Many newcomers get their first job through connections. For Barrie Latter, a family connection in Canada was able to find him a job opportunity before he planned to immigrate. He is a firm believer in using your connections to get to find a job higher up in the professional categories of your desired industry. Here is his story and his strategies for success.

Barrie has been in Canada for six years, originally from the UK. He currently works as a business development manager at Jen-Col Construction, but this is his third position since arriving in Canada. Now doing mostly sales, business development and marketing, Barrie first came into the country using experience and education in three different fields: construction, insurance and risk management.

While living in Australia and working as a risk manager in a construction company there, Barrie thought about how to come to Canada and sent messages to his family and friends to see who could connect him to a job opportunity here. He says: “I came in through a Labour Market Opinion program which has since changed. I had my interview for the job in Canada Monday and by Saturday the same week was on a plane to Canada. I know this is not the usual story. Most people come and look for work. I was brought in by Aon Reed Stenhouse, an insurance company focused on risk management services.”

Because they are a large company with experience bringing international professionals into Canada, they were able to push Barrie’s sponsorship forward. He explains his experience this way:

“I found out about this opportunity through my ex-wife’s connections. She sent my CV to some of her family and before I knew it I had a call. Her cousin’s husband sent my CV to their insurance broker and there was a labour shortage here for insurance brokers in 2012. Since I have solid experience and education in that field they brought me into the industry.”

In reflecting on all his past job opportunities, Barrie surmised that he has actually not applied for work through job boards at all, but always started his search through putting out the word to his “natural” connections in family, friends and colleagues. His reasoning is that for a professional, coming in to the hiring process on the top of the hiring funnel through a connection will always more effective than trying to work your way up from the bottom with an online job posting.

This is a strategy that has worked for Barrie all his life, and it fits perfectly with the statistics saying that over 80% of higher level jobs are secured through connections and are rarely advertised.

Practically this means that someone with a professional level background who connects you helps your resume or CV to be moved up more quickly. The connection gives added credibility to you by putting your face next to a personal and a professional face the employer already knows. Think about it this way: if you want to get someone to try an unfamiliar food, put something they already know on the plate next to it and they are more likely to try the new food. When you are applying for work, you are like the unfamiliar food on a plate being offered to the employer. When someone known to the employer connects you to the hiring process, it is like putting the employers well-liked and familiar food (their known employee) next to you (the new and unfamiliar potential hire). That association between the familiar and the unfamiliar positively disposes the employer to like you and to believe in your professional expertise before even looking at your resume.

Growing your career

After working for a while in his new insurance job in Canada, Barrie realized it was not where he wanted to be working. A couple of jobs later Barrie found out through his now well-established network, that a company where he wanted to work was hiring, so he jumped at the opportunity.

Here is the background: Barry already had a degree as a construction manager as well as a risk manager in insurance. His work as a construction broker in the UK and in Australia gave him the qualifications that allowed Clark Builders to become a bridge for Barrie into the career he has now. Although his current role is a couple of steps removed from his original training and experience, he likely would not have been hired to do marketing for a construction company without a construction background.

Immigrants frequently find they cannot do the job they are most qualified to do back home after moving to Canada. It is important to look for what could bridge to a similar industry yet still uses your skills and experience.

For Barrie, the links between insurance, risk management and construction allowed him to be credible as a business manager in a construction company. Now five years into the process, Barrie is finally in the career place where he wants to be.

Barrie’s strategies for job search and career building success

  • Put the word out to everyone in your network that you are looking for work, ask them to help you get a connection to an opportunity.
  • Remember that large companies frequently have better international connections than medium or small ones. If you are an experienced professional with specific skills, looking for connections to an international country via someone you know can give you a first position. Aon Reed Stenhouse in the insurance industry and Clark Builders in the construction industry were both in that category.
  • Consider that getting into the hiring process at a higher level requires a connection that is higher up in the relationship.
  • Keep networking to build your connections.
  • Look for new opportunities and find ways to connect to them through people in your network.
  • Use past experience and education to bridge to new industries.

Obstacles to integrating into Canada

Barrie laughed when I suggested other immigrants might say he “had it easy” in his integration into Canadian society. He explained:

“I didn’t face obstacles of prejudice or stereotypes that would hold me back because I was from another country. For me I found it very difficult to integrate culturally into Canada. The tax system is very different from the UK, identification, passports, the work culture, all this is very different. Thinking that things would be smooth because I speak a similar English was a mistake. The cultures are not the same, although England and Canada are both first world, high opportunity countries. We all wear similar clothes and have similar work days, but that is where the similarity ended. For example, sense of humour is very different, my English humour was often taken the wrong way.”

