Job Search Strategies
We can help you reach your career goals
We know that finding a job can feel intimidating with job recruiters admitting to only interviewing the top 2% of candidates. We want to support you beyond our academic walls, which is why we’ve put together strategies, resources, programs, and people who can help you accomplish your professional goals and, together, get you to the top 2%.
Cover Letters and Resumes
Your resume is your opportunity to show a potential employer how you “fit” within their organization; it is the foundation of your career search that brings together your academic accomplishments and experiences.
Writing a resume that stands out from the pile requires preparation and thought. After you gather all the information you want to include, you need to determine the format that best reflects your combination of skills and experiences and demonstrate your match with the prospective role.
Unsure where to start? We’ve got you covered with our resume tips and tricks:
Honesty is the foundation of a strong resume and an essential part of building trust with a potential employer. When writing your resume, reflect on the following to ensure that your resume reflects who you are.
- Reflect the “real you”: Detail the skills and experience that demonstrates your qualifications to do the job clearly. Employers deserve an authentic description of your skills and experience in the resume.
- Use Evidence: Don’t overstate your abilities in the summary of qualifications. Whatever you indicate in the qualifications summary must be supported by evidence of these achievements within the body of the resume.
- Be Transparent: If you played a supporting role in an initiative, ensure that is clear – that there is no chance the employer misinterprets. For example, if you were not the only leader of an initiative, instead of introducing the example with “led” consider using “partnered with” or “worked cooperatively.” If you changed the job title on your resume, determine if that alteration stands up to scrutiny.
- Explain Gaps: There is no need to explain an unemployment period that is only a matter of months. However, where there is a space of more than a year in career/education flow, you may need to address that. Give the employer an explanation – whether it’s “traveled worldwide, gaining knowledge and insight into international cultures and ways of doing business” or “pursued a diversity of opportunities from volunteering in the community to completing online courses such as…”
- Be Accurate: If you did not finish your degree or are still in school, simply putting the program title such as “Bachelor of Science” can be misleading, write something more explanatory. For example, “Completed two years of the ______ program” or “Currently enrolled in ___ year of a ____ year program”
- Share Your Education: If you are planning on taking courses in the very near future, consider adding this to your resume to demonstrate your interest in continuous learning.
Employers often use applicant tracking systems to filter through applications. While this can certainly make standing out difficult, you can increase your resume’s chances of getting through an applicant tracking system with these tips.
- Use .TXT .RTF .DOCX or .DOC (i.e. Word) file types: PDF documents cannot be scanned properly.
- Keep formatting simple: Don’t include tables or graphics. Applicant tracking systems can not read graphics, and they misread tables. Instead of reading tables left to right, applicant tracking systems read them up and down.
- Feel free to submit a longer resume: Submitting a longer (three or four page) resume that allows you to pack in more relevant experience and keywords and phrases could increase your chances of ranking higher in the system.
- Use language found in the job description: As you are customizing your resume, look through the job posting to determine the required skills and competencies. Identify industry terms, buzzwords and jargon that have been used in the description. Put these key words and phrases (plus their acronyms, if applicable) into your resume. Do not repeat keywords and jargon. Even though the system may select your resume, the actual recruiter who reads it later may frown on any repetitive, nonsensical use of these words.
- Save your resume with a relevant name: Save your resume with a file name that is useful and meaningful to the recruiter. You want the recruiter to find your resume quickly and easily, and you want to make it very clear what the resume is for, example, “YourName.Job.Posting.123”
- Call your work experience, “Work Experience”: Sometimes job seekers refer to their work experience on their resume as their “Professional Experience” (or some other variation on that theme). The computer will completely skip over your work experience because you didn’t label it as such.
- Start your work experience with the employer/organization name: To ensure applicant tracking systems read and import your work experience properly, always start with the organization’s name, followed by your job title, followed by the dates you held that title. (Each can run on its own line). Applicant tracking systems look for company names first, followed by your title, followed by the dates you held that title.
