Looking back to my first year at McGill, I can truly say that I have grown immensely in the past four years and learned a lot about things that sparked my interest - including coffee chatting, applying for jobs, interviewing, and getting corporate internships. I’ve spent the last few years of my degree in a frenzy; stressed out but also motivated by the idea of learning how to land internships and eventually work my way up to my dream job. By no means am I an expert, but after multiple corporate positions and countless applications, interviews, coffee chats, research online, and my experiences through the DesautelsConnect platform, I came up with a few lessons to share with current students who may be feeling how I once did - overwhelmed and intimidated by preparations for the “real world.”
1. The Power of Connections
Although cliché, one of the key lessons I learned - this year especially - is the power and importance of connections. You may currently define connections as professionals you meet through cold-messaging them on LinkedIn, but once you see your “network” as a broader extension of your social group (including mutual friends, family friends, and classmates), you may come to realize that networking doesn’t always have to be a nerve-inducing, stressful and awkward thing, and that it is very similar to the process of becoming acquaintances and friends. Once I started to see making connections in this way, it opened my eyes and led me to great opportunities, including a part-time role doing something I am passionate about. At the end of the day, the people you message or the alumni you email are humans too, and they’re probably quite flattered to be asked to a coffee chat or for advice. Making connections is part of the human experience, and platforms like DesautelsConnect can help break the ice if you’re a networking newbie, through automatic introductions that uses an algorithm to connect you with others who share similar interests.
2. Broadening your Horizons
A common theme that I’ve observed in my peers and their internship and job search is a rigid and narrow focus on a select few positions or a very niche industry. I think the biggest piece of advice I could give to current students in the job search process is to broaden your horizons, in both scale and scope. In terms of scale, it’s important to apply to many positions – and when I say that I mean in the mid double-digit range, depending on the field. I too fell victim to only applying to a handful of positions in my earlier years in undergrad, but in today’s competitive climate, only applying to a few positions and calling it a day is unfortunately not enough. Networking and attending the company’s events is also a valuable way of setting yourself apart from the crowd and improving your chance of getting an interview.
It is also important to consider expanding your job search scope; meaning the companies, industries, and positions that you apply to. I think a lot of us believe we know exactly what we want to do, or not do, in terms of our future careers, but I would argue that it is important to have any type of work experience at our age, and learning what you don’t like to do is equally as important as learning what you do enjoy. Internships especially are perfect for trying new things you aren’t sure about due to their short-term nature. There is also nothing wrong with working “non-professional” jobs such as being a waitstaff or sales associate. From my conversations working in talent acquisition and speaking with high-level professionals and hiring managers, working such jobs are still incredibly valuable in many ways, so if that is how you spend your summers and school year, make sure to give yourself a pat on the back.
3. Dedication and Research
We know that getting top positions and internships is quite competitive. One thing I would suggest to current students is to focus on professional growth and job search preparation in a long-term, progressive way, rather than doing all your research in a mad rush as soon as you get an interview or a coffee chat. Doing research and learning about industry trends and job search etiquette doesn’t have to be boring - I personally have learned a lot from TikTok accounts and LinkedIn posts by students, HR professionals, and executives. Have job alerts set on LinkedIn and Indeed and check myFuture frequently; reading through job descriptions will give you a better sense of what organizations are looking for and what you should focus on. If you’re on the fence about attending a networking event or workshop – as long as you aren’t too busy or burnt out, push yourself to attend it! In many cases putting in the time for your professional development is a lot like going to the gym – you may dread it beforehand, but there's a good chance you’ll feel a lot better afterwards.
4. Critiquing the System
I completely relate to and understand students’ job application and networking fatigue. Even before COVID-19, many positions were incredibly competitive. With social media like LinkedIn and attending an elite university like McGill, most people will experience at least a moment of imposter syndrome. The final important lesson I’ve learned during my degree is to approach the job search with a positive, but also critical lens. As students we may feel that we must deal with being unpaid or underpaid, overworked, demeaned, or sent through millions of hoops during the recruitment process, but please remember that we do bring a lot of value to the table and should be treated as such. During my degree I’ve experienced being ghosted by recruiters I had an existing relationship with, rude and unwelcoming interviewers, extremely time-consuming and demanding recruitment stages, and encountered countless unpaid internship listings. I know that many of us unfortunately do not have the privilege or experience to be able to deny roles or leave toxic jobs, but I think it is essential to at least begin analyzing your relationships with a company and any disconnect between a firm’s stated values and what they actually practice. This give an indication of how much they will respect and value you as an employee.
If you’re feeling a combination of stress, excitement, anxiety, and motivation after reading this, it is completely normal but please remember – everyone has a different path, and good things often happen when you least expect it.
Interested in developing your network and have meaningful career-focused conversations? Join DesautelsConnect, a networking space for the Desautels community to share ideas and make new connections.
About the author:
Chelsea is a recent McGill graduate and formerly the DesautelsConnect Ambassador for the 2020-2021 school year. Besides holding this position, she has interned in Talent Acquisition at a large financial services institution, and worked for a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion firm. She is now a Campus Recruitment Coordinator at Deloitte, where she is able to put her passions and experiences with student job seeking and networking to use.