My take on the Canadian Experience!
Let me go back to 2001!
When my husband got laid off in the States by fortune 50 companies, we decided to move to Canada with a Permanent residency (PR) in a brand new financed car with sleeping bags. He had applied for PR as a backup after researching the cost of living.
We met many qualified immigrants in Canada from all over the world including from States. At first, we thought getting a job in Canada will be a piece of cake. My husband graduated from University in States and worked for a couple of years in the IT field. We thought the offers would be pouring in but zero interviews with self-doubt. He still had a student loan to pay from States and a financed car. I remember going to the library to print out the resume for 10 cents/ page and seating in agencies to register for survival jobs. Anything that paid more than the minimum age (7dollar) was an incentive.
Slowly, we had to get used to No Canadian experience rejection. Sitting at home wasn’t an option, I took on a fast-food job through a referral and my husband started a job hunt full time. We moved to a shared house where we shared a kitchen and living room. I learned a few Canadian lingoes and the culture during fast-food days. I picked up many lingoes by watching TV shows such as Friends, Seinfeld, Insider edition, News and so on.
Don't let location/ diverse background/accent/colour/language hold you back!
My message to immigrants
Your today is not your tomorrow
Take a risk
I was called fresh off the boat (FOB) a few times!
I didn't have a clue what that meant. I wore it as a batch of honour. The phrase fresh off the boat (FOB), off the boat (OTB), are sometimes-derogatory terms used to describe immigrants who have arrived from a foreign nation and have yet to assimilate into the host nation's culture, language, and behaviour, but still continue with their ethnic ideas and practices.
How is the work culture in Canada?
The work culture in Canada combines many new norms we are not used to back home. Calling everyone by name without adding sir/madam was a culture. Understanding the language was a hurdle, I had to focus on active listening. Relating to the jokes, slang and humour was harder during real conversations. Honestly, so many times when I watched TV shows/interacted with others, I laughed with others without understanding the humour. I had no idea how Canadian people celebrated Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween felt super weird. I didn’t care to ask either. The first shocker was when people used to open the gifts right in front of me. Back home we never used to open the wrapped gift and say thanks. We would only open the gifts after the guest left. I had to get used to the new norm.
I was too busy mingling with my kind of people during the weekend. I wanted to go back to college to save up for tuition, therefore worked two jobs, one in the morning and the other in the evening at the factory. My husband decided to take on a bridge job in a factory along with me for a couple of months. We saw many Internationally trained professionals in the factory. Same folks who qualified under immigration were not able to bounce back to a similar field in Canada. That is when I knew something is not right, everyone said “ rejected because of No Canadian Experience”.
Never thought our name mattered to get a job interview!
My husband shorten his name on the Resume, which sounded like an English name and got a few interviews and offers. Was that a co-incidence, bias, or discrimination?
'Resume whitening' doubles callbacks for minority job candidates, study finds. Google whitening a Resume and you will see much research on why English names are given the preference. We all have subconscious or unconscious biases and it could start with our names. The problem is not in our names, the problem is with those recruiters and hiring managers who scan the names and don't call qualified career professionals. They need to be trained and audited regularly by employers. There are bad apples in the hiring industry that make immigrant journeys more difficult. Sometimes we need to play the game to win the battle, that's what my husband did 20 years ago. I am not recommending you to change the name to an English name or consider shortening a longer name. I hope the situation has changed now. If you do decide to shorten the name/change it to an English name, I won't judge you. You have bills to pay and family to take care of in a new country. Desperate time desperate measures. You do you!
Person of colour (POC)
I was working in KFC in the morning and the factory at night. My eyes wandered around to scan POC, especially South Asians to hang out with. During a lunch break, I noticed South Asians seating with South Asians, Orientals seating with Orientals, Caribbean seating with the Caribbean talking in their native language. White people had their White tribe. Canadian born and brought up had their tribe too. We all looked for a sense of belonging by talking to our race only, It was blatantly felt. Diversity and inclusion were not the priority topic back in the day. Joining the different tribes other than your race was a gutsy and risky move. You would be labelled as "too Canadian" if you started to mingle with other races i.e white, Canadian-born. Sometimes we need to get away from the immigrant circle and get to know other people too. I wish I started being curious about other cultures sooner. What would other people think has destroyed many dreams.
