Starting a career as a new immigrant to Canada
Plan to Succeed
For most people, success does not happen by accident – it often requires a plan and consistent work towards implementing that plan. Employment and career development tends to be an especially daunting aspect of the migration process but the good news is that the Canadian government has programs in place to assist these transitions.
The employment experience differs from person to person, and can often hinge on whether one belongs to a regulated profession or not. Success stories abound, and we have encountered several people (including ourselves) who experienced one or other of the following in pinning down employment:
- secured employment prior to arrival
- obtained a certification in Canada or went through a license conversion process, because they belonged to a regulated profession (note that some professions require an internship period in addition to the foregoing)
- enrolled in an educational program to increase job prospects or to make a career switch always intended
- engaged in a government funded internship program
- applied and secured employment following arrival
It is important to understand that there is no single template for career transition into Canada. We find the below very useful to help in determining the best path, and you should feel free to use as many of these as you would like. Furthermore, if you ever considered a career change, there’s no better time than now! For more information, see Getting a Jobsection of this page.
The key to a successful career in Canada is to never give up. As the lyrics of the sound track go, in the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, “The Sound of Music”, “Climb every mountain, search high and low, follow every byway, every path you know. Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, till you find your dream.”
We sincerely hope you achieve your dreams in Canada.
By the following articles, we seek to share what we have learned from our experiences and those of other immigrants.
Pre-arrival career preparation
Your career preparation should start before you arrive in Canada. There are several pre-arrival agencies that connect you with organizations in Canada that offer pre-arrival and post arrival career services. If you are yet to arrive in Canada, please refer to the pre-arrival section of this site, register and participate in a pre-arrival program. It is key to reach out to all the agencies you are referred to and, if you have a spouse, they should also participate in the program.
When applying to jobs before arrival, simply indicate the date of your arrival in the cover letter.
The following are either essential or useful to have before obtaining employment after you arrive in Canada:
- Social Insurance Number (SIN): You should obtain a SIN upon arrival in Canada, as this will be essential for employment. Please refer to the Social Insurance Number article on the arrival page for more details.
- Bank Account: If you had not opened a bank account prior to arrival, it is advisable to open one after you arrive so your salary can be directly credited.
Resume and Cover Letter Writing
The standard length for Canadian resumes is 2 pages while the standard cover letter is 1 page. This can come as a surprise, and one of us had to compress a pre-existing 7-page curriculum vitae to comply with this rule! As the name implies, a resume is a brief account, and this is the preferred application document in Canada, along with a cover letter.
The question on your mind next might be, “how do I compress my curriculum vitae or existing resume without losing vital details?”. The secret is in “resume tailoring”. After extracting non-essential details such as elementary school education and that job at the bar to help pay for your dorm at college, ensure your resume has and uses key words from the job description. Many immigrant-serving organizations assist with resume building.
The importance of a cover letter cannot be over emphasized as it show-cases why you are the person for the job. Keep in mind that you may be competing with over 1000 people who have similar skills. We would encourage you to highlight your accomplishments, particularly those that did not make their way into your resume. Give the recruiter a reason to want to meet with you. As you prepare the cover letter, ask yourself the following questions: Why should the recruiter invite me for the interview?’ What is so special about me? “What makes me the best person for the job”? Review your finished resume and cover letter, and confirm you have done your best self-marketing before you submit.
In terms of the number of applications to send each day, it is advisable to apply to as many jobs as possible. You should not apply an artificial cap on the number of applications you make and, frankly, the more quality applications you have out there, the higher your chances of securing an interview. Just ensure your skills match the job description and ensure to tailor your submission to each role.
Reach out to immigrant serving organizations/newcomer service centers using the link below for assistance with resume and cover letter writing, elevator speech and interview preparation.
Newcomer (Post-Arrival) Services
The Canadian government funds several post arrival services (newcomer services). These organizations help to facilitate the transition process and touch on services like employment, language assessment/training, refugee services, daily life etc. If it is an immigration related issue/concern, there is likely to be an agency that can help out, and you are free to consult with multiple agencies. For instance, one of us simultaneously worked with ACCES Employment, JVS Toronto and The Centre for Education and Training (TCET) and ultimately got an internship opportunity via Career Edge. The support rendered by the newcomer centres is simply amazing and we know several immigrants who can attest to that. Use the link below to locate a newcomer service close to you.
Careers That Require Licensure
There are certain jobs that require a Canadian license before you can practice. Quick to mind are Medicine, Law, Engineering, Nursing, Architecture, Accounting, etc. If you already have a license to practice in another country, it helps to find out if Canada has a “Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA)” with the licensing country.
If you are in a regulated profession, it is advisable to find an alternative job in your field while you work on getting your license. Use the link below to determine if you require a Canadian license to practice or if an MRA exists. Please contact the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials (CICIC) if you have any questions.
- CICIC – Directory of Occupational Profiles
- CICIC Contact Information
- Alternative Jobs in regulated fields
Research has it that Canada faces a shortage of one million tradespeople by 2020, as many people in that field will be retiring. Peter Harris, editor-in-chief of Workopolis says, “There is an incredible amount of opportunity in the trades industry in Canada right now”. “The average age of welders is 57, and large numbers of trades workers across the board are also into their 50s.”
