Today marks my 10th year living in Canada; 10 years that literally flew by. I have to say that in terms of my career, it has been a great journey so far; full of learning experiences, with many 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 can include people who are new to Canada, people who are planning on moving here, or even Canadians who are currently looking to relocate to another country. In my humble opinion, here are just a few aspects that should be considered:
Research: Do your homework by looking for information that can help you have a smooth transition to 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, the importance of equality, and less hierarchical schemes.
Open Mindedness: When I arrived in Canada in 2006, I was in my twenties. This is all I had: $800 in my pocket, the language, I knew one person, and most importantly, had an open mind! My very first job was lifting carpets at a decoration store. Something so out of my comfort zone and from what I was used to. It turned out to be a very humbling experience. Once someone condescended me by saying: “Oh, so you left your country to do warehouse stuff? Nice!” I am glad I turned a deaf ear to that, focused on my journey, and viewed that job as a platform for bigger things.
Immigrants 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. I urge you to consider the benefits that an entry level position can have for you. 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. This year, I designed and facilitated a series of lessons in career development for 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 our Career Development program was completed. As you can see, it is up to each individual and the strategy they want to build and implement to achieve their professional goals.
Language: You MUST have a strong command of the official language. If we are speaking about 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 communications skills are required to thrive in any field. So, 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 own language. 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 well-defined strategy is needed to find employment. The best 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 newcomers 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 time in enhancing 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 a few minutes for an informational interview.
Consider volunteering as well as doing internships if you can compromise money for the sake of increasing the number of people you know. People who can keep their eye open for you in terms of career opportunities. If you decided 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 positive strong impressions with your classmates. This is paramount because you never know that the person sitting next to you today, could become the next superstar in their professional field tomorrow.
Tolerance: Simple. Be tolerant and embrace diversity; be open to work with people who might be substantially different from you. 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. Forget about pre-conceived ideas or 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 use to overcome such challenges? Ask yourself all these questions and come up with an action plan.
Get involved, ask questions and ask for feedback, be positive, and be nice to everyone! To all employers out there: hire an immigrant, a new Canadian. Give them a vote of confidence as they can make tremendous contributions to your organization. And for all newcomers, welcome to this beautiful land called Canada. Enjoy this country because it allows you to be yourself and live free, which is priceless. Work hard, play hard, and know that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to, no matter how many hurdles you may encounter along the way. I think that makes life fascinating!
Hope + Freedom
David Mendoza is Career Coach, Professor, and Workshop Developer, based in Toronto, Canada. He has extensive experience helping post-secondary students, newcomers, and the public in general in all aspects of career exploration and career development. His detailed profile is available on his website, and on Linkedin.