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Confusing Canadian Experience  How to navigate around it?

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If you are new immigrant in Canada, or someone contemplating on the idea of moving here, you will face a situation where you will be asked about your “Canadian experience” even without venturing into the job market. As odd as it sounds, it is the reality.

What is “Canadian experience” to a newcomer? Is it how much you have travelled in Canada and know its provinces and territories? How well you know the socio-political environment? Is it how much you enjoy the snow or the wilderness? To an immigrant, anything you do here counts as “Canadian experience”. From taking the transit to getting that library card, from enrolling in English class to getting that driving license, from ordering the Timmies to tasting the poutine. However, this takes a new meaning when you try to get that job.

Your qualifications and years of experience in your home country, outside world or the international job market might just go for a toss given that the Canadian employers can take this convenient route of having no “Canadian experience” to dismiss you. While this will not be asked of you in-writing, there is a general understanding about “looking for someone with Canadian experience” which will eliminate you from the race to that job.

But how can you get “Canadian experience” without holding any job? How is “Canadian experience” different from any other work experience? How does it impact your ability to perform the job anywhere? How to manoeuvre around it to make that entry? As a new immigrant, you will be perplexed with the questions while trying to navigate your way.

The lack of “Canadian experience” when you are looking for employment puts the newcomer in a fix because their international experiences and skills often take a backseat. Immigrants hear this all-too-often that they should be prepared to start from scratch regardless of their education, skills and experiences internationally and because they do not possess the required “Canadian experience”.

When coaxed, employers will explain to you what this buzzword means to them. It could be that they are looking for some understanding of workplace culture and social etiquettes and ability to be a part of the team. It may also mean your language and communications skills, understanding of workplace culture and legislations.

The term is loosely used and can be referred for anything and everything. Here are some ways you can deal with not having the “Canadian experience.”

Strengthen your language skills. This is not only important for you to get that entry into your career path but to make yourself understood, to make a point and to have meaningful conversations. If you have more than one language skill, showcase that. If you have some knowledge of French, enhance it with classes and practice. You may not be able to acquire the accent but you can work to make your diction clearer, thus more understandable when you are facing that interview or talking to a colleague. Learning and understanding of colloquial terminology will also help you better communicate your thoughts.

If it is not too hard on your pocket or you can get hold of that allowance or fellowship, pursue some courses offered at different institutes or universities. This will widen your knowledge and help you get the local context.

Volunteering is one of best way to get to know the community, and understanding the nuances. Volunteering is a noble service which can open many doors. It will help you know people, learn about the schedules and work culture, and find a new network. But look for volunteering opportunities as you would look for work. An opportunity to volunteer within your field or helping a job that relates to your skillset will align as your “Canadian experience”. 

Some employers will have no knowledge about your background, education and work experience. Getting your credentials evaluated will help you translate those for equivalency.
If you are a trained technical professional, the employer may require Canadian work experience specifically. You can refer to this Canadian Work Experience Requirements on the Office of the Fairness Commissioner Webpage.

Despite many efforts, getting that “Canadian experience” can be a challenge. There are many mentoring groups available everywhere where skilled immigrants are paired with local professional peers, to help them with the journey. Take that first step to find people in your field or community through social circles, social media, to gather information and reach out to many. Not everyone you reach out to will respond but someone will come back.

There are a number of agencies that offer free employment assistance to immigrants. Some agencies also have allowance for professional enhancement, workshops for new immigrants where you will work with a case worker to help you through the job search, application and interview practices. Refer to the list here.

Should you take a lower-level job to get the “Canadian Experience?” This is a choice many immigrants make and is dependent upon your financial and other circumstances. You can consider taking a lower level job when you are new in Canada than what you are used to. It could be quicker for you to get initial employment that pays less. While it may be a step down, it translates into Canadian experience. But be wary about being stuck there. Rising up can often be hard.

Many immigrants come from culture where humility is important than blowing your own trumpet. But when you are embarking in an unknown territory where no one knows you and your abilities, learn the art of selling yourself. No other person will seek you out if you do not display and highlight your strength.

A research, Beyond Canadian Experience recognizes that this vague and undefined concept is a barrier for new immigrants. It suggests that it can be overcome through multilevel interventions – a better understanding of the term, an open mindedness in part of the employers and bridging initiatives. The Panel on Employment Challenges of new Canadians produced a report Survival to Success highlighting the immigrant’s challenges and making recommendations to the federal government on steps it can take to help newcomers become successful in their journey. There are measures being taken to make it a smooth journey which hopefully, it will be, someday. But for now take those abovementioned steps which will ease your trek.


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