“A career is a journey with stops along the way, not a destination.”
It’s a classic line that newcomers hear when trying to find work in Canada: “We are looking for someone with ‘Canadian experience.’” And while this isn’t necessarily an invalid point, it can be code for something quite different:
“I’m not sure I feel comfortable hiring you.”
So what is a newcomer, such as yourself, to do when they’re stuck without a job because they don’t have the “right” experience? Sure, you can find work somewhere doing something…eventually. But wouldn’t you rather find work that will get you into your career? Something that pays well and makes you feel like you are going forward rather than backwards in your work life?
There are some really good articles that detail strategies you can use to start your journey (check out the resource list at the end of this post), but what is harder to find are some real person examples. When we hear how others achieved their goals, it gives us ideas for how to reach ours.
So let me introduce you to Sandra (and you can check out Gerard’s and Ndumiso’s stories too).
Sandra is from Columbia and she holds a master’s degree in Marketing. When she arrived in Canada two years ago she did not have much English, no driver’s license and, although she knew how to “take charge” of sales conversations at trade shows in Spanish, she felt awkward and unnatural trying to do this in English in a country where the cultural norms were unfamiliar to her.
But, being the action-oriented person Sandra is, she combined smart strategies and seized opportunities to land herself exactly where she wanted to be 18 months after arriving in Canada.
Now if you already speak English you may think that finding a good paying job in your field in just over a year is not such a big deal – or even slow – but remember that Sandra was learning English at the same time as looking for work in a strange new country. She did not know anyone but her husband, who was also from Columbia. And she did not want to ruin her professional resume by taking the first low-level job she saw advertised on the street.
Sound familiar? You already know that it can take years for immigrants to find work in their field in Canada and many never do. But, finding a job that honours your skill set, education, and career goals is possible. Sandra did a lot of things right and landed her first well-paying job in Canada 18 months after her arrival. So let’s see how she did it.
Strategy #1: Learn English and seek out job-specific courses to understand the Canadian context
Gaining comfort and proficiency in English was Sandra’s first goal, but she needed a job and wanted to optimize her chances at getting hired for a good position. To deal with this issue right away, Sandra started taking social media marketing courses as part of a diploma program while taking English classes. Her English classes were during the day and her marketing courses were at night.
You may think this strange because she already had a Master’s in Marketing from Columbia. Many immigrants make the mistake of going into higher education if they don’t find work right away in Canada. For example, if they have a master’s degree then they register for a doctoral program. This usually means they join the ranks of unemployed PhDs – more about that in a future post.
Sandra’s strategy was to take a one-year diploma in one aspect of her profession that she knew was increasingly gaining importance – social media. She explained; “I know how to market in Columbia because I know how Columbians think. I need to know how Canadians think and how they talk about marketing so I can find work here. And social media is changing more and more quickly so I must stay current with my knowledge.”
Strategy #2: Stick with your strategy until you see some results, and make sure you connect with local people in your field along the way
Sandra felt like her brain was going to explode from doing her coursework in English while still learning the language. But, she kept working and, as a result, made some connections with people in her field right at the beginning and her English improved dramatically. Her colleagues and instructors of this practical diploma course program recommended things to her that would have otherwise taken years for Sandra to figure out on her own. She learned tips and tricks for explaining her skills and for gaining the confidence of potential employers.
As a result of her initiative, one of her English teachers recommended an internship. The college found intern and volunteer positions for their students and Sandra took on two that related specifically to her desired career. She created a marketing plan for a local bank and learned a lot about the Canadian banking industry as a result. She also did some marketing work for a not-for-profit organization.
Each of these volunteer positions lasted about three months, and they provided Sandra with three references: one from the bank, one from the not-for-profit organization and one from the college internship organizer who was impressed with her “take charge” attitude, the quality of her work, and her capacity to identify marketing problems and solutions for organizations.
Strategy #3: Prepare your job search documents in a way that makes it easy for the employer to hire you
Sandra’s next step was to prepare a portfolio of her marketing work in Columbia with English explanations of their equivalency in Canada. This was helpful for employers to see how what she had already done related to their needs in Canada.
Then, when Sandra organized her portfolio, she showcased her most recent positions in Canada right at the front. Her descriptions did not state that these projects had been completed as a “volunteer,” but when Sandra was interviewed she explained that these were volunteer positions to help her gain Canadian experience.