- Spell check, spell check, and spell check again: An applicant tracking system will skip keywords that are misspelled.
Crafting strong accomplishment statements to describe your experiences (paid and unpaid) can help you target your resume, communicate your skills, and differentiate yourself from the competition. Review the following examples of how to craft an effective statement and remember that perfecting this type of writing skill takes practice. Accomplishment statements include the following: active verb + what you did + positive result.
- Provided customer service in a busy retail environment resulting in the creation of a loyal customer base and improved sales by 10%.
- Initiated reorganization of file system which made client information more accessible to staff of non-profit organization.
- Initiated and completed system of data entry from manual to computerized system, resulting in improved account analysis and report generation for tax and other purposes.
- Maintained and updated patient files for rehabilitation clinic with approximately 340 regular patients.
- Trained administrators and other staff at physiotherapy clinic on MS Excel, saving outside training expenses of more than a $1000.
- Created procedural and responsibilities manual for volunteers at a community agency, which reduced overlapping duties and increased efficiency.
- Revised merchandise layout and recommended changes that resulted in increased product visibility and increased sales by 33%.
- Collaborated with team members to complete a group marketing project for final year commerce class ensuring tasks were identified and completed by the team members on time
- Oversaw group project by providing vision and direction regarding project objectives, task distribution resulting in group cohesion and a successful project
Apart from glaring structural, mechanical, spelling, and grammar mistakes, one of the most common resume errors is a lack of consistency. Once you make your stylistic choices, be sure you follow it through on all your resume content. We recommend checking these grammatical and stylistic conventions.
- Number Form: Be consistent in your use of all number and date formats. Don’t forget to list the currency if it is not in Canadian dollars.
- Capitalization: Certain names and titles are not to be capitalized in your resume, when in doubt check first.
- Parallelism: Wherever you have a series of related words, phrases or clauses, make sure they are all of a similar structure.
- Punctuation: Use commas and semicolons or dashes properly. If you’re not sure, consult a Canadian style book.
- Active Voice: Structure your sentences so that each clearly shows that the subject of the sentence is the doer of the action.
- General Formatting: Double-check your paragraph spacing, date alignment, and tab settings.
It never hurts to get help from someone with greater expertise. Ask a professional to do another proofing of your material. When you rely on yourself, you may not even realize the glaring grammar or stylistic errors that have turned into habits over the years.
Developing Your Cover Letter
A cover letter should accompany every resume. Your cover letter gives your resume context, telling the hiring manager why your resume will be of interest to them and why you are a good fit for the job. The best cover letters give the hiring manager a sense of who you are, your qualifications, and passion for the position.
Tips for Writing Your Cover Letter
Review the full job description or occupation profile so you know what skills, experiences or qualifications will be important to mention in your cover letter.
Research the organization or department so you can talk about how your values and interest match the organizational goals and values.
Know what you can and want to contribute – your skills, qualities, and experiences. This is the pivotal aspect in the whole job search process. It is where you start your goal setting and it is information you will need to provide throughout the job application process.
Proofread for overall tone, content and spelling errors/typos.
Workshops are offered weekly
Our career workshops are a great way to get started with your job search. Here are some of the career workshops we offer to help improve your process and skills development:
Discover Your Skills
Find a Mentor
Decoding Job Postings
The Hidden Job Market
Graduating? What Next?
Easy Ways to Get Experience
Using Social Media in Your Job Search
Your online presence matters
Your online presence matters, especially when you are looking for a job. Why? The majority of job recruiters and employers will google candidates before the interview selection process.
LinkedIn is your opportunity to interact with the online job market and determine what others see. Operating as an online resume and professional networking tool, a Linkedin profile can help you establish a strong online presence and develop meaningful connections with professionals who share your professional goals and values.
Strengthen Your LinkedIn Profile
By commenting, liking, or publishing on LinkedIn, you can engage with others that you otherwise might not have the opportunity to meet. If done consistently, professionally and wisely, you can build a reputation as a specialist/expert. You can also use your LinkedIn profile to network with recruiters, employers, and leaders. By demonstrating your professional initiative and cunning networking skills, you may gain entry into the internal zone of recruitment when competition is still low.
