Do you need Canadian experience to get a job?

 “No one is hiring me since I don’t have local Canadian experience” or “They chose to hire another candidate with Canadian experience“. Most newcomer discussion forums are filled with such talks and it is worthwhile to take a closer look at this. Do you know that it is illegal for any Employer in Ontario to ask for local Canadian experience for a job unless it is a ‘legitimate’ job requirement? Most jobs don’t have that. Any interviewee who is asked such questions can officially report it to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario at 1-866-598-0322. Asking for local Canadian experience is considered a ground for discrimination and so are questions about your age, race, ancestry, colour, place of origin or ethnic origin. Most interviewers from large established organizations are seasoned and mature enough to avoid such questions. Here is a recent judgement by the Human Rights Tribunal where it held that an Ontario law firm discriminated against an applicant because of his age and race, and by failing to investigate his discrimination complaint. Despite having such tough laws and effective human rights redressal mechanisms, there are frequent articles like this one : Canada among top countries for racist hiring in 9 country survey. Thus a key question for a new immigrant looking for employment becomes- Are their any Canadian experience related hiring biases and if yes- how to overcome them?

When searching for a job in Canada, one can be filled with so many distraught emotions. A very expensive city that Toronto is, you quickly go down on your savings and definitely miss the social support system of your friends and family. Faced with rejections during few initial interviews, it is very easy to get mired in negative thoughts. The problems are further compounded as there is a myth floating around that it is impossible to land a competitive job without local Canadian experience. Such problems are primarily a result of an inadequate understanding of the Canadian job market. A lot of newcomers have been able to secure a job inline with their past experience, probably at one level below, but their stories are not well known. Before you get bogged down with the lack of Canadian experience, let us understand what it is about.

Put yourselves into the shoes of a hiring manager. Canada has a very effective legal and human rights system and the employees here really understand their rights. Organizations usually take action when a complaint is filed and it is taken seriously. Lawsuits can quickly become a very expensive proposition and there are very high costs to reaching a settlement. Therefore companies are very careful in complying with all legal requirements and go to great lengths to protect themselves. One such mechanism is to ensure that a person who is being hired displays enough maturity and understanding in-line with the cultural expectations from a co-worker. When I was new here, someone told me that calling a woman a ‘lady’ is not considered polite. The possible connotation being that calling a woman ‘lady’ implies advanced age. Of course, it does not help that most employers are always looking for ‘young’ talent. Now these are small cultural nuances that you only learn when you live and work here for a few years or there is someone who can tell you this stuff. Unfortunately, Canadian culture does not have an ethos of ‘correcting’ others and hence no one will actually tell you these things. Displaying cultural competency becomes even more important in roles where you have to deal with other co-workers like HR professionals or managing a team. 

Another key ethos of Canadian society is humility. Most Canadians are extremely polite to hold the door open for you and don’t hesitate to say ‘sorry’. People are grateful for what they have and there is an expectation to give back to society. The best way to experience these cultural nuances and build a perspective is by working as a Volunteer. Working with people from different cultural backgrounds is an enriching experience and certainly helps build some cultural competencies. Employers look favorably at volunteering experiences on your resume when making a hiring decision. Thus it is worthwhile considering a volunteering activity to get that ‘Canadian experience’ on your resume. 

I see a lot of newcomers posting their half-hearted appeals on social forums like ‘I am an MBA looking for a job. Any leads will be appreciated/please refer me’. It merely shows a lack of adequate understanding of the Canadian employment landscape. I have not seen anyone getting hired for competitive roles through such attempts. Here one has to literally run after hiring managers trying to convince them of one’s ability to add value. If you won’t, someone else will. A lot of locally educated students offer to intern for free just to gain that experience and demonstrate their utility. One is best placed to reach out to members in their profession on a 1-to-1 basis and sell skills, experience and ability to add value. Doing that may take many weeks or months depending upon the profession one is in. If someone really likes you, then they may refer you for a role internally. More times than not- a relevant referral would get you an interview. Do not dilute your efforts by thinking that you lack Canadian experience but focus on bridging those competencies and generating referral connections.

A lot of newcomers spend most of their time trying to sell their hard skills. Coming from an extremely competitive country like India, I can relate to that. There you get hired primarily for your technical skills. But ask anyone who has faced a couple of interviews in Canada- behavioral questions are the key element. Especially because employers won’t hesitate to fire you if you unable to demonstrate desired technical competencies once on the job. So the next time you go on a coffee chat- try to strike a balance. I don’t see this as a wrong or right way but a mutually beneficial way. Your hard skills are valuable and the Canadian economy needs them. Your way of showing respect to a new culture could simply be making some efforts to really understand what it is about.

The need to educate newcomers on these issues is one of the reasons for founding

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Experli aims to provide expert local insights to newcomers to Canada in their employment and settling related needs. The idea is to build a central resource repository for newcomers to help them integrate well into the Canadian society. Lets us pave the way for a happier society and help unlock the potential of youth to support Canadian economic prosperity.

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