Grants, Crying, and Finding the Confidence to Get What You Want: A Guide to Getting or Making a Summer Job

Disclaimer: I am not that good at getting employed, but I know a little.

I’ve inherited my fear of unemployment from my immigrant parents, which means by February – when literally no jobs applications are open – I’m already worried about what my summer will look like. After years of stressful retail employment, I ventured into “more applicable” jobs that offered new skills or were at least somewhat in the field I care about (which changes daily). This meant going through the Ontario Public Service Portal, individual companies, and every employment website ever. I even started two folders: “resumes and cover letters from jobs I have been rejected from” and “resumes and cover letters that I at least got an interview for or landed the job”. The latter was a very, very, very small folder. But as a small angry woman, I have figured out how to find jobs or, better yet, make the job I want. I am by no means an expert – with a hiring rate of about 18% – but I can offer some advice for finding a summer job.


Summer Jobs

If you haven’t heard of Canada Summer Jobs, then get your resumes ready. (Or don’t – I’m not the dictator of your life.)

Essentially, Canada Summer Jobs is part of Canada’s Youth Employment Strategy, where the government provides grants to businesses who want to employ a student for the summer. Not-for-profit employers are eligible to receive grant funding for up to 100% of the minimum wage of that province, while public and private sector employers are eligible to receive funding for up to 50% of the provincial hourly wage. Employers are literally being given money to hire you, so when March/April rolls around you should check out (warning: this site is kind of ugly and disorganized, so good luck).


Some Tips and General Information

If you want to work for a company or not-for-profit that hasn’t hired students in the past, don’t be afraid to contact them about the Canada Summer Jobs grant. Let them know what kind of work you want to do for them. Sometimes this works – especially if you say you’ll help with the grant application process. Often, if you refer to the Summer Experience Program (SEP), employers might help you with the grant application. Sure, the SEP is only for a month of funding, which does kind of suck, but it’s still a subsidy that encourages employers to take on a student – and often for the whole summer.

Also, you’ll probably be paid minimum wage, which is not ideal if you are financially independent or financially unstable. While the work experience tends to be good, often offering networking opportunities, going the grant route might not be the best option for financially unstable students and youth.

If you do decide to go the grant route, just a heads up: grant applications suck. They take forever to both apply to and to hear back. Plus, applications close early February, so if you have a project in mind you often have to talk to the place very early. This can be difficult but IT IS NOT IMPOSSIBLE. Even if you don’t have a project in mind, it’s helpful to contact a place and ask if they have any projects they need help with or haven’t had the chance to pursue. Also, while cold calling/emailing a business can be scary, it’s better to try than to not. That’s what I did – I straight-up emailed a place and asked about their previous summer staff, and told them what kind of project I wanted to take on, and they called me in for an interview. You never know, right?


Other Ways to Get Funding for Research or Jobs:

Employers can also apply for Career Focus to help fund a project that you might want to do. For example, I got an employer to create a Career Focus application so that I could continue working part-time at a not-for-profit, and my project was communications- and design-based – so it was something technical that allowed me to pursue skills that I wasn’t super advanced in. I developed a new website, changed all their advertisements and media coverage, and created an entire brand for them. This grant is based on the projected cost of the project, and it can cover up to 80% of the costs – so keep it in mind!).

If research is your thing, you can also create your own research internship through Mitacs. Now, for the record, I have never used this. Ever. But I really want to eventually, especially later on in my Master’s. I’m just regurgitating anything I’ve been told by friends or trusted academic pals. Mitacs is a research and training team, and they’ve created an internship funding package for research projects (four months for undergrads). Essentially, you have a research project in mind, or your institution does, and you recognize an organization that would be a great help to it. From there you incorporate both the institution and the partner organization, get approval from both with an initial proposal, and then create the proposal for Mitacs. Funding starts at $15,000, and your partner organization’s financial contribution starts at $7,500 (note: this can be difficult for some non-for-profits). It’s very flexible in terms of funding and requirements – and I know many students with wonderful ideas who would benefit from this. This is just cool and good to know.



Graduating or Just Graduated?

The Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) Youth Employment Program is targeted at recent graduates, and it provides employers with funding for students to work in a technical job to develop skills. While they market it towards candidates with more of a technical/STEM background, I firmly believe this to be a lie. Arts students can also be technical, so back off.

There is no online application, and you cannot call on behalf of a prospective employer – but you can give the employer information and a number to call if you’ve already talked to them about a position. They can receive up to $30,000 per graduate for a 12-month term, but you can and should ask to negotiate for a supplement of money from the employer as well, because you deserve to be compensated fairly for the effort you put in. I haven’t used this program either, but I’ve had friends that used it to supplement their one-year graduation contract.


Current Student and Returning Next Year?

The Federal Student Work Experience Program exists and is cool. They hire students year-round for temporary jobs in a lot of different fields, and all you need to do is look up the name and the website will direct you to a list of available jobs. Just check it out – I have no other advice to offer, truly. You can also find short or long-term employment, which is helpful if you don’t live in the same place all year.


Other Notes

Please, please, please curate your resume and cover letter to the job you’re applying to. Yes, it is a hassle, but it truly makes all the difference. This is especially true for your cover letter, but it also helps to change some key points or highlight related courses on your resume. Also, while I’m ranting about this, stop using fancy resume templates unless you work in design or communications. A simple, easy-to-read template is much more appealing to employers.

Also, if you’re applying to a non-existent position or proposing something to a prospective employer, it always helps to create a small written proposal. Tell them what you want, but make it feasible. For example, when I attempted to charm a company into employing me (even though they had never had a summer student), I created a proposal on the project along with a timeline of what I wanted to do, how much it would cost them, and what grants I would apply for to help cover those costs.


If you already have employment but want more out of it:

If you’re working somewhere but would like to receive more training, but don’t want to do it on your own time, you can gain technical skills by asking your employer what training is out there and then telling them about the Canada-Ontario Job Grant. This grant provides funding to individuals identified by employers in need of skill improvement and covers up to two-thirds of eligible training costs, up to a maximum of $10,000 per individual. Maybe you work in an office and want HR-related training, or perhaps you want your place of work to update a certain computer program. Who knows? My boss (not here, somewhere else) applied to this so that we could have extra graphic design training – it was super cool.

I’ll be honest: it’s emotionally exhausting to apply for jobs, or to advocate on your own behalf to get a job. It’s one of the harder parts of being a student who needs experience and funding to survive and eat. But I came into university with about -7% experience in anything other than retail, and I’ve persuaded my way into some interesting paid and volunteer positions. It's about being your own advocate, but also knowing your resources. After a while you get to laugh at the places that rejected you – for me, in the last year alone, all 37 positions and two schools. For the record, it’s like more of a light laugh, not a hearty laugh – it definitely makes you enjoy any and all accomplishments. While our province may be going through some big changes, it doesn’t mean you can’t find meaningful employment, summer or otherwise.

Also – always ask for interview feedback after getting rejected! It’s half ego slasher, half good way to learn from your mistakes. It also helps you figure out what employers look for and what you need to work on. For me, that’s being more professional and not using the term “y’all” in interviews – but in my defence, it’s a fun and funky non-gendered term.

I realize employability skills are often elitist traps, but unfortunately, we’re stuck playing into them until we get a job. This doesn’t mean purging yourself of a personality in an interview; it means reading the room very quickly deciding what you have to do in that situation. Until then, good luck Charlie.

References but also Extra Links


How to Check Which Grants are Open or Closed