letter.
It is best to prepare in advance for peak recruitment time at McGill so you are not caught off guard at the last minute. Most students work for at least three hours on writing a skeleton of a cover letter and several more hours on their CV. They should both look professional, be to the point, and able to market your skills. And if you are graduating or looking for a job as a McGill student, I can assure you that you have high quality skills to offer and you can gain the confidence to send out a strong first impression.
To learn more on how to write a strong cover letter and an effective CV come to CAPS and get familiar with all our services. You can attend our workshops on the subject, come individually to a session with an advisor, or get a quick revision during CV Drop-In.
by Gregg Blachford, Director
I would like to welcome all the new and returning students to McGill. Reading the McGill University CAPS Scoop is a great way to get to know the services available to you at CAPS - McGill’s Career Centre. You’re off to a good start!
We always emphasize the importance of planning ahead and not leaving decisions about your career until graduation. Here at CAPS we can help you with some of this preparation. Not only can we help you find all kinds of jobs and internships, but we also have career advisors who have a wealth of knowledge. We also advise you to grasp any soft skills you can, such as communication, teamwork, and interpersonal skills, along with many others because these are the skills that employers are looking for. You can attain and solidify these skills by volunteering and getting involved in campus activities. Getting involved also builds your network of contacts. Many jobs are found in what we call "the hidden job market", so it’s important to know lots of people.
One of the very good resources we offer at CAPS is the Job Listings Service; it is a great database targeted to McGill students offering full-time, part-time, summer jobs and internships. Private and public organizations from across Canada, the USA, and abroad post jobs with us - it really is a vast resource available to you. We also encourage you to take a look at Workopolis Campus.
Finally, I am pleased to announce the launch of the Student Passport. This passport will help you find the answers to your career planning questions, no matter where you are in your degree. It starts you off with the CAPS Challenge questionnaire, which will help you identify where you need to focus your efforts and outlines the resources, programs and services available to you. You can also keep track of your career education by using the recommended checkpoints and notes page provided at the back of the booklet.
We encourage you to stop by our office (Brown Student Services Building) and meet us or visit us online at CaPS! We always enjoy helping out as many students as we can, and educating them on all the great services we offer. We are waiting for you!