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One crucial mistake newcomers make after getting the job

Connel Valentine Nov 25, 2017
I recently spoke to a recruiter who worked for a public services recruitment agency, and she surprised me with a newcomer fact:

"It is just as hard for newcomers to Canada to keep the job than to find it."

This was unexpected. Everyone talks about how Canadian experience doesn't get them past the interview, but as it turns out, newcomers do get jobs, but many fail to get past the 6-month probation period.

Apparently, a lot of hiring managers will admit to the recruitment agency that the candidate wasn't a "good fit" with their team after a couple of months on the job.

I was intrigued. Surely a newcomer to Canada has the will and the drive to succeed at a new job in a new country that they have sacrificed so much to come to.

It turns out that cultural differences are at play here. This post is about one difference that I have personally experienced in my workplace and found myself needing to adapt to in order to survive - self-driven initiative.

What is it?

It has many definitions:

- It's doing something without being told to do it

- It's directing a task without being given direction

- It's figuring it out on your own and keeping your manager "in the loop"

Why is there a difference?

A lot of newcomers to Canada come from cultures where the workplace structure is very hierarchical. South Asians, Chinese, Philippines, and African immigrants have a workplace culture where the bosses word is the law.

Little gets done without the bosses consent and direction. Only once this task is mapped out does any work actually take place.

North Americans, however, have a different work culture. The organizations are more egalitarian. Employees are seen and treated as equals and are expected to create and produce work with little supervision and direction. They are expected to be responsible (and to some degree accountable) for delivering results within their scope.

Your manager isn't going to be a sophisticated GPS spoon feeding you directions. They are going to a compass telling you to head North, and you've got to figure out the turns on your own.

My personal experience

I work closely with a project manager who works with an outsourced Indian IT company based in Canada.

Employees from this Indian company were flown down to our office from Bangalore to work on a 2-year contract.

The biggest complaint I hear from the project manager, and this gets repeated several times throughout the year, is that these employees will not make a decision unless you tell them to.

This frustrates not just the project manager, but the leadership team shares the same opinion as well.

On the other hand, the one consistent compliment he pays them is that they are hardworking and once told what to do, they will get it done with solid commitment. However, "They lack initiative".

When I started out, I was waiting for a formal induction session or a one-on-one goal setting and guidance session with my manager. It never came.

Occasionally, I was told that an issue arose and they would like me to manage it. That was all. Who do I contact? Where do I go? What are your expectations for the outcome? What timelines do I have? These are all the unanswered questions in my head that I was left to figure out on my own.

In time, I came to realize that this is the North American way. It reminded me of how my brother taught me to swim - he just pushed me into the deep end of the pool and let me figure it out!

The manager-employee relationship

A Canadian manager will most likely expect you to be independent, at least certainly to a larger degree than if you came from a culture that is hierarchical.

You are expected to be the subject matter expert at what you do. Therefore, you are responsible for the actions and tasks assigned to you.

Your manager provides you guidance and suggestions and high-level goals for the task, but ultimately, the outcome of your task and project is up to you.

You will face challenges along the way. You will have questions, you will need to know who to contact and you will need technical guidance sometimes. Your first inclination should not be to pester your boss every time you face a challenge. You must first ask yourself "How can I solve this on my own?"

Use the tools you have at your disposal. Use the people you have around you to ask questions. Do the due diligence needed on your own first and leave your boss' intervention as a lifeline only.

What does this have to do with the probation period?

Newcomers to Canada who have followed a hierarchical work culture in the past will find themselves pinging their manager more often than the manager would like.

The manager's perception starts to wither, and they start to see the employee as more of a nuisance now.

Moreover, while the employee waits for orders from the boss, the manager feels that the employee lacks initiative.

In Canada, it is not uncommon to hear the manager say "I don't know" or "What do you think?" or "You need to figure it out". In North America, this is in fact perceived as signs of good leadership, because the manager is trusting their employee with the responsibility for the decision.

Most Canadian managers don't want their employees to have a "Yes Sir" attitude. At one of my interviews, the hiring manager asked me to role play with him. He was going to give me an instruction, and I was supposed to challenge him and convince him that it was the wrong decision! This was his test.

To get past the probation period, look to your manager as an equal, without compromising on respect and their authority. They will expect you to voice your opinion and express your concerns directly to them and in team meetings.

You're not in a car with your manager in the driver's seat. You are both rowing a boat in the same direction.

Hiring managers are very conscious of this vital 6-month probation period for full-time employees because once the employee survives this first lap, it is not legally and administratively easy to fire a full-time employee without just cause.

This keeps the smart hiring manager on high alert for those crucial first 6 months to make sure their new hire is a good fit for themselves and for the team.

You need to be on high alert too.