When you are looking for your first job in Canada remember your overall career goals. Whether you are looking for a part time job, summer work, or your first job after graduation, knowing yourself and your objectives can help you secure meaningful work that builds towards your career goals. Knowing your objectives and what you are looking for in a job will also help you write strong job search documents, perform better in interviews, and find a job that starts you down your career path.
First of all, you will want to identify what kind of job you want and what you have to offer an employer. Evaluate your strengths, weaknesses, abilities, education and experience and create a personal career profile that includes an inventory of your:
- key skills, qualifications, and experiences
- interests, values, and priorities
- short-term and long-term goals
- work preferences (where you would like to work, ideal work setting, with whom you would like to work and how you would like to work—with your hands, people, information)
Career coaching and assessments can be very useful in helping you better understand yourself.
A cover letter is a one page document that accompanies your resume when you apply for a job. Your cover letter is placed ahead of your resume and highlights the content of your resume by sharing your experiences and accomplishments with potential employers. By tailoring your cover letter to each job you apply for, a potential employer can get a good idea of why you want the position and how you would fit into their organization. A cover letter also demonstrates your writing and communication skills to a potential employer.
When you apply to a job, most organizations ask for you to submit a resume. A resume is usually a two to three page