5 easy tips on how to get Canadian experience
Here's a sad Canadian joke:
What's the safest place to have a heart attack?
At the back of a Canadian taxi. Because the driver is most probably a doctor from a foreign country.
You start to giggle until you realize that you were once the driver, or you might be in his place very soon.
You are about to make one of the biggest decisions of your life.
It requires Courage. Sacrifice. And every ounce of motivation you can muster.
Leaving your home country, your family and friends, the place you created so many life-long memories are not easy.
And like any critical life choices, you want some assurances that you're making the right one.
Is graduating from this college going to set me up for my future?
Is he the one that's going to make me happy for the rest of my life?
Is Canadian experience going to keep me unemployed when I move to Canada?
The Canadia experience issue has been a double edge sword for many immigrants for a long time - No Canadian experience, no job. No job, no Canadian experience. It's a vicious circle that has kept talented professionals unemployed or underemployed.
New Canadians are wondering why there were approved for permanent residency with their industry, only to be rejected with a "No Canadian experience" stamp at job interviews.
But this dilemma goes much deeper than that.
We are going to uncover the Candian experience barrier and explore five ways you can obtain this biased credential and get the job you deserve to have.
Let's first take a moment to understand what Canadian experience is because it's not what you think.
Understand the disconnection
Let's start from the beginning.
Yet, job offers never turned up. Heck, even job interviews never happened.
And for the few times when you did get an interview, you heard the dreaded "You don't have enough Canadian experience" or "Have you not done this in Canada?"
And then you start to question the whole immigration process, screaming self-doubt, false hopes and even feeling cheated out of a better life.
Let's do a reality check for a quick second.
Your resume already shows you have not worked in Canada before. If Canadian Experience just means working in Canada, why did they call you for the interview in the first place?
Hiring managers have three things in mind when they interview you:
1. Can you solve the problem I have?
2. Can I get along with you?
3. Can you fit in with this company and my team?
Do you see any connection between their questions and the immigration process?
So even if the Canadian government welcomes you to the country or the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) is putting a policy (not law) in place to curb the Canadian experience problem, if you can't successfully answer these three questions for the hiring manager, you don't get the job.
Now you might be thinking "I don't have Canadian Experience, but I have international experience. I have dealt with countries and continents like India, UK, Middle East and Africa, Europe...."
Yes, the reach of your experience is impressive.
Doesn't count for much in Canada.
Unless you are targetting Canadian companies that deal with the rest of the globe, that experience does not matter.
North America is a sufficiently large enough market for most Canadian companies to be content with.
As a hiring manager, if I have to choose between the candidate that has 10 years of experience dealing with North American clients versus a candidate that has 10 years of experience dealing with clients on the other side of the globe, I'd most probably go with the first candidate.
My personal definition of Canadian Experience is as follows:
A hiring manager's perception of your soft skills and knowledge of Canadian workplace culture
Let's expand on that.
Understanding Soft Skills and Workplace Culture
Communication plays the biggest role in a team's culture.
The hiring manager knows this.
Langage barriers are seen as a big hurdle in any team environment.
Discussions, team meetings, water cooler gossip, arguments, and presenting ideas are all sources of a team's progress and development.
And if you have someone on your team who does not communicate effectively, that's a serious problem for the team's manager.
English and French are the country's spoken languages. If you don't converse well in these languages, you most likely won't get past the interview.
If your English or French is not up to the mark, fortunately, the Canadian government is here to help.
The Ontario government, for example, offer Language Training for the workplace (LTFW), to assist immigrants in finding work in a specific field by offering sector-specific English as a second language (and French).
For all provinces, you can check the Canadian government website here.
Now you might be thinking that you won't have a communication problem because you speak perfect English.
There's is more to communication than spoken language.
Recruiters have told me that many newcomers who are placed into jobs don't make it past the probation period. The managers come back saying "They were not a good fit."
Here are two stories that provide examples of what "fit" means.
#1 A lesson learned in Canadian experience by a software developer
I recently met a newcomer to Canada at a LinkedIn event. She moved from India, where she was a scrum mater team lead and has been working as a software developer in Canada for one year.
She told me when she came to Canada, she could not find the same job.
