Career Advice

Shhhh… Job seekers should check out the library

The Vancouver Public Library resembles a good financial investor in its ability to investigate, analyze and react.


To that end, the days of book stacks and microfiches only are being replaced with resources for job seekers in the form of highly-detailed methods of honing in on specific sectors and industries.

While the standardized resume-building workshops and basic job search courses remain, the library now works alongside government and industry to help all demographics find work, re-enter the workforce or even acquaint themselves with Canadian workplace norms.

Sophie Middleton is the VPL’s acting manager of information services and helps to oversee what’s currently on offer, and what’s coming down the pike through the library’s Skilled Immigrant InfoCentre.

“There is a huge wealth of information that we have that people aren’t aware of that goes beyond a resumé,” Middleton said. “It’s for anyone who’s looking for jobs. These people want to know how to find unadvertised jobs, or the hidden job market, they want to look at new career options or learn more about all of our resources.”

The library’s employment guides are like pathfinders to finding jobs. More than 120 guides are offered for free online and in print. They cover sectors spanning engineering, computers, film and TV and a myriad of other options in varying levels of detail. And if a particular career path isn’t available, library staff can meet with patrons for one-on-one sessions to suss out those details.

“Most industries are covered on some level, and they get quite granular in some cases to cover very specific topic,” Middleton said. “They’re a great place to start to find out salaries, labour market information, synonyms for the job to help with searching and websites and associations representing those industries.

Around 30 career guides serve as almost companion pieces to the employment guides, and cover off on topics such as transferable skills, mentorship programs, workplace culture, recruitment agencies, apprenticeships.

Tips and workshops are even offered to help people refine their networking skills.

“There are conventions in Canadian work culture people may not be aware of,” Middleton said. “We as Canadians love to talk about the weather, so it’s about moving from that to being able to talk about industry-related questions or find out more about industry associations in a low-stress and supportive environment.” 

Those accessing the library’s job services come from all walks of life: old, young, men and women and recent immigrants. Some are just entering the workforce, others are opting to re-train for a different career path and others still want to know about entrepreneurship and going into business for themselves.

Nailing down emerging workforce trends isn’t as easy as identifying who’s accessing the library’s services, according to Middleton. Instead, as the economy goes, so goes those workplace patterns. As of late February, work in film and TV and “green jobs” were percolating with the public.

“We’re getting a little bit of everybody, but the vast majority are your regular Vancouverites coming in, looking for a bit of help with their job search process and to get a broads sense of what the resources available at the library are,” Middleton said.


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Creating An Effective Resume When You Lack The Required Credentials

Creating an effective, "targeted" resume is the first step to getting a great job. But what do you do when you know you've found the perfect job and your credentials aren't quite right?

In this age of specialization, it is highly advisable to tailor your resume to the specific position you're applying for. After all, a general resume may not indicate the specific skills and accomplishments that would help you to achieve success in a given position. Creating a "targeted" resume simply makes sense from a business standpoint. It recognizes the fact that prospective employers are looking for specific qualifications when they're attempting to find a pool of candidates to interview for an advertised job.

But while a customized resume can be desirable in theory, it can be challenging from a practical viewpoint. After all, the process of resume revamping can be arduous and time-consuming. It can also be difficult to come up with the right list of keywords that will make an employer take special notice of your resume.

Perhaps the greatest challenge, however, occurs when you lack the credentials that an employer is looking for. While you obviously don't want to lie, indicating that you possess credentials that you actually lack, you don't want to call attention to your lack of experience or lack of education, either. Therefore, you're faced with a difficult dilemma: How do you market yourself effectively on your resume when, at first glance, you may not be the obvious candidate for the job, when you don't have the right degree?

It is actually not an uncommon problem for a job applicant to lack the desired degree for a given position. For instance, there are a number of mid-level managers who are highly effective at their jobs, who have years of real-world experience, but who never received Master's Degrees in Business Administration. Perhaps they simply did not have time to pursue an advanced degree because of their work schedules, or because family concerns prevented them from furthering their education.

Although the bachelor's degree has become standard in the workplace, not every employee even highly dedicated, motivated employees' has one. Granted, in a number of situations, the lack of a BA can be a major obstacle, since many jobs require specific knowledge or critical thinking skills that are most effectively developed in college. However, in an area like sales, a college degree can be less of a handicap. This is because many managers are more interested in an applicant's sales record rather than his or her business degree. In fact, corporate recruiters say that, the longer you've been in a given profession, the less important your degree becomes. What really matters is your professional accomplishments.

