What do you have to offer besides your education?

Have you thought about what you want to do when you complete your post-secondary education? There are numerous students, including me, who actually have no idea what they want to do, while other students have already picked the actual company they want to work with and have even staked the place out and picked the office they hope to get.

I believe, however, that there is a danger in worrying too much about which career you want and not worrying enough about what you need to do to get a career. Many people believe they have already addressed this problem by enrolling in a post-secondary education program. Sometimes, however, a diploma or a degree on its own is just not enough to get the career you want.

Why is this, you ask? One single educational program does not always give you everything that employers are looking for, so it is important to research the career opportunities available to you in order to find out what you can do to make yourself more attractive to potential employers.

The first thing you should do is take a look at the diploma or degree you are pursuing and find out what careers are available to people in this area. For example, I am pursuing the Bachelor of Professional Arts Degree with a major in communications, and I have discovered through research that some of the careers I could pursue are communications, public relations, and marketing positions.

A good way to find out about possible careers is to find out if there is an association that serves your discipline. These associations will often allow you to join as a student member, but even if you do not want to join you can still gain information about what kinds of careers you can pursue by looking through their brochures or websites. I found a lot of useful information about communications related careers from the International Association of Business Communicators website (http://www.iabc.com) and the Canadian Public Relations Society website (http://www.cprs.ca). You can also search the internet or visit the career section in your local public library. One really good website I found is called Wet Feet (http://www.wetfeet.com/asp/careerlist.asp). It is a really good place to get a comprehensive definition of various careers. Another useful website is http://www.jobfutures.ca, which allows you to look up possible occupations alphabetically, by area of study, or by interest.

Once you have discovered what careers are available to you it is a good idea to find out what employers are looking for when they choose people for these careers. One way to do this is to look at actual job postings in the newspapers or on websites. Using this approach I found out that a lot of communications careers require writing, website, and desktop publishing skills.

Another approach is to find someone working in the field and ask them for an informational interview during which you ask them questions about their career in general as well as the company they work for. This is also a way to make a good impression on a company you may wish to apply to later on and to meet people who work in your field. Once again associations are always good sources of information about potential careers and they are also good places to meet people who work in your field. Wet Feet lists the types of activities that may be required in certain careers, and the Job Futures website contains valuable information on the level of education and what skills are necessary for a particular career.

Now that you know what an employer may be looking for you still have to determine if your educational program will give you that skill or if you have to obtain it somewhere else. Unfortunately, I will not be learning desktop publishing or advanced website skills in my degree program, so I will be taking a few courses in these subjects at private career colleges. A tip I picked up to prepare for communications careers from Wet Feet is to get work experience in writing by writing for the school paper.

Another good way to obtain the skills you need and to gain valuable work experience is to volunteer, or get an internship. You can often find volunteer positions in associations or with non-profit or government agencies. The city you live in may also have a volunteer center that can set you up with a position to suit your needs. A good place to find work experience and internships is http://www.jobs.gc.ca. This website contains information about the Government of Canada’s Federal Student Work Experience Program and Internships.

Researching and preparing for a career can mean the difference between getting the job you really want and just getting a job. If you are still not convinced that it is in your best interests to do more than just complete a post-secondary educational program then consider this. Imagine you are an employer who wants to hire a new employee for your Public Relations department.

One of the resumes on your desk is from a university graduate with a communications degree, but no related work experience or computer skills. The other applicant also has a communications degree, but he/she has also taken courses in website construction and maintenance, and desktop publishing. He/she has also written for their university’s newspaper, and worked as a student through the Federal Student Work Experience Program in the Federal Government’s Public Relations department. Which applicant are you going to call first?