When Justin Karasick and I became friends, he was taking over as the co-op student at Transport Canada in Toronto just as I was returning to SFU for a school term. Justin graduated in 2002 with a double major in Business Administration and Communications. After graduation, Justin went to his home province of Alberta and worked at EPCOR (the utilities company) in Communications before deciding that he had much to gain from opportunities abroad. He spent 14 months overseas, teaching in Thailand and volunteering in Venezuela at a community hospital, before returning to Vancouver more than a little anxious about his job hunt. He was returning to Vancouver just as I was graduating. The timing couldn't have been more perfect.
"Let's job hunt together," wrote Justin one day in an email from Venezuela. I thought, "Yeah - we should definitely do that." It was the line that inspired Career Friends - our job hunting group of four.
Justin and I recently met over a sushi lunch to discuss his journey to date. He sat across from me in a tie and navy dress shirt looking very polished and professional. I couldn't help but think back to how things were when we became part of a job hunting group. We were motivated and scared, but most importantly, we were glad that we were in it together.
"I was pretty concerned that prospective employers would view my 14 months abroad as a 'vacation' rather than 'traveling' and it became the basis for my insecurities when I started job hunting," remembers Justin. When Justin came back from his travels he thought that he needed to "catch up" to his peers, but the task seemed overwhelming.
"My first priority when I got back was to eat, so I worked at FedEx for a month sorting mail. Not very glamorous, I know, but I had my priorities."
For Justin, joining Career Friends was about keeping motivated - especially on those days when you just feel like doing nothing. "Being with the group made job hunting bearable because I dreaded it. It was about taking concrete steps. To meet with the group you had to get up, get dressed, and prepare items to review with the group or give feedback. You had to be there and be present. I felt accountable; I was willing to explore every avenue possible to find a job."
Having conducted all of his co-op work terms outside of Vancouver, Justin made the steep financial commitment of joining the 'International Association of Business Communicators (IABC)' active BC Chapter, in order to get the contacts he felt he needed. Justin and I worked together on the Volunteer Services Committee and he pursued many of the networking events offered.
It was during this time that a job posting came over the Communication grad list. It was for a six week contract job at Karate BC to help plan their largest annual event. I think it's safe to say that it's normal to wonder if a short-term job could actually lead anywhere. Was it worth it to take a six week job? Was a job better if it was permanent with benefits? Or was it better to have contract work to test out a work environment? Admittedly, it might be hard to see the value of something short-term when you know that you need to pay the rent and put food on the table. These are just some of thoughts that our job group members shared. Justin himself thought, "If I get the Karate BC job, would it stop the momentum that I have in my job search?"
The situation was suspenseful, that's for sure. Well, Justin got the job at Karate BC and "wowed" the organization with his event planning skills. "Karate BC turned out to be a great stepping stone, after all," explains Justin. "It did wonders for my confidence and what was initially a six week contract turned out to be more. After the event, while they didn't have more permanent opportunities that suited me for budgetary reasons, I was offered part-time work, so that I could continue my job search. I could help them out and had their support for finding more permanent work. At the same time I could also meet my necessary bill payments and had time to devote to job searching. I got my groove back."
Justin reminisces, "Before getting the job at Karate BC, I was asking myself, 'What happens if I never find a job?' I guess I was feeling that it should be easier to look for a job with my degree completed and I wondered why I was having difficulty. Looking back, I see the process and my progress in a different light. Watching all the members in Career Friends find jobs kept me very hopeful and motivated that I was going down the right path, too. It's funny to look back and think that I thought that I was behind everyone else because I had gone abroad. We're actually all in the same boat now and it's been just over a year. The difference is that I have this great experience abroad and no regrets. I feel very proud of that."
When I asked Justin about what advice he would have given to his former self when he had returned from travels, he said without hesitation, "I don't think that I should have been so worried. I see how valuable my international experience is. I think that maintaining contacts like the co-op coordinators, professors and former co-op employers is helpful too because when you get back it'll save you some angst. You won't feel so out of the loop. I'm glad that I tried many techniques that allowed me to feel that I was moving forward in the job hunt. I was applying for postings, doing information interviews through contacts I got in Career Friends and IABC and, in the process, really learning to articulate what it was that I wanted in terms of my next career move."
Justin is currently the Communications Coordinator at Providence Health Care where there's "never a dull moment!" His big news of late is his recent wedding engagement. Stephanie and Justin expect to wed next summer. Congratulations!
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