If you're in a situation where you don't have the specific degree recommended for a position, write your resume in such a way that you highlight those work-related achievements that might set you apart from the competition. Make sure that you include a summary of key career milestones at the top of your resume. And include information about professional accomplishments within the descriptions of duties for the various positions you've held. A prospective employer may be so overwhelmed by your record of achievement that he or she is willing to waive the degree requirement.

Also, if you are currently taking college courses in the hopes of completing a degree program, be sure to place the phrase "degree in progress" in the educational section of the resume. This shows that you are committed to furthering your education.  A manager may also be impressed by your desire to obtain a degree and may actually help you to achieve that goal if you secure the position. If You Lack Sufficient Experience

You may be attracted to a position that would be highly challenging and professionally satisfying yet you may not have the years of relevant experience recommended in the want ad. This is an all too-common problem in today's workplace. While there is, in fact, no substitute for experience, it is possible to thrive in a job that you've had less-than-perfect preparation for.

But how do you convince a prospective employer of that fact? In some cases, you can make your case by stressing the quality of your experience over the quantity of years you've had in a given field. For instance, by highlighting the fact that you've worked as second-in-command of a successful business, you can negate an employer's concerns that you haven't really been in business that long. Describing your duties in a captivating way may cause an employer to forgive the fact that you have not yet put in the ten years experience recommended for a given position.

Another effective technique is by showing an employer how experience in an unrelated job has uniquely prepared you for the job at hand. For instance, take the case of an enterprising job applicant who wanted to become a chapter development director for a non-profit organization with chapters of volunteers throughout the state. The applicant was a long-time veteran of the business world, but she had never worked in chapter development. Yet, she managed to secure the desired position because she had a well-crafted resume that mentioned her highly developed organizational skills, her ability to network well with other people, and the entrepreneurial experience she gained when she ran her own home-based business. Think of Your Resume as a Sales Tool.  

Finally, it is important for you to keep in mind that your resume can serve as an effective sales tool, the most important tool you have in selling your candidacy to an employer. Do not underestimate your skills or your achievements present them in the best possible light. An employer should be drawn to your resume because it is professional looking, succinct, and effective in communicating the message that you would be an impressive candidate for a given position. In other words, it is important that you do not under-sell yourself, simply because you lack one or more of the credentials listed in a position description. Think creatively and try to find ways to showcase skills that might be applicable to the position. If you produce the most appealing resume you can, the chances that you will get the job you want will increase significantly.


Avoiding The "No Pile"

Employers are spending 20-30 seconds skimming over your resume. We've compiled some tips to help you avoid rejection and make it to the "yes" pile.

The last time you applied for a job and didn't get an interview, was your resume tossed on the "no" pile after someone skimmed it for only a few seconds, or did the employer read it carefully and you just missed making the cut?

Seventy recruiters met recently at the University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business to discuss what can make or break a resume. The recruiters represented a variety of industries including oil and gas, tourism, technology and financial services, and some of what they revealed may surprise you.

An employer may review 100 or more resumes in an hour, spending only 20-30 seconds on each one. "Recognize that most employers are using the resume to screen you out rather than to select you in," says Derek Chapman, Ph.D., professor of industrial organization and psychology at the Haskayne School of Business.

Getting Attention

"If you don't catch my eye, you're out," one recruiter said. That doesn't mean you should use bright pink paper or multi-colored lettering, but several recruiters said they don't mind applicants including a photo. Creative photos (such as the shot an applicant included of herself in a snow suit with snowmen on either side and a caption saying "I'm the one in the middle") might help land the interview.

However, Chapman cautions against including a photo. "A photo can be used to screen you out on the basis of your sex, age, national or ethnic origin, etc. If someone hires you for your good looks, are you sure you want to work for that supervisor?"

Name Dropping

A better way to catch an employer's eye is to include names of well-known companies you have worked for. As one recruiter explained, if you previously worked for a reputable company, it enhances your application "because they have some standards." Employers are likely to assume you will be a good employee because you successfully passed that company's hiring process and were well-trained. If you haven't been employed by any large companies, consider doing an internship or volunteer work for a well-known organization.

