Here’s a sad Canadian joke:
What’s the safest place to have a heart attack?
At the back of a Canadian taxi. Because the driver is most probably a doctor from a foreign country.
You start to giggle until you realize that you were once the driver, or you might be in his place very soon.
You are about to make one of the biggest decisions of your life.
It requires Courage. Sacrifice. And every ounce of motivation you can muster.
Leaving your home country, your family and friends, the place you created so many life-long memories are not easy.
And like any critical life choices, you want some assurances that you’re making the right one.
Is graduating from this college going to set me up for my future?
Is he the one that’s going to make me happy for the rest of my life?
Is Canadian experience going to keep me unemployed when I move to Canada?
The Canadian experience issue has been a double edge sword for many immigrants for a long time – No Canadian experience, no job. No job, no Canadian experience. It’s a vicious circle that has kept talented professionals unemployed or underemployed.
New Canadians are wondering why there were approved for permanent residency with their industry, only to be rejected with a “No Canadian experience” stamp at job interviews.
But this dilemma goes much deeper than that.
We are going to uncover the Canadian experience barrier and explore five ways you can obtain this biased credential and get the job you deserve to have.
Let’s first take a moment to understand what Canadian experience is because it’s not what you think.
Understand the disconnection
Let’s start from the beginning.
Yet, job offers never turned up. Heck, even job interviews never happened.
And for the few times when you did get an interview, you heard the dreaded “You don’t have enough Canadian experience” or “Have you not done this in Canada?”
And then you start to question the whole immigration process, screaming self-doubt, false hopes and even feeling cheated out of a better life.
Let’s do a reality check for a quick second.
Your resume already shows you have not worked in Canada before. If Canadian Experience just means working in Canada, why did they call you for the interview in the first place?
Hiring managers have three things in mind when they interview you:
1. Can you solve the problem I have?
2. Can I get along with you?
3. Can you fit in with this company and my team?
Do you see any connection between their questions and the immigration process?
So even if the Canadian government welcomes you to the country or the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) is putting a policy (not law) in place to curb the Canadian experience problem, if you can’t successfully answer these three questions for the hiring manager, you don’t get the job.
Now you might be thinking “I don’t have Canadian Experience, but I have international experience. I have dealt with countries and continents like India, UK, Middle East and Africa, Europe….”
Yes, the reach of your experience is impressive.
Doesn’t count for much in Canada.
Unless you are targeting Canadian companies that deal with the rest of the globe, that experience does not matter.
North America is a sufficiently large enough market for most Canadian companies to be content with.
As a hiring manager, if I have to choose between the candidate that has 10 years of experience dealing with North American clients versus a candidate that has 10 years of experience dealing with clients on the other side of the globe, I’d most probably go with the first candidate.
My personal definition of Canadian Experience is as follows:
A hiring manager’s perception of your soft skills and knowledge of Canadian workplace culture
Let’s expand on that.
Understanding Soft Skills and Workplace Culture
Communication plays the biggest role in a team’s culture.
The hiring manager knows this.
Language barriers are seen as a big hurdle in any team environment.
Discussions, team meetings, water cooler gossip, arguments, and presenting ideas are all sources of a team’s progress and development.
And if you have someone on your team who does not communicate effectively, that’s a serious problem for the team’s manager.
English and French are the country’s spoken languages. If you don’t converse well in these languages, you most likely won’t get past the interview.
If your English or French is not up to the mark, fortunately, the Canadian government is here to help.
The Ontario government, for example, offer Language Training for the workplace (LTFW), to assist immigrants in finding work in a specific field by offering sector-specific English as a second language (and French).
For all provinces, you can check the Canadian government website here.
Now you might be thinking that you won’t have a communication problem because you speak perfect English.
There is more to communication than spoken language.
Recruiters have told me that many newcomers who are placed into jobs don’t make it past the probation period. The managers come back saying “They were not a good fit.”
Here are two stories that provide examples of what “fit” means.
#1 A lesson learned in Canadian experience by a software developer
I recently met a newcomer to Canada at a LinkedIn event. She moved from India, where she was a scrum mater team lead and has been working as a software developer in Canada for one year.
She told me when she came to Canada, she could not find the same job.
With no further explanation beyond “You don’t have enough Canadian experience”, she conceded to finding a job as a software developer and was part of a team.
She now realizes the vast difference in teamwork between India and Canada.
