You came here for a better life, for you and your children. But week after week, the job rejection letters have been cluttering your inbox.
You apply to countless jobs every day, but your mobile phone remains stunned in silence at the lack of response.
The calls don't come, and if they do, they don't turn to jobs.
And now you're filled with doubt. Did you make the right choice? Was it all worth it? Are your skills that got you to this country worthless in reality? Is the Canadian dream just a pack of lies?
I recently attended Gateway Conference 2017 in Markham, Ontario. It was a conference for newcomers who were struggling to find work, giving them a free opportunity to express their concerns, ask questions, and network with CEOs and other Canadian professionals.
I got to see first hand the complaints of skilled immigrants who do not get jobs in Canada, and this is what I discovered.
#1 Misunderstanding what Canadian Experience means
Almost everyone was talking about Canadian experience. They even had a panel discussion about it.
One woman came up to the mic and was angry at the Canadian system. You could hear the frustration in her voice - “How can I get Canadian Experience if I don’t have a job? I have been looking for a job for 8 YEARS!”
After her 10 minute rant about Canadian experience, I asked random people “Would you hire that person?” They all regretfully said “No way!”
A lot of people think that Canadian experience is about working in Canada. It is not! This is my personal definition of Canadian experience:
A hiring manager’s perception of your soft skills and knowledge of Canadian work culture.
One peculiar observation: A lot of people were saying they were getting calls for interviews, but it never converted to a job.
Think about it, if you got called for a job interview, the hiring manager already knows you have not worked in Canada from your resume. Why would he or she call you for the interview if this was a problem?
What most likely happened was that during the interview, the candidate failed to demonstrate the soft skills that the job desired. Either communication skills were falling short, or they downplayed their accomplishments when asked to talk about professional experience (using too much "we" instead of "I")
One recruiter told me that some people she interviews don’t even make eye contact when they speak. "They seem more interested in my shoes than in the conversation."
In the case of the ranting woman above, it’s not Canadian experience that was her issue, but her wounded attitude. If she reveals even a sliver of that attitude during an interview, she will never get hired. Canadian’s hire problem solvers, not complainers.
At this stage in the interview, the manager will politely and indirectly turn you down (maybe even fear a discriminatory lawsuit) and they default to “You don't have Canadian experience” or “You are overqualified”, when what they really mean is “Your English is not up to the mark” or “You have the wrong attitude for my team” or “Based on your stories it doesn't sound like you accomplished a lot”.
I was in a panel discussion myself talking about my experience as a newcomer. A gentleman at the back of the room told me that whenever he goes into an interview, he is always told that he is “overqualified”.
I gave him advice on how to tackle an “overqualified” problem, but when he spoke to me I knew straight away what his problem was, but I felt uncomfortable to tell him in front of the whole room.
Unfortunately, he did not privately speak to me after the talk, else I would have told him “Interviewers are telling you you’re overqualified because they are hesitant to tell you the real reason - it’s your English”. His English fell way below the mark for Canadian standards.
I’m not saying this is the fault of the candidate. This behavior stems from the culture of the country they came from. Maybe English is not their first language. Maybe in their culture highlighting personal accomplishments is considered selfish and credit must always be shared with the manager and the team. Maybe it’s in their culture to remain silent and not make eye contact out of respect.
The bottom line is, you need to understand how Canadians think and what hiring managers and recruiters expectations are to get past the Canadian experience problem.
Unless you do the research or ask the right people who aren't afraid to give you an honest answer and most importantly upgrade your English language skills, skilled immigrants will continue to complain about not getting jobs.
#2 Not taking an active approach to your job search
This is how I personally had success in Canada, securing three job offers in two weeks.
If you just machine gun your generic resume to online jobs and rely on technology to do the rest you will be job searching for a long time.
Machines don't hire you. Humans do. So you have to demonstrate to the hiring manager that you are willing to work hard and think outside the box.
This is why customizing your resume and personalizing your cover letter for every job application, and possibly taking it a step further by creating your own personal website (eg. connelvalentineresume.com) to stand out, will destroy your competition.
I used the same tactics for my first successful job and the next, so I'm confident it works.
As long as you're aware of the common expectations of hiring managers and learn skills in stand out resume and cover letter writing, you can increase your chances of landing that new job tenfold.
#3 Not using publically available services
If it's free it's probably not worth it, right? Not in Canada! If you want to see the Canadian tax dollars at work, make use of the public services that are available to you.
