Montreal Job Search Strategies Forum Report

Action Plan: Taking Control of Your Future

Watch streaming video of Cindy Mancuso

Cindy Mancuso, McGill Career Planning Service

Cindy Mancuso provided an overview of job strategies, which she described as her “one-stop shopping” session. She planned to cover all areas, including cold calling, informational interviews, and resumés, in a quick, informative, and entertaining fashion.

Being proactive is very important in the search for employment. Mancuso listed the steps to take control of a job search—self-assessment, engaging in new experiences, preparing your resumé, networking, targeting organizations and industries, and identifying barriers.

“We need to know who we are and how we can use our experiences, education, and skills,” said Mancuso. Job seekers need to identify their skills, values, and interests, and they must be an expert in their disabilities.

Skills can be broken down into two categories: hard and soft. Hard skills are the concrete, tangible skills listed on a resumé, such as computer and technical skills. Soft skills are the transferable skills such as multitasking, working under pressure, and communications skills. Marketing the soft skills to a potential employer is essential. Mancuso encouraged job seekers to “unpack” these skills by examining their achievements and identifying the skills needed to accomplish them. She stressed the importance of continuously developing new skills and engaging in new experiences.

Next, job seekers should identify their work and life values, as well as their interests and passions. Recognizing these values and interests will reveal who they are as people and will help determine the type of job they will enjoy.

Mancuso said job seekers must be experts in their own disabilities. “It is important that you are confident and knowledgeable when talking about your disability to potential employers.” Both the job seeker and the employer need to know what resources are available to accommodate employees with disabilities.

Once job seekers have assessed themselves and have determined their future directions, they need to begin exploring the options available to them. Many people’s knowledge of careers is limited to what they have been exposed to in their families, communities, and the media. Mancuso encouraged job seekers to visit career resource centres within or outside schools, career advisors, career fairs, and job sites on the Internet. She urged participants to conquer their feelings of intimidation and to approach people, because people are their best resources.

Mancuso suggested that participants cold call organizations where they would like to work. Job seekers should establish a list and then carefully research the organization before making contact. She told participants to determine the best person to speak with, and write out an introduction and questions before calling.

Mancuso provided a few key tips to producing an effective resumé and cover letter:

  • Use action verbs, such as “managed”, “created” and “organized.” Use a thesaurus. Visit the McGill Career Centre website ( for inspiration.
  • Be creative. Replace the generic title “Volunteer Experience” with “Community Involvement.” List your work and volunteer experience under one section titled “Career-related Experience”. Add a section titled “Leadership.“
  • Give more space to the experience most relevant to the position for which you are applying. If you are just starting out in your career, list all of your work experience.
  • Tailor your cover letter to the specific position and company. Indicate the reasons you would like to work there.
  • Use examples in your cover letter to demonstrate how you developed your transferable skills, such as leadership ability, and communication and interpersonal skills.

With regard to interview skills, Mancuso said, “You have to know and understand yourself, and talk about yourself confidently.” She urged job seekers to be prepared and to practice in order to gain confidence. “Don’t wing it; it’s bound to bomb.” Research the organization beforehand, keep to the point, and give examples to back up skills.

The interview is also an opportunity for job seekers to find out more about the company. Ask about the workspace and company culture, but avoid questions that are answered on the website. Mancuso said if a job seeker’s questions have already been answered during the interview, they should say so. Smile and “be yourself,” she said; it is important to connect on a human level.

She addressed the importance of networking. The term was coined over 40 years ago, meaning “to be helpful and friendly to someone.” Networking need not be stressful. It should be mutually beneficial—people helping people.

“Basically, it’s about being open to meeting new people in any situation, being interested in people, and knowing yourself well enough to be able to communicate what you’re about,” she said. Networking is done in everyday social situations with warm contacts (friends and families), and in small talk with cold contacts (people you do not know). Speaking with people can help a job seeker to discover valuable information and opportunities. Mancuso said that 75%–95% of all jobs are never publicly advertised. A U.S. survey showed that 24% of jobs are found through cold calling, 48% from referrals, and 5% from the classified ads.

Mancuso likened the informational interview to Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. Contacting someone who is in a job seeker’s desired position shows initiative and gives a job seeker inside information. Ask these contacts about their educational background, career path, and daily routine, and invite the contact to offer resumé-building tips and advice.

“Knowing our potential barriers is empowering; not thinking about them can be devastating,” said Mancuso. Everyone has barriers, such as the student who lacks work experience, or the anglophone who wants to work in Quebec. Job seekers should identify and map out a plan of action to overcome these barriers. A disability could be a barrier not because of the disability, but because of ignorance and false assumptions about the disability. Mancuso said the best way to overcome this barrier is for job seekers to talk confidently about their skills and the accommodations they require.

“Employers are looking for you,” she said. They want the complete package: a solid education, strong transferable skills, self-awareness, and confidence.