When I asked what was the biggest difference she said that in Canada you are expected to have an open dialogue with your boss.
You have to speak up and voice your opinion. If you have a better idea than your boss, you have to challenge him or her. If not, you will be perceived as lacking initiative.
When I asked her if she could go back 1 year, would she be able to lead a team in Canada without this knowledge?
She smiled and admitted “No way. I’m glad I was part of this team for a year to learn workplace culture.”
#2 A lesson learned in Canadian experience by a Marine Sales Engineer
A former colleague of mine from Dubai came to Canada looking for work.
Whenever he was told he did not have Canadian experience, he would retaliate at the hiring manager in frustration – “Why don’t you tell me what you mean by Canadian experience? Do you even know what that means?”
Needless to say, he would not get the job.
Finally, through effective networking (and career compromise), he found a job as a Salesforce data analyst.
After 2 months into the job, I asked him “So how’s it going?”
He replied, “I can’t believe how different things are done around here. For every little change I want to implement, I have to collaborate and get consensus with 5-6 different departments.
“Back in my home country, if I wanted to get something done, once the boss says so, it’s gets done. Risks are accepted as part of the change.”
“Out here, you have to work with other teams and negotiate every decision. You can’t rely on the word of the boss because it can be challenged.”
I asked him, “So do you now know what they meant by Canadian experience?”
He laughed and said, “Why couldn’t they just explain it to me this way during the interview?”
Bridging the gap
When you touch down in Canada, you don’t have Canadian experience.
Don’t fight it. Accept it.
But you can change that. Here are five proven ways you can do that.
1. Volunteering with your association
Many will tell you to volunteer your time. But you have to be careful. First let me explain why volunteering is a good strategy.
Companies may reject you, but I’ve yet to see an organization turn me down for a volunteering opportunity.
When you volunteer your services, it’s a great way to connect with Canadian professionals and see first hand what this so-called “Canadian experience” is like.
You get to understand communication styles and professionally collaborate with others in a professional manner.
These volunteering opportunities that you’ve taken advantage of goes a long way in your resume and your LinkedIn profile.
But you have to be careful. Volunteering experience that has nothing to do with the job you are targeting will not make a significant difference to your profile.
If you’re looking for accounting jobs and volunteering to package foods for the needy, that’s a big disconnect.
Don’t get me wrong – if your purpose of volunteering is to give back to the community, by all means, go for it! A good place to start with volunteering is looking through Volunteer Canada.
But if you’re goal for volunteering is to gain Canadian experience towards a permanent position, connect with the leaders of an association you follow (or ideally a member of) and direct message them on LinkedIn and let them know you are available to lend a hand.
Not only will you be gaining Canadian experience, you will be surrounding yourself with people who are in the same industry as you, and many of them will be in a position to hire you in their companies (IF you capitalize on opportunities with them and make a good impression)
My cousin was looking for jobs in accounting.
After succumbing to the DIY approach, she eventually started a newcomers program with COSTI at the end of which they placed her into an internship with a reputable logistics company.
The person she was working for ended up leaving the company three months after she joined, and she got the full-time job in her place.
10 months into the job and that company, unfortunately, filed for bankruptcy.
During her 2-week notice period, she updated her LinkedIn profile and let Canada know she was available for a new opportunity.
Her phone would not stop ringing! In fact, she was rejecting recruiters.
A couple of months of Canadian experience on her resume was all she needed to become completely in demand by the finance industry.
There are several newcomer service programs that will promise you an internship position if you work hard at the program.
Just because it’s free for you doesn’t mean you slack off.
Tax dollars and private donations are paying for these courses so the management of these programs want to make sure the government and private companies are providing them a healthy budget with promising candidates.
I have personally hired candidates from a youth development program called NPower Canada, trusted by some of the biggest companies in Canada with their intensive 16-week program in customer service and IT development.
Take advantage of them!
3. Bridging Programs
If you are in a regulated industry, such as teaching, accounting, medical, engineering, architecture, understand that these industries are governed by strict policies and procedures.
Where I originally came from, my own family members suffered from medical malpractice and the doctors got away with it Scott free.
Out here, in a regulated industry, a mistake can cost a company several hundreds of thousands of dollars in a lawsuit.
If you are a manager in Canada, would you hire a doctor from a country where malpractice has no repercussions?