Use a Professional Photo
Your head-shot is the first thing they see. Make a strong impression!
Customize Your URL
Make your profile searchable by using your full name.
Target Your Market
Customize your profile to fit the industry of your interest.
View in Private Mode
Search your profile on private mode to view your public profile.
Include a Summary
Add something genuine about yourself to encourage further reading.
Value Your Experiences
Differentiate your profile from your resume by including all of your work experience.
Attach Unique Content
Add writing samples, designs, and other materials that demonstrate your skills.
Follow Companies and Groups
Stay up-to-date on current events and engage with your desired industry.
Interact and reciprocate with your networks by endorsing their skills, recommending them, and liking their updates.
McMaster Student Success Centre LinkedIn Group
Connect with our Career Experts
Did you know our career experts publish articles on LinkedIn on a weekly basis? Topics include:
- The Career Catch 22: Gaining experience without experience
- 5 Benefits of Mentoring
- Managing change: How to thrive during a period of uncertainty
- The other side of “the millennial hustle”
- 5 things I’ve learned about making a personal brand from posting on Instagram
- Career Exploration for First Gen Students
Networking is sharing information
We hear a lot about the value of networking, but often forget to discuss what networking actually means. To put it simply, networking is talking to people and sharing information.
Asking a friend for their advice on a restaurant to visit or next movie can be a form of networking. Why? Effective networkers understand that every person could potentially lead to a job or professional insight. Of course, seeing these connections doesn’t mean you should ask your friends or networks for a job. Effective networking, instead, is asking your connections for advice, information, and suggestions.
Understand your interests, strengths, and motivators; stay on top of industry conversations.
Treat every person as a valuable source and follow up on how their referrals or advice helped.
Add specifics when asking to meet, such as who you are, how connecting will help, and how much time you need.
Share your goals and what you hope connecting will do to help advance them.
Overcome nerves by rehearsing what you want to say about yourself.
Network with a Career Story
“What are you doing now that you’ve graduated?” or “What do you plan to do with your degree?” are common questions you might hear as you begin your professional journey. A career story can help you craft a succinct and memorable response that builds your network. The idea is to use your career story to engage your listener and help them to make sense of what is most important to you.
Your career story is about you, but it makes key information about you accessible to each of your different target audiences. For this reason, you may have several career stories: different ones you use for potential employers and recruiters at career fairs and company information sessions, with friends, with current colleagues, and so forth. Below are some situational examples to help you get started.
I graduated in the spring with a major in Gerontology and want to apply my knowledge of health and engagement in a care-based environment. When I job shadowed in a long-term care facility recently, the role and industry were both a great fit with my experience and education. I know your organization is a leader in the area of convalescent care, which I studied extensively in my Fall semester. Can you tell me a bit more about your organization’s training program?
I graduated from McMaster in December from the Arts & Science program and have been working as an agent for a local real estate firm since that time. I was excited to learn more about your firm’s expertise in real estate law and need for someone with solid communication and critical thinking skills which I developed extensively during my undergrad. My past experience with leasing and acquisitions seem to be a great fit for the role. Could you tell me more about your planned expansion?
This is the first meeting of the Canadian Public Relations Society that I’ve attended, and I am gaining so much relevant information. I’m a recent grad and haven’t started working in the field yet—I want to make sure I’m a good fit for the industry. I enjoy establishing meaningful relationships with people, and I am very involved in my community. I am hoping to gain some advice and information about the field and I’m wondering if you would you have 20 minutes at your convenience to share some insights? I would love to hear an experienced professional’s perspective on the industry’s change and continuity.
I just received a certificate from McMaster University in non-profit leadership. I am really interested in learning more about this field. My goal is to find an entry level role where I can contribute and develop my skills. In the past, I have demonstrated effective teamwork, leadership and communications skills that I am confident could make great contributions in your industry. I’m interested in finding out how I can best prepare myself for an entry level role.