Trying new things
I was exploring the option and wanted to try new things. Before enrolling in the college, I took on an unpaid apprenticeship with IBM through manpower. I found out through a mutual friend in one party how people are getting Canadian experience by volunteering. There were lots of newcomers to this program. I met many Chinese immigrants who had their names changed to English names. This was a surprise to me. I started understanding the Canadian workplace. I learned the industry lingo, the environment in the call center/ customer service with non-stop calls. I got the award for quality and top sales from IBM. I held on to those certificates like a gold medal.
After the apprenticeship with IBM, CIBC hired me for a seasonal job in the call center through manpower around Christmas. That is when I decided to pursue my career in Customer service and Sales. I went back to college to upgrade my skills. Yes, I had to take English as a second language, ESL courses even though I went to a top school back home. I hung out with other ESL South Asians in college. Whether it was a group project or assignment I knew who was going to pick me/ who I was going to partner with. No white or Canadian-born folks would partner with the majority of immigrants. I remember a white guy asking me for a GPA before partnering for an assignment. I made his list because I had a high GPA. We came first in the assignment and won the champagne award at the college. I kept that champagne with me for years as a trophy. As an immigrant, we get judged all the time and we have to prove over and over that we can compete with people born in Canada.
I started working in Retail sales part-time fully on a commission at Future Shop. I had to meet the quota or else I would be fired. Sales taught me how to deal with rejections and build confidence. I landed a job at the bank right after graduation through a job fair. CIBC offered me a personal banking role, but I declined and went with the new bank ING DIRECT at that time instead, which was a call center and they had no branch. I chose a contact center job instead of sitting in a cubicle at the top bank with aggressive targets. I took a risk and it paid off.
I was lost at the new workplace, this was my first good start in the corporate world from the retail industry. It took me time to adjust to the new environment. Covering my food when heating in the microwave was a new norm for me. Wearing corporate attire when I was size 00 (XXS) was a challenge. I used to shop in the kid's store and hope nobody sees me because it was cheaper and it would fit me perfectly. Making sure that I don't smell like a curry in the elevator was a huge concern. Body spray, deodorant and perfume became my best friend. Canadian culture is not about working in corporate culture. It is about respecting other people's cultures and adjusting to the new lifestyle. At first, I used to be embarrassed eating authentic food in front of others. I tried sandwiches or food without aroma during lunch to fit in. Nobody talked about the smell of cheese but the smell of my home cook curry meal attracted a bunch of conversations during lunch. After a while, I used food to form a relationship/network with others in the corporate world. I would add extra pieces of momo (dumplings) for my seniors, people I liked. Sometimes I would pack it separately and hand it over to the senior leaders. I invited a few of my mentors and seniors for dinner. I was known as a good cook. I used my cooking to fit in, bond, network, and learn.
As much as we talk about diversity and inclusion, immigrants feel left out during holiday seasons. We try to blend by participating but without knowing what exactly to do. During team meetings when they said, "Secret Santa" I had no clue. All I knew was I am supposed to buy a gift and exchange it based on what they said. I never celebrated Christmas. People assume immigrants are supposed to know everything about festivals in Canada right after landing. I had no idea why people used to say "Happy Holidays" "Season's Greeting" instead of "Merry Christmas. Not everyone celebrates Christmas in Canada. If you know someone who would celebrate Christmas then go ahead and wish them Merry Christmas but it is safe to use Happy Holidays to greet your customers/ strangers/ networks without offending anyone. While everyone took a vacation during Christmas, I worked. I didn't celebrate Christmas until my kids started to show interest. In order to ensure that they don't feel left out at school, I started with secret Santa and Christmas tree just a few years ago. This is life as an immigrant, we do things to fit in.
