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Join the club: a job search community

Preparing international students for the Canadian labour market using a cohort-based approach.


With most of the teaching and learning activities being conducted remotely due to COVID-19 for the better part of the past two years, the Career & Co-op Centre of Ryerson University [renaming in process] have heard from our international students that there is a need to create a virtual space for them to build a learning community around job searching and career development. Against that backdrop, the Career & Co-op Centre launched the Job Search Club for international undergraduate students in the 2020-21 academic year.

The goal of this program is to increase international students’ readiness in navigating the Canadian labour market. Through the Job Search Club, we provide a space for discussions and dialogues around overcoming job search challenges, organized around a series of webinars with content that is tailored to international students’ needs, while giving these students a virtual venue to meet their peers and make new friends in a cohort-based program.

We know this programming model works from research, since meaningful relationship-building with peers and staff is crucial to international students’ success in Canadian postsecondary institutions. In addition, cohort-based online learning has the potential to help learners build and maintain a robust community, allowing students to get to know and build rapport with each other over a longer period of time. Specifically in the context of career education, educators must also tailor their content to international students’ job search needs in order for programming to be effective.

Here’s how we implemented the program and what we learned:

How the Job Search Club works

In Fall 2020, following a university-wide promotion on multiple channels, we were delighted to see widespread interest in the program as it launched, with a total of 122 international students applying to join the Job Search Club. Our selection process focused on ensuring a range of faculties and programs were represented in the final cohort. Because of the limited space, we prioritized applicants in their final year of study and accepted 35 students into the first cohort.

Over the course of the 2020-21 academic year, our centre held six live 90-minute webinars (three per semester), with recorded content available to re-watch in students’ own time. We built numerous interactive activities into each session, making use of Zoom breakout rooms and collaborative Google Docs so small groups could interact and work together. Topics we covered included: orientation and introductions, Canadian workplace culture, resume writing, interview preparation, job search and networking and employment rights and salary negotiation.

We also created space for Q&As and for attendees to reflect on their own experiences as a group, and encouraged participants of the program to share their contact information with each other if they were so inclined.

Participants who attended four or more live sessions were eligible to receive a Certificate of Completion and be matched with an industry professional in a field of interest for an informational interview, which they were well prepared for from our job search and networking webinar. After the initial email introductions, students were responsible for following up, scheduling and conducting the meetings, and maintaining the connection moving forward.

What we learned

We were pleased to learn that many students ended up following each other on social media, and stayed in touch in chat groups throughout the program and beyond. The majority of them found the Job Search Club to be a positive experience:

“I liked the activities during the sessions, it makes learning more interactive instead of feeling like another lecture to sit through and take notes.”

“I liked the small size of group since it was more comfortable for me to talk.”

We knew that the industry connections were a main draw for our program participants, since one of the most cited job search challenges by our international students is that they do not have big professional or personal/social networks in Canada. We checked in with some of our program participants and industry professionals after the informational interviews, and they all told us how much they appreciated the experience.

Scheduling our sessions in the mornings (EST) worked well for our international students, particularly for those calling in from different time zones. However, one key insight we gleaned regarding scheduling was that splitting our webinar series over two semesters created availability issues, as students’ course schedules (and availability) changed between fall and winter semesters. As a result, a number of participants had to drop out of the program.

Looking to the future

The Job Search Club is back for a second year by popular demand. During Fall 2021, we ran the second cohort of the program with 30 participants. This time, we kept the duration of the program to one semester, and narrowed down the content to just three webinars based on the feedback from our first cohort: Canadian workplace culture, networking, and employment rights and salary negotiation.

The model implemented in Fall 2021 is being replicated in Winter 2022 for a third cohort of 40 international students, and participants from both Cohorts #2 and #3 who attend all three of their live sessions will be invited to a networking event in April 2022 to meet Canadian industry professionals. We hope that public health measures will allow us to gather in person by then.

Due to the success of the program for undergraduate students, we have also launched a similar version of the Job Search Club for graduate international students this year. We are really excited to see the feedback from all of our participants this year so we can expand this model to other areas of career programming in the future.

We are cognizant that live, small sessions do limit our reach, so we hope to create some recorded content on our most popular subjects that can be accessed by all our international students to watch on-demand. That said, we believe that the cohort model is here to stay. The camaraderie of the Job Search Club participants is always inspiring to see, and we know it helps motivate students to implement their action plans and seek support when needed.

This column is coordinated through the Internationalization of Student Affairs Community of Practice of the Canadian Association of College & University Student Services (CACUSS). For comments or questions please contact [email protected].

Emma Hartley is a career education specialist at Ryerson University's Career & Co-op Centre. Wincy Li is the senior manager of career education in the same unit.
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