She also joined ERIEC (Edmonton Region Immigrant Employment Council) to find a mentor who also found a volunteer position for her. (Read more about how volunteering can help you HERE)
Strategy #4: Seize the opportunities that come up even if all your “criteria” isn’t met right away
It was through her participation in ERIEC that Sandra then found a start. An employee from ERIEC saw a tweet from a local employer who was looking for a part-time marketing employee specializing in social media. She forwarded Sandra’s resume and asked Sandra to contact the employer, which she did via email within 24 hours.
Before the interview, Sandra researched the employer’s website and social media and prepared a list of good questions. She also had recommendations for how to make things more profitable for the potential employer.
Strategy #5: Research potential employers and talk about your career goals as part of the interview process
Sandra had an interview within the week and told the potential employer that she was looking for a growth opportunity that would expand to full-time, gradually allowing her to continue her diploma program in social media marketing. Her analysis of the employer’s website and social media posts with recommendations to get better results really impressed the employer. And her list of questions about the employer’s marketing goals showed that she had done her research ahead of time and that she was entirely qualified for the position.
During the interview, Sandra did not apologize for her English but said she might need to have her English posts edited in the beginning. Sandra got the job, which expanded to full-time within six months. She graduated with a diploma in social media marketing and added it to her already impressive resume.
Let’s look at what Sandra did right:
#1. Sandra recognized that beginning a career in a new country requires strategic and long-term thinking and strategy
It is unrealistic to think that without connections you will find a job in your field within six weeks of arriving in a new country, especially if you don’t speak the language. The truth is that Canadian immigration laws often involve not working for up to two years, and Sandra chose to use that time wisely rather than just being frustrated about these constraints. She also did some research to find out how to get started to find work in Canada and did not assume that it would be the same job-find strategy in Canada as it was in Columbia. And she kept learning about her job from a Canadian perspective while learning English. Which leads to the next point.
#2. Sandra worked to improve her English
By taking the necessary time to learn English and putting herself into situations where she was forced to practice English, Sandra got more comfortable with communicating and put herself in a better position to be hired.
Remember: no matter how smart you are, it takes a year to become conversational in English if you are practicing regularly, and up to three years to understand the deeper job-related language. Full proficiency takes an average of seven years. Be patient with your own progress, but make the necessary efforts to improve over the long term. If employers think they have to provide too much support for English, they either won’t hire you or will only consider you for low level positions.
#3. Sandra volunteered
You too may need to take a volunteer, lower-level or part-time position in your field to get started, but doing that will put you on a faster track to higher earnings than will taking a low-level job in something completely unrelated to your education and experience.
#4. Sandra leveraged her opportunities
Notice how Sandra’s connections led her to volunteer opportunities – she only took opportunities related to her career goals – and she asked each person supervising her work to serve as a reference. Also note that Sandra did an AMAZING job as a volunteer or an intern. She considered it a full-time serious position even though it wasn’t. And this paid off in terms of providing her with excellent references.
Here’s the lesson: use every small opportunity as a lever to get you to the next opportunity. Once you have an opportunity for work in your field, take it. If it works out you will be able to move to the next level. If it doesn’t, you are still getting Canadian experience that can be used to move to the next step.
#5. Sandra celebrated her victories
For Sandra and all of us, it’s essential to recognize that each small step is a victory. Celebrate your success and congratulate yourself for getting there instead of crying that you don’t yet have work. Small regular steps will get you to your goal.
#6. Sandra focused on the work in her field
By taking Canadian courses that specifically related to her previous experience, Sandra structured her education to ensure it was not just of the sake of adding another degree or credential. In Canada you will need both job experience and education related to work to attract employer attention.
#7. Sandra marketed herself
While these aren’t Sandra’s words, they are wise ones: “You are your own brand.” By being the kind of person that others wanted to recommend, Sandra built a network of support for achieving her career goals. Ensure you show yourself as professional, friendly, and interested in others.
#8. Sandra was honest about her abilities and goals
Sandra was clear with potential employers about what she could do and where she wanted to go right from the start.
If you show that you are a self-motivated learner who continues to develop yourself whether or not it is part of your job, you’ll make a very strong impression. An added benefit to sharing your career goals with employers is that many will start thinking about how to assist you with that goal once they know what you’re striving toward simply because you mentioned it.
In Sandra’s case, her employer gave her time off to get ready for exams and encouraged her to share what she learned in the social media courses she was taking. In return her employer benefited from Sandra’s learning.
So what can you learn from Sandra’s experience that might help you in your job search or career building goals?