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Opportunity in layoffs

Being between jobs isn’t an excuse to do nothing, experts say. It’s a chance to improve skills, network and build experience through volunteering.

The job market is a crowded place these days.

Layoffs continue apace as the recession drags on and companies claw back.

The Canadian economy shed 83,000 jobs last month, bumping the unemployment rate up to 7.7 percent, according to Statistics Canada’s February employment report, released last week. Ontario alone lost 35,000 of those jobs and the province’s unemployment rate of 8.7 percent is the highest it’s been since April 1997.

With increased competition for jobs, now’s the time for job hunters to get down to the business of making themselves stand above the rest, says Andrea Garson, vice-president of human resources at online job search giant Workopolis.

It can be daunting, but understanding a few job-search fundamentals and utilizing available resources can turn a layoff into a positive career move.

“If someone finds themselves in the unfortunate circumstance of not working, take advantage of that and upgrade your skills,” Garson says.

Besides giving the job hunter a leg up on the competition, upgrading skills helps avoid the dreaded gap on a resumé, something that can be difficult for a potential employer to ignore.

Job search tips from the experts:

• Keep busy during a layoff by upgrading your skills or volunteering.
Google yourself and deal with anything you find you don’t like.
• Resumés should be maximum two pages and in chronological order, with the most recent experience first.
• Whether or not education is listed before work experience on a resumé depends on the job being sought and amount of experience.
• Awards and certifications catch the attention of potential employers and should be on a resumé under Accomplishments.
• Make sure your resumé is error-free. Watch for spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. Get someone else to proofread it.
• When applying for jobs, target some of the growth sectors. Andrea Garson, human resources VP at Workopolis, says there is some job growth in healthcare and job postings can be found in accounting, the environmental sector, IT and government.
• Do some research and tailor your resumé and cover letter to the job or sector you’re targeting.
• Be honest. If a job posting asks for advanced Excel skills, for example, and you have basic skills, don’t lie but also don’t shy away from applying. Your other qualifications may impress a potential employer enough to hire you anyway.
• Make use of community employment services like Costi or the Welcome Centre.
• Go online and use general job sites like Workopolis or industry-specific job boards.
• Network with friends, family — anyone. Most jobs are not advertised and tips can come from anywhere.
• Show up on time for a job interview, dress appropriately, be prepared to answer questions succinctly and come with intelligent questions of your own.

“Be prepared to explain the gaps,” Garson says. “These days layoffs are not uncommon.

“People don’t assume it’s as a result of skill that you’re unemployed. Explain to them where you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing in the meantime.”

Volunteering during the time between jobs fills those gaps and has the added benefits of helping the job hunter develop skills and keep in touch with the world of work, says Safi Geleto, manager of employment services at COSTI Immigrant Services’ Vaughan office.

Garson agrees.

“A lot of people don’t think about highlighting their non-paid or volunteer experiences that can set them aside from other people,” she says. “I find that people underestimate the skills they are developing, enhancing or acquiring when they’re doing non-paid work. They assume you have to be paid in order to call it a skill.”

Once identified, those skills should be tailored for the job being sought, says Valerie Martin, general manager at Welcome Centre Immigrant Services.

“Detail all current and past skills that are relevant to the type of work that they’re seeking, be it current Canadian experience or previous experience from their country of origin,” she says.

The Welcome Centre offers job search help to recent immigrants to Canada, who now face an even more difficult time finding work.

“Someone who’s new to Canada, . . . primarily they’re looking at language as a barrier, just a general sense of how to go about seeking employment in Canada, connecting to the necessary resources that are available, just trying to assimilate into the workforce, (and) matching credentials with appropriate needs,” Martin says.

“When (newcomers) are self-directing their way through integration, it takes them twice as long to plug in and access the necessary services,” she adds.

Employment services like those offered by Costi and the Welcome Centre are a good place to start and there are a number of them across the GTA, Geleto says, but there are several other good options, including on the Internet.

“I would say these days that going online is a mission critical place for people to go because that is where the employers are,” Garson says. “We’ve got 40,000 jobs posted on Workopolis right now, so that’s where you need to be.

“Everyone needs to be online, they need to create resumés online, make themselves searchable and accessible by the employers that are posting, and compete against the 1.6 million (per month) that are looking.”

Vaughan Today
In print: March 20, 2009, page 7
Online: March 20, 2009 [link]
The Upswing special series