I recently read the news of your upcoming expansion in the Alumni News. It sounds like an exciting venture that has been years in the planning. I would love to get together for coffee to learn more about the impact on the division.
I’m a graduate of McMaster’s Kinesiology program, and I’m thinking about training as a chiropractor. At the moment, I’m looking into what other professions would allow me a lot of one-on-one time with people and to work with people who are well in addition to those who are injured. This summer, I’m hoping for paid or volunteer work that will give me an idea of what’s right for me.
I am a recent McMaster University Economics graduate. Currently, I am exploring opportunities where I can use my strong communication, customer service and organization skills that I gained as a customer service team leader at a call centre. I balanced this part-time leadership role with my course work and really enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the corporate environment.
How do you differentiate yourself in an interview? This question can make even the most confident people nervous because there are so many people who share the same (or even more) qualifications for the position.
The trick to setting yourself apart from the rest of the competition is to do your homework: prepare stories specific to your experiences and practice. Having a flexible road map with goals and key takeaways can make all the difference.
Even though you can’t fully predict all of your interview questions, there are certain questions that you will likely hear. We’ve put these questions together with some advice on how to prepare.
Common Interview Questions:
- Articulate a vision for your future.
- Can include a career/education path, the environment you anticipate being in, roles you would like to hold and contributions you would like to make.
- Share how this opportunity/job fits in with your plan.
- Describe your experience, skills, accomplishments, goals and personal qualities.
- Share your interest in the company and how you plan on making a positive contribution.
- Discuss your educational qualifications; elaborate on the classes you took that are relevant to the position.
- Relate specific experiences and how they have prepared you for this opportunity.
- Describe 2 or 3 skills that are most related to the job; be specific and provide supporting examples. Describe how your strengths would add value in the position.
- Do not offer too many adjectives; describe how you are working to improve the behaviour; be specific.
- Avoid negative language (weakness vs. working to improve).
- Describe your ideal job.
- Go through your decision making process.
- Why did you choose your major?
- What do you do when you are not working/studying?
- What is your definition of success?
- What can you do for this organization that another potential candidate cannot?
- What criteria are you using to choose companies of interest?
In addition to commonly asked questions, your interviewer will likely ask behavioural interview questions. These questions often begin with “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give an example of …” and are based on the assumption that your past behaviours will indicate your future behaviours in the role.
Behavioural based questions are a chance to demonstrate your experience and learning. Your knowledge of the organization and industry can help you determine which qualities they most value. We recommend using the SAR formula: Situation, Action, Results. Specifically, introduce the circumstances and your responsibilities (situation), describe what you did (action), and summarize your outcomes (results).
- Define the situation and illustrate obstacles or challenges you overcame.
- Demonstrate your perseverance, initiative and measures taken to exceed expectations.
- Focus on the process of how you handled the negative (or less than desirable) outcome; how you made the best of the circumstances or resolved the situation.
- Assume responsibility for the situation without making excuses or blaming others. Share the lessons learned.
- Discuss the situation and define the scope of the task.
- Highlight the challenges encountered and the results or impact your actions had.
- Highlight the team’s objective and your individual role.
- Demonstrate your initiative; provide evidence of your contributions.
- Be cautious when answering this question; choose an example that is not too negative.
- Be brief in providing your answer and focus on what you learned.
- Do not talk badly about a former boss or professor; remain tactful and respectful.
- Tell me about the most difficult customer service experience that you have ever had to handle —maybe an angry or irate customer.
- Describe the system you use for keeping track of multiple projects. How do you track your progress so that you can meet deadlines? How do you stay focused?
- Give me an example of something you’ve done in previous jobs or school that demonstrates your willingness to work hard.
- Tell me about a recent job or campus experience that you would describe as a real learning experience.
- Tell me about a time when you anticipated potential problems and developed preventative measures.
