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Building a strong resumé as an international student

Safety tools and equipment on a wooden floor.

Whether this is your very first term on Canadian soil, or you’ve already survived a few Ottawa winters, you’re probably already aware that young people here tend to enter the job market early, often as early as age 16 or even before! Therefore, by the age of 19 or 20, many of your peers already have three years’ experience in summer jobs, retail, catering, camp leadership and more. Whether you’re from Casablanca or Accra, Port au Prince or Porto-Novo, your professional success in Canada will largely depend on your ability to quickly enter the job market and build a solid resumé.

To guide you, the Telfer Career Centre Team ─ made up, incidentally, of several international uOttawa alumni! ─ has prepared a list of key tips as well as an action plan that will help you optimize your chances of professional success. And who better to validate all this content than members of the great Telfer family whose journey resembles yours!

Tips and testimonials

A few tips and testimonials from members of the Telfer family who originally came to study in Ottawa from abroad

1.    Gain experience

Don’t put off getting your first paid work experience just to get straight A’s in all your courses. An 8.9 GPA doesn’t mean you have the know-how to get the job done, or the right attitude. At the end of your BCom, it’s the lack of relevant work experience on your resumé that’s the problem, not an average below B+. 

For me, professional experience has been a catalyst for developing valuable soft skills, like problem-solving and communication, AND for expanding my network: all essential elements for a successful career. Every challenge I’ve overcome at work has become a story that I enthusiastically share during job interviews. And it works! Believe it or not, my work experience brought clarity to my vision and enhanced my academic performance. Don’t wait to join the job market, because your experience matters much more than just having a GPA above B+.

Arthur Nsabimbona, Financial Analyst, Administrative Services, Telfer School of Management, Telfer graduate, and former international student  

Burundi flag.

2.    Start with the base

If you don’t have any paid work experience under your belt, do yourself a favour by agreeing to start at the bottom, if only to add a first entry to your resumé. We’ve all been there, including your future managers!

Indeed, starting at the bottom of the ladder – while knowing where you want to go next – is a key to success. That said, don’t limit yourself to entry-level positions in your sector (for example, “junior accountant” if you’re studying accounting). We rarely have any idea of all the essential skills that experience in the catering industry or in a store or supermarket, for example, can bring!

Dahlia Vinou, Relationship Manager at the Career Centre, Telfer graduate, and former international student  

Benin flag.

3.    Leverage the resources available to you

Take advantage in your first year of all the mentoring and coaching you can access free of charge: the Peer Mentoring Program, the Telfer Career Centre services and the Academic Writing Aid Centre.

Wake up! As a student, it took me a while to get active on the career front, mistakenly believing that all the golden opportunities would come to me on their own. One day, I finally realized that this “gold” laid dormant within me, and that it was my responsibility to take advantage of it. In other words, it’s up to each of us to chart our own course. You don’t want to miss the boat? Then set your alarm clock! My experience in the Canadian job market confirms it: opportunities “present themselves” to those who go looking for them. So get in touch with your mentors, use the Telfer Career Centre and become the candidate that employers are looking for.

Douce Marie Joanne Nioupin, Student Experience Collaborator, Telfer Career Centre, and international student pursuing a BCom in Management at Telfer  

Ivory Coast flag.

4.    Combine work and study

If your studies are a gateway to the Canadian job market, the part-time jobs you hold throughout your studies may be the key.

When you come from a culture where you only start working after graduation, it’s hard to think about getting work experience/part-time jobs! Based on my experience, I encourage you to embrace those opportunities, not only as means to support yourself financially, but also as gateways to personal growth and professional development. The transferrable skills I acquired as a part-time sales associate have shaped my future career aspirations. It has instilled in me a passion for business development, as I have witnessed firsthand the impact of building strong customer relationships and contributing to the growth of an organization.

Salima Boujanah, Relationship Manager at the Telfer Career Centre, uOttawa Communications graduate and former international student  

Morocco flag.

5.    Réseautez !

Invest slowly but surely in your relationships, whether at university, at work or in your volunteer and extracurricular activities. Statistically speaking, there’s a good chance you’ll find your future jobs through your connections in Canada.

One should never underestimate the power of connections, especially in a professional environment, among other places. I once lost not one, but two valuable work opportunities because I did not stay connected on LinkedIn. Former colleagues had tried to reach out to offer me a position which I would have accepted, but by the time I checked my messages, it was all too little too late. This pushed me to take my professional profile more seriously and to better use the available tools that contribute to my career success. But connections are not limited to a professional setting. Even leisure activities can contribute to your career in ways you would not expect. I believe most soft skills, which are highly valued by employers nowadays, are acquired outside of the workplace. Indeed, one of my references who helped me secure my current job at the Career Centre was a fellow cast member in a play. Through rehearsals and script reads, we learned a lot about each other, and she managed to extract many soft skills from the way she knew me, an actress, a young entrepreneur, and a friend. Therefore, one advice I could give anyone, is to nurture your relationships anywhere, with everyone, as you may never know where they could lead you, and when they will be the last step to reaching your goals.

Gasline Deslouches, Intermediate Advisor, Communications and Marketing, Career Engagement Coordinator, Telfer graduate and former international student  

Haiti flag.

Rapid Action Plan – Fall 2023

International and early-career students

1) Log on to Career Launch and bookmark the platform. While you’re at it, create a bookmark folder entitled “Career.”
2) Meet our brigade of career coaches on Mondays from 10 a.m. to noon at DMS 7170 or on Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at DMS 3102, and get sound advice from international peers. 
3) Follow the Telfer Career Centre on social networks at telfercareer.
4) Through Career Launch, check out the Calendar of Events and register for one activity that fits in with your course schedule.
5) Open the Career Centre’s Marketing yourself: Resumé page and bookmark it. You’ll need to refer to it regularly as you build your résumé.
7) Make it a habit to check your uOttawa e-mail account regularly so you don’t miss the Career Centre ebulletin.

Take it from our employees and the thousands of international students who are now part of the #telfernation: take charge of your career development, and the future will be yours.

About the Author

(Elle/She)<br><br>Coordonnatrice de développement professionnel au Centre des carrières de Telfer, Véronique Bélinge est titulaire d’un baccalauréat ès arts en traduction, d’un baccalauréat ès sciences sociales en études internationales et langues modernes, ainsi que d’une maîtrise ès arts en littératures et cultures du monde. Avec plus de 20 ans d’expérience alliant traduction, révision, édition, rédaction publicitaire, création de contenu numérique et élaboration de messages organisationnels, elle offre aux étudiants du B.Com. et du MBA des services d’encadrement en développement de carrière et d’image de marque personnelle, depuis l’adaptation du CV jusqu’aux techniques d’entrevue en passant par LinkedIn.<br><br>Véronique Bélinge is the Professional Development Coordinator at the Telfer School of Management Career Centre. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts with a specialization in Translation, an Honours Bachelor of Social Sciences with a specialization in International Studies and Modern Languages as well as a Master of Arts in World Literatures and Cultures. With 20+ years of combined experience in translation, revision, copywriting, copyediting, publicity writing, digital content creation, and corporate messaging, she provides B.Com. and MBA students with personal branding and career coaching services encompassing everything from resumé tailoring to LinkedIn and interview techniques.

Profile Photo of Véronique Bélinge