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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.

Job Searching

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:

  1. Don’t be afraid to socialize too much. Networking is more helpful than endlessly passing out resumes
  2. 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)
  3. Seek advice through employment centres, employment agencies and most importantly colleges or networks in your field
  4. Register online to all of the Canadian GIS company websites

Aubrey Downie

17 comments on "Having Problems Finding GIS Work? Try Moving Out West.."

  1. Avatar Mel says:

    Congratulations Aubrey! Great article about how to get your foot in the door and meet some new people in the process. I’m glad Calgary is working out for you! Sounds like a great adventure.

    1. Avatar Aubrey says:

      Thanks Mel. I should have mentioned that the members of GoGeomatics Group also encouraged me to go out west. You are one of them. Thanks again.

      Aubrey

  2. Avatar Jason Marcus Hinds says:

    A very interesting read Aubrey, thank you and congrats!!

  3. Avatar Dennis Nazarenko says:

    Great article Aubrey. Glad to hear you are settling in.

  4. Avatar Siaw says:

    Good write up. My question is why then have I not secceeded in landing a job in Alberta? What could be wrong with my efforts in securing a gis job? Can you apply for a job in Alberta while residing in another province? I live in Saskatchewan but I cant breakthrough the gis job market in Alberta. I can understand why. May be age discrimination? or what.

  5. Avatar Darryl says:

    First off Aubrey, love the detail you went into with this posting. I have heard goods and bads about the move west with GIS.

    We all find/found it difficult to get the door open at some point or another. I personally took near to 1 year before getting into the field. Now that my position has been eliminated, I am seriously planning MY trip to Alberta/BC and trying to bring my 3 years west.

    My final word: Do you still have that employer list that you can post for other new grads looking to head the way of the pioneers. Just think of the networking you can perform in being a mentor?

    Cheers Aubrey and congratulations!

  6. Avatar Aubrey says:

    Hi Darryl

    Here is the list of GIS companies that hire new grads. I called some of these companies and they are in the process of hiring for spring. Before you call, you should apply or register online on their companiew website. Good luck on your search.

    Alberta Environment
    BEHR Energy Services
    CH2M Hill
    City of Calgary
    Dynamic Risk Assessment
    EBA
    Encana
    Enmax
    ERCB
    Focus Corporation
    GeoDigital International Inc
    GIS Technology
    Husky Energy
    IHS Energy
    Integrated Informatics
    Matrix Solutions
    SNC Lavalin
    Stantec
    Suncor Energy
    Talisman
    TERA Environmental
    Western Heritage
    Worley Parsons

    Aubrey

  7. Avatar Aubrey says:

    Hi Siaw
    You can apply for work in Alberta while residing in Saskatchewan but I was told that they tend to hire local people first. I would call the companies in Alberta to get advice and explain your situation. Let them know you are willing to move. I would ask your local colleges and universities to find out which companies hire new graduates. Call the GIS department of those colleges and universities. Finally, check my previous reply to Darryl. I posted list of all the companies that hire new graduates in Calgary.
    Good Luck.

    Aubrey

    Alberta Environment
    BEHR Energy Services
    CH2M Hill
    City of Calgary
    Dynamic Risk Assessment
    EBA
    Encana
    Enmax
    ERCB
    Focus Corporation
    GeoDigital International Inc
    GIS Technology
    Husky Energy
    IHS Energy
    Integrated Informatics
    Matrix Solutions
    SNC Lavalin
    Stantec
    Suncor Energy
    Talisman
    TERA Environmental
    Western Heritage
    Worley Parsons

  8. Avatar Samyar says:

    Thank you very much Aubrey for the list of GIS companies in Alberta. I am a recent graduate in GIS, I am searching for jobs in Toronto, but I am not really sure that if I can get any offer. Moreover, I would like to ask if you know a good resume template for GIS. I think my resume is not good enough to represent all the aspects need to be in a resume.

    1. Avatar Aubrey says:

      Hi Saymar

      I know Jonathan Murphy, the founder of Gogeomatics does consulting on resume writing. You could ask him for advice. You can also write to me at aubreydownie@hotmail.com.

      Aubrey

  9. Avatar Brian Ho says:

    Hi Audrey,

    Congratulations that you get hired a job in Calgary. Your article encourages me to make the decision to move at West coast for developing my chance of GIS career. Even since now I was tried many GIS jobs in Toronto, but unfortunately I never get any news from them. I will take a look the job opportunities in province of Alberta.

    Thank you for sharing,
    Brian

  10. Avatar Mark says:

    This is strange. I live in the west (have for most of my life) and have been applying to literally dozens of GIS type roles for the past 2 years….I have never even had one interview. And I have technical training, academic achievements, and over 15 years of technical, and PMO type experience as well.

    1. Avatar Mark says:

      I should add that I have applied for jobs at all of the companies listed in your list too. Still nada.

  11. Avatar Winnie says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience very inspiring.

  12. Avatar June says:

    It’s so difficult to find a job in the GIS field with a kid. I am so envy you that you will be able to travel anywhere you want to find a job, I am stuck here in a little town because of my husband and there is no jobs locally.

  13. Avatar ivan Aravena says:

    Thanks Aubrey for the article.
    My name is Ivan. I am now in the same position you were when you just arrived to Calgary. I am just ended from academic stage of SAIT’ BGIS program and looking now for internship. I found very useful your and the tips you shared with us. I will right away to register myself on the group and confirm my attendance to the very next meeting.
    Regards
    Ivan

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