For immigrants looking for a second career or a career change, a skilled trade has lots to offer.
Skilled trades are divided into four main categories:
- Motive Power
Use the link below for more information about skilled trades. Also contact an immigrant-serving organization near you for more details.
We cannot overemphasize the importance of LinkedIn to your job search process. For those who do not know what LinkedIn is, it is a social media platform for professional networking.
Several recruiters search for candidates on LinkedIn. There is also a job section on LinkedIn where you can apply for job. For one of us, the first job interview in Canada was through a recruiter on LinkedIn, via unsolicited contact from the recruiter. As most recruiters will search for you based on your location, remember to change your location on LinkedIn upon arrival in Canada.
Every employee in Canada has rights that must be respected. These rights exist both at a federal and provincial level. If you feel you have not been treated fairly by your employer, please contact the Ministry of Labour in your province or territory or visit a Service Canada Centre close to you to talk to a federal government labour affairs officer.
The human rights law also protects employees from being treated unfairly due to their age, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability.
Please use the links below for more information about Canadian workplace standards and visit the “working in” section of each province/ territory for more details about the labour laws of the province/ territory.
- Workplace Standards
- Federal Labour Standards
- Workplace Health and Safety
- Government of Canada’s Labour Program
- Moving Within Canada To Work
Canada Workplace Culture
Every society has its norms and ways of doing things. If you are a new immigrant, you must have heard of the “Canadian experience” requirement. We believe this is simply the way employers ensure that prospective employees will conform in behavior and communication to Canadian workplace culture. A reference from a Canadian employer, or evidence of Canadian training, usually achieves this. If you remember that, in general, Canadians are not heavy risk takers; this helps you understand their position.
You may be wondering how the employers expect you to get “Canadian experience” being a new immigrant. First, it is important to note that there is nothing legally known as “Canadian experience” so you will find some employers do not apply this requirement. In addition, there are internship and volunteer opportunities that can give you the experience you need and a reference to kick-start your career in Canada. The “Getting a Job” section above explores that in details.
Find below a link to a site, which explains the Canadian workplace culture in detail.
If you are a parent and you have a child who is 12 years and above, you likely will not be worrying about childcare. However, if your child is less than 12 years old, all we can say is, “Welcome to our world!”. Some of the questions that come to mind on arrival in Canada include:
- Where would I drop the children when i go to work?
- How early can I drop them off at school?
- What happens to them after school?
- How late can I pick them up?
- How can I be sure that they are safe in the day-care?
- My child is still a baby/toddler and not old enough to go to school and I need to get a job.
- How many hours would I be able to work so that I can pick the children after school?
- Would I be able to take a full time job?
- Should I take a part-time job?
- How much would I pay for child-care services?
- Can I afford child-care services?
- What is the impact of a part-time job on my career?
The questions are endless. Some immigrants even consider inviting a grandparent to come help out in Canada.
If you are in this position, the good news is there is often a workable solution for every question. How do we know? Well, we have been there, done that, and have that t-shirt!
There are several child-care options available including nursery schools, licensed day-care providers, drop-in day-care centres and even home-based day-care centres.
If your child/children are all below the age of 12 and you are ready to start you career, there are child-care services that make it possible to resume work. If your child is of school age and goes to school, you should find out about the “Before and After School programs”. Simply do an internet search for “before and after school” programs in your region or municipality.
As the name implies, before school programs allow you drop off your little ones in the morning and provide activities that keep them occupied until school starts. Similarly, “after school” programs engage children in activities between close of school and the pickup time. Parents can usually either or both services depending on their schedule.
The drop-off time for before school programs is usually between 7:00 am and 7:30 am while the pick up for after-school is usually between 6:00 pm and 6:30 pm. This timing may vary from one region/province to another.
It is advisable to select a program that is either within the school premises or as close to the premises as possible.
If your child is below school age and not yet in school, it is advisable to get a licensed day-care or nursery school. You can also consider drop-in day-care and home-based day-care centres depending on your needs.
Check if your region has a childcare fee subsidy (a simple internet search or checking the website of your municipality can help). If you qualify for a childcare fee subsidy, it would reduce the childcare fee and even if you do not get a subsidy, you may qualify for a tax refund on un-subsidized fees.
Feel free to ask as many questions as possible until you are satisfied that your child/children are in safe hands. Also, check for reviews about the care provider on the internet. Do your own research and do not forget to ask your child questions when they get home to ensure that they are integrating properly.
Whichever option you decide to go with, bear in mind penalties for late pick-up.
Contact an immigrant-serving organization or more details.
Getting a job is critical to settling down as a new immigrant. There are several ways to look for jobs in Canada. As a new immigrant, it is important to network as this increases your chances of getting into the “hidden” job market which is not advertised.