At the end of an interview, you will usually be asked if you have any questions. The questions you ask can be as important as the answers you have provided up until this point. If you don’t ask something, it can be taken as a sign of lack of interest.
Have a list of prepared questions. If you have done your homework (research of organization and industry), the questions will present themselves to you!
Are the responsibilities of the job clear? If not, ask for clarification.
Where does the job fit into the structure of the organization?
How will success in the role be measured?
How has a current event/market conditions impacted the department/organization?
What are the next steps are after the interview?
Are they going to contact you? Would they prefer you to follow up with them?
About salary or benefits (vacation, holidays, sick days, etc.) in the first interview; wait until an offer is presented.
About information you should already have obtained through your research into the job and the organization (e.g. the organization’s mission, the basic tasks associated with the job).
Personal questions about the interviewer (if you happened to find the interviewer’s personal Facebook page, keep this to yourself).
Condescending questions (questions that begin with ‘why’ can be construed as demanding).
Remember to always say thank you.
Sending a thank you is part of interview etiquette. Thank you letters should be brief, personalized and sent within 24 hours.
Final Year Recruitment Program
Thinking about what to do after graduation can be overwhelming, especially when facing final year academic and personal demands. We want to help by bringing the opportunities to you, literally.
Connect with employers through our Final-Year Recruitment Program, where we bring hiring employers on campus to meet students seeking full-time employment upon graduation. For a busy student, connecting to employment couldn’t be easier. The Final-Year Recruitment Program is open to all graduating students enrolled in a degree program.
Here’s what you need to do to participate:
- Attend an Orientation Session (If you’re in Commerce, you may have already attended a session through Student Experience – Career Development). Dates and times can be found on OSCARplus. If you are unable to attend in person, you can email Gisela Oliveira.
- Have your resume reviewed by our Career Development Advisor. Appointments can be booked in OSCARplus.
- Participate in an Interview Prep workshop. Career and Employment workshops are offered every other Thursday and Friday. Find the schedule on your OSCARplus calendar of events.
- Update your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn clinics are offered on the last Friday of each month. Book an appointment on OSCARplus to have your profile critiqued and your profile photo professionally taken.
- Attend Company Information Sessions and gain insight on company recruitment processes and culture.
- Meet with our Career Development Advisor to create an action plan and move closer towards your career goals.
- September to December: Company Information Sessions on-campus. You must sign-up on the OSCARplus Events calendar to attend
- End of September: Application deadlines. Visit OSCARplus and click on Job Postings, SSC Job Postings and search by position type “Final-Year Recruitment”
- End of September: Career Fair.
- October 11: Interviewing begins.
- November and December: Employers extend offers to successful candidates.
If you’re participating in the program, here are some tips
Stay ahead of your course requirements
Check OSCARplus for job postings on a regular basis – new positions can come up anytime
Research companies and industries to better target your applications
Do not wait until the deadline date to apply – send your applications early!
Career Advising Appointment
Advisors can help with job search support, further education questions, career information, building experiences, and helping you find the right services and resources. You can schedule an advising appointment (30 min) or meet with an advisor during drop-in clinics.
Drop-in clinics are offered Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 1:30 – 4:00 p.m. in Gilmour Hall 110. Meetings are 15 minutes and are available on a first-come basis.
Career Counselling Appointment
Career counselling helps you develop more clarity about yourself and your career goals. Use this appointment to examine your values, interests, and skills, and to develop self-directed career and education goals. You can schedule a career counselling appointment on OSCARplus and meetings are held in Gilmour Hall 110. Appointments are 50 minutes in length.
Financial Wellness Wednesdays
Drop by Gilmour Hall (GH 110) on Wednesday afternoons to speak with a money coach from 1:30 – 4:00 p.m. Meetings are 15 minutes and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Deciding how to spend your money is up to you, but we can help you make good financial decisions that will impact you now and in the future! Topics include: budget planning, choosing a credit card, making a debt-repayment plan, setting financial goals, investing: stocks, bonds and TFSAs, paying bills, and more.