Having Problems Finding GIS Work? Try Moving Out West..
The Geospatial Siren Call of Western Canada
My name is Aubrey and I’m a GIS Graduate who used to live in Ontario. That’s changed now and I’m living in Alberta. I’m a graduate from the GIS certificate program at Algonquin College in August 2010. Up until April 2012, I did not find work related to GIS in Ottawa. As you can imagine its tough having spent a lot of time and money going to school to become a GIS specialist and then not finding any work. I’ve had interviews in Ottawa but I did not get the job due to my lack of work experience. So the old catch 22. You need experience to work but you need work to get experience.
Most job postings I saw from local companies required at least two years of experience. I also applied to job postings across Canada for GIS. I was getting just as many requests for interviews with companies out west as I was for companies in Ontario. I noticed my classmates who had found a job either had previous GIS work experience before they took the GIS program or they moved out west for work. I was also told by an interviewer from an Albertan company that they tend to hire local people before they consider hiring someone from other regions in Canada. With this in mind, I decided to move to Calgary. I was prepared to leave in April 2012 but I had a job offer at Geodigital Inc. the day before I was going to leave. Ironically, I got the job by networking with the receptionist. I went there 3 times at which point she gave me the email address of the director. Eventually, I had an interview and got the position as a GIS Technician. Unfortunately, my contract ended three months later so I left Ottawa on November 1st and headed west towards what I hoped would be my future career in the Canadian geomatics industry.
Settling in Calgary
I drove to Calgary – fun stuff. I applied for E.I. beforehand in order to financially support myself as this seemed like the prudent course of action. On my way west, I was warned that the gas stations are far and few between; and there are a lot of moose and deer roaming at night on the road. I checked MapQuest before I left and using my considerable geospatial powers calculated the gas stations were less than 2 hrs apart from each other. Settling in Alberta was easier than I thought; I did make arrangements to live with someone but he changed his mind when I got there. To my surprise, it took me three days to find other accommodations. Kijiji and Craigslist have postings all the time, and since I was on a tight budget, I rented a room in a house for financial reasons. I used Alberta Works – an employment office that is quite helpful. Their employment offices provide information and services for new migrants who come to Alberta. I was able to use their computer to send and print resumes, and scan and send documents to my email.
My first approach in my job search was to apply to as many postings as possible. I did get some responses and had some interviews but again, I did not get the job due to lack of experience. I tend to shy away from temp agencies because of my experience with them in Ottawa – they provided me with low pay/low skill jobs outside my field. My roommate told me the opposite is true in Alberta; temp agencies in Alberta try to find work in your field and try to make you a permanent employee within the company. I used various social media outlets and published a posting on Facebook and LinkedIn indicating I was looking for work. My Facebook friends from Ottawa knew people in Calgary and sent me their contact information and I ended up meeting one of those people who worked for Stat Oil as a result. She took my resume and sent it to other employers in the GIS field. She let me know that she did not get a job by applying online, but through networking. The problem is I did not know anybody or any networking groups in Calgary like GoGeomatics Canada has in Ontario. (Editors Note: GoGeomatics now has a Calgary group find more info here about the monthly meetups.) Eventually, I got to know people through meetup.com. Without even planning it, I developed a professional network and social network at the same time. While socializing, people found out that I was looking for work in GIS and people were willing to contact others in that field. I also received helpful information from a lady I had dinner with who worked in various HR departments. She told me that employers rarely look at resumes that were sent to a general HR email, yet are more likely to look at resumes from people who registered at the company website or resumes that were sent in response to a specific job posting. Another helpful hint; employers tend to create postings for jobs above entry-level. I have found they tend not to post entry-level jobs online because online job postings are expensive and employers are not willing to spend money on a posting at entry-level. I realized most of the jobs I applied for, were above entry-level which put me at a disadvantage.
I met a guy at a bar who worked in the computer field. He suggested I should go to the colleges to find out if I need to upgrade my skills. I emailed the University of Calgary and spoke with a councillor from the GIS department at SAIT College. She gave me a pamphlet for their GIS program but did not make use of it. However, I asked her if she knew any companies that hire people at entry-level. The following week, she gave me a list of 25 companies that hire new grads. That same week, I started cold calling these companies. I called 4 companies and they all said the same thing, “Send us your resume and register online first and then we will talk”. That week, I did just that. Within two days, I received a response from one company, had an interview Friday and received an offer on the following Sunday. Ironically, I had better luck with my job search due to socializing instead of actually applying for work.
To summarize what worked for me in my job search, here is the following:
- Don’t be afraid to socialize too much. Networking is more helpful than endlessly passing out resumes
- While socializing, don’t be shy to mention that you are looking for work. People usually don’t judge (even in a city where unemployment is low)
- Seek advice through employment centres, employment agencies and most importantly colleges or networks in your field
- Register online to all of the Canadian GIS company websites