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Career month: ‘Luck is being ready for opportunities’

Career services helps students hone skills for professional opportunities

January 6, 2015 — 

Did you know January is Career Month? Although he knows five languages, Mouhamadou Digne visited Career Services for help with communicating to potential employers. Digne, who grew up in the French-speaking city of Senegal, West Africa, is becoming a mechanical engineer because technical skills are needed in his home country of Africa and other developing countries around the world.

“Africa needs people to build things — bridges, roads, expansions. I want to do something rewarding,” he says.

“I am the only boy in my family. Back home, if you are the oldest boy or the only one, you have to do something technical.” Digne came to the university at the age of 18 and will graduate in May 2015.

Digne remembers clearly when career consultant Lynda Peto came to his engineering class to present on Career Services. He visited the website and watched webinars on how to write a resume and prepare for an interview. These resources helped him secure co-op placements.

But it was in his third year, after successfully completing his co-op placements, when he had six interviews within two weeks but no job offers, that Digne decided to make an appointment to see Peto personally.

“People were calling me for interviews, so I have something. I have a story,” said Digne. “I speak multiple languages, it should be easy to communicate, but I took this for granted. I’m telling a story but not shaping it in a way that makes it easy for the other person to digest. This is what I learned to do at Career Services.”

Peto taught Digne about the SAR method, which helps structure responses to a Behavioural Interview: talk about your situation, activity and result. This method helps organize skills and experiences so that there’s a beginning, middle and end that employers can follow.

Peto says, “It’s all about having stories in your back pocket to demonstrate your skills and experience. Mouhamadou has so many interesting experiences and skills; it’s just a matter of picking the right stories that can be shared in a logical and meaningful manner to an employer.”

Getting experiences while being a university student is something Digne values and encourages others to do. He joined the student group Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) to meet other students and obtain key skills and experiences to increase his marketability.

He also worked part-time at Safeway’s deli, which led to his co-op placement as a machinist at Granny’s Poultry Processing Plant in the town of Blumenort. Granny’s Poultry was impressed with his first-hand knowledge of their meat products. There, he used his skills like AutoCAD and in turn, this work experience helped him gain confidence which helped secure his next co-op placement at Alberta’s Suncor Company.

His experience at Suncor, in the oil sands, led to a full-time contract with Shell Canada in Edmonton that will start in summer 2015. Digne adds, the person at Shell who interviewed him is originally from Manitoba who grew up on a farm near Granny’s Poultry, so she could relate to his previous work experience.

Hard work, planned happenstance, or destiny? Digne says, “If the wind is going to catch you, you got to put yourself in the right position, then wait for it to take you.”

Peto adds that often students view their situations as luck — but that luck has more to do with being prepared for opportunities. She says, “Digne got involved, asked for help when he needed it, and developed the important skills and experiences that employers value. He was ready for the opportunities!”

Peto enjoys helping students make the most of their university experiences by developing their skills — in the classroom everyday through group projects, research papers, class discussions, and in labs — and then learning to understand and articulate their skills to employers. She also encourages students to put themselves out there to get different experiences.

“Do volunteer work, part-time jobs, co-op placements or join a student group — all of these experiences will open more doors,” she says. “Your career development can really start as soon as you start university. Take advantage of the opportunities.”

She and other consultants at Career Services offer free career planning and job search guidance. Services are accessible through online resources, workshops or one-on-one appointments.

During January’s Career Month, students can get involved by enrolling in interactive workshops, such as ones that focus on developing a resume or prepping for an interview. There is also a new session for international students on navigating cultural differences in the Canadian workforce.

The feature event of the month is the Career Fair on January 21. It’s attracted 95 employers.

“Make sure you bring your resume to the Career Fair and learn about the organizations,” Peto adds, noting students have come away from the fair with follow-up interviews.

For a listing of the employers and more information about Career Month, visit: umanitoba.ca/student/careerservices.

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