The problem with jobs

Catch-22: You can’t get that first job without Canadian experience

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From the November 2011 issue of the magazine.

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immigrants01_322MoneySense also prepared a checklist to  guide newcomers on what they should do during their first weeks in Canada.

My first job was in Canada was a bouncer in a club,” recalls Fernando Margueirat, now a 37-year-old living in Toronto. It was quite a departure, considering he was an experienced IT manager back in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Margueirat came to Canada to build a better life, but instead he found that without Canadian experience, he couldn’t get work in his field. “I took the job as a bouncer because I thought it would be better than sitting at home doing nothing. Any opportunity to build Canadian experience is going to pay off in the long term.”

After several years working in various “survival jobs,” such as working in a Spanish-speaking call centre, a friend told Margueirat about an IT job opening at the National Ballet of Canada. Having some Canadian experience and a contact at the company helped him get the job. “I was finally given a chance and a huge door was opened for me,” he says. “Getting this job completely changed my view of Canada. My company has a great work environment and they’ve given me many opportunities to grow.”

The language barrier

Language is often the biggest obstacle for newcomers. Nick Noorani, immigrant entrepreneur and author of Arrival Survival Canada, says that many think they’re well equipped if they speak some English, but they don’t realize that their beginners’ grasp of the language won’t cut it in a professional environment. “They don’t understand the level of English required is different than the level of English they might have spoken in their home country,” he says.

It’s not just learning how to speak clearly—newcomers need to master the subtleties of business communication as well. For example, Noorani describes how one newcomer, who wanted to emphasize the importance of his skills, sent out his resume in ALL CAPS, which comes across as “shouting” and was sure to turn off employers. To learn how to communicate better in a business environment, Noorani urges newcomers to take advantage of free language and employment services offered by government-sponsored immigrant settlement services.

Immigrant entrepreneurs

Newcomers often start their own small businesses so they can take advantage of their specialized knowledge, have more control over their career—and sidestep some of the discrimination that can exist in established Canadian companies. A good way to get off the ground is to take advantage of various government-funded local business centres that help entrepreneurs. Juan Guido, an immigrant from Colombia, for instance, is working with Service d’aide aux jeunes enterprises du Montreal Centre to launch a food import/export business. “You get some grants from the government and get assistance on writing your business plan,” says Guido. “I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to start a business.”

Building a network

Entrepreneurs and professionals alike need to make efforts to build up their network of contacts. By going to industry events and networking online, immigrants are more likely to hear about unadvertised jobs and business opportunities.

Salil Shah, a 31-year-old marketing manager in North Vancouver, B.C., used the online social network LinkedIn to land his first job in Canada. Shah, who is originally from India, was working in the U.S., but he wanted to come to Canada because it would be easier to bring his parents here. He applied for a job at a Vancouver technology company that had a business relationship with his California firm, but he got no response. “Eventually, I contacted someone at the company through LinkedIn who was able to get in touch with the hiring manager,” says Shah. “I did an interview and got a job offer. Most people who come to Canada start by looking for job. I was very lucky—I had one already.”

Finding yourself a mentor is another great way to expand your network and get advice. “I once contacted someone who was interviewed in the newspaper and I asked if I could buy him lunch,” says Noorani. “He’s still my mentor today.” For entrepreneurs, he advises hiring a coach on an hourly basis to help create a business program.

Volunteering is another way to meet new people and gain valuable Canadian experience. When Sobia Ali came to Canada from Pakistan, she wasn’t able to find a job, so she started volunteering at her local employment centre. “Volunteering isn’t as common back home. It’s something I learned here,” she says. “Some people questioned why I was working without getting paid, but I knew I was doing the right thing.”

A few months later, a contact Ali met through networking told her about a temporary job with the federal government. She got the gig, which she later leveraged into a permanent position. Since then she’s worked at a variety of government departments, including Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, a position she got thanks to her volunteering experience.

Read the next part in the series: Borrowing time

Our sister site, Advisor to Client, also has financial information for new Canadians in ChineseHindi and Punjabi.

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