Today marks my 10th year living in Canada and I have to say that career-wise it has been a great journey so far, full of learning experiences and ups and downs along the way, but great nevertheless. I thought this could be a great opportunity to look back and reflect, from an immigrant perspective, as well as share my thoughts on how you could build a career in your new home.
This goes to folks who are new to the country, international students, people planning on moving to Canada, or even Canadians who are looking to relocate elsewhere. In my humble opinion, here are six steps to be considered:
Research: Do your homework by looking for information that can help you have a smooth transition into the Canadian workplace. What is common in terms of work behaviour in other parts of the world, might not be the norm in the country you have just moved to. For example, In Colombia, which is where I am originally from, most people wear cologne/perfume to work and nobody has an issue with that, (unless of course, the person has bathed in it); conversely, in Canada, a scent-free environment is the rule in most workplaces. This might seem trivial but people have actually been fired from their jobs for “odour reasons”. Other things to consider are personal space, less hierarchical schemes and being aware of the importance of equality.
Open-Mindedness: When I arrived in Canada I was in my twenties, I only knew one person, and all I brought with me was $800 in my pocket, the language, and most importantly, an open mind! My very first job was lifting carpets at a decoration store. Something completely out of my comfort zone and from what I was used to, that turned out to be a very humbling experience.
I remember once someone condescended me by saying: “Oh, so you left your country to do warehouse stuff? Nice!” I am glad I didn’t pay attention to other people’s opinions but instead, focused on my journey, and viewed that job as a platform for bigger things.
Immigrants and international students usually come with a wealth of education and experience, and they should take pride in that. However, at the same time, it is important that they have realistic expectations.
I am not saying you should only aim for low pay and physical work, but I urge you to consider the impact that an entry-level position can have on your life. Customer service, front line, and administrative positions can help you understand how the Canadian customer thinks, how to work with multicultural populations and other aspects that little by little will open many doors.
Having said that, not all immigrants have to necessarily go through the same process. Earlier this year, I facilitated a series of career transitions workshops for a group of Latin American newcomers; one of the participants, who had been in the country for just over 2 months, landed a managerial role in one of Canada’s biggest financial institutions shortly after completing the workshops thanks to the strategy that he executed to reach his goal.
Language: You MUST have a strong command of the official language. Within the Canadian context, either English or French, depending on where you live. It does not matter if you have an accent, but you need to be able to communicate your ideas in a clear way and be understood when you speak. Strong communication skills are required to thrive in any field.
If you have identified that language is a barrier, reach out for help as there are many initiatives out there sponsored by the government (many of them free of cost), to help people who are determined to enhance their language skills. Take advantage of the fact that Canada is one of the most multicultural places in the world, and force yourself to interact with people who do not speak your native language. Aim to get a full immersion! This could be a fantastic learning experience, and a great opportunity to start building a network, which leads to my next point.
Networking: It is not enough to only have a résumé anymore. A thought-out strategy is needed to find employment since the most effective and fastest way to find work is through networks and connections. Yes, I know what you are thinking: “How am I supposed to use a network if I do not know anybody here?” Fair enough! And that is the biggest challenge that new Canadians face.
If you think about it, it is not only in Canada; it happens all around the world. When it comes to hiring, networking is the norm. What can you do about this? Challenge yourself and go out there, approach community centres, attend a variety of events, look for professional associations you can join, invest quality time to enhance your Linkedin profile.
Use Linkedin’s features to follow companies of your interest, and connect with people that potentially can agree to sit down with you for an informational interview so you get insight from their journey and learn about the ins and outs of your industry of interest.
Consider volunteering as well as doing internships if you can compromise money for the sake of increasing the number of connections that can give you a hand to expedite the attainment of your career aspirations.
If you decide that you need to go back to school to be more competitive and upgrade yourself in certain areas, make sure you use all the institution’s available resources and get involved. Connect with staff, faculty, program coordinators, and most importantly, make strong impressions with your classmates; you do not know if the person sitting next to you today, will become the next superstar in your professional field tomorrow.
Tolerance: Simple. Be tolerant and embrace diversity; be open to work with people who at first glance might be substantially different from you, because you will be surprised about how much you can learn from them. In the end, you will see that we are all more similar to each other than we think. Leave all prejudices behind and discard the stereotypes that you brought with you from your home country. Give yourself the chance to have valuable interactions with people from all cultures, beliefs, lifestyles, and walks of life.
Reflect: What is it that you bring to the table that nobody else does? What is your unique skill-set? How can your abilities and international experience make a difference and solve problems for the employers you want to work with? What are some other challenges you see that might prevent you from achieving your career goals? What strategies are you going to implement to overcome such challenges? Ask yourself all these questions and come up with an action plan.
Get involved, ask questions and ask for feedback, stay positive, and be kind to everyone!
To all employers out there: hire an immigrant or an international student. Give them a vote of confidence as they can make tremendous contributions to your organization.
Lastly, for all new Canadians, welcome to this beautiful land. Enjoy this country because it allows you to be your authentic self and live a free life, which is priceless.
Work hard, play harder, and know that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to, no matter how many hurdles you may encounter along the way. Using our intellect and your personality to overcome those hurdles is what makes life fascinating!