Finding work after immigrating

Finding work after arriving in Canada

Looking for work after you arrive

If you’re tempted to set up your computer a couple days after you land in Canada and start blasting out email resumés to every company in a 25-kilometre radius … stop yourself!

Most immigrants who take this approach find themselves sending out hundreds of resumés with very little — or no — response. They get frustrated, dejected and angry. They question why they are getting no response, but don’t have the answer.

The answer is that they are likely not applying in the “Canadian” way. Maybe their resumé is all wrong for Canadian standards. Or maybe the employers receiving their resumés don’t want to take a risk on a person who just landed, has no knowledge of Canada or its workplace expectations, and may or may not have sufficient language skills.

As you are intending to come to Canada, we also have prepared a Pre-Arrival Checklist of valuable information that will make arriving in Canada as smooth a process as possible.
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Finding a good job in Canada won’t be easy. It’s not even easy for many Canadian-borns in today’s economy. So don’t waste your effort and energy on a job search unless you have a little patience and a lot of information.


Career advice for new immigrants


Plan ahead for your Canadian career

After immigrants land in Canada, they are often surprised by how many barriers they face in getting hired. That surprise comes in part because they were approved to come to Canada based on their education and professional experience — and in industries that are said to be in need of more workers.

Despite an overall Canadian government policy that encourages immigrants in specific fields and professions to come, individual Canadian employers or industries are often risk averse to the unknown. After landing, immigrants who can’t seem to find a job in their field are often given the excuse that they have “No Canadian experience.” And many immigrants then turn to survival jobs like taxi driving or flipping burgers just to support their families.

As you are intending to come to Canada, we have prepared a Pre-Arrival Checklist of valuable information that will make arriving in Canada as smooth a process as possible.
Download the free Checklist

You might think that this won’t happen to you; but the only way to ensure you won’t have the door to good opportunities closed in your face is by planning ahead, before you ever step on a plane. You need to prepare yourself with the realities of the Canadian labour market.


Ready to work in Canada?

Ready to work in Canada?

So how do you get ready to work here? There is no one solution or path to Canadian employment. But there are a few things you need to understand and accomplish now that you’re here.

The first step is researching your particular profession or job industry.

As you are intending to come to Canada, we have prepared a Pre-Arrival Checklist of valuable information that will make arriving in Canada as smooth a process as possible.
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If you didn’t find this out before you immigrated, your first question is: is it a licensed or unlicensed profession?

Licensed vs. unlicensed professions

Immigrant professionals in careers that are licensed in Canada (i.e., doctors, engineers, teachers, accountants, nurses, pharmacists, electricians/trades, etc.) have to get relicensed in Canada, which means examinations or further training. A great government tool to find out more about your profession in Canada is, which will provide you with information on the licensing board that governs your profession in your provincial destination. Your next step is to contact the licensing board in your province (each province will have its own).

The licensing board in question will be able to give you the details on how to get your current credentials evaluated, and then what you will need to accomplish to be licensed in that profession in Canada. You might need to take some additional courses, upgrade your training, take a bridging program or simply pass an examination. Consider that there will be costs involved with all of this as well.

If you are in a field that does not require a licence — i.e., a business manager, human resource manager or even a semi-skilled worker, you don’t have to go through the hassle of relicensure and re-examination with a professional certification body. But you will still face challenges. You may even want to consider getting some additional Canadian schooling or professional development to add to your resumé.

In some cases, you may want to get your educational credentials evaluated (see “Getting my skills recognized?” Credentials Recognition).

You should also research if there is a professional member association linked to your industry that you can join and start making those connections as soon as possible. Use the internet and social media to start making connections with people in your new country.

Next steps toward work

Once you know what type of challenges you’re facing in your particular industry, you need to find some additional support. Immigrant settlement agencies or job search centres are designed for just such purposes. They will have programs to help you Canadianize your resumé, teach you about Canadian expectations for cover letters, interviews and networking.

But that’s just the beginning. You will need an arsenal of success strategies to get the job you want. This may include spending time volunteering to get Canadian experience, networking, finding a mentor and more. Basically, your full-time job now is finding a job. Treat your job search like you would an important business project: set goals, plans and go for it.

Perhaps the most important thing is keeping a positive mindset. The minute you become too cynical and negative, you will project that to potential employers and others who could connect you with said potential employers. Yes, you are experiencing a transition penalty in your career because you immigrated, and it’s frustrating, but the ones who successfully get beyond this are those that can stay determined and optimistic.

Priority occupations

Priority occupations in CanadaIf you immigrated to Canada as a skilled worker based on the list of 26 occupations considered priority occupations by the Canadian government, you may be in a for a surprise … finding a job may not be as easy as you think, even though there is an apparent need for workers in your field.

The 26 occupations range from cooks to doctors, and are based on the Canadian National Occupational Classification (NOC).

This list was created based on labour needs in Canada. It is common knowledge, for example, that Canada has a shortage of medical professionals and skilled tradespeople, which is why doctors and electricians appear on this list. But, as a new immigrant, you need to be aware that meeting the needs of Canada’s labour market on paper is entirely different from actually working in your field after you come to Canada.

