Ready, set, work! Well, not exactly…start again!

A new year is upon us…and with it, new energies, hopes and the commitment that this time, yes this time, we’ll make it. We’ll find that dream job, which actually utilizes the skills, education and experience we have accumulated in our countries. After all, that was why we were provided a “skilled-worker” immigration visa right? But it seems not to work that way…
Many newcomers ask why it is so difficult to find a professional job in Canada. Why it is that so many immigrants end up as a store clerk, security guard or taxi driver.
When asked what strategy they use to job-search, the answer is almost always “I’ve sent hundreds of resumes” or “I have attended so many job fairs”. Some go back to school to train, thinking that more technical skills are the answer. Some follow dubious advisors who tell them their occupation doesn’t have a future and that they are better off studying to become nurses or to work in the trades as “they pay better”.
Is all this true? And if not, what is wrong with this picture?
What’s wrong is a set of misleading assumptions: that anybody would know what you are able to do just by looking at your work history, that the economy is growing and Canada needs more skilled workers and that the only thing you need to look for a job is a good resume.
I always compare job searching with trying to introduce a new product into any market. When you have a new product, you first need to: 1) understand your product very well (what makes this product so special and worth introducing to the market?) and 2) understand the market (does the market really needs and wants this product? What are the characteristics of this market? Are there any changes needed to adjust the product so it is more “marketable”?
Looking for a job without taking the time to do this research, compare and match, is like trying to sell a bottle of milk to a community with lactose intolerance issues…
Take a look at the “Job Search Life Cycle”:

job search life cycle

Now take advantage of the New Year resolutions and take some time off your job-search. Choose a comfortable location and take your time. What you are going to do will pay off. It may take some time, but you’ll be happier about yourself and your life in Canada.
First, create an inventory. Make a list of all your skills (include both soft, such as “able to work under pressure” and hard or technical skills, such as “computer skills”. Also make a list of job-specific skills, such as “knowledge of instructional strategies”); include a list of all the education and training you have had (formal and informal), with institutions’ names, year of completion and a brief description of course or program/degree; add your work experience (paid and unpaid) and take some time to describe the company’s market, size and positioning, your main responsibilities and achievements for each job. Spend here as much time as you need, and include details. Finally, make a list of the things you value most in life (such as time with your family and friends, healthy environment and food, safety, etc) and your priorities (being settled? House? Car? Money to send to your family? Education for your children?)
The above list will provide you with information about what type of job you want and need and where do you fit best. It will help you when preparing a targeted and tailored resume, a good portfolio and to prepare for tough questions during the interview.
Review your list, if possible with a career counsellor, but it may also be with a friend or family member. What patterns do you see? What is your first occupational choice? It may be the same you had back home, or it may change when you do step number two:
The second step is to research the labour market. There are many places where you can do this, and many strategies. I recommend using as many as you can, and create a binder with the results you find. You may need a few days to do this. Some LMI research strategies include: informational interviews (interviewing professionals already working in the industry where you want to work), specialized websites (such as “Industry Canada”, but you can also check with your local library and employment/career centre) and the best of all: look for 5-10 real job ads and start highlighting what they have in common. In all these cases, look for list of requirements and qualifications, responsibilities or duties, work environment and types of industries, whether or not the occupation is regulated and who regulates it, trends and demographics, future outlook and news reflecting what’s happening with this industry. Also check for salary ranges and common types of arrangements (full-time, on-call, by contract, etc.). It is helpful to find a mentor and to attend to related events such as conferences and industry panels, read industry specialized publications and become a member of the association.
The information collected at the above step will help you to: 1) determine if this occupation is exactly the same in Canada as it is in your country (some occupations may share a similar name, but their functions and expectations may be different from one country to another); 2) decide whether you want to continue in this occupation/industry or whether there are other options that better suit your new lifestyle, priorities and values; 3)make sure that your skills match this occupation as it is viewed in Canada, this may mean that you need to upgrade your skills, have your credentials evaluated or recognized by a regulatory body, or you may decide to change careers and 4) what are the changes you have to apply to your job-search tools and strategies to match this industry and occupation in Canada.
The third stage is finding the gaps and matches. When you compare your first list (inventory) with your findings in step two, you may find that you really need to address certain gaps. Each market has its own “rules” about what is enough and what’s needed in terms of strategies, new technologies, trends such as applying more sustainable (green) processes, etc. You may need the help of a career/employment counsellor to do this (in BC, you can approach the “Skills Connect” program for immigrants), or you can plan by yourself. In any case, make a list of the things you may need to improve and change. This will give you a picture of whether you need a plan B, more time or money or both.
The next steps (emphasize strengths, reduce weaknesses; create right tools – target/tailor and apply using your LMI knowledge are self-explanatory, but we will talk about them in-depth in upcoming articles.
For now, prepare your coffee or tea, grab a notebook and a pen, and start working on your lists…


This article was published on the Canadian Immigrant magazine, February 2013 issue (print).

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