Patrick Arsenault, Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (RCIC) works with foreign nationals and permanent residents to address immigration-related legal issues and concerns.
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Most career professionals will argue that "transferable skills" are the most important thing for any job seeker. These skills are essentially the abilities you gained through various experiences, tasks, and responsibilities that can help you perform a task without having to start from scratch. Don't get me wrong, it's essential for foreign nationals to be able to articulate how their previous experiences have prepared them for new opportunities in Canada. However, in my opinion, that is simply not enough. If your whole strategy has been relying on highlighting how you have transferable skills, you are probably not reaching the level of success you want or deserve.
The thing is that ANYONE needs to put forward transferable skills, whether their past experiences are in China or across the street in Canada. Employers EXPECT you to explain to them how your skills are transferable to any job, and more specifically the job that they are trying to fill. So, this should be a given, but not your strategy to stand out. You would be doing EXACTLY what everyone else is doing BUT you would also be dealing with the following hurdles as an international student, an international graduate, or a foreign worker in Canada.
- Weaker networks
If you are not originally from Canada, chances are that you have less connections in the country. When other people are competing for the same jobs, they have more chances of knowing someone who can provide some insight about the job or answer key questions about the organization. They may even know the hiring manager or know someone who can introduce them. Foreign nationals don't always have the same luck and they may find it difficult to network in Canada, especially if they are an international student spending most of their time on campus or a professional still based outside of Canada.
- Lack of Canadian credentials and/or experience
You probably have heard before that you are at a disadvantage, because you lack Canadian credentials or experience. I personally disagree with that. I think that international experience allows us to find new creative ways to solve problems. Unfortunately, not all hiring managers think like me and it is essential for you to keep that in mind. They may think that what your learned may not be transferable (that word again) enough or may not even apply in the Canadian context. In some occasions, they can also be worried that you will struggle to adapt to the company culture or that your personal values may not be compatible with the organization. Success in one context does not guarantee success in a different context. This is always true, but it tends to stay top of mind when hiring managers are speaking with foreign nationals.
Not all employers have experience hiring foreign nationals. They may not be familiar with immigration laws, regulations, and procedures. The fear of the unknown may push them to consider Canadians first or even to leave the position unfilled and wait if they can't find a permanent resident or a Canadian citizen.
- Unfair power dynamics
Finally, hiring managers know that it is more difficult for foreign nationals to secure employment. They may assume that you are desperate and ask you to go above and beyond, accept a lower wage, or compromise in other ways. They may think that they are doing you a huge favour by "giving you a shot", but in reality, they are probably forcing you into a position where you are effectively underemployed. To truly get a job that you deserve, you will have to stand out more than a Canadian would have to (at least that this is what I personally think).
+ Additive skills, knowledge, or experience
The truth is that will make you stand out from the crowd is not transferable skills... that is a given! What you need is "additive skills". I define them as skills that are above and beyond what the employer is looking for. The best additive skills are skills that the employer desperately needs, but that are not included in the job description or that them employer doesn't know they need. Your goal is to show them that you tick all the boxes AND that you bring something else, something BETTER to the table that other candidates may not have.
+ Different perspectives
Research shows that multicultural groups are able to embrace different perspectives, which allows them to find new innovative solutions to daunting problems. The fact that you were able to adapt to different cultures and that you are familiar with various settings make you a prime candidate for many jobs. You have the potential to be more creative and to push the whole team to succeed. A lack of Canadian experience is not that big of a problem. That is something you will acquire (quickly) over time. The other perspectives and lived experiences you bring are UNIQUE and I would argue PRICELESS. You have to let prospective employers know you can:
+ Compelling stories
Recruiters and employers are used to the same resumes and cover letters. What really cut them off-guard and makes them want to get to know you is a compelling story. Because you might have lived in various countries or chose to explore new opportunities abroad, you bring something unusual to the table. This is something you can use to stand out.
As you continue to create your job hunt strategy, I would encourage you to use the following resources.
How To Write A Cover Letter That Recruiters Will Love Using Compelling Stories
The 2 Kinds Of Skills You Should Highlight When You're Underqualified For A Job
"You see a job you’d like to apply for—but there’s a catch, you don’t meet all of the requirements. Despite that, you know the difference between being underqualified or unqualified and you feel confident you fall into the former camp rather than the latter. You can do this job". Read more...