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Canadian employers, who often do not know how to assess education and work experience from other countries, may require or prefer you to have experience working in Canada. Lack of local market experience can pose a challenge for newcomers, but there are ways to overcome some of these challenges.

When an employer tells you that you have no “Canadian experience” often they mean that they’re not sure if you’re going to fit into their workplace. They are not sure that you are familiar with Canadian codes and standards of practice or that you have the communication skills, etiquette or inter-personal savvy to be an asset to their firm. Employers want friendly, assertive professionals with terrific communication skills who will fit right in and become natural leaders.

You can overcome this barrier and acquire a good understanding of how a Canadian workplace operates by volunteering, meeting people, having a mentor, getting an internship or job shadowing.

Volunteering

Volunteerism is an important part of Canadian society and lifestyle. It helps you settle in faster, make friends, practice skills and even it might lead you – in some cases – to a job at the organization where you are volunteering or somewhere else. Though you cannot volunteer as a lawyer, some volunteering opportunities may be available in alternative areas. You can find these opportunities by contacting your local volunteer centre. As well, you can ask your relatives, friends or colleagues for volunteer opportunities that suit your skills and interests.

Regardless, you should consider volunteering in your community as it is an important tool that helps you practice your communication skills or learn some new technology skills.

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Internship

Internships are an excellent way to gain Canadian experience. One of the well-known internship programs is Career Bridge. It is an innovative program that allows you to apply for paid internships at Canada’s leading private, public or non-profit sector employers. The program offers paid internships of four, six, nine or 12 months for recent immigrants with:

  • fluency in English
  •  at least a Bachelor’s level education
  • a minimum of three years international work experience

The program is run by Career Edge, a not-for-profit social enterprise that has managed over 9,200 paid internships across Canada since 1996.

Another opportunity is the Federal Internship for Newcomers (FIN) Program which provides recent immigrants with valuable temporary Canadian work experience and training opportunities with federal government departments and other public and private sector organizations. Interns are hired as casual employees for 90 working days, with the possibility of extending the internship an additional 90 working days.
Internships are offered in categories such as:

  • policy
  • administration
  • project management
  • computer science
  • communications and science.

A mentor will be provided for the duration of the internship.

Mentoring

It is important to find a practicing or retired lawyer who can coach or mentor you and share information about the legal sector in Canada. Many professional associations or firms offer this type of “buddy” program, where a seasoned member guides a junior one.

As well, many immigrant-serving agencies have mentorship programs where they team up a newcomer with someone in their professional field. The Mentoring Partnership brings together recent skilled immigrants and established professionals in occupation-specific mentoring relationships. The program is managed by the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.

You can also look for mentoring opportunities online, by registering for sites such as MentorCity.

Job shadowing

Not exactly a mentorship or a volunteer opportunity, job shadowing is an interesting way to get some inside information on the legal sector in Canada, know about how the Canadian workplace operates and possibly gain some good networking contacts. This can last anywhere from an hour to an entire day.

Job shadowing is a great way to find out what an hour or a day on your job is like in Canada. It might be hard to find job shadowing opportunities in big law firms; try searching for such opportunities in small to medium firms.