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Responsibilities May Include

Empowering international graduate students through community

The Job Search Club program at UWaterloo fosters a community of support and job search confidence by leveraging campus partnerships, research, student feedback and lived experience.


Canadian universities and the economy are increasingly dependent on the recruitment of international students, who pay more than five times the tuition of Canadian students. Postsecondary institutions also actively recruit international students, guaranteeing high-quality education and future employability. Yet, Statistics Canada recently reported that international students earned less in the five years after graduation than students with Canadian citizenship. Although most institutions provide international student support, it largely focuses on their transition to university rather than their transition out of it.

Career advisors at the University of Waterloo wanted to ease the transition of international graduate students from university to the labour market. So they created the Job Search Club (JSC) program, to help students address common barriers they may face and help them create a customized career education experience. The program ran for three iterations, each lasting six weeks. The sessions focused on practical activities and group discussion to build skills, confidence and a sense of community.

Factors that informed program design

To create a program deeply attuned to the real life challenges international students face, the main pillar of program design was lived experience. Staff on the core team were either international students themselves or had extensive experience designing programs tailored to such audiences. The program design was based on research and consultation with universities running similar programs, as well as career development theories such as Transition Theory and Community Cultural Wealth.

The program was responsive to each cohort’s needs, incorporating student feedback and questions generated from the program application form. In this column, we’ll outline four main needs of international students identified in research and show how the JSC aimed to address them:

  1. Strong sense of community

The program aimed to foster a sense of community by hosting sessions in the graduate lounge – a familiar and comfortable space, ideal for collaboration. Research demonstrates that strong friendships, mentorship from international alumni and the development of professional networks early in their academic career impact students’ decisions to stay in Canada. Each session began with a light dinner to encourage informal interactions and foster organic connections. Interactive activities like “human bingo” were used to enhance mingling and learning among participants. The program’s communal focus emphasized active participation through collaborative activities, allowing students to expand their social circles, forge new friendships and engage with diverse peers. This helped create a supportive environment for their professional and personal growth.

  1. Networks to tap into

To offer mentorship and networking opportunities to the students, we partnered with alumni relations to organize panel discussions as well as a speed networking event. Panel topics included job search strategies, experience managing career transitions, methods for building supportive communities and the unique skills and values international students contribute to workplaces.

The speed networking event encouraged participants to connect directly with alumni, foster valuable industry connections and expand their professional networks in Canada. This initiative helped provide practical and tailored networking opportunities for international students, who often lack Canadian contacts.

  1. Knowledge of Canadian job search

From the research and through JSC application forms, students identified their biggest concern as having a lack of knowledge of the Canadian hiring process. JSC offered international students information around job search, networking and employment rights; and had campus experts provide insights into hiring trends and the labour market. Students analyzed common networking scenarios in small groups and participated in a LinkedIn scavenger hunt to learn how to use specific LinkedIn functions.

In one of the sessions, a lively discussion took place around a section of the Ontario Human Rights Code which states that requiring “Canadian experience” is considered discriminatory. However, given the disconnect between policy and reality, the discussion explored common scenarios and various approaches a student could take when confronted with discrimination. The focus was to empower students to understand their rights, seek support and self-advocate.

  1. Practical information about navigating immigration status:

A key area that is often overlooked in traditional career advising is immigration-related issues that students face in the transition to the Canadian labour market. These barriers add complexity to the already stressful task of finding work after graduation and result in more pressure to find suitable work quickly. To address this need, we created a space that acknowledges the interconnectedness of employment and immigration by partnering with UWaterloo immigration consultants for an embedded session which covered postgraduate work permit and permanent resident processes. Immigration consultants walked students through typical scenarios that arise when transitioning from a student permit to a work permit to understand all the complex factors at play.

Program outcomes and evaluations

For each iteration of the JSC, pre- and post-program surveys were administered to determine whether the program successfully met student needs.  The results demonstrated students enjoyed the interactive activities, networking, making new friends, and the community feel of the program. Notably, the immigration and alumni events stood out as sessions that received the highest satisfaction rating from participants.

For us, the success of the program is encapsulated in the following quote from a Spring 2023 JSC participant:

“[I] got to meet a lot of international students facing the same issues and had a feeling that I am not alone in this job search.”

The basis of the JSC curriculum is tried and tested career education that was tailored to best suit international graduate students transitioning into the Canadian workforce. By leveraging campus partnerships, we were able to create a holistic program that met the multifaceted needs of our participants. We hope that this program inspires other career educators and educational institutions to see the value and possibility of creating similar “transition out” programs across the country.

Issa Gonzalez-Peltier Leogal is a career advisor at the University of Waterloo and previously worked as the JSC Program Coordinator while completing her master’s in economic development as an international student. Laura Ashfield is a career advisor at UWaterloo. Vanya Gnaniah is also a career advisor at UWaterloo.
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