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Soft skills, preparation can help new graduates land jobs, experts say

A man and woman are seen shaking hands in an office. (Sora Shimazaki / Pexels.com) A man and woman are seen shaking hands in an office. (Sora Shimazaki / Pexels.com)
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Landing a job isn't as easy as it was a few years ago, especially for younger Canadians, as the labour market continues to loosen.

As new graduates enter the workforce over the next few weeks, they are likely to face challenges getting their foot in the door and must be prepared to effectively communicate what they bring to the company.

"They have to be ready to interview, to showcase their soft skills and be able to handle questions," said Sandra Lavoy, regional director at Robert Half.

"Be prepared for tough questions."

Statistics Canada's labour force survey showed employment among youth aged 15 to 24 fell one per cent in March, continuing a troubling trend of essentially no net employment growth among young people for more than a year.

Meanwhile, the jobless rate among youth rose to 12.6 per cent. That's the highest since September 2016, excluding the pandemic shutdown years of 2020-21.

While there's a large pool of job seekers out there, about half of the uptick in the broader unemployment rate over the last year can be explained by students and new graduates looking for work, said Carrie Freestone, an economist with RBC Economics. (This includes post-secondary and high school students looking for part-time work, high school graduates looking for work and post-secondary graduates looking for work.)

A competitive market

Lavoy said many new graduates have never written a resumé before or know how to properly showcase their skills because they were working in retail or at restaurants and their resumés are light.

"Maybe you were a captain of the swim team, or president of the student council or you ran a fundraiser or you give back to the community and you volunteer," she said. "These are really important skills today that companies did not look at 10 years ago."

The extra-curriculars demonstrate soft skills and core values of a person and should be mentioned in resumés, she added.

Lavoy recalled hiring a young woman a few months ago who is fitting well at the company.

"(She showcased) who she was. She was her authentic self. I hired her," Lavoy said.

Be yourself

Husam Elzien graduated from the public relations program at Niagara College last summer. He spent months hunting for an opportunity in his field while working a part-time retail job before he finally landed a relevant gig.

"The job market is very competitive," said Elzien, who lives in the Niagara region. "You have to know how to market yourself to stand out and it took me ... nine months or so." He now has an internship position that starts in May.

He recalled receiving several rejections, if prospective employers responded at all. But after going through several interviews, Elzien realized he wasn't being his true self during the calls and decided to pivot, he said.

"I felt like I was not allowing myself to have a personality," he said. "Yes, they want to know your technical stuff, but they also want to get to know you as a person."

Husam Elzien, shown in a handout photo, graduated from the public relations program at Niagara College last summer. THE CANADIAN PRESS

Build out a network

When searching for jobs, online postings only touch the tip of the iceberg, said Laura Hambley, a registered psychologist and founder of Canada Career Counselling.

"You want to be going under the iceberg," she said. "That means network, network, network."

"Connect with people and explain what (you're) looking for, because the more people know what you're looking for, the more chance you're going to land the right opportunity in your career," she said.

Hambley suggested setting up a LinkedIn profile as early as possible.

"It is like saving money — start saving as early and young as possible," she said. "LinkedIn is like your social capital of professional network."

Practice makes perfect

If you get an interview for a job, preparation is key.

Insights such as knowing the average salary for the position so graduates are not lowballing their worth or over-asking for their skills, researching critical projects the company is working on and making sure resumés are up to date can help during calls, Lavoy said.

"Practice negotiating on what's important to you — sometimes, it could be hybrid or different perks (such as a) gym membership," she said. "It cannot only be about money."

No price can be put on valuable mentorship and growing your skills on the job, she added.

Industries are always looking for skilled talent and while fresh graduates lack experience, they come with fresh ideas and contribute to the company's culture, Lavoy said.

"Companies are looking at (hiring) not just for today, but the future," she said.

Ask for help

If new graduates don't know what they want in a job or how they can put their best foot forward, experts suggest seeking professional guidance such as a career counsellor or recruiter.

"Go see a recruiter, sit down, speak to them about what they're looking for," Lavoy said. "The recruiter will ask some questions and help them with their resumé, with what they're looking for and how you answer interview questions."

A lack of confidence in one's skills is a common drawback among many job seekers — new or old in the industry, Hambley said.

"Having a career counsellor can help build up (confidence) in you and get clear about your skills — both your hard skills and soft skills such as interpersonal skills, work ethic, ability to build relationships and communicate with others."

Freestone said there aren't any bad bets for younger workers for picking a particular sector.

Although RBC's January report suggests professional jobs and finance jobs are fewer compared to the high numbers of post-secondary graduates. Meanwhile, vacancies in health care and construction will remain high as more people retire and demand for housing grows.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 23, 2024.

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