CAPS is tops for encouraging job-seekers

by Bradford Mackay

CAPSWith unemployment at its lowest point in a decade and office towers sprouting everywhere, Montreal is representative of the economic boom surging through North America. Yet as Concordia's graduating class of 2000 prepares for life in the real world, many students remain stressed out about their future in the workplace.

"Employers are as demanding as ever -- they're asking for the world," agreed André Gagnon, Co-ordinator of the university's Career and Placement Service (CAPS). "A degree is usually not enough."

In fact, a record number of university graduates in Canada has resulted in an increasingly competitive job market. Often, students are too occupied with classes to give serious consideration to how they'll fit into the modern workforce. Luckily for Concordia students, Gagnon and his staff are ready to lend a hand.

CAPS, located on the Sir George Williams Campus, provides a full range of resources and services to accommodate every kind of employment need. An extension of Student Services, it is fully funded by student fees and is available to every registered student, part-time or full-time.

If you have a specific field in mind, job postings or campus job fairs might suffice. Other resources include the career lab, which boasts a dozen computers with free Internet access to hundreds of online job databases. But CAPS's strong suit is its human element -- nine staff members (four full-time and five part-time) who offer personalized career counselling and résumé advice for approximately 1,500 students a year.

Michael Handinero first came to CAPS after graduating from the Library Sciences program in June 1998. After a few unsuccessful months searching for his first job, he grew discouraged. A placement officer helped Michael fine-tune his résumé and offered support along the way.

"They know what you're going through," Handinero said enthusiastically. "It's someone to talk to, to reassure you that you're not the only person this happens to."

Handinero got his first shot when he filled in for a staff librarian at Bombardier, and he is now working full-time in their Dorval offices. He feels that CAPS's real-world advice helped revive his flagging spirits and give him a competitive edge.

"It was a foot in the door. I definitely wound up ahead of the other people I graduated with," he concluded.

Azimeh Sesidcon had several years' experience behind her when she moved from her native Iran to Montreal to complete her Master's degree in telecommunications. When she began to look for work, she found the interview process intimidating, so the staff at CAPS decided to stage practice interviews with her.

"The interviews helped me evaluate my weaknesses," explained the soft-spoken young woman. "They advised me not to speak with a low voice, and they also helped me feel more confident."

Sesidcon was soon recruited by Ericsson Research Canada. She works in their Montreal branch helping to maintain the software used for telephone systems.

Gagnon is clearly proud of the work the CAPS staff have done in the past few years. While the demand for their services has greatly expanded -- the résumé assistance program alone began by helping 523 students four years ago and has seen its clientele grow to more than 1,600 in 1999 -- many Concordia students are unaware of the quality of help they provide.

"The biggest problem we have is that students are not aware of their needs," Gagnon said. "There's a world of opportunity out there, but first you have to know what you want."

Photo: CAPS Co-ordinator André Gagnon explains some job prospects on the Web to students Mike Kouzelis and Tomislav Balen.

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