Roy Pat meets me in the lobby of 200 Granville Street, a building that houses his employer, Colliers International, the commercial real-estate giant.
Pat moves briskly through the foyer, his perfectly pressed suit and polished shoes painting a picture of confidence. With the self-assuredness of Barack Obama, he talks about going for after-work drinks with his boss and evaluating investment properties.
His bravado would be enough to convince anyone that this is a hardened corporate veteran—but he only celebrates his 23rd birthday later this month. Pat, talking to the Georgia Straight at a café not far from his office, made the transition from UBC to a full-time, salaried job quite seamlessly, but it didn’t happen without a lot of hard work and a fair amount of luck.
He cites getting experience in the real-estate business with GWL Realty Advisors while at school—through a co-op term in Vancouver and broadening his horizons in Montreal and Rotterdam on exchange, which enables students to complete programs elsewhere and have them applied to a UBC program. “The two biggest things I’d recommend to anyone going to university…if you have the financial ability are co-op or exchange or both.
“When I was applying for co-op jobs—and this is a program where these jobs are basically reserved for co-op students with similar qualifications that I had—I sent out 51 job applications in 2010–2011 and I got three interviews out of that.”
Pat wasn’t discouraged by that low response rate. “I said, ‘You know what? It’s a numbers game. Once I get into an interview room, I’m fine; they’ll like me from there.’ And I’m confident in that, but I still had to send out 51 because a lot of times [with] these online applications, it’s a filtering process, and I didn’t have any real-world office experience for all of these office jobs I’m applying for, so why would they take me over somebody that had already done a co-op term?
“So the first job is always the hardest, and once you get that on your résumé, once you get a credible employment position, you’re off to the races.”
Aside from the work experience they offer, Pat also credits the student-exchange programs with helping him develop as a person. “It increases your friend group, you meet people from around the world, you learn different cultures wherever you go, and you get to travel a bit. And it gives you something to relate to other people about, so it’s really huge.”
Although Pat worked hard to get to where he is now, many university programs don’t line students up with corresponding jobs. This puts the onus on students to forge their own paths, something that can be tough to do right after graduating high school, moving from a structured world to one with very few safety nets.
Sam Parker is going into his fifth and final year at Emily Carr University, and although he’s happy with where he is, he believes he could have benefited from a couple of years off to assess what he wanted to do with his life. “Some people are really mature and ready to go on to higher learning right out of high school, and I feel like I wasn’t quite there yet,” Parker says at a Granville Island restaurant.
“That doesn’t mean I haven’t gotten anything out of Emily Carr; I’ve learned a lot from Emily Carr. The last two years have been really incredible. But that’s what I’m a bit upset about: the first two years were kind of write-offs.”
Asked what the future holds in terms of a career, Parker sounds like he has accepted that whatever life throws at him after university will be up to him: “It’s definitely not the sort of deal that I’m going to get an internship and then a job. The process is going to be more me finding my way on my own as opposed to finding a career path that has structures,” he says, alluding to the idea that those studying print media like himself often have to beat their own path. “I feel like people in the arts are that way. I’m definitely going to be doing something on my own and I’m gonna have no idea what the fuck it is until it happens. Then I’ll be over my head and slowly figure it out.
“It’s exciting. It’ll be scary when it happens, though.”
Jane MacCarthy is the public-affairs manager at Capilano University, which specializes in smaller programs with high-profile instructors who work in their areas of expertise. This sort of teaching style seems to be on the rise as it provides results. As MacCarthy notes, a recent provincial-government survey indicates that 98 percent of Capilano baccalaureate graduates are employed, with 80 percent reporting employment highly related or somewhat related to their program of study.
Talking to the Straight by phone, MacCarthy says that this is a direct outcome of the Capilano style. “Part of that can be attributed to the fact that we have small class sizes, so they’re getting a lot of hands-on training; plus, they’re benefiting from the instructors’ connections in the industry.”
For all the good that getting into a suitable program can do, the extracurricular activities offered at university can also end up being career-altering. Samantha Thompson attended Capilano on a two-year program in international studies but ended up dipping a pen into journalism, becoming the editor in chief at the Capilano Courier and turning that into a summer internship at Vancouver Magazine. Thompson then transferred to SFU and is headed for a BA in history. Though she hopes to channel her passion for journalism into a career, Thompson believes that being well-rounded will help in the future.
“I’m basically trying to diversify my degree as much as possible, so I’m a mini-expert in a bunch of different areas instead of just focusing on just one area,” she tells the Straight over the phone.
Overall, getting the most out of university is no easy task, as it requires a considerable amount of foresight, something that most high-school graduates just don’t have. Universities offer much more than just classes, however.
You just need some initiative.
“Every university out there will have some sort of infrastructure or clubs or something that will help you get to where you want to go. But it’s really up to the individual to take the action to actually do those things,” Pat notes.
“You could very easily go through your entire university career and experience very little, do very little, and not make much of it, because you have to actively search for these things. They’re not handed to you on a silver platter,” he emphasizes with the tone of someone who’s said this to himself many times.
“No one says, ‘Here’s what you need to do specifically to go and be employed at a job you really like after school.’ There’s no magic bullet.”