That’s because while the list was created based on research of Canada’s labour needs, it hasn’t taken into account the licensing and credential barriers immigrants face in many of the 26 professions listed, many of which require a Canadian licence or accreditation. So, for those doctors or electricians who get their immigration to Canada approved based on their profession being on the “list,” they’ll land here with only the “potential” to practise in those fields, as they will have to undergo examinations, relicensing and more to practise those professions in Canada.

As you are intending to come to Canada, we have prepared a Pre-Arrival Checklist of valuable information that will make arriving in Canada as smooth a process as possible.
Download the free Checklist

Getting Canadian work experience

Canadian work experienceIt’s not uncommon for an immigrant to be denied a job because they have “no Canadian experience.” Great, so how do you get some of that Canadian work experience if no one will give you your first job? It can be a vicious cycle.

Often, what employers mean when they say you have “no Canadian experience” is they’re not sure if you’re going to fit in to their workplace. They are not sure you will have the communication skills, etiquette or inter-personal savvy to be an asset to their firm. Even introverts and shy people have a hard time getting hired for this reason, Canadian-born or not. Employers want friendly, assertive professionals with terrific communication skills who will fit right in and become natural leaders.

We have prepared a Pre-Arrival Checklist of valuable information that will make arriving in Canada as smooth a process as possible.
Download the free Checklist

There are several strategies you can employ to prove that you are such a person and to get that elusive first experience to put on your resumé and increase potential employers’ confidence in you, including the following.

1. Get any survival job, from dispensing coffee at your local Starbucks to doing telemarketing sales. While not everyone agrees a survival job is a good strategy, as many people tend to get stuck in them for years to pay the bills, it can be helpful if you have an exit strategy, using it to gain enough experience to show you can fit nicely into a Canadian workplace setting (i.e., a nice reference letter from your manager will certainly help reveal your personality strengths!)

2. Get reference letters. While reference letters from old employers in your country of origin are always good, try to get reference letters from professional people you know in Canada who you’ve met along the way. Maybe a counsellor you met at an immigrant settlement agency or your neighbour who is a successful entrepreneur. Someone who can speak about your soft skills and attitude, even if they haven’t worked with you directly.

3. Volunteer to get experience. There are many not-for-profit organizations that depend on volunteers. This could be anything from volunteering at a local film festival as an usher, to, better yet, volunteering your professional services to an organization that could use them. For example, if you’re a marketing professional, why not volunteer to do some free marketing work for a local charitable foundation?

4. Similarly, you can become a member of an industry professional association and volunteer with them. For example, that same marketing professional can volunteer with the association’s board and help create its quarterly newsletter or update its Twitter page. You now have marketing experience in Canada.

5. Become a consultant! If you have a skill to sell, print up some business cards and set up a quick, but still professional, website using a free online web creator tool. Boom — you’re an instant self-employed person. Using the same example of the marketing professional, you can upload samples of your work onto your website and start looking for freelance jobs. Go to websites like or industry-specific websites to find postings for freelance work. You can also send a nice pitch email letter to prospective clients you’d like to work with. Don’t get disheartened if you receive no response. It’s a good idea to follow up on such an email pitch with a phone call or one follow-up email, but remain polite and professional.

6. Offer to work for free. Not the same as volunteering for an organization that regularly uses volunteers, offering a potential employer to work on a trial basis (i.e., six weeks) without pay to prove your worth may be just the thing to convince him/her to give you a shot. Then, show them what you can do! If they want to put you on salary after, that’s wonderful! If they decide against it, at least you have gotten some of that Canadian experience and maybe a better understanding of why you’re not getting hired.


Interview techniques

Interview techniquesIf you make it to the interview stage, you’re doing well. That means the employer believes you have the skills for the job; the interview is more about assessing your attitude and personality.

You should arrive for an interview about 10 minutes early, as many companies will ask you to complete an official job application form before your interview. This is always the case with agencies.

We have prepared a Pre-Arrival Checklist of valuable information that will make arriving in Canada as smooth a process as possible.
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Prior to any interview, review the advertised job description so you know precisely what the employer is looking for, and research more about the company online. Practice a number of brief presentations outlining your experience, education, training and skills, and how you can contribute to the company.

Prepare concrete examples that show off your skills. Don’t just say you’re a great management accountant, tell them how you saved your last company millions of dollars with your strategic plan.

You should also prepare some answers to the questions the employer may ask you. The following questions are fairly standard in most interviewing situations, so you should be ready to answer them.