In addition to networking, follow up with the partners recommended by your pre-arrival service. Update your LinkedIn profile. Some recruiters actively assess candidates or recruit via LinkedIn. The topics and links below provide useful information for finding a job in Canada.
Volunteering is not only a good way of gaining experience and learning the Canadian workplace culture, it helps to build your network and showcase your skills to your potential employer. As a volunteer, you offer your skills willingly and do not receive any pay.
If you would like to offer your services as a volunteer, search the internet for volunteer services in your city. You can also liaise with immigrant-serving organizations near you.
Internships And Co-ops
Internships and co-ops are a good way to kick start your career. Co-ops, which stands for “Cooperative Education” is usually tied to an educational institution and falls between semesters. Internships on the other hand may or may not be education based. Both provide work experience, which may or may not be paid for and with duration ranging from 12 weeks to over one year. You should look out for both opportunities and see which you qualify for.
Some occupations have a mandatory internship requirement. Register and look out for as many internship opportunities as possible. Reach out to the partners recommended by your pre-arrival service for information, and ask your post-arrival service providers/newcomer centers about internship/coop opportunities in different organizations.
- Federal Internship for Newcomers Program (FIN)
- Ontario Public Service Internships and Coops
- Career Edge Paid Internship
A job board is a place or site where jobs are posted. Employers post job opportunities and interested candidates that meet the requirements are expected to apply. There are so many job boards in Canada, and these can be some of the most important places to search for a job.
Beware of scammers! There have been instances of phony job postings and requests to pay for interviews. We have also heard of job offers where the role involved moving money from one bank to another (illegal money laundering activities). You should be prudent as you carry out your job search. If it looks too good to be true, it is most likely too good to be true.
We will not attempt to list job boards here, but see below for a link to an article by JVS Toronto, which lists the top ten job boards, including Canada Job bank as number one.
Job fairs are events where employers, recruiters, schools, students and job seekers converge to network. It is a great opportunity for employers to provide information about their organization and for job seekers to network, hand out their resumes and practice their interview skills. A good way to get wind of upcoming job fairs is to follow organizations you would like to work for on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms. Also contact immigrant-serving organizations or conduct a simple internet search. Job fairs are also known as career fairs, career expos and job expos.
Mentors are Canadian professionals and business people who offer free advice and coaching to newcomers in Canada. The support and guidance provided can be invaluable, and you can pay it forward by being a mentor yourself in future.
Visit the newcomer centre closest to you to find out if there are any mentorship programs near you. Below are the links to some programs available in particular regions.
- Calgary Region Immigrant Employment Council (CRIEC)
- Edmonton Region Immigrant Employment Council (ERIEC)
- Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS)
- Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO)
- Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC)
Networking is a very important way of getting a job in Canada as it increases your chance of getting into the hidden job market. Research has shown that as much as 80% of job vacancies in Canada do not get advertised. These unadvertised jobs are referred to as the “hidden” job market. This is where networking comes into play. While everyone is scrambling for the advertised 20% on job boards, you can target the hidden jobs and increase your chances of getting employed.
Join industry related associations, build networks with recruiters (you can look them up on LinkedIn), ask your friends and contacts to refer you if possible and learn about “cold calling”. Find below some helpful links.
Bridging programs are designed to help internationally trained professionals and tradespeople who want to work in their field in Canada.
This often includes helping you get a certification or license. While some services such as the language and job search services are free, others may require a fee.
Please contact the immigrant-serving organization near you or the professional association or regulatory body for your profession for more details.
Confirm whether a bridging program is a mandatory requirement for your profession, as sometimes you can engage in self-study to undertake licensing exams. Research, and choose the option that suits you best.
Social media has gone beyond posting pictures. In addition to LinkedIn earlier mentioned, Google+, Twitter and Facebook can also be used in the job search process. It is advisable to follow companies you are interested in as well as recruiters and recruitment agencies. Also check their career pages for openings that match your skills.
Temporary (Temp) Jobs
Temporary jobs also known as temp jobs usually range from alternative jobs to survival jobs. Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, we believe them to be different. Alternative jobs refer to a job that is within your field of expertise but is at a lower level than your actual qualification, e.g. an accountant working as an accounting clerk. Survival jobs on the other hand are jobs that are not in your field and just help pay the bills. A good example is a doctor who works as a contact centre representative in a bank.
Due to the huge financial implication of migration, most immigrants are always concerned about getting a source of income for feeding and paying bills, especially immigrants who have dependents. While searching for a job or preparing for your licensing, it may sometimes be necessary to get a temp job. Some of these temp jobs help fulfil the “Canadian experience” requirement and may even be a way into the organization for other roles. If you do decide to get a survival or alternative job, ensure that you make out time to continue your job search and attend interviews. If it a survival job, keep at the back of your mind that the role is a stopgap and continue all efforts towards your dream job.
Several recruitment agencies place for temporary jobs, and so do many organizations such as Amazon. Recruitment agencies also advertise on public transit so keep on the lookout while commuting via bus, train or subway.
Find below links to two major recruitment agencies that are efficient for quickly placing candidates into temp jobs (and non-temp jobs for that matter).