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Sandra Finkelstein

It's a Competitive Market, Create Your Brand, Differentiate Yourself!

It’s reading week - time to chill, catch up with friends who don’t go to your school, and maybe even study!

It’s snowy outside yet spring is fast approaching. With that in mind comes the reminder that April is around the corner and that means final exams.


Summer break. For some this is a welcome time. Some are off to camp while others may be travelling. For many though, there is this overwhelming feeling of needing to find a job in the tough market. I will not argue that it is a tough market. The key is learning to navigate in it.

If you are feeling this way you are not alone. I had dinner at a friend’s home and her three sons who were in for reading week joined us. I spoke with the youngest son and asked him what he wants to do this summer. He said that he doesn’t know.

He said, “It’s a very competitive market. I am thinking about interning but I don’t know.”

I looked at him and said “you are undervaluing yourself! You have so much amazing knowledge and experience already that you need to harness it and go and share it with a company expressing the value you can create for them!”

He did not seem convinced.

It amazes me how much our youth undervalue their competencies.  For a younger person, he is quite articulate yet he lacks the confidence and know-how on how to share his competencies, knowledge and experience. How to create his personal brand demonstrating why he is a great intern candidate.

That conversation inspired me to share with you tips and tools on finding your perfect opportunity this summer - whether it is interning, volunteering or better yet a paid summer job!

The time is now and you need to be proactive.


First step:  WHY?

Understanding WHY a summer position is so valuable to your future:

You are young and now is the time to make mistakes, take risks and try different industries and corporate cultures to see what you like and dislike. Sometimes what you think may be a good choice for you may not actually be the case once you get there. It is one thing to study the theoretical knowledge and it is another to apply it and experience hands-on what it takes to succeed in a specific industry or corporate culture.

We are a society that does not allow for mistakes and failure. However, every successful person I know will tell you it is their mistakes and failures that brought them to where they are now. 

Whether you are volunteering, interning or doing paid work, you are beginning to create a network of people who want to support, guide and perhaps mentor you. These relationships are invaluable and can open up so many doors (especially when you graduate). You will have one leg up on those graduating with these connections in your back pocket.

*Tip: Review the Career Path sections and the personal interviews in Career Cruising to understand where your careers of interest can lead you and what individuals currently working in those roles think of the daily responsibilities involved. This will help you narrow down the types of roles you would like to pursue this summer.


Step two: HOW?

How to begin the process of looking for volunteer work, interning or paid work.

a) Build your resume:

First thing is to write down ALL of your experiences. You may think the part-time job or volunteer work you currently do has little value. However there are life skills and competencies you are creating every day that are very valuable to employers. Here are some ideas of where to draw from:

  • School – are you on a team, club or group (debate team, sports team, prom committee, student counsel, etc.)? What role do you play in these clubs and groups?
  • Part-time work- do you work one day a week as a stock person, in a restaurant or clothing store? Do you babysit?
  • Summer Camp Leader - how many years were you a group leader at camp? What leadership and team roles did you take on? How did you create value for programs/camp as a whole?
  • Volunteer – are you giving back in some way to a person, group or organization? How many years have you been involved? What roles did you play? Did you travel abroad and be part of something bigger or perhaps were you part of We Day?
  • Political involvement – Have you joined a party and become involved in their campaigning? Do you canvass door to door?
  • Sorority/Frat – Today many sororities and frats make it mandatory to contribute to society. What projects or fundraising activities have you been part of? What were the results and what role did you play achieving them?

These are just a few examples. Once you have listed all of your involvements it is time to put together a one-page resume describing YOUR BRAND that you can share with prospective employers.

*Tip: Look up how to build resumes and cover letters in my resource book, We’re Not Gonna Take It.

Also complete your My Plan in Career Cruising by documenting all of your activities and experiences.  Turn that data into a resume by using the Resume Builder and export it to Word to create your final draft. Sample resumes are provided within the program to give you a better idea of what yours can look like. 

Explore job opportunities using the integrated employment search (if available) to see what jobs you might be able to apply for in your region.

b) Create your stories:  From all of your experiences I want you to focus on two or three experiences that highlight your competencies:

  • team work/collaboration
  • leadership
  • ability to make decisions and be accountable for your actions
  • determination/tenacity
  • success stories

The goal is to be able to say “when I was a part of the prom committee, I took on this initiative and it equipped me with this skill.” Ultimately these stories will showcase your ability to create value and how you made a difference. Employers will remember stories more than facts. 

*Tip: Use the Skills & Abilities section of My Plan to document your thoughts so that if you’re asked about these competencies in an interview, you’ll know just what to say.

The idea in this section is connecting the dots backwards and recognizing how everything you have done in your life and all your choices have brought you to where you are today. Employers are interested in those who are innovative, risk-takers and think outside the box.


Third Step: WHAT?

What do you need to do to find a job, internship or volunteer position?

Note: Emailing your resume will find deaf ears.

a) Ask for connections: First thing I would do is ask every person you know (parents, coaches, those you work for, teachers, guidance office, etc.) if they have a contact in a company in the industries that interest you. Having an introduction from someone who already has a connection gives you immediate credibility. Then the rest is up to you to connect with this person through phone or email and begin the process of sending your resume, following up, setting up a time to sit down, share your stories and competencies, and go for the position.

*Tip: Use the networking resources in Career Cruising’s Employment Guide to help you identify your connections and leverage social media for help as well.

b) Informational Interview: If no one you know has connections within the industry or company, I suggest calling up the company yourself and asking for a VP or senior person in the area of your interest and ask for a 15-minute informational interview. This may take a few attempts. You will need to speak to the operator or executive administrator to get the name and contact info for the right person.

This is where tenacity and perseverance will pay off – don’t give up!

*Tip: Within Career Cruising’s Help section, take a look at Classroom Activitiy #9 – Career Interview Project as a starting point for which questions to ask!

Believe in yourself and your abilities: go for it! Don’t undervalue yourself. Create your brand and differentiate yourself from the market.




Sandra Finkelstein is an author, youth advocate and empowerment consultant. Her book, We're Not Gonna Take It is a resource book geared to the millennial youth to give them, their parents and youth workers the tools and resources to assist in their decision-making process and provide the foundation for their success in this market. She is currently working with companies on intergenerational relationships (motivation and engagement strategies that bridge the gap between different age groups to create a cohesive and engaged work environment).


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