Michelle Sayers – Transitioning from University to a Career

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Michelle Sayers’ story on her route to HR is one students can relate to. As a full-time student

who worked part-time, was involved in clubs, and regularly attended networking events, she

tells SFU HRSA how she took her experience and shaped herself into the HR professional she

is today. Now, as the Regional Human Resources Coordinator at Great Canadian Gaming

Corporation, she continues to learn and grow from everyday life experiences. Michelle shares

how you can make the transition from backpack to briefcase.


What is your official job title?

I am a Regional Human Resources Coordinator at Great Canadian Gaming Corporation. I am

situated out of Chances Maple Ridge and I look over Chances Chilliwack and Chances Dawson Creek as well.


How did you get to where you are today?

While attending Capilano University, I worked part-time at Home Depot as a sales

associate. In my last year of studies, I mentioned to the HR Manager at Home Depot that

I was interested in getting hands-on experience in HR related tasks, and she was able

to schedule me in to help at their Hiring Fairs. This gave me exposure to conducting

interviews and understanding how full-cycle recruitment works. Additionally, in my last

semester of University I did an internship at the Vancouver Aquarium’s HR Department.


There I did an array of tasks including payroll administration, writing job descriptions,

posting positions online, screening resumes, interviewing both over the phone and in-

person and creating offer letters for successful candidates. While the internship was only 4

months, it gave me the skills I needed to begin my job search.


After graduating in 2012, I looked for jobs online and attended many networking

events through the BCHRMA. After not receiving a single call back in a month, I decided

to reach out to my LinkedIn connections. It wasn’t until a few weeks after sending out the

messages that I received an email back from a lady I met while studying at Capilano. She

mentioned an opening at a Casino in Maple Ridge for a Human Resources Coordinator.


After seeing the job description I considered myself under-qualified, but still wanted the

experience of sitting in an interview, so I told her I was interested. When I met with the

General Manager and Human Resources Manager I instantly felt a connection. My nerves

vanished and I really felt confident answering their questions. After a second interview, I

was offered the position and that takes me to where I am today.


What were your expectations upon transitioning from university to a career? About finding your first job?

My outlook and expectations were quite low in the beginning. I was told by many working

individuals “It’s tough breaking into the HR field” or “You will have to move to Calgary if

you want to find an entry level Human Resources position.” Everyone’s perceptions about

how hard it was to find a job lowered my confidence level. I thought that I would have to

start off as an HR Assistant or an Office Administrator and slowly work my way up to an

HR Generalist role, but I knew I had to go into the job search looking at things positively. I

stopped worrying about what everyone else was saying and focused on the task at hand:

finding a job. There is a bit of luck involved in landing your first job, but you also have to be

proactive and look for it; it’s not going to show up on your doorstep.


Do you have any advice for students wanting to get experience in a field like yours?

Get HR experience in any way possible. Volunteer doing HR related tasks at your parent’s

work, local community centre, or at a part-time job, like I did. Everyone is willing to give

a student a chance to learn new things. Another suggestion would be to find a group

of individuals or students interested in HR. You can bounce ideas off each other, or learn

about how others got their first steps into HR; several heads are better than one, so feed

off of people’s knowledge rather than trying to fight the job search battle alone. Connecting

with a mentor on a regular basis will also help guide you toward your goals.


What do you think is the most important characteristic in a student who wants to pursue a career in HR?

Having confidence in the skills you have acquired so far in your life, whether they are from

school, sports, arts, travels, or other extra-curricular activities. While you may not have

any direct HR experiences, the other skills you have acquired can aid you in getting your

first role in HR. For example, I did a 3 week exchange to China in 2010 and included this

experience in my resume. My current employer told me that the experience showed I was

willing to take a challenge, and that was the kind of person they were looking for in the

role. So never downplay your skills, rather show them off as talents.


Any advice for students who are about to graduate or have recently graduated and are currently searching for jobs?

Do not choose a job based on title, rather choose a company that your values align with.

Research the company or industry you are interested in and apply to them. Once they

see your interest and knowledge in the Company, not just the position, you will have a

better chance of getting hired. Another piece of advice that worked for me is going to

several workshops, conferences and networking events. The people, skills and stories that

you obtain from these events will help you find out what an HR Generalist or a Recruiter

position entails, and if it is something you are interested in.