It’s the classic Catch-22, you need a job in order to get experience, but you need experience in order to get a job. Well, here’s how you can crack the job market for the very first time.

At Workopolis, we are in regular communication with both job seekers and employers, and “experience” is a hot issue with both of them.

Employers say that they have lots of educated candidates to choose from, but they can’t find enough applicants with on-the-job experience.

Candidates tell us that they have studied, earned degrees, certificates, and credentials, and still can’t land a job without real-world experience. Many also say that they’re worried that the entry-level, service industry, retail or hospitality jobs that are available to them will actually hurt their chances of landing a job in their field. So, they’re stuck.

Here’s the thing. It’s that first, often unrelated, job experience that employers really want to see on candidate resumes. They don’t actually care how many pairs of yoga pants you sold or how many coffees you served, but it’s the real-world job skills that you develop while working that are quite different from what you learn in school that matter.

The demonstrated ability to show up on time, work hard throughout a shift, team work, customer service, problem solving and communications, these are learned and developed right from your very first job, and will be valuable for getting hired and on the job for all of your others.

So how do you get hired for that first job without any experience? We asked Sharon Ramalho, Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer at McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada. Her company hires roughly 45,000 people every year a great many of whom for their very first job.

Here’s what her company looks for in entry-level candidates:

“People who are really interested in working as part of a team,” says Ramalho. “They don’t necessarily have to be extroverts, but they have to be self-motivated. It helps if they want to learn, have a passion for food, and they want to help people have a nice experience in our restaurants.

But that’s what we hire for: motivation and a willingness to learn. Once hired, our staff have a detailed training program, and that’s where they can learn what we call the ‘Skills for Life:’ communications, teamwork, functioning in a fast-paced environment, and goal setting.”

So to land that first job, one of Canada’s top employers for young people says that a candidate must have: motivation to work and a willingness to learn. And that entry-level job allows you to develop and demonstrate those core skills that are most sought after across industries: communications, teamwork, customer relations and a demonstrated work ethic. These are the building blocks of career success.

Those first jobs matter. You’ll learn more (and earn more) by working than by waiting.

For our recent Thinkopolis report, we looked at the most in-demand skills in Canadian job postings, and those skills that are the fastest rising in demand. You can read that report here. What our team also found in that research were the skills that most often appear in entry-level job postings. Here they are in order of prevalence.

The skills most commonly listed in entry-level job postings:

  • Customer service
  • Communication skills
  • Sales
  • Writing
  • Microsoft office
      – Microsoft Excel
      – Microsoft Word
  • Organizational skills
  • Teamwork
  • Policy analysis
  • Telephone skills
  • Retail
  • Reports
  • Problem solving
  • English

The top sectors for entry-level job postings online:

The other thing we often hear from employers is that many young people lack self-marketing skills. That means they don’t know how to produce a stand-out resume and conduct a professional job interview.

So practice. If you have to write ten resumes and do six interviews just to land a survival job, then look at it as great training in tailoring resumes and conducting interviews. Each one gets easier as you learn to articulate your skills, experiences and accomplishments. You’ll be that much more prepared to be the stand-out candidate who wins the role even as you apply for more and more competitive positions over the course of your career.

And if you can’t find work of any kind? Still stay busy. Volunteer, participate in community activities, be social. You’ll achieve more, meet more people, and find more opportunities by being out in the world than by retreating into yourself.

It is a tough labour market for young people to break into right now, and not finding opportunities can be discouraging. But trust me, everyone will find their way. Opportunities will present themselves. Your challenge is to make sure you’re ready to step into the doors when they open up.

Entry-level jobs with the most advertised job openings in Canada

Jobs in the Student/Entry-Level range tend to fall into two broad categories: positions that most people could do regardless of level of education (general labour, retail, hospitality, etc.) and those skilled positions where the demand for workers is so great that new grads are snatched up as soon as they obtain their certifications (regardless of real-world experience.)

So based on analysis of Workopolis job posting data, here are the jobs that are most frequently advertised online in Canada for student and entry-level candidates.

The top ten jobs posted for Student / entry-level candidates:

  • Customer Service Representative (Average wage: $16.50/hour) [View jobs]
  • Sales Associate / Representative (Average wage: $40,000 + commission) [View jobs]
  • Technical Support Representative (Average wage: $50,000) [View jobs]
  • Administrative Assistant (Average wage: $36,000) [View jobs]
  • Account Manager (Average wage: $66,560) [View jobs]
  • Cashier (Average wage: $10.50/hour) [View jobs]
  • Receptionist (Average wage: $33,000) [View jobs]
  • Grocery Clerk (Average wage: $11/hour) [View jobs]
  • Merchandiser (Average wage: $39,000) [View jobs]
  • Beauty Advisor (Average wage: $11/hour) [View jobs]

The top jobs where graduates are sought immediately after finishing school:

  • Registered Nurse (Average wage: $72,000) [View jobs]
  • Personal support worker (Average wage: $32,000) [View jobs]
  • Business Analyst (Average wage: $75,000) [View jobs]
  • Financial advisor (Average wage: $61,100) [View jobs]
  • Physiotherapist (Average wage: $71,000) [View jobs]
  • Marketing coordinator (Average wage: $48,000) [View jobs]
  • Pharmacist (Average wage: $84,765) [View jobs]
  • Accountant (Average wage: $61,000) [View jobs]
  • Occupational therapist (Average wage: $73,000) [View jobs]
  • Human Resources Assistant (Average wage: $44,720) [View jobs]

Salary data from the federal government’s Working in Canada site. (In most cases I have converted average hourly wages into annual salaries.)

Peter Harris
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