Surprisingly, "name dropping" only works when mentioning companies. The recruiters said they are turned off when an applicant writes in a cover letter that they were referred by someone such as a company executive. The employers said if someone really thinks you are a good applicant that person should deliver the resume to the recruiter or phone on your behalf.

Resume Mistakes

While employers want resumes that are error-free, making a mistake such as addressing your cover letter to the wrong company won't necessarily disqualify you from the job. Of course, it depends on the employer. For some recruiters, that kind of mistake is inexcusable. However, many others will allow one or two mistakes -- even stapling the second page upside down -- as long as you have the right qualifications.

To minimize mistakes, proofread your resume. Your spell-checker doesn't know you meant to say "manager" instead of "manger".

Another surprise is that about one-third of the recruiters at the session said they do not read cover letters. To make sure your important information doesn't get overlooked, it should be in your resume.

Making the "Yes" Pile

Here are some additional tips to help you make the "yes" pile:

  • Have a conventional e-mail address. Your name is fine; or are not.
  • Tailor your resume to each job you apply for. Make sure it shows you have the skills the employer is seeking for that particular position.
  • Use lots of white space and bullet points to help information stand out.
  • Include interests that are relevant to the job. If you are applying for a job in agriculture, for example, show that you have rural roots.
  • If you are submitting an electronic resume use a standard format such as Word to ensure it can be opened.
  • Don't disclose irrelevant personal information. ("I don't want to know you are 5'6," and weigh 195 pounds" one employer said.)

    State your accomplishments rather than just your responsibilities. "For example, simply stating: 'Managed a budget of $200,000 annually for training and development' is not nearly as powerful as 'Reduced training and development costs by 20 percent while maintaining the quality and quantity of training provided to employees'," Chapman says.

    "Placing positive information at the very beginning and again at the very end of the resume helps keep the employer's attention and capitalizes on the psychological principles of memory to work in your favor," Chapman says. "Remember, most employers are only skimming your resume at first to make a preliminary decision. Make sure they can find your information easily."

    Tag and Catherine Goulet, "The Breaking In Experts," are co-CEOs of, a leading publisher of career guides offering step-by-step advice for breaking into a variety of dream careers. Visit


Secret To Great References: Ask Early And Carefully

References can have a significant impact on the final hiring decision. Be ready at a moment's notice to provide potential employers with at least three solid ones.


Approach only your natural contacts, the people who would unquestionably offer a glowing report about you. You want people who know you well professionally and can relay information about your proficiency, skills, attitudes, and behaviors.

Consider mentors, bosses, or coworkers in positions of authority. Also look at professors, coaches, or counselors. Steer away from family and friends, who may be biased or unaware of your work habits.

Ask early and carefully
Ask for references before you leave your current job. Say something like, "If I need a reference, would you feel comfortable offering a positive recommendation?" If there is any hesitation, avoid using that person. If he or she is a solid mentor, talk about the type of position you are seeking, your hopes, and your goals. Asking for advice educates and engages your references in your efforts.

Do their work for them
Make it easy for your references to say good things about you.

  • Provide an updated resume.
  • Give them warning that a potential employer has asked for references.
  • Describe the job you are seeking, the challenges it might provide, and your ability to meet them.
  • Outline why you are the best candidate for the job.
  • Ask them to let you know when/if they've been contacted.

How HR managers use your network
Human resource managers almost invariably ask for references when seriously considering someone. For liability reasons, if for no other, they will probably call each one. They will look for inconsistencies between information gleaned from your interview and from what your references say. They may ask about the following.

  • Promptness or tardiness
  • Interactions with coworkers
  • Attitude
  • Competency
  • Weaknesses

Thank your references
After your job search is over, contact your references to let them know how their referral paid off. Ask if there is anything you can do in return.

Writing A Winning Cover Letter

What takes 10 seconds and can result in crushing a job applicant?s dream of being considered for a position? A busy nonprofit hiring manager reading a poorly written cover letter.

In the job application process, the cover letter usually represents the first opportunity you have to communicate directly with a hiring organization.  Smart jobseekers take advantage of this opportunity to engage the hiring organization and establish themselves as strong candidates, both through the content and the style of the letter.

This week's column explores five easy-to-follow strategies for writing a winning cover letter.