Holidays are the best season to network and build relationships. I noticed Canadians were handing over wine/ gifts to their favourites/ bosses at the workplace during the holiday season. I took advantage of buying a few gifts for my favourite networks and showing appreciation. If you do it genuinely you won't feel icky about buying the gift. You need to learn how to build relationships. Always pay back in kind to those who support you. Holidays are the best to express gratitude. If you want to reach out to strangers for a job search use the networking strategies during holiday seasons. Check out how to network.
Ordering coffee gave me self-doubt
The thought of buying coffee was wasting my hard-earned money. Who pays a dollar for coffee/tea when I can make it myself.
Immigrants from another part of the world where coffee was just sugar & milk with no options. Are you from there? I wrote about this here.
After landing in Canada, ordering coffee gave me self-doubt. I had to figure out what my taste was. How much sugar, cream, milk, and decaf, regular, dark roast, small size, medium, large?.
I was an instant coffee drinker at home and never bought the coffee/tea. Lots of immigrants go through this phase when saving money. I used to carry a small thermos for the night shift. When I was new, I got the afternoon shift which was 3:45 to 12 am. The cafeteria would be closed and there would be no hot water. I decided to make tea/ coffee for me and my night shift close colleagues. One day during team meetings when my manager asked “how would you like a coffee”?, I had no idea how to order from Tim Hortons. She asked “Double double?” the term was new to me, I was nervous, I had no clue. Do you know that feeling? I was embarrassed. I practiced ordering coffee later to avoid embarrassment in future. I didn’t even know they called Tim Hortons, Timmies and there are Timbits. I learned toonies and loonies at fast food, thankfully!
There was too much Canadian lingo to understand. To this day, I don't go to Starbucks to order a coffee, because I don't know how to order and their coffee is too strong for me. To be safe, I order Black coffee/ Americano.
Do you know Canadian lingo?
Eh?-Used in many ways and easily translated as "Pardon?" or "Wouldn't you agree?" Tim hortons = Timmies Double Double(2 creams & 2 sugar), Triple Triple(3 creams, 3 sugars (Tim Horton's, when asking for a coffee) Timbits-The original "donut hole," made by the famous Canadian coffee house Tim Loonie $1, Toonie$2, Quarter 25 cents, Dime-10 cents, Nickel-5cents, Penny-1cent (we round to closest). E.g- for 1 dollar and 2 cents, you pay only 1dollar. If it is 1 dollar and 6 cents, you pay $1& 5 cents $5 note as a fin, a fiver, or half a sawbuck $10 note a ten-spot, a dixie, or a sawbuck $20 note is known as QE2 or a Queen Sheet Call everyone by their first name except with prefix for Dr, Rev - no Sir / Madam The toilet is “washroom "in Canada - “restroom” in States Toque. A type of knit hat with no brim, worn in the wintertime Klicks: Kilometres ( used in the car) Give'r Literally, "give her," again where "her" a task that needs to be done.
During lunch, in the corporate world, I noticed the same things, everyone had their tribe talking in their language. I knew two other languages therefore, I mostly hung out with South Asians. The workplace celebrated everything including Halloween where people used to dress up. I had no idea why I didn’t dress up for years. I looked for my kind of people to talk to and hang out with while Canadians brought up, used to talk about hockey games, basketballs games etc, and I had no clue, and I didn’t care. When they started talking about the topic I had no clue about, I used to feel left out. I used to feel they are ignoring me and there was no sense of belonging.
After 2 years of landing, I decided to self-reflect why am I not trying to learn new things in the new country? was it me? resistance to fit in and change my mindset?
I evolved as an Immigrant
I changed my thought process.
I started looking for people who don’t look like me.
I started going to coffee chats and having lunch with people I barely knew at least once a week.
I started to ask "how was your weekend" more often "what's the plan for a long weekend"
I networked with folks in a different department to learn industry jargon/ language
I started to have small talk with people in the elevator ride, and not look down.
I started to compliment people when they look good instead of staring up and down.