With no further explanation beyond "You don't have enough Canadian experience", she conceded to finding a job as a software developer and was part of a team.
She now realizes the vast difference in teamwork between India and Canada.
When I asked what was the biggest difference she said that in Canada you are expected to have an open dialogue with your boss.
You have to speak up and voice your opinion. If you have a better idea than your boss, you have to challenge him or her. If not, you will be perceived as lacking initiative.
When I asked her if she could go back 1 year, would she be able to lead a team in Canada without this knowledge?
She smiled and admitted "No way. I'm glad I was part of this team for a year to learn workplace culture."
#2 A lesson learned in Canadian experience by a Marine Sales Engineer
A former colleague of mine from Dubai came to Canada looking for work.
Whenever he was told he did not have Canadian experience, he would retaliate at the hiring manager in frustration - "Why don't you tell me what you mean by Canadian experience? Do you even know what that means?"
Needless to say, he would not get the job.
Finally, through effective networking (and career compromise), he found a job as a Salesforce data analyst.
After 2 months into the job, I asked him "So how's it going?"
He replied, "I can't believe how different things are done around here. For every little change I want to implement, I have to collaborate and get consensus with 5-6 different departments.
"Back in my home country, if I wanted to get something done, once the boss says so, it's gets done. Risks are accepted as part of the change."
"Out here, you have to work with other teams and negotiate every decision. You can't rely on the word of the boss because it can be challenged."
I asked him, "So do you now know what they meant by Canadian experience?"
He laughed and said, "Why couldn't they just explain it to me this way during the interview?"
Bridging the gap
When you touch down in Canada, you don't have Canadian experience.
Don't fight it. Accept it.
But you can change that. Here are five proven ways you can do that.
Companies may reject you, but I've yet to see an organization turn me down for a volunteering opportunity.
When you volunteer your services, it's a great way to connect with Canadian professionals and see first hand what this so-called "Canadian experience" is like.
You get to understand communication styles and professionally collaborate with others in a professional manner.
These volunteering opportunities that you've taken advantage of goes a long way in your resume and your LinkedIn profile.
Do include it there as a professional experience.
If you're suffering from the Canadian experience problem, and the hiring manager will look at this and think - "OK, so this person does have some experience with professional Canadian culture."
A good place to start with volunteering is looking through Volunteer Canada.
My cousin was looking for jobs in accounting.
After succumbing to the DIY approach, she eventually started a newcomers program with COSTI at the end of which they placed her into an internship with a reputable logistics company.
The person she was working for ended up leaving the company three months after she joined, and she got the full-time job in her place.
10 months into the job and that company, unfortunately, filed for bankruptcy.
During her 2-week notice period, she updated her LinkedIn profile and let Canada know she was available for a new opportunity.
Her phone would not stop ringing! In fact, she was rejecting recruiters.
A couple of months of Canadian experience on her resume was all she needed to become completely in demand by the finance industry.
There are several newcomer service programs that will promise you an internship position if you work hard at the program.
Just because it's free for you doesn't mean you slack off.
Tax dollars and private donations are paying for these courses so the management of these programs want to make sure the government and private companies are providing them a healthy budget with promising candidates.
I have personally hired candidates from a youth development program called NPower Canada, trusted by some of the biggest companies in Canada with their intensive 16-week program in customer service and IT development.
Take advantage of them!
3. Bridging Programs
If you are in a regulated industry, such as teaching, accounting, medical, engineering, architecture, understand that these industries are governed by strict policies and procedures.
Where I originally came from, my own family members suffered from medical malpractice and the doctors got away with it Scott free.
Out here, in a regulated industry, a mistake can cost a company several hundreds of thousands of dollars in a lawsuit.
If you are a manager in Canada, would you hire a doctor from a country where malpractice has no repercussions?
Or if you were the principal of a school, would you hire a teacher from a country where student abuse was ignored?
These bridging programs are here to help you understand the policies and regulations in Canada in your regulated industry that hiring managers and companies in the field must abide by.
Take on these bridging programs as early as possible to close the gap.
Many educational institutes like York University offer these.
A quote from one my favorite actors:
"If you lucky enough to do well, it's your responsibility to send the elevator back down." - Kevin Spacey.
Canadians are big believers in paying it forward.