He continues: “It took me time to realize that I was the stranger in the country and I was going to have to adapt. I felt that I was moving away from who I thought I was. Being keen to integrate at first, after a while I felt I had really lost who I was as an Englishman, and I felt disconnected and lonely.”

Add to that the typical family upsets that happen to immigrant families, and you can see that the immigration experience is difficult no matter what colour you are or what languages you speak. Over time, Barrie found ways to hold on to his sense of culture, like watching English TV programs, keeping up with English news, and going to English cultural events. He believes that if you don’t keep these things up, it becomes easy to lose yourself in the new culture. His English friends in different countries have been a particularly strong sense of support for Barrie. They stay connected using “Whats App” and are a support to each other because they are all living the same immigration/adaptation/career change experience. Barrie stresses that it is really important to make friends outside your culture so you don’t end up living in a little cultural bubble that is disconnected from your current reality, yet you need to balance that by connecting to people from your culture who help you feel grounded.

Something else to consider is that one can experience greater culture shock moving from one part of the country to another. This holds true for moving within your country of origin and for moving from one part of Canada to another. All changes of location involve an adjustment. Immigrants can expect their family relations to be shaken by the cultural change at some part or all parts of the process. Often there are arguments, role shifts and divorce. This upheaval is made more difficult if you aren’t expecting any issues with family adjustment; Barrie believes that expecting cultural integration problems to be there is really the best preparation you can have to the process of overcoming culture shock.

One strategy Barrie emphasized is that you don’t have to adopt everything you see in your new country’s culture.

He advises, “If something is new, try it out, and if it isn’t for you, you don’t have to do it. There are always pockets of people in every culture that have different interests. Find yours.”

At the end of our interview, I asked Barrie for advice for newcomers in three categories:

  1. How to get into the construction industry at a high level
  2. How to get connected into the construction industry
  3. What the role of mentorship has been for his career

Check out his advice for all three of those categories.

How to get into the higher end of the construction industry

Make sure you have the necessary qualifications, and some experience in the industry before applying for a job. Barrie suggests going to NAIT (Northern Institute of Technology) and SAIT(Southern Institute of Technology) in Alberta – there are similar technical colleges in every province – because they have some great courses that help many people get into the industry at a higher level in a short period of time. Some programs are diplomas or sets of professional qualifications that bridge your past experience to jobs in Canada in the industry.

Here are some examples of jobs you can look for in construction:

  • Business development and marketing, scheduling, supply chain and other administration skills
  • PQS – Professional Quantity Surveyor or CET – Construction Engineering Technology, to prepare you for an estimating job
  • From the operations side: with Project Management you can go straight in from a diploma program, or work up from foreman to superintendent to get to the position.

This is his advice for how to get connected into the construction industry:

  • Join a local association in construction such as Young Builders Group to get connected, grow your network and find job opportunities.
  • Go to a local construction company and ask who could talk to you about how they got into the industry and you can get started. Remember that most construction people want to teach others about their career and to be mentors. Although it takes confidence to approach people, it pays off; you will be surprised how many want to help.
  • Put yourself out there and approach different companies with the idea that they need you and you have something valuable to offer – if you are older, they are looking for experience, if you are younger they want to train and groom you up
  • Know your industry and try to match your experience to what the industry needs

Mentorship has been invaluable to Barrie’s career. He has had several mentors, participated in a school mentorship program and has mentored others himself. He suggests that everyone who is new to the country seek mentorship with people who are both in and out of the industry they want to get into. Everyone can help you learn skills that could make the difference in a company choosing you over another candidate. For example, people skills, financial skills and problem solving, can be assets in any industry and each industry perspective will approach it in a different way. Barrie suggests that you be selective with your mentors. Interview them and see if they are a good fit for you and he firmly believes you need to hold mentors accountable to be keeping appointments and commitments.

His final advice to newcomers setting in any country is this:

“Don’t do it alone. Immigration is tough. Finding a new job is tough, BUT there are lots of people who want to help. Have a coffee with a friend and ask for some help and advice. Reach out to find mentors. And be patient with the process.”

Barrie explains that he doesn’t know anyone who is happily settled in their lives and careers until at least five years into the immigration process. Knowing this is a long process helps with patience and enjoyment of the learning along the way.

I hope you enjoyed this recap of my interview with Barrie Latter. You can watch the whole interview in the video, it is worth the 30 minutes to hear our dialogue and insights!


Looking for more ways to build your career? Check out some FREE online learning that can help you learn to resolve cultural misunderstandings in your workplace.

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