Or if you were the principal of a school, would you hire a teacher from a country where student abuse was ignored?
These bridging programs are here to help you understand the policies and regulations in Canada in your regulated industry that hiring managers and companies in the field must abide by.
Take on these bridging programs as early as possible to close the gap.
Many educational institutes like York University offer these.
A quote from one my favorite actors:
“If you lucky enough to do well, it’s your responsibility to send the elevator back down.” – Kevin Spacey.
Canadians are big believers in paying it forward.
It took no more than a phone call from me to convince one of the senior directors in the company I work for to have monthly 1 hour sessions with a junior staff member of my team on how to come up as a network engineer.
Finding a Canadian mentor can be beneficial to your knowledge in understanding Canadian workplace culture and the Canadian market in your industry.
MentorCity is a Canadian based organization dedicated to doing just that. You can contact industry leaders over Skype or, more ideally, over a cup of coffee.
Everwise and Canada Infonet are mentoring sites that we have personally used ourselves as well. When I immigrated to Canada, my mentor from Infonet was a project manager from the banking industry who gave me valuable advice on Canadian work culture, my resume, and job interview tips.
5. Online Networking
You’ve heard it many times before and you’ll hear it again from me – Networking is the most important aspect of your job search.
It’s not about going to events, shaking hands with strangers, following or liking people posts on Linked or connecting and messaging with recruiters.
Networking is about offering value with the people who have the power and authority to hire you. And you can offer that value online or in-person.
Note that the right people are not recruiters, or your friends and family. They may serve as means to get to the right people who can hire you.
The right people are senior managers, directors, VPs or CEOs of the target companies you want to work for, who belong to the division that you want to get into.
Networking plays even more of a critical role when you have a Canadian experience problem.
As we stated earlier, when a hiring executive looks at a resumé, and they see foreign work experience, unconscious bias corrupts your candidacy.
They may automatically assume you have a communication problem and lack of workplace cultural knowledge.
One quote from a job seeker from the OHRC survey even stated that he felt his foreign name was working against him.
If there is one thing a resumé cannot do is effectively portray your personality as well as you can in person.
If you have a winning personality and are the best fit for the job, hiring managers will not know this until they meet you, or at the very least have interacted with you online.
So don’t just spray and pray your resumés to the online job boards.
Google your industry and search for association and communities that you can become a part of and attend their events.
If you can afford it, look for any certification from a local education institute.
For example, project management is a transferable industry, as I like to call it. It’s a skill that most hiring managers appreciate, and it is taught in several local educational institutes.
Likewise, find an educational program in Canada that’s right for your job goals.
To some extent, this will positively be perceived as Canadian experience in the eyes of the recruiter and hiring manager, as they see you being part of a professional Canadian environment.
Your teachers can also provide references as an added bonus.
Look for companies embracing diversity. With Canada’s immigration population on the rise, companies are starting to embrace diversity in the workplace.
Research and studies have shown that diversity actually improves business performance and innovation.
Have a look at this list from Canadastop100 site that covers the top 100 companies renowned for diversity in the workplace.
Take a targeted job search strategy and network with the right people from these companies and get into direct contact with them to improve your chances of finding that next job.
Your ultimate goal of networking is to have a one-on-one conversation with someone, either over coffee or on Skype.
If you are not having these one-on-one meetings, your networking is failing! Don’t be content in thinking you are “networking” just because you are sending digital notes to people.
Those digital interactions should always lead up to an in-person discussion if you want to beat Canadian experience.
Only you can look after your career
We understand that immigrating to a new country can be one of the most challenging times of your life. And Canada’s conservative hiring practices don’t make it any easier.
A job search is a very stressful time, and it’s even more stressful if you feel that you’re suffering from something you cannot control.
I wish I could tell you that hiring managers are more open and honest about what they mean by Canadian experience. Maybe they are too reluctant to admit it.
But now that you know more about the hidden truths behind it, the Canadian experience problem is not out of your control anymore.
The above steps are achievable by anyone with ambition to succeed.
You have to find the courage to speak to strangers in a foreign land.
Use the same courage you had when you decided to make the move to Canada, knowing that Canadians are ready and willing to help.
They are just waiting for you to ask.
Don’t wait to become a victim of the Canadian experience problem.
Be the first generation Canadian that turns the doctors-driving-taxis story into a myth.
Have you suffered from Canadian experience? Share your story in the comments below!