I started attending work events and team outings after hours
I started taking initiative without being asked
I never left the meeting without talking, even if I could slide my last word with a valid opinion, I took that opportunity
I learned how to maintain eye- contact and build confidence when engaging in team meetings
I brought solutions to the table even though it was not part of my job
When there was a talk about hockey or basketball, I knew more details to add on. I watched highlights on the games deliberately, because I knew people at the workplace will be talking about it the next day.
I no longer felt like an outsider. I wish I had an open mind to Canadian culture right after landing. Finally, I felt like Canada was my second home!
When I got promoted to the leadership role, I hired and referred many newcomers and implemented a few things. I partnered new hire newcomer to Canada strategically with someone who has been in Canada. We organized potlucks, international food, international dress events, International festivals, to give them a sense of belonging. I motivated them to dress up for Halloween unless they have a preference not to. Most newcomers were shy to take a part in work events. I could relate, that is why I dressed up and participated all the time as a Manager. We wore the jersey for our supporting team during Hockey, Blue Jays and NBA seasons. It felt good to lead a team of diverse people from all around the world in the top bank. Employers and leaders need to understand the background of employees to lead high-performing teams. Make holiday more inclusive by not just decorating around Christmas. The leadership team could send happy Diwali, Eid Mubarak, etc to the floor. I used to send emails out to my team on most occasions. Canada is bringing new immigrants and the workforce is drastically moving towards diversity and inclusion. Leaders with bias are going to be held accountable or left behind.
It is okay to say "I don't know"
I learned a lot from a corporate leadership culture, especially as a hiring manager and a coach for more than a decade. Whenever I was asked about the topics/ things I had no clue about, I researched and found the answer. I learned to say "I don't know but I will find the answer and get back to you". I learnt to ask " do you have someone who could point me towards the right direction" "could you provide the name of the person who is a subject matter expert in the answer I am looking for". I learnt to say "I don't know, I am not an expert on this topic but here is someone". Something immigrants have challenges saying, we are never taught to say " I don't know".
The perception of people back home when they say "I don't know" was treated differently. In the place I came from, if they are well educated or have a Ph.D., they are automatically considered experts in everything. You will still see many of these so-called experts in the panel within the community in every organization speaking for random topics. One can be an expert for a few things but not everything. Is this a cultural difference?
I have witnessed the challenges newcomers to Canada/ immigrants go through when compared to folks born and raised in Canada. I have hired many newcomers as a hiring manager. During the interview stage, a new immigrant to Canada would hardly say " I don't know" but wing the answer to look good. That approach hurts the credibility. We need to change the mindset that it is okay to say 'I don't know".
Is it bragging when you have a track record?
During interviews, newcomers to Canada lack to demonstrate evidence of their accomplishments. We are taught to not brag about ourselves back home and be humble. We try to deflect from receiving compliments. When you brag about yourselves with evidence it is not bragging. You have proven that you have the skills to get to your dream role. The interview is the time to humblebrag without being arrogant and that's an art of articulating your brand. I have battled all my life deflecting from the compliments, pats on my shoulder and questioning people's recognition. Do they mean it?
At work, when someone said good work for going above and beyond, I thought it was my duty. What's the big deal? it was my job. This is why I struggled to write my performance review and get a raise by not owning my accomplishment. Could this be my culture?
Back home, we were never taught how to act when someone says the good thing about us.
To career professionals, start owning your achievement and lock in the compliment folder. When the time comes, open those and brag about it by adding as a quote. Add those on your LinkedIn about section too. You could also add testimonials to your resume/cover letter.
Lessons I have learned
After working in the corporate world for almost 20 years, as a new immigrant, a hiring manager and a Career Consultant teaching job search strategy is, adapting to Canadian culture shouldn’t be delayed. If you don't do it, nobody will come to do it for you. You don't have to compromise your culture, you just need to adapt and be open to a new culture without giving up your identity. I wasn't aware that my accent changed after working in the corporate world for so long. People started to notice, a few even made fun of my accent, they thought I was trying hard to have a Canadian accent. Speaking in English all day started becoming the new norm. I used to be insecure about my accent, now I celebrate with pride. The fact I speak 3 different languages is already the skills most don't have. Immigrants should be proud of having multiple languages under their belt. You just have to target the right employer who values diversity and inclusion.
