Job search got you down? Here’s how to find a job that can take you places.

Guest post by Lauren Frost

Photo by Startup Stock Photos on

It’s that time of year. You’re tired, you have 3 essays due, plus 2 exams coming up, and several textbooks sitting at home that you haven’t opened in weeks. And, as if that isn’t enough to worry about, you still don’t have a summer job lined up.

Being a student is tough.

But, what might be even harder is finding work when you’re transitioning from student life to the workforce, whether it’s for the summer or after graduation. Ever heard of the permission paradox? It’s a term used to describe the dilemma most young people face when searching for work. “I need three years of experience to get a job, but I can’t gain any experience until I get a job.” Sound familiar?

The permission paradox can make searching for co-op jobs, summer work, or permanent jobs after graduation pretty frustrating. If you’ve been looking at job boards, you may have run into a common issue: you’re usually underqualified for the jobs you want, and the jobs you are qualified for don’t really spark a sense of excitement.

Me trying to convince an employer that I have enough experience for the job. Photo by George Becker on

As someone who has worked over 10 different jobs since I was fifteen years old, including five co-op work terms, several part-time roles, and a couple of miscellaneous summer jobs, I have had my fair share of great jobs as well as less-than-great jobs.

Me circa 2013 when I was a deli clerk extraordinaire. I promise, coloured braces were in back then.

When I applied for my first job as a deli clerk in my hometown, I was so excited at the prospect of joining the workforce. I was excited to have some financial freedom, to learn new things, and to meet new people.

I was so excited that I never even considered whether or not I wanted to smell like black forest ham for 24 hours after my shift ended or whether minimum wage was fair compensation for being yelled at by a customer for slicing 110 grams of turkey instead of 100. I didn’t hesitate to fill out that application form and hand it in to the manager.

Now that I’m in the middle of searching for my first professional job for after graduation, I find myself wondering where that unabated enthusiasm and hunger for new experiences went. Each time I look at a job posting I spend a lot of energy worrying about whether or not the position is the Perfect Fit.

Will this job make me happy?

Does this company pay enough?

If I take this job, will I be “settling?”

There are a lot of jobs out there that seem to be the Perfect Fit for me. But the pesky permission paradox tends to find a way to make those jobs difficult for a new grad with less than 3-5 years of experience to land. So what’s left? Jobs that don’t feel as exciting. Jobs that that, perhaps, feel like “settling.”

But what happens when you open your mind to those jobs? What happens when you stop thinking of those jobs as “settling” for less and start thinking about them as a step towards more?

Here’s what I mean:

When I applied to be a deli clerk, I knew it wasn’t my dream job. When you applied for your first job, you probably knew that it wasn’t your dream job. So why did we apply? We applied because those jobs, as much as they made us smell like ham or bored us half to death, had something to offer us. Whether it was the money to pay our tuition or skills that we could carry into the rest of our lives (I can make a mean chicken salad), our first jobs were a step in the right direction.

Maybe applying for work as university students or grads doesn’t have to be so different. Am I saying that we should use our expensive degrees to get jobs as deli clerks? Probably not (unless that’s what makes us happy!). What I am saying is that it’s ok to apply for and accept a job that doesn’t feel like the Perfect Fit. Because you will learn from it. You will grow from it. And, if you view it as a step up rather than a step back, you might just enjoy it more than you think you will.

Click that “Apply” button and see where it takes you! Photo by Vojtech Okenka on

Need help searching for work?

If you’re struggling with tackling the permission paradox, tailoring your applications to job postings, or just knowing where to start, check out the below resources that can help you succeed in finding your next job—whether it’s a step up or the Perfect Fit.

Meet with a career educator: Did you know you have a personal career educator at UVic who can help you search for work and more? Find out who yours is today!

Visit the UVic Gear up to Graduate website: Graduating soon? UVic has a web resource to help you succeed in your post-graduation plans. Check it out for job search tips, career exploration resources, links to industry-specific job posting sites, and more!

Join co-op: Co-op is a great way to gain experience relevant to your degree so that you can get a leg up on the pesky permission paradox by the time you graduate. If you’re not already in co-op, find your program and application period here.

Many jobs later, I am happy to say that I have grown professionally, trading my coloured braces in for a coloured file folder.

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1 Response

  1. Tatiana says:

    Such an authentic view of transitioning into the workforce and beyond. Well written! Thank you for sharing your experiences. I too have smelt like black forest ham and even now catch myself missing those simpler times. I have gained a new perspective on my own mid-career permission paradox and will apply your theory to my next chapter…wherever that may begin.