You’re hired!

After all that frustration you can finally celebrate! But wait, don’t get too comfortable just yet…

When you are new to the country, getting any job is such a huge milestone that almost everyone breathes a sigh of relief and expects that all will be well. Unfortunately, your first job is never what you expected it to be.

Often the hours, the pay, your colleagues, or the working conditions, are less than ideal. The job is frequently far from your desired career and if it isn’t, it is at a lower level. You may have part time when what you really need is full time work. Getting started, getting a “foot in the door” is important, but it is only the beginning.

To navigate the career search and find process, it is helpful to understand that getting work in Canada is a process, a journey that has several stops on the way to your destination.

If you understand that your first jobs are the beginning of this journey, you will have less problems adjusting your expectations and your emotions, and can keep your eye on your goal. Share on X

There are three situations in which immigrants usually find a first job:

  • From someone in their own culture or another immigrant who wants to give you an opportunity

  • From an online job application, or a person who connects you to a job opportunity

  • From a company that is used to hiring newcomers and has a smooth integration process

Each of these first job situations has its own challenges. To meet those challenges, it is helpful to remember that nobody keeps their first job. Either they are let go by the employer, or they choose to leave. Here’s why:

1. Hired from inside your culture or similar culture

When you are hired from within your own culture or by another immigrant, your boss may expect you to work for less money or ask you to take on responsibilities that are unsafe or inappropriate for your job level. Employers from your own country may not give you a contract, could pay you in cash, skip payments or pay you much less than you should be paid, or avoid paying the necessary taxes, causing you problems later. Although it doesn’t always the case, it is common to be exploited by people from your own country who take advantage of your situation.

Even when the employer from your culture who hires you is honest and kind, it usually is not a job that you want to keep for long. The advantage is that you get started earning money, which gives you some job history in Canada and the confidence to go forward with less anxiety.

I speak to many newcomers who have a negative experience when hired by someone in their culture. They typically do not complain or call out their boss for the unfair treatment, because they do not wish to have a bad reputation in the community. If this is your situation, remember what it feels like to be taken advantage of, and make a pledge that you will not do this to others.

2. Hired through an online/job post or a person who connects you

When you are successful obtaining a job offer from a posted job, or are connected to a job opportunity by someone who knows you indirectly, the position is often closer to what you are looking for, but the job context may not be a good fit. Sometimes you feel very uncomfortable working with the other people or they feel uncomfortable working with you.

Expectations may not be clear, and because you are new to the country you often don’t really know what your employer wants you to do, and may make mistakes that are not corrected. In this situation, you may be surprised when you are not kept past the three-month probation period.

Newcomers often tell me that they don’t understand why they are let go because they were doing the work and did not receive any complaints or corrections. Employers don’t have to give you a reason if they choose to let you go before the probation period is over.

Most employers have difficulty explaining why you aren’t a fit for the company, they fear an angry backlash if they do tell you, or they think you will not understand their reasons.

In the end it usually has to do with not understanding Canadian workplace culture.

3. Hired by a company that knows how to integrate newcomers

In the third first job situation, you may have been hired before arriving in the country for a specialized position. Or you could have been hired as part of a group to perform seasonal or entry-level work. Although this seems to be closer to your career goal, the disconnect between your experience in your country and Canada, the difficulties of settling in Canada, and the expectations of your employer are rarely aligned. You may be comfortable in the job initially but over time you will want to move toward something that allows you to use your talents, education, and experience more directly.

How to leverage the first job experiences

Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to avoid the problem of not keeping your first job. Everyone has to start somewhere, and although you may be completely unaware of it, while you are in the middle of your struggles, you are actually learning quite a bit about employer expectations and Canadian norms. This means that you start to walk, talk and act in ways that match employer expectations.

When you apply for your second or third job and come to interviews, others will feel more comfortable with you and more accepting. Why? Because you are more comfortable in the country and can focus on the employer and the interview instead of worrying you will not understand what is going on.

If there is anything that looks suspicious about the job, you will notice right away because you already had that experience. You will feel less stressed about the situation because you have been through it before and although you will certainly do good work, you won’t expect the job to be permanent.

I recently had the experience of being served in a bank by a new employee from West Africa. I could tell by the way he was interacting with the clients that this was not his first job in the country. He was comfortable with the uncertainty of customer requests, did not have difficulties asking questions to his supervisor, and at the end of the banking interaction, asked me if I was satisfied with his service. I told him his service was excellent, and it was clear from his response that he had no doubt I would rate his service well.

Contrast this with the experience of being served by a newcomer who is in his or her first job. There is more fear of the unknown, and the newcomer is frustrated that customers don’t understand or that he or she cannot understand what others are saying. This employee will likely receive complaints about customer service and will have a hard time understanding why.

Although it is painful to go through this process, it is part of the “tuition fee” you pay when learning to settle and work in a new country. It is like learning to walk when you are a child. You will fall a few times and your first steps will not be very steady, but soon you will be running everywhere with ease. So although you can’t completely avoid having a difficult first job(s) experience, you can be more mentally and emotionally prepared to go though it.

Here are a few actions you can take to lessen the pain of these first difficult job experiences:

  • Be patient and kind to yourself. Tell yourself that this is a process and believe that good experiences and jobs are waiting for you.

  • Keep looking for new opportunities. Ask everyone you meet what they do and how they like their job or their employer.

  • In any workplace, there will be people you can learn something from. Even if you don’t like a person, you can still learn something from them. Letting a colleague at work know that you admire something about their work and asking them to give you advice can go a long way.

  • Often other employees will share their job search results with you and help you link to new opportunities. Try to make some friends in your job and this will happen naturally.

  • Look for ways to help the employer solve a problem. When you can do this, you are viewed as an asset, and at the right moment can use your increased status to apply for a better position, get a letter of reference, or find ways to get a job in another branch.

In conclusion, you can’t avoid having first job experiences that are less than ideal when you first start looking for work in Canada. But you can use the experience to reflect, learn and gain the confidence to take a step towards a job that is a better fit for you.

Join the Canadian Workplace Career Club to get some help along the way and make sure your whole experience continues to get you closer to your desired career.

Get help along the way to make sure your whole experience brings you close to your desired career. Join the Canadian Workplace Career Club today!

About Marie:

Marie Gervais, PhD, CEO Shift Management is a business-to-business entrepreneur who specializes in helping employers train their middle management to lead, get their workplace learning online and interactive, and conduct team assessments to figure out who to promote and how. She has a background in integrating internationally-trained individuals to the workplace and has supported many businesses in their efforts to hire, retain, support and promote immigrant and diverse employees.

Get in touch – she would love to hear from you: or 780-454-5661