Own your accomplishments
Within 12 years of working in an award-winning bank, I was promoted to many different roles at least 9 times and that included special projects. I always thought they did me a favour but I truly know that they saw potential in me to be promoted. Business doesn't do you a favour, your managers don't promote you to make themselves look bad. You have to earn that promotion with hard work. They promote or hire you because you have skills and you will solve their problem. They promote you because they trust your work ethic and you will make your boss look good for his/her next promotion. Your boss's success is your success. Believe in yourself and start having an action plan. Take credit for your accomplishments and celebrate each small win. I share my personal experience and tips below. Keep in mind your boss will make or break your career. you need to learn how to manage up in the corporate world. If your mental health is impacted due to a toxic environment/ bad leadership go where you are celebrated. I know you have bills to pay. plan your exit with a good strategy. That is how Teachndo was born. I resigned from the leadership role and started consulting full-time. I teach do's & don'ts to job seekers. I share my lived and tested career strategy especially to newcomers to Canada, Immigrants, Laid off career professionals and those who are dealing with ageism.
Questions to ask yourself as a newcomer to Canada
· Do you have a marketing plan?
· Are you Jack of all master of none?
· Have you identified your niche?
· Do you know the target market and industry?
· Do you have step by step guide to how to network?
· Have you researched the potential employer’s culture?
· Do you know the hard and soft skills required for the targeted role and are those skills transferable from back home?
· Do you know current trends to put on your resume?
· Do you have accomplishment stories examples for resumes and interviews?
· Have you learned the industry jargon and lingo used by the targeted company?
· Do you have digital footprints which showcase the personal brand?
· Do you have lists of events/ job fairs?
How to get a good job in Canada
1. Learning the Canadian culture takes time but you have to be open to going out and mingle with new people. Don’t do what I did and only look for my kind of people!
2. Practice body language such as eye contact, In certain countries eye contact with a superior, is deemed appropriate. In Canada, not maintaining eye- contact could be a sign of low confidence / not speaking the truth.
3. Build the pipeline of recruiting agencies and job alerts with the right company that values DEI.
4. Volunteer at the right place based on your targeted role not just anywhere. Use them as a reference. Most non-profit would ask for a police report in Canada.
5. Community work has importance in Canada and many employers expect the employee to be part of the future community campaign. When researching companies try to volunteer with the organization they have partnered with. Trust me, you can bring this up later during the interview session to score brownie points.
6. Get more than 4 references handy with phone number and email. Employers have a specific request for a reference. The employer also requests vaccination records in specific health sectors.
7. Have a police record from other countries where you have lived, employers might ask for those reports.
8. Attend webinars, networking events based on your niche market, not every event is important
9. Get to know at least 5 or more people outside of your group or demographic when you go to house parties or events.
10. Take the initiative of introducing yourself by going around round of table with strangers. Don’t wait for others to come to you
11. Learn the small talk, notice people around you during elevator rides, smile and initiate small talk
12. Identify who are the recruiters/agencies in your industry, they all have the niche
13. Learn to send a meeting invite through the calendar without being asked. This is crucial during information sessions or coffee chats, always add a calendar to your meeting. Research about them!
14. Get a credit card to build a credit score, especially if you want to work for a certain industry such as financial services, you need a good credit score. If you are moving from States, you can ask to pull credit scores from states with social security numbers and last addresses.
15. You will hear lots of stories of rejection but you don’t know about their strategy unless you try what works for your industry, own your personal development. Block the noise!
16. Be clear on your niche, this is where most career professionals struggle. Do SWOT on you!
17. Work on the job search strategy, branding on the resume and LinkedIn is important, get help from the right expert
18. Apply for the right role which matches at least 80% of job skills. Stop running after Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and fancy template.
19. Earlier you start networking and implement job search strategy with the right people easier you would be able to crack the dream role
20. Just because someone lived in Canada for years, doesn’t make them an expert at everything. Get advice from someone who worked in the Canadian workforce for years within your niche market or who has hired people like you in Canada!
