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Canadian work experience

It’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 into 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.


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

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. 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.


5. 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.