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Lessons in the job search for New Canadians


May 4, 2018
by Rodrigo Altaf

From the April 2018 print edition

When I was invited to write an article about the challenges of finding a first job in Canada in supply chain, I thought to myself “Where do I start?” There are many difficulties in the job search process for newcomers and anyone would be hard pressed to condense their thoughts in just one article. However, for those willing to get out of their comfort zone, there are creative ways to approach those difficulties.

I arrived in Toronto from Brazil in April 2017 and started to apply for jobs straight away. With experience in construction, mining and oil and gas in Australia, Brazil and Norway, I was confident that my resume would speak for itself. Where I came from, your resume is what it is, whether people like it or not. It never occurred to me that I needed to adapt it to the Canadian environment. For example, targeting my resume to the positions I applied for seemed rather strange—it is actually frowned upon in Brazil. But one month without any calls whatsoever quickly changed my mind. I realized I needed to adapt.

A few more months passed and, while I received a call here and there, nothing substantial came in terms of employment. I decided to work as a volunteer—something I always wanted to do but had never prioritized. In parallel, I decided to take a survival job while remembering that it had to be temporary until I found a position that better suited my skills.

Another key element for newcomers is to find common ground. I connected with professionals who came from my country, contacted Canadian companies that had assets there and Brazilian companies with branches in Canada. This helped me leave behind other concepts from back home that didn’t necessarily work in the Canadian context.

Networking and volunteering proved to be effective tools to boost my chances of employment. I had several chances to interact with immigrants like me who struggled in the beginning but who eventually caught a break and are now shining in their fields. I feel that this is particularly important in supply chain, which is the business of connecting: bringing goods from point A to point B and getting businesses and suppliers to reach agreements. The interactions I made provided several tips and leads into open positions, many of which weren´t even advertised.

Another aspect that became evident in my search is the emphasis given in the Canadian workplace on soft skills. A good first impression can boost your chances of moving ahead in the recruitment process, while a bad one can undermine the achievements on your resume. Simple things like a proper handshake and eye contact support the perception that you will fit in well in the workplace.

Last, but most certainly not least, I discovered the importance of preparing for behavioural questions. After losing an entry-level job due to being “weak on the behavioural side of questioning” (the exact words I received as feedback), I realized I had to find ways to convey my experience in a more captivating manner. While the experience and job technicalities may be there, it´s important to capture the interviewer´s attention. There is no shortage of good candidates in Toronto and if you want a job you have to learn to stand out.

I am still looking for a role in my field, but I can conclude that looking in Canada is a completely different game than anywhere in the world. There are many other aspects to be addressed, but if I was to summarize my tips to newcomers, this is how I would put it:

  • Adapt your resume to the Canadian market and target it to the roles you apply for;
  • Volunteering is a good way to interact with peers and people in the industry, regardless of the organization you volunteer for;
  • Use whatever chance you get to increase your network. You never know where help will come from!
  • Enhance your soft skills and learn the proper business etiquette in a Canadian context; Prepare to respond to behavioural questions in a way that captivates interviewers; and
  • Do not think less of yourself. There are thousands of people going through the same issues, as you right now and your hard work in the job search will eventually pay off!

Rodrigo Altaf ([email protected]) is a procurement professional with 11 years’ experience.

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