21. Get advice from someone who has been in your shoes and is in the position where you see yourself in years from now. Talk to people in your industry, not your family and friends who have no expertise in the current market/ workforce
22. Tune out pieces of advice from those who give you One Size Fits All. You need personalized advice based on your targeted role.
23. Getting certificates for an upgrade is valid but if someone tells you that certificates, boot camps, bridging programs, and degrees in Canada guarantee a dream role in a certain timeline, and you don’t have prior experience, think twice! One Size Doesn't Fit All!
Many newcomers to Canada get certificates to go back to banking jobs without realizing it is unnecessary. It all depends on the type of role. I had a recent client who took IFIC (investment course) and she was in the back-office dealing with loan verification/ underwriting. She had no intention to work in sales or dealing with customers. She took on a survival job after getting rejected. The problem was she listened to her friends. She was not clear on a marketing plan and title which is translated from back home. She was targeting the wrong title. Her title back home was a Loan officer and in Canada, the title varied. After working with me and the new title was “ Business Support Officer” she just got hired by a bank, do you get the point?. I knew the banking industry and its lingoes.
24. Research the job title in Canada, what does it translate from back home? Alter those to match! But keep your reference in the loop as to why you changed the title
25. Reviews and advice don’t help if you have no clue about the job market and your niche
26. You are not a jack of all, you are not an expert at everything but only one thing, even though you had have many responsibilities back homes, Canadian employers hire you for one expertise. The sooner, you get this the better
27. I know you are proud of the awesome degree from the top university back home, but I hate to tell you that employers look for experience and accomplishments in Canada. Share stories of how you solved the problem with data. They can see a degree in the resume.
28. Groom yourself by adapting to the role you are trying to get in, take care of body odor and take it easy on perfume/ cologne as few workplaces have a strict policy on scent
29. Know the geographic location, route, highway, transportation, demographic and trends as employers tend to hire someone who knows about their prospects, this applies normally in sales, marketing, consulting etc.
30. Canadian experience is warranted for Canada's regulated industry; therefore, don’t expect to go back to a similar field without the upgrade, tests, certificates, or degrees.
31. Hiring managers hire for the attitude and the fit for their team, so be receptive to constructive feedback. To be forever employable you need a good attitude.
32. Take initiative in the team without being asked, this Is where you get to shine and be on the next promotion list
33. Anyone can bring the problem to the manager, you bring the solution
34. Learn to adjust your tone of voice at the workplace, leaders praise in public and give feedback in private. Always ask for a meeting with a manager if you disagree, come prepare as to why
35. Ask for help earlier on instead of waiting for managers to fix the problem. Communication is the key. Make your boss look good, a good boss will give you credit even when you are not around
36. Learn to say no in a strategic way, you can’t please everyone. I have seen lots of immigrants taking up overtime hours after work/ weekend or stat holiday to please the manager. Put the boundaries of work-life balance. Log out and go home! Work is not a family!
37. After starting in a new company, understand the policy on personal leave, sick leave and vacation. Does it require to get preapproved by the manager or HR? is it based on seniority? Seek approval before booking any vacation as the coverage is impacted.
38. Have a 30-60-90 days plan for the new role and follow through with the manager weekly
39. Adapt to the Canadian style of resume and interview skills
One of my clients was a team leader in the bank back home and he had the picture and personal details on his resume. After he took the resume writing course he got the interviews but lacked the interview skills. He signed up for an interview course, I noticed the gap. On tell me about yourself, he started talking about experience in project management and certification but the role was for the team lead in a call center. Answers for behaviour questions lacked the industry lingo in the call center without a concrete STAR format. After one session he got hired by a bank and was offered a senior team lead role but he had applied for a junior role. Your branding needs to be crystal clear for Canadian employers. Stick to the job description. Know the format of the interview and research about the company/ role.
40. Get help if you are struggling to get hired. Don’t assume you know it all. It is a new job market!