These non-profit organizations that host these services were present at this conference. Considering what they offer is free to newcomers, the quality and depth of their services are astonishing.
They may not get you the perfect job, but will fit you into a well-established company and then it's up to you to work your way up.
I have personally hired and trust candidates from Npower Canada, which have locations in Toronto, York, and Peel region.
My cousin was struggling to find a job in finance, till she eventually gave up on the DIY approach, and used Costi. They placed her in a logistics company doing account receivables where she got a full-time job after proving her worth and working hard.
Ten months into the job and the company, unfortunately, filed for bankruptcy. She updated her resume and LinkedIn profile with her new found Canadian experience and her phone started to ring off the hook! She told me she started rejecting recruiters. She now works full time with another logistics company with a higher pay.
A small dash of Canadian experience was all she needed to go from insufficient to in demand!
This conference is an example of what Canada is prepared to do for its new immigrants - for FREE! It was held at Hilton hotel, led by a Canadian TV host, attended by the mayor of Markham and CEOs of companies in the York region. And don't forget the catered buffet!
Canada takes it’s free services as seriously as it's taxes.
#4 Not Canadianizing your resume
Someone at the conference mentioned that their resume was 6 pages long!
People mistakenly believe they should throw all their experiences up on a word document and mail blast it to every Canadian job board.
It's guaranteed failure. Recruiters don't want to read newspapers.
People should seek professional help and learn the methodology of Canadianizing your resume to suit the manager's needs. A big part of this is knowing how to market your job experience in a way that convinces a Canadian hiring manager and recruiter that you are the best person for the job.
A hot tool for doing a quality check on the resume is Jobscan. This tool allows you to compare your uploaded resume to the copy-pasted job description side by side and score it for compliance.
#5 Not being prepared to take a temporary step back
During one of the breaks at the conference, I walked up to table where three strangers were sat. I introduced myself and they turned out to be a nurse, a physician, and a dentist.
They were all already enrolled in a bridging program at York University, one of the most popular hosts of bridging programs in Ontario.
But in most cases, I find that a lot of newcomers don't utilize these services. I hear them say “I have over twenty years of experience, why should I go back to learning something I have been doing ?”
Look, I understand it's not easy to feel like you're going back to paying your dues in your career.
It takes courage to leave your family and friends behind to move to a new country in hopes of a better life.
You need to tap into that same courage to choose to take a step back in your career too.
When I applied for my first job in Canada as a newcomer, I painfully opted for a position that was two levels below the job I had back in my home country. But because I took an active approach to it, that job application revealed a hidden job that was one level higher the recruiter thought I was better suited for.
And two years later, after working my butt off on that job, and using the smarts and the experience and the work ethics I developed from my 12-year career prior to landing in Canada, I got a promotion back to a manager's position.
If you have the humility to learn and the courage to take a few steps back in your career and the vision and strive to pick up where you left off, you will eventually start to see hopes become reality.
An expert I follow says it may take anywhere from 6–12 years on average for a Canadian newcomer to earn back the quality of life they left behind. I'm in year 3.
Don't let your pride delay the process.
Your Skills vs Your Knowledge
Canada welcomes diversity in the workplace. That is what the Gateway 2017 conference was all about.
But one area where diversity is not accepted, and this is my personal insight, is the norms of business conduct.
Your diversity will be accepted from your fresh perspective, unique experiences and innovative ideas that you bring from your home country.
But when you communicate to others, when you manage your teams, when you deliver presentations, when you attend meetings, when you make a sales pitch, when you care for patients, when you ask for a raise, how you work with your boss, how you provide and receive feedback, and every other aspect of business conduct you can think of, it's done one way - the Canadian way.
I'd love to tell you that immigrating to Canada is easy. I'd love to tell you that because you qualified for immigration with your professional skills, job offers will be rolling in the minute you land.
But I can't tell you these things because, like every other milestone in your life, settling down in Canada has its challenges.
But how hard it is will depend entirely on you. You can join the hordes of complainers and watch your career wither away and fear the embarrassment of returning to your home country.
Or you can use some of that new immigrant courage to fight for a better life for you and for your children.
Launching multiple copies of your resume online in the comfort of your couch is the easy approach. Why limit yourself to the easy way after you've just made the hardest decision to move to Canada?
You need to carry that torch of the newcomer spirit for just a little longer.
Read a blog, read a book, or reach out to your fellow Canadians to learn our social and professional culture. It's never too early and it's never too late.
Your skills got you to Canada, your knowledge will keep you here.