It took no more than a phone call from me to convince one of the senior directors in the company I work for to have monthly 1 hour sessions with a junior staff member of my team on how to come up as a network engineer.
Finding a Canadian mentor can be beneficial to your knowledge in understanding Canadian workplace culture and the Canadian market in your industry.
Ten Thousand Coffees is a Canadian based organization dedicated to doing just that. You can contact industry leaders over Skype or, more ideally, over a cup of coffee.
Everwise and Canada Infonet are mentoring sites that we have personally used ourselves as well. When I immigrated to Canada, my mentor from Infonet was a project manager from the banking industry who gave me valuable advice on Canadian work culture, my resume, and job interview tips.
I have, with great personal gratification, offered mentoring services at Skills for Change.
5. Be explicit in your efforts
If you have taken the efforts of pursuing one or more of the above approaches in obtaining Canadian experience, why hide it?
State it, loud and proud, in your cover letter.
A short brief statement like:
"I admittedly don't have experience working a full-time job in Canada as of yet as I'm an ambitious newcomer to this country. My ambition has driven me to understand Canadian workplace culture through volunteering and informational interviews with Canadian mentors and I fully understand the importance of teamwork and collaboration in the work environment."
What will happen if you don't admit this?
The hiring manager will form their own stories and opinions in their heads, and those usually are not in your favor.
Supplement your new found Canadian Experience.
Once you have obtained Canadian experience with the above, be sure to take an active approach to your job search strategy.
Local References - Till date, I get called and emailed by hiring managers or recruiters about former employees who worked for me in Canada.
Asking for references is common practice in Canada, and if your references are not based in Canada, that could be a problem.
This is why volunteering also adds value to your job search because you can use the contacts that you've established as local references.
As a thank you for your free service, I'm sure that organizer of the volunteering event would be happy to act as a reference for you if you asked.
Networking - You've heard it many times before and you'll hear it again from us.
Networking is the most important aspect of your job search.
It plays even more of a critical role when you have a Canadian experience problem.
As we stated earlier, when a hiring manager looks at a resume, and they see foreign work experience, unconscious bias creeps into their mind.
They may automatically assume you have a communication problem and lack of workplace cultural knowledge.
One quote from a job seeker from the OHRC survey even stated that he felt his foreign name was working against him.
If there is one thing a resume cannot do is effectively portray your personality as well as you can in person.
If you have a winning personality and are the best fit for the job, hiring managers will not know this until they meet you.
So don't just spray and pray your resumes on the online job boards.
Get off the couch, and attend meetups.
Or Google your industry and search for association and communities that you can become a part of and attend their events.
Local certification - If you can afford it, look for any certification from a local education institute.
For example, project management is a transferable industry, as I like to call it. It's a skill that most hiring managers appreciate, and it is taught in several local educational institutes.
Likewise, find an educational program in Canada that's right for your job goals.
To some extent, this will positively be perceived as Canadian experience in the eyes of the recruiter and hiring manager, as they see you being part of a professional Canadian environment.
Your teachers can also provide references as an added bonus.
Look for companies embracing diversity
The good news is, with Canada's immigration population on the rise, companies are starting to embrace diversity in the workplace.
Research and studies have shown that diversity actually improves business performance and innovation.
Have a look at this list from Canadastop100 site that covers the top 100 companies renowned for diversity in the workplace.
Take a targeted job search strategy and network with these companies and get into direct contact with them to improve your chances of finding that next job.
We understand that immigrating to a new country can be one of the most challenging times of your life.
A job search is a very stressful time, and it's even more stressful if you feel that your suffering from something you cannot control.
I wish I could tell you that hiring managers are more open and honest about what they mean by Canadian experience. Maybe they are too reluctant to admit it.
But now that you know more about the hidden truths behind it, the Canadian experience problem is not out of your control anymore.
The above steps are achievable by anyone with ambition to succeed.
You have to find the courage to speak to strangers in a foreign land.
Use the same courage you had when you decided to make the move to Canada, knowing that Canadians are ready and willing to help.
They are just waiting for you to ask.
Don't wait to become a victim of the Canadian experience problem.
Be the first generation Canadian that turns the doctors-driving-taxis story into a myth.