On Wednesday, March 5, 2008, I participated in a Career Advice Panel for International Students at Dalhousie University as one of the panelists. My advice focused on three points: diversification vs. specialization, networking, and self-promotion.
The panel discussion was facilitated by Jennie Brimicombe from Career Services and attended by about 30 students. Members of the panel were chosen for their diversity. They were:
- Tammy Holland, an employer from Royal Bank;
- Tammy Deubry, an alumnus working as an accountant;
- Rong Lu, a recent grad from Environmental Studies; and
- Tony Abou-Assaleh (me!), a current student, someone who recently got a job, and an employer.
Below I summarize the main points in my advice to international students seeking a job in Canada:
Diversification vs. Specialization
Early on in your career focus on diversifying your skills. Specification early on is dangerous in that it may limit your options. For example, say you are a computer science graduate who also obtained a Cisco certificate. If apply for a job at a company that doesn’t use Cisco hardware then you are not likely to be hired, even though you may possess all the required skills.
Certification and specialization can be an option later on where obtaining the certificate may result in a promotion or a raise.
Networking is the single most important element in a job hunt, yet most students, especially from technical programs such as engineering and computer science, tend to undermine its importance. Some things you can do for networking:
- Attend networking events such as the ones organized by Career Services or networking organizations (Halifax Fusion)
- Join a professional organization in your area of study such as IEEE for engineers and ACM for computer science. These organization often have local networking events and volunteering opportunities.
- Volunteer for a committee. Some committee require more work than others, but they all provide networking opportunities beyond the committee members. A committee could be a part of a professional organization, a student society, or an event organizer.
Networking requires maintenance and costs time and money, so you have to be selective in which connections you wish to maintain. If you make everyone in this room your friend then you will never graduate.
Self-promotion and Confidence
In North America, unlike Eastern Europe, Middle East, and Asia, you are usually evaluated based on how you present yourself, not based on credentials you can prove. This means that you don’t need a letter from you instructor to demonstrate that you participated in a group project. Therefore, it is very important that you communicate your qualifications and skills to your employer and show confidence in yourself. The more confident you are the higher your skills are valued.