Are you looking for your first job or your first job in Canada? Has it been a long time since you last looked for a job? Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you look for work.
- Prepare for your work search
- Find job opportunities
- Create your work search tools
- Apply for work
- Ace your interviews
- Stay positive while you look for work
- Wrap up your work search
Make your work search more efficient. Gather what you need and know what kind of work you want before you start.
Round up the things you’ll need to find work as soon as possible.
Equipment and supplies
If possible, find a place where you can keep all your equipment and supplies. You’ll need:
- A computer with access to the Internet
- A phone with voice mail
- A desk or table with good lighting
Other optional items you might need include:
- A printer
- Office supplies such as pens, paper, envelopes, and a stapler
If you don’t have easy access to a computer or printer, you can look for a public computer. Most communities in Alberta have free public computers available. Many will also let you print documents. Try your public library, an educational institution (for example, a high school or college), or Alberta Supports.
Whether your work search area is a whole room or a tabletop, try to keep it neat and organized. This will make it easier to reach your goal of finding work.
You will need an email account that you can use for your work search. If you already have a job, it’s not a good idea to use your current work email for this purpose.
If you do not have a personal email account, find out how to set up a free email account and how to use it during your work search.
Make sure you also know how to protect your privacy online.
Most employers ask for a phone number as part of your contact information. Use the same phone number on all of your resumés or job applications.
Ensure you have voice mail set up on this phone. A potential employer might call when you aren’t available to pick up, so they need to be able to leave you a message. Make sure your voice mail greeting is clear and professional.
If other people answer the phone, let them know that you may be receiving business calls. Ask them to respond politely and take down a clear message for you.
Social Insurance Number
To work in Canada, you must have a Social Insurance Number (SIN). A SIN is a 9-digit number that is a unique identifier. If you don’t already have one, you will need to get a SIN from Service Canada.
Identify what you have to offer to an employer
Identifying your skills and accomplishments at the beginning of your work search is useful. It can help you discover what kind of work you’ll be good at. You’ll also need this information later when you’re writing your resumé and preparing for job interviews.
These articles and exercises can help you figure out what you can put on a resumé and talk about in an interview:
- Identify Your Work-Specific Skills
- Know Your Employability Skills and How to Sell Them
- Recognize Your Accomplishments
Don’t forget your volunteer work. Discover 11 Ways Volunteering Can Help You Find a Job.
Now that you’ve identified what you have to offer, think about what you need and want in a job. If you have to decide between job options, keeping your values and preferences in mind will help you choose the job that’s the best fit for you.
For help identifying your needs, values, and preferences, read Understand Your Work Preferences.
People often use job and occupation to mean the same thing, but they have different definitions.
An occupation is a category of jobs that share the same basic skills and knowledge. For example: baker.
A job is a position with clearly defined duties. For example: specialty foods baker at a neighbourhood restaurant.
Researching the occupation that you’re interested in will tell you what skills and knowledge you will likely need to have to apply for many of the jobs in that occupation. However, each job will have specific duties that might differ from other jobs in the same occupation.
What does this mean for someone looking for work? You’ll be using the name of the occupation to look for jobs to apply to. If you’re not sure what occupations are a good fit for you, research will make your options clearer. You have the skills and knowledge to apply for these jobs. But every time you apply, you will need to use your resumé, cover letter, portfolio, and references to show the employer how your skills fit the specific needs of their job.
Even if you know exactly what occupations to look for, you may want to check up-to-date information on topics like education or certification requirements and average wages before you start your work search.
Get ideas on where to find information from Explore the World of Work.
Hunting down good job prospects takes detective work. It pays to look at more than one source for job postings. Check out these ideas on where to look for work.
Expand your network
Networking is an effective way to get information about occupations and jobs from the people you know. It can help you connect with potential employers. People you know can pass on information about people they know, expanding your “net” of personal contacts. As your network expands, it can provide even greater support, information, and connections to others, helping you learn more about occupations, careers, and job opportunities.