Tip #1: Get In, Get Noticed, Get Out

The goal of a cover letter is to give a hiring manager enough information to consider you an interesting candidate.  A common pitfall of cover letters is giving too much or irrelevant information.  A good cover letter is economical at three sections, usually one paragraph each, and includes the following:

* First Section - Introduction and connection to organization's mission

* Second Section - Summary of your skills/background as they pertain to the position

* Third Section - Thank you, contact instructions, and closing

Sticking to this format ensures that you are providing all of the key information sought by the hiring manager, while keeping it to a length that is accessible and easy to read.

Tip #2: Personalize Your Opening

The golden rule of cover letters is simple: create a personal and unique cover letter for every job application.  A one-size-fits-all approach to a cover letter is sure to land your application at the bottom of a hiring manager's pile.

Personalizing your letter begins with the greeting.  If a specific contact name is not provided in the job description, do not open your cover letter with "To Whom It May Concern" or, even worse, "Dear Sir." Do research on the organization's web site to find the right contact.  You may find the name of the director of the department in which your desired job is located or you may find someone in human resources.  As a last resort, address your application to the Executive Director of the organization. This shows that you took the time to research the organization and will always be viewed more favorably than an impersonal greeting.

From there, explain why you are passionate about the mission of the organization.  Communicate the substance behind your passion; instead of stating, "I always wanted to help people," try "Because I was raised with amazing educational opportunities, it's personally very important to me to make sure that other people have access to those opportunities as well." The more personal and compelling your connection to the organization's mission is, the more likely your cover letter will be read in its entirety.

Tip #3: Connect the Dots

In the second section, create a connection between your skills and background and the job requirements.  Remember that your cover letter accompanies your resume, so do not simply re-state all of the information already listed on the resume. Use your critical thinking skills to really analyze the job description.  Beyond the specific qualifications listed, what can you determine about what this organization is really looking for in this role?  Use your cover letter to demonstrate how your skills and experience match with what they want.

Avoid general statements like, "I know I am the best person for the job." It is more effective to let your skills and experience demonstrate the strength of your qualifications.

Remember to also address any cultural or personality attributes sought by the hiring organization.  Include examples that illustrate personal traits such as leadership, teamwork, flexibility, or other qualities valued by the organization.

As many hiring organizations value diversity, freely identify yourself as a person of color, having multicultural experience, and/or possessing attributes that could add to the overall diversity of the organization.  In many cases, illustrating your fit with an organization?s culture is just as important as your skills and experience.

Tip #4: Close with Style

The third section is all about wrapping up your cover letter neatly and elegantly. Use this opportunity to thank the organization for considering your application and to reiterate your enthusiasm for the position, organization, and mission. This is also where you can provide instructions on how and when to contact you, generally a phone number and email address.

Remember that you must ensure that you have a professional email account.  You can create a free account at Yahoo, Hotmail, or Gmail.  Generally, your first and last name or initials (or some combination of both) are acceptable.  This is the contact email address you should include in both your cover letter and resume.

Tip #5: Do a Test Run

Before you send your cover letter to a potential employer, check the job description for any specific instructions.  At the bottom of most postings, there are generally instructions for how the organization would like to receive applications.  For example, do they want to receive cover letters as attachments or in the body of the email?  Do they want you to include a list of references with your application?  Or do they want you to answer a specific question in your cover letter?  Be sure to follow the specific instructions for how to submit your application and what to include in your cover letter. This demonstrates your attention to detail, another very important characteristic for most hiring organizations.

Now comes the time to employ your "editor" -- ask the best writer you know to proofread your cover letter for typos, grammatical errors, and any inappropriate wording such as humor, slang, or emoticons (happy faces have no place in a cover letter or any other professional communication!).  Also check for adequate variation in sentence structure. Do not begin every sentence with "I have" Remember, this is a real-life example of your writing ability, a skill that is highly valued by almost every nonprofit position.

Finally, test sending the cover letter in the format desired by the organization to your own email account.  This will allow you to make any adjustments in formatting before sending your application to the actual organization.  As a general rule, keep formatting to a minimum so that it will be preserved across different email or word processing programs.

Final Thoughts

A thoughtful and well-written cover letter is taken seriously by organizations.  A good cover letter can strengthen your application and help you get to the next stage of the process; a poor cover letter can result in the instant disqualification of your candidacy.  Take advantage of this opportunity to make a great impression!