Supporting Newcomers to Canada
As a career professional, you may have had inquiries from prospective clients who have recently immigrated or relocated to Canada. These individuals are undergoing a professional transformation at the same time they are adapting to life in a new country and the Canadian economy. One of the key differentiators of this client group is that they are not only managing a career transition in their first year of settling in Canada, but all of the other social and personal adjustments that are necessary. They are busy seeking a new social environment, establishing a home, helping their family members or children adjust, exploring their new city or town, learning new administrative processes and laws, and taking care of their health — all at the same time. The overwhelm and fatigue are real. But, we can boost their confidence as we help them focus on their achievements, home in on the jobs they are qualified for, and prepare to expand their professional network in Canada. Career practitioners play a big part in a successful transition when we support newcomers to Canada.
As a bit of background, my passion for this work has a personal element to it. I moved to Canada after living in other countries. I worked as an English teacher with ~700 students who were new to Canada at the time. Today, I continue supporting newcomers to Canada as a career coach and résumé writer. Everyone’s situation is different and each person is at a unique stage of the journey to find work in Canada.
Researching the Canadian job market from another country
These are the professionals who are preparing to move and perhaps are applying from abroad. Their key concerns are: what does a Canadian résumé look like; should they be applying from abroad or once they relocate; what is the best way to start conversations with employers; should they start with roles below their current level to gain ‘Canadian experience’?
For these professionals, I recommend preparing their career documents and completing as much research as possible while they are abroad. Then, they’re ready to start applying for work once they actually arrive. Career documents may go beyond a résumé to include cover letters, thank you letters, and networking messages. Some individuals may benefit from English business writing courses. A lot of professional exchanges happen via email, so knowing proper email etiquette and how to be concise are valuable skills.
A LinkedIn profile is indispensable. A list of professional associations and 30+ target employers will go a long way. Once these clients get to Canada, I recommend they look through their career preparation materials and start acting. What looks interesting and appealing on paper may look different once they have an up-close look. They should always research the companies they’re interested in before applying.
I also advise targeting their ideal roles, but being flexible, too. There is no automatic requirement to step down to an entry-level role just because they are new to the Canadian labour market. Only after they’ve looked for roles that are a fit for their skill set and industry experience should they embark on “Plan B” — targeting roles that are still stimulating, but which allow for some flexibility, learning, and growth.
Reaching out to potential employers from abroad may be justified in particular industries where competition is low. When there are few people with your client’s specific qualifications, there is a higher probability they’ll receive responses from interested employers. If your client is in a profession where competition is high, applying from abroad may not be a great use of their time as employers may want to meet in person. Your client will know their industry best and should make the decision about reaching out from abroad based on their experience in the field. Networking via LinkedIn is always a good practice to build connections, no matter the location.
Starting from the ground up
These professionals will say, “In my country, I was [a teacher, a nurse, etc.].” Some of them may be undergoing a shift in professional identity and may be looking for survival jobs, recertification, or short-term college courses. In a way, they’re starting from zero. They sense the loss of their previous status and/or profession.
Remind them that they never lose their profession completely. It is certainly fine to say “I was XYZ” if the exit from the profession was voluntary. However, if the loss of profession was not a personal choice, “I was a teacher” can be restated as “I am a teacher by education” or “My professional background is in teaching secondary school mathematics” or “I have been a secondary school math teacher for 12 years in [country of origin] and right now I am looking into pivoting into [engineering/computer science/coding/software development].” This mindset will encourage them to focus on the continuity of their career and professional advancement.
Guide these clients to articulate all the related disciplines, roles, and industries they are excited to learn about. Doing an assessment of personal preferences and work skills — like the one suggested in What Color is Your Parachute? — may help them define their direction.
A “survival job” may be a part of this experience. All work is necessary and noble and can be enjoyable. As a career coach, you can guide your clients in targeting respectable work where there will be sufficient pay, leadership support, positive attitudes, benefits — and zero abuse of their labor due to any bias.
Finding a path after a setback
Some of these clients may have been selected for competitive international programs and gained advanced degrees in the US or Europe. Sometimes, these enriching experiences may be followed by setbacks that are beyond their control; for example, global economic or political situations, family issues, or financial circumstances. They may simply make a personal choice to return to their home country. Many of my clients have had these experiences, but are now interested in pursuing opportunities in Canada. These individuals may need help constructing a coherent narrative of their career-to-date. Thinking their background is too complicated to be appealing to employers, they may be focusing on lower-level roles vs. the positions they are qualified for. Supporting these newcomers to Canada often involves bolstering their confidence and feelings of self-worth.
Help them articulate their value, transferrable skills, and achievements, moving away from thinking about gaps or setbacks. The target employer may not even see them as setbacks. Focus on their best achievements (recent and older), including being top performers in their previous cohorts or being selected competitively for international academic programs. Coach them to apply for higher-level roles that they can do easily or with some on-the-job training. Emphasize the importance of choosing and researching employers carefully and being prepared for interviews with knowledge of the company (to show motivation).
You may also want to give these clients a larger overview of the career development process so they do not just focus on online job applications but understand their career advancement as a larger plan including their brand, networking, company research, interviewing skills, salary negotiation, and maintaining a positive mindset throughout the search.
Maintaining a higher-level role in a new setting
I have worked with higher-level executives in a particular industry (auto, for example) who were unwilling to try other industries in Canada even though they are unable to gain an equivalent role in Canada. In this case, a client might be guided to shift focus from maintaining their status to building interest and curiosity about a number of different industries in Canada.
They could change roles within the same industry (potentially looking into lower-level roles) or change industries aiming for a leadership role. It may be worth examining industries that are more welcoming, less regulated, or simply booming and therefore open to hiring people with transferable managerial, sales, marketing, or operations skills. Encourage these clients to explore professional associations and attend industry events to meet people face-to-face and talk about the state of the industry.
Recommendations for supporting newcomers to Canada
When supporting newcomers to Canada, work to instil a mindset of pride in all that has already been accomplished and learned: planning for a complex life change, the immigration process, physical relocation, intercultural awareness, resettling one’s family, working or studying internationally, using a new language, and learning new administrative processes. These are all significant, high-level skills and achievements! A temporary absence of employment should not erase, in the minds of your clients, all they have previously achieved. Coach them to embrace professional development and growth. Encourage them to be open to expanding their professional horizons and cheer them on as they strive to nurture and steward the continuity of their story.
- Advise clients to join one or two professional associations as one of their first steps (before or soon after relocating).
- Encourage them to build a list of resources in their target industries (print and online publications, key universities or colleges with well-established courses, specialized job boards, Facebook or LinkedIn groups with quality content, local chapter meetings, volunteer opportunities).
- Help your clients create a list of 30+ target employers and teach them about the tools they can use to research these companies.
- Assist them in developing a list of job titles they can target (including all the variations in name of that job title so they can search job boards effectively and subscribe to email alerts).
- Encourage clients to start networking to learn about companies they’re interested in before applying for a job.
- Emphasize the importance of interview training. Clients should seek out any and all resources they can in this area. They might practice with a friend or colleague, take advantage of free services for new immigrants, or secure the services of a professional interview coach. Attitude and confidence are important.
Tanya Mykhaylychenko is a résumé writer and copyeditor with a background in university teaching. She is a member of ACES: The Society for Editing.