Jobs, Resumés, and the Importance of Now

Linnea Osterberg

Now that we have readjusted to class and all the work that entails, it is time to start thinking about the summer. You can never start searching for a job too early, and some small prep work now will make applying for a job or scholarship later in the term much easier and far less stressful.

Any method that lets you keep track of what jobs you’re applying for and when the applications are due is great. For those of you new to the application process or just severely disorganized, I’ve outlined below the method I use.

It consists of 5 “steps” and functions as a checklist to keep me on track with everything. To get started, I usually create a file on my computer where I keep all the relevant essays,websites, and other information that I need. I’ve found that the extra time I spend in the beginning to get everything organized pays off later when I’m trying to send things in. This method also works for scholarships and graduate school applications.

5 Steps:

1. Create/Clean-up Resumé

This may seem a no-brainer, but regularly updating your resumé makes a big difference. It allows you to put your most recent or relevant experiences first where they will be seen and it serves as a chance to spell-check & edit the format. Nothing kills the good impression you want to make like a sloppy, ill-formatted resumé. Take an extra half-hour to really polish it up before you begin your job, school, or scholarship search. Re-reading your resumé will also remind you of talents or work experiences, which you may have forgotten, that make you a stronger candidate.

2. Start job search

This is always the most fun and frustrating part of the process. If you are an undergraduate looking for some summer work there are several ways you can go:

For science students or research-oriented students in general, reaching out to professors whose work you admire or are interested in is a great first step. Most professors take on undergrads to help in their labs during the summer and even during the school year. Make sure you have read some of the professor’s published papers beforehand though, because a passion for what the lab is studying is key to being a good candidate. It also helps to do some extra reading on the research tools/techniques used in the lab since you will need to become familiar with these anyway and it shows a good work ethic to come in prepared.

For those less hot on research or just looking to make some money (many research jobs are volunteer or part-time, especially for undergrads), this is the time to reach out to the community. If you are fluent in French then downtown stores and restaurants are almost always hiring. It may not be glamorous but you will earn something. International students and anglophones may want to consider the opportunities in their home communities instead. You can apply for an internship at a local institution or business, or you look into seasonal jobs such as camp counsellor.

Also be sure to visit the CaPS myFuture section – jobs in and around McGill are posted there and you can upload your resumé and cover letter directly to the site which makes applying that much simpler.

Don’t forget about your department or faculty either! Most departments circulate job postings via email, so check all those department tagged emails before you throw them away. McGill faculties also have programs or databases with internship or job postings specifically intended for their students.

If all else fails remember that most newspapers now post their help wanted ads online. You can also ask family members and friends to keep an eye out and let you know if anyone is looking for a summer employee.

The trick here is to explore all avenues and keep an open mind to all opportunities, even if they aren’t the dream job you were hoping for.

3. Narrow down to top candidates

Once you’ve done some preliminary research it is time to narrow down your list. I usually pick two or three jobs that I feel very qualified for and one or two jobs that I may not be the most qualified for but I really want. Because most jobs require a cover letter and an interview, you want to pick a few jobs you really care about and put your effort there instead of applying to fifty different places. At the same time, if some of the jobs you’re looking at are part-time or have minimal application requirements, feel free to increase the number of places to which you apply.

I really use this step to help me focus my search and make sure that I really want the jobs I’m applying to. This step also helps keep me from starting fifteen applications only to finish two in a last-minute panic.

4. Draft cover letters

Once you know exactly what jobs you are applying for, it is time to start writing your cover letters. A cover letter is a one page overview of your strengths as a candidate. It gives you an opportunity to tell your prospective employer why you should get the job and why you want the job. I strongly suggest getting friends or family who have written cover letters before to proof-read yours, especially if you are still new to writing cover letters.

One huge thing to remember for this step is to proof-read, even if you do it yourself. Grammatical errors, poor spelling, and bad sentence structure are not acceptable in a cover letter. Most employers use the cover letter as test to see if they even want to continue on to your resumé, so your letter must be as perfect as you can make it.

5. Contact potential employers

This is a bit of an optional step and very much depends on where you are applying. I find that a polite email or phone call roughly two weeks after sending in my application is a good way to check that the application has been received and to indicate my continued interest. If you are lucky, this will make your name more familiar to your potential employer and speak well of your determination to get the job. The important thing here, which I cannot stress enough, is to only call once. You do not want to be the obnoxious applicant who is constantly calling and trying to get up-to-the-minute information on their application. Contact them once, state your name/application number clearly, politely inquire if they have received your application and thank them again for their consideration. Make a note of the response you get. If appropriate, you can follow up again, but only if a notification deadline is missed or you are specifically asked to. The point here is to contact them in a unobtrusive, non-obnoxious way. You want the people looking at your application to remember you for your excellent cover letter and considerate follow-up, and not because you kept calling them endlessly.


Hopefully this post will have benefitted some of you and at the very least given you an idea of how to organize and begin your job search. The key to a successful job search is to begin early and stay organized. Happy Hunting!

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