Monday, December 7, 2015

How to get Canadian experience to get Canadian experience?

My Canadian Mugshots

For the last 4 months, I have been on the receiving end of a singular question that I always hope to evade but am seldom able to. I have also been acquiring  plenty of advice, solicited and unsolicited. As a new immigrant in the land of maple leaves, the first challenge I had to face was to find paid work. I realized very soon that to create my space in this competitive job market, I had no choice but to commoditize myself to the best of everyone's advice - in order to be able to answer the only pertinent question my family and friends were asking me time and again: HAVE YOU FOUND A JOB YET?

Here is what I have learnt so far:
  • Brand Yourself: I have gained a wealth of knowledge about employment in Canada from various sources, including but not limited to, employment agencies, previous immigrants, designated mentor, the generational locals, random strangers I have no idea about, and of course the Internet. They all lead to one path that goes through the eminent culture of consumerism. Every product that needs to be sold has to have attractive packaging and loud advertising to begin with. Whether the brand will deliver on its promise or not is something that is crucial but is secondary to sales. First you gotta buy it to try it. The same principle is applied to a candidate seeking employment. Customizing your resume and plugging in keywords is the first step. Do not lie but you may imply is the encouragement from people who know. If you follow this advice and a million others, you might get lucky to get an interview call. A good resource for ensuring that your customized resume is a good fit for the advertised job posting is JobScan, which will identify the compatibility or lack thereof. 
  • The Interview Suit: You must dress for success whether you can afford it or not. Even after
    your interview goes very well in your opinion, you are often faced with polite rejections or scorching silences. With an exceptional resume and myriad of achievements to back up the promise, your pleasant personality, fluent English, and the pricey interview suit, what is the one factor that fails us immigrants time and again? 
  • The Experience of Canada: It is the lack of Canadian experience that is the problem and the solution to itself. The big catch 22 that will dampen your spirits and make you question the design of integration. How can you gain Canadian experience when nobody will give you a chance? How will you get a chance if you don't have Canadian experience? Fortunately, there are mild solutions to this conundrum. There are programs that offer paid internships to skilled immigrants and volunteer opportunities are plenty. These contingencies can give us immigrants an excellent opportunity to network with relevant people and get the elusive Canadian experience on their product offering list, aka resume. Career Edge is an excellent platform for immigrants to find relevant paid internships that may even translate into full time jobs eventually. There are volunteer job boards as well with legitimate volunteer opportunities in various cities. 
  • The Hidden Job Market: Nepotism is a reality that very much exists in Canada. One way to surmount the challenge of not having Canadian experience is to know Canadian experience. How well you network with people who are connected and how much willingness you can ooze out of them to help you depends on luck and your confidence. One good way to network, if not for participating in nepotism then for finding encouragement and guidance, is enrolling in mentorship programs for skilled international professionals [read: immigrants with transferable professional skills]. The program I opted for was Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council [TRIEC] via Humber College. This program has many partners and offers to pair you with relevant mentors for continued support and eventual integration. I was fortunate to find an amazing mentor who works for the City of Toronto as the Director Strategic Communications. Our weekly coffee mornings with animated discussions about culture, policy, people and of course employment are refreshing and have helped me feel like myself again.
It took me 4 months to swallow my ego and accept that I too will have to go through the whole process to earn my way into the consideration set of employers. That is the fortunate and unfortunate challenge for new immigrants no matter how skilled or decorated. I have been volunteering for a non-profit organization in Toronto in the Communications team for the last 3 months. I have an amazing mentor whose company I enjoy and wisdom I absorb. I have a paid internship lined up at the Cabinet Office in the Communications section. I also have a nice interview suit for all future interviews.

Above all, I have a home in a country where I have safety and freedom, which were privileges before and are now my right.

Money? Oh I don't have that. Not just yet!

To see my photo 'The Interview Suit', please visit my art blog.