1. “Why did you leave your last job?”Never speak negatively about the company or anyone in it. Speak honestly about your desire to expand your horizons to Canada.
2. “Tell me about yourself.” Provide a review of your experience in this field, your achievements, your education and related training.
3. “Why do you want to work for our company?” You must show that you are particularly interested in this company and its goals.
4. “What are your greatest strengths?” If you have great communication skills or leadership strengths, this is the time to bring them up. Also, don’t be shy to mention how you can bring an ethnic market advantage to your work, by connecting the company with international opportunities and local ethnic communities.
5. “What are your weaknesses?” For weaknesses, you obviously don’t want to give a list here, but perhaps you might mention something like “I’m a bit of a perfectionist,” or “I’m a bit of a workaholic.”
6. “What starting salary do you expect?” A good response is, “What does this position pay?” You can then tell them what you hope to earn. You might want to add that you would be willing to start at a lower salary on a trial period.
7. “Do you have any questions for us?” Always say yes! Your questions, while designed to provide you with answers, will also provide the interviewer with some valuable information about you and your interest in the company. Even if all your questions were answered in the interview itself (which they may be), come up with some questions about the company’s future goals, what their ideal candidate is, etc. But don’t ask about administrative matters like vacation time. You can ask such questions after you’re offered the job!

Creating a good first impression

There are certain expectations employers have for an interview, as follows.

1. Dress appropriately. While your wardrobe is a personal matter during your leisure time, at a job interview your clothes and grooming should be professional and clean. A simple business suit will rarely fail you for an office or bank job. For more creative positions, you can add a little more flair. For retail and labour jobs, more casual (but still clean!) attire is acceptable.
2. Be confident. Sit and stand up straight, speak firmly, shake hands firmly upon meeting and leaving, and look directly at the person asking the questions.
3. Make small talk. A bit of small talk at the beginning of the interview — about the weather or some recent news story — can sometimes relax both parties.
4. Thank the interviewer. A short note of thanks to the employer following the interview might set you apart from the other candidates. Even if you don’t get the job, the employer might remember your good manners when another job comes up.

Resume writing (Video)

Resume WritingOne of the most important things you will need to do in the first stages of your job search is to create a resumé, which may be different in Canada than in your country of origin.

Did you know Canadian resumés shouldn’t have personal information like your marital status or age? There are many free services at immigrant settlement agencies in Canada that can help you adapt yours to Canadian standards after you land.

We have prepared a Pre-Arrival Checklist of valuable information that will make arriving in Canada as smooth a process as possible.
Download the free Checklist

If you have a very difficult name to pronounce, someone may suggest to you that you create a Canadianized version of your name as well. Or at least a nickname! Several Canadian university studies have proven that some employers show bias against resumés where the applicant’s name sounds too foreign. This is a very personal decision, and you need to weigh the pros and cons for you.

What a Canadian resumé should contain

Although there are many formats for resumés, they all should contain the following.

1. Your full name, address, telephone number, fax number and email if available.

2. The position being sought or your overall career objective.

3. A summary of your education, including the names of any schools or institutions you’ve attended, the name of diplomas or certificates you’ve received, and the dates they were granted.

4. A summary of your job history, with an emphasis on the skills you utilized and accomplishments.

5. A list of any skills and talents you have that will help you do the job you’re applying for. (Because Canadian employers may not be able to relate to your foreign work experience and education, a breakdown of what you are capable of doing is helpful.)

Whatever your job focus, you will need to be clear on the qualities you can bring to that job in order to sell yourself to a prospective employer. It’s recommended you start your resumé off with a strong career objective/profile at the top of the first page, followed by a breakdown of your skills/talents with concrete examples. Then list your job experience and educational credentials on page two.

In addition to organizing your resumé properly, ensure that it contains no grammatical errors or spelling mistakes, and that it looks professional from a design viewpoint. When faced with a stack of resumés, a prospective employer may judge a potential candidate based on the first impression a resumé gives off. One spelling mistake could mean your resumé is going right into the recycling box. If your English skills are not perfect, ask someone to proofread it, not only for typos, but also for awkward phrasing.

Also, keep it brief; your resumé should be a maximum of two pages.

Finally, do not include your age, gender, race or marital status on your resumé.

Don’t forget the cover letter

Every resumé you submit should also be accompanied by a one-page cover letter. The letter should be addressed to a specific person and should be tailored to a specific job.

Focus the cover letter more on demonstrating your knowledge of the company and how well you’ll fit in or how you can benefit the company, rather than just summarizing your past experience.

Many hiring managers may not even read your resumé if your cover letter doesn’t capture their attention!


Job finding

Job findingFor most job seekers, a good place to start looking for a job is the nearest community employment centre. This is a great resource for finding job leads and tips.You can also look for job openings in classified advertisements and online job boards. Larger organizations post their openings online and even have online application forms.

We have prepared a Pre-Arrival Checklist of valuable information that will make arriving in Canada as smooth a process as possible.
Download the free Checklist

There are also many staffing agencies you can connect with, some that focus on temporary work and others who are hired by employers to take over the hiring process for them.

But don’t forget about the all-important networking. Many jobs are filled by word of mouth before they are never listed on a job board. This is called the “hidden job market” in Canada. People get hired because they know someone and hear there’s an opening coming up. That’s why it’s critical for you to start networking, join associations, volunteer — just get out there and meet people who could potentially lead you to a job.