Finding work in your chosen career field has, to an extent, always been a challenge. But it’s one that every graduating class has faced head-on. Pandemic grads are no different; if anything, they’ve proven that they are more resourceful, more determined, and more easily adapt to change than the classes before them.
I had the pleasure of interviewing a 2020 graduate, Clarenz Caba, about working in IT and his experience getting to where he is now.
Q1: What and where did you study?
A: I have a weird post-secondary history. I started at the University of Toronto, Scarborough, for a Computer Science specialism. After two years of trying that out, I decided to transfer to the University of Toronto, Mississauga campus, for a double major in Computer Science and Mathematics. I eventually changed my majors and turned my Computer Science and Mathematics double major into a double minor and I transferred over to the Information Technology department (ICCIT).
Q2: Did you always know that this field was the one you wanted to go into?
A: No, not at all. I actually wanted to do several things. Entering high school, I wanted to be a chef. When I entered post-secondary, I wanted to make money playing and making video games. I even applied for the Canadian Armed Forces as a signals and telecommunications officer. I eventually settled myself in the information technology field
because I knew I loved helping people and I love tech.
Q3: What was your post-secondary experience like (i.e.: grades, extracurriculars, etc.)
A: How much time do you have? (haha).
If you asked any average university or college student, I think they share the same sentiment: brutal and absolutely rewarding. I’m not very good with a lot of theoretical studies, but I had to take plenty of theoretical math and computer science courses for my minors. I was really good at learning on the job and just getting my hands dirty and learning from mistakes. And the reason why I say post-secondary was brutal for me was because of mostly secondary events. Especially in the computer science field, I saw many classmates fall off the face of the earth to complete a project or study for our upcoming midterms. It was brutal because of all of the all-nighters, the fifth cup of coffee at 9pm in the evening, and the crashing and burning of some of my closest friends. But it was extremely rewarding. I was lucky to be surrounded by some of the most talented, funniest, smartest people at UTM. I consider some of my professors as close colleagues. Without their encouragement and support, I would not have succeeded or enjoyed my post-secondary experience.
Q4: Do you think your post-secondary experience helped you to prepare for your career field of choice? Why or why not?
A: I think about this often, especially in my field where I do most of my learning on the fly. And I think that’s what post-secondary best prepared me for. Because of my post-secondary education, I was a bit more aware of my strengths and weaknesses. I know that I am better at learning from doing. It equipped me with the basic knowledge and confidence to complete a project efficiently. It also provided me with the technical toolset and abilities to solve problems creatively.
Q5: Did you do anything else to help you prepare for your chosen career field (i.e.: workshops, conferences, etc.)?
A: Not formally, no. The internet is a wonderful place. There are so many resources on so many important skills and topics today. If you want to grow in your field, especially in the technical and information technology space, you can learn new skills and apply them on the job almost immediately. There are plenty of paid workshops out there, both online and in-person, for you to do. But my suggestion, if you’re curious and just want to learn and apply what you learn right away, look for something free and easily accessible (i.e. YouTube, LinkedIn Learning, etc.)
Q6: How soon after finishing school did you find a job in your field? How did you find that job (i.e.: connections, job boards, etc.)?
A: Not right away. I finished school in May 2020 but I opted out of the June 2020 convocation because I thought the pandemic would end in July or August 2020. I took on two retail jobs, MUJI and Game Stop, before joining Orbis in March 2021.
I was connected through a close family friend and they had a friend (two degrees of connection) who worked for Orbis Communications at the time and they were looking for a Technical Analyst and Product Success Coach. I sent in my resume and cover letter and hoped for the best. After an interview, I was offered the position and the rest is history!
Q7: Do you have any things you wish you did differently to get onto this career path?
A: I wish I went to college instead. I’m not very good with theoretical studies as I have mentioned before, so I think as a natural tinkerer I would have fared better in college.
Q8: Do you have any advice or encouragement for current students/new grads (re: job-hunting, getting into their career fields, networking, etc.)?
A: I have a few things I learned in that year of me searching for my first big boy job.
- Write a resume for every job you want to apply for. It’s important that you customize your resume and cover letter for that specific job that you found on LinkedIn or Indeed. Hiring managers can and will see the effort you put into customizing and writing your resume. There are many types of resumes and I learned that there are different styles of a resume that will fit the job you’re applying for. For example, if I applied for an internship position, I think it’s safe to say that they’re looking for some sort of academic background. So for that resume, I would highlight my post-secondary background first, then my work experience in reverse chronological order. To some, it’s probably easier to just send out 1 resume 100 times and hope for the best. But I think focusing on 2 or 3 job postings and putting in the effort to write a great resume and cover letter package for those 2-3 job postings are far more efficient and effective.
- Learn to be personable. I think manners make a huge difference. I think now (especially in our current employment climate) employers and hiring managers would much rather hire someone who’s willing to learn on-the-job, is honest about not knowing what they don’t know, and is personable versus someone who might come off stand-offish and isn’t open to learn because they think they know it all.
- LinkedIn is absolutely necessary. I spent a solid 3 months polishing my LinkedIn profile. That includes getting a great profile photo, writing a great summary, and recording some of my work experience and educational background. What’s great about LinkedIn is that it’s accessible for the hiring manager. It gives them an idea of who you are. It gives you that leverage and opportunity to tell them “this is who I am, both professionally and personally.”
- Commit to lifelong learning. I think this is the most marketable and most on-demand skill today. If you can confidently tell someone that you are constantly and always learning, you’re in a great place. After post-secondary, we feel like just because we're done school, we’re done learning. It’s quite the opposite. I encourage everyone to find two things: (1) something you are interested in to learn it until you are an expert and (2) something niche and different to learn it until you have a working knowledge of it.