Ron McGowan has been working with countless college and university students around the world to help them find work after they’ve graduated. He’s the principal of How to Find Work, a Vancouver-based company that has been helping graduates for over 10 years.

Having experienced downsizing twice in his life, McGowan has gone from a corporate career to being a self-employed success who “hasn’t seen a regular paycheque in 16 years”. Understanding the complications that arise when trying to break into the workforce and how ill-prepared students are upon finishing their postsecondary education, McGowan published his best-selling novel, How to Find Work in the 21st Century. Now in its sixth edition and having received praise from numerous organizations such as the Canadian Counselling Association, who called the novel “a must for the shelves”, McGowan is continuing his work of helping graduates.

McGowan has been helping former students find work for about 15 years, offering seminars across Canada, the UK, and Ireland.

“In my experience, students just don’t understand today’s workplace. But neither do most other people who are looking for work,” he says. “They have to understand how different it is from what it used to be and once they understand that, then I have to give them some new tools and show them how to effectively market themselves and get the attention they deserve to find the opportunities that are out there.”

McGowan doesn’t believe that the Career Centres in universities provide an accurate representation of the workforce outside of university, which he says is part of the problem.

“This area never has been a priority in postsecondary education. And in the past, that wasn’t that big a deal because not too long ago, most university graduates were finding jobs,” he says.

“The fact is, students have to have that help before they enter the workforce; otherwise, they’re wandering around and have to find it out themselves. That’s why so many students are unemployed and underemployed.

“I’ve spoken at conferences of career counsellors right across Canada, the UK, and Ireland, so I’ve had lots of opportunities to interact with these people. They don’t have experience in today’s workplace. The other problem is [that] their background is typically in social work and that’s how you get into the area, historically. Their background is really inappropriate for the needs of students.”

In some cases, graduates might have an easier time creating their own jobs or businesses than finding work in an existing company.

“We’re still stuck in the 20th century and caught in the idea of the traditional job. We can’t let go of it and the graduates’ parents’ generation can’t let go of it,” McGowan says. “Their attitude is, ‘What are you talking about? You spent all this money and worked this hard and now you’re telling me you can’t find a job or you’re in a mediocre job?’ In those cases, why not go out on your own? Going out on your own doesn’t mean you have to start a business. It can mean operating as a freelancer or a contractor. And just by doing that, you give yourself a leg up on most people because that’s the kind of people a lot of small businesses—where most of the opportunities are—are looking for.

“If you find out what your marketable skills are, then you can approach a company,” he adds.

McGowan thinks that graduates need to rely more on themselves than on anyone else, and one of the main steps in doing this is to absolutely refuse to take unpaid internships. “That’s a complete rip-off as far as I’m concerned,” he says. “And now I’m talking as an employer and not a writer, because in my career, I’ve hired lots of students. And it would never have occurred to me to expect [free] work from them, because that’s just wrong.”

McGowan regularly speaks about the changing workplace at conferences, and at colleges and universities. How to Find Work in the 21st Century can be purchased online at