The Importance of Networking explains why you need this skill, and how to do it.
Find the jobs that aren’t posted
Many jobs aren’t advertised. Often employers rely on job seekers to come to them or on people they trust to recommend someone who will be a good fit for the job. Because of this, it’s important to find employers you want to work for, either through your own research or through your network. You don’t need to wait for them to post a job opportunity—you can tell them a bit about yourself and ask if your skills can benefit the employer in some way.
How to Contact Employers to Find Unadvertised Jobs has advice for tapping into the hidden job market.
You’ll be sending out cover letters and resumés, setting up meetings, researching companies, and more, all at the same time. A good work search plan and record will help you stay organized. Putting a work search plan in writing will also help you set goals and deadlines for your search. Recording what tasks you’ve completed will keep you on track. And seeing what you’ve finished can keep you motivated by giving you a sense of accomplishment along the way.
Special considerations when looking for work
If you’ve recently moved to Canada, look through these work search resources for newcomers to Alberta, including information on where to get help.
If you’re a job seeker with a disability, explore these job search resources for persons with disabilities.
If you’ve been convicted of a criminal offence, find advice about looking for work with a criminal record.
If you are a student or graduate wanting work experience, consider an internship. It’s on-the-job training where you can learn valuable job skills in a workplace setting:
- Search for employers who offer internship programs at different job banks and job search engines.
- Find information on internships and student employment with the Government of Alberta.
Your resumé, cover letter, references, and job portfolio are the tools you use to let employers know what you have to offer. Make sure these tools are effective in showing how your skills can benefit their organization.
Most employers will expect you to have a resumé. A resumé is a 1- or 2-page summary of your qualifications. A good resumé quickly draws the attention of employers to the skills and accomplishments they need the most. It’s a tool designed to get you invited for an interview. It should be short, interesting to look at, and easy to read. Follow these steps:
- Create a master resumé.
- Work through How to Write a Great Resumé.
- Make sure your resumés have everything they need with these Resumé Checklists.
- Find other tips and advice in Resumés and References.
Revise, revise, revise!
Before you send your resumé to employers, ask as many people as possible to give you feedback on your most recent draft(s).
It’s hard to proofread your own work, so the more fresh eyes, the better! Keep copies of your resumé drafts for future reference.
A cover letter is a businesslike way to introduce your resumé or application form. It’s your chance to get the employer’s attention by explaining how your qualifications fit the employer’s needs. An effective cover letter highlights the skills and accomplishments that are relevant to the job you are applying for.
Find out how to create a good cover letter and see samples of different types. Or watch a video about writing an effective cover letter.
Most employers check references. Choose references who know you well. They should be able to speak clearly and enthusiastically about you. Your references should also be objective. Try not to use a family member as a reference.
You should always ask people if they would be willing to provide a positive reference for you, so don’t leave this part to the last minute. It may take time for you to get responses back from enough references.
Many people use job portfolios to show the quality and style of their work. Employers usually expect photographers, graphic designers, writers, craftspersons, computer programmers, reporters, and others in creative fields to submit copies of their best work when they apply for a job.
But job portfolios can also be a good way for students and people transferring from other occupations to show proof of their skills during an interview.
How to Build a Job Portfolio shows you how having one can help you achieve your career goals.
You may need to apply for work in different ways:
- Some employers ask for a resumé and cover letter. The job posting should say how they want to receive these documents. This can be in person, through a website, or by email.
- Other employers ask for an application form. They find it easier to compare applicants’ qualifications if everyone has completed the same form. Most of the information will be the same as what is in your resumé. The application form can either be online or on paper.
- Some employers may only want you to submit a filled application form.
- Other employers may want both a filled application form and a resumé.
When you apply for a job, follow the employer’s instructions carefully.
Use the format and delivery method the employer prefers.
Apply for Work has more tips on filling out job application forms.
Don’t forget that you can apply to more than one job posting at a time. Don’t wait to hear back from an employer before you apply to others. Many employers only contact the applicants they decide to interview. If you are not one of them, you may never hear back about your application.
A job interview is a business meeting. Both parties want to make a deal: you have skills, and the employer has work. You have 2 tasks in an interview. You need to:
- Show that you have the skills to get the job done.
- Find out whether you’re interested in the work.
Before the interview
Set the stage for a successful interview by doing everything you can in advance to be ready, confident, and on time.
When an employer calls to set up an interview, politely find out as much as you can. For example:
- Will the interview be an initial screening interview (to decide if you’ll be interviewed more seriously later) or a selection interview (to make a hiring decision)?
- Will there be 1 interviewer or several? Ask for the interviewers' names and position titles.
Prepare for common interview questions
Review common interview questions and prepare answers for them. This preparation is especially important for questions you hope the employer won’t ask.
You should also know what questions employers are not allowed to ask. For example, they can’t ask you about things such as your age, racial origin, or sexual orientation.
Prepare your questions for the interviewer
As you get ready for your interview, prepare your questions too. Always word your questions politely. Leave questions about pay and benefits until after they offer you the job.
Online or phone interviews
Will your interview be online or over the phone? Try to arrange the call at a time and place where you can speak comfortably. Plan to have your resumé and job portfolio (if you have one), a pen and some paper, and your list of questions within easy reach during the call.
For more advice, see How to Ace Your Phone or Online Interview.
During the interview
The interview begins as soon as you greet the interviewer. Whether your interview is in person, by phone, or via video conference, most interviewers “size up” applicants in the first minute or 2. You want to do your best to create a good first impression. Present yourself well and participate fully in the conversation.
After the interview
The tough part is now behind you. Still, you can do a few more things to improve your chances of getting the job. You can also prepare yourself for future interviews.
If you promised to call the interviewer on a certain date, put a reminder in your work search plan, calendar, or whatever other tool you use to track your activities.
Did the employer say you should expect a call by a certain date? Note down the date and call if you haven’t heard anything by then.
Do not assume you have a job until an employer tells you when to start.
Keep looking and following up on other opportunities, even after several interviews have gone well. If a job doesn’t come through, you won’t have wasted time waiting.
Disappointments happen in any work search. You may not hear back from many of the jobs you've applied for. You might interview for some jobs and not get offers. You’ll need realistic expectations about how long the search will take, a willingness to learn from your experiences, and a healthy lifestyle while you look for work. For more tips, check out these ways to stay positive through the work search process.
And how you handle disappointment can help you use it to your advantage. Reframe any self-defeating thoughts and feelings into positive ones to maintain your confidence.
Prepare yourself for when your efforts pay off and you get a job offer.
When you’ve been looking for work for some time and you finally get a job offer, it’s tempting to say yes right away. But it pays to prepare yourself and ask some questions. Learn how to negotiate and respond to your job offer.
If you receive several offers, you can choose the job that fits you best. How do you know which job is the best fit? It’s the one that most closely aligns with the needs and wants you identified.
Remember that an employer can withdraw an offer, even a written one, at any point up until you’ve accepted it. Accept the job offer you want, in writing, before turning down any others.
If you are leaving your current job to take a new job, handle your resignation professionally and considerately.
Make your next work search easier
It’s likely that you will change jobs several times over your career. You can make your next transition easier if you:
- Keep your master resumé up to date.
- Create and maintain an up-to-date job portfolio.
- Stay in touch with people who have been supportive and helpful.
- Keep informed about new developments in the fields or industries that interest you. Anticipate how changes are likely to affect your next work search so you can keep your career plan updated.
- Continue to learn and to update your skills.
Take charge of your career by looking ahead. It will give you a sense of confidence and freedom that goes well beyond ordinary job security. Work search is an important skill and the time you take now to not only learn the basics but to practise and develop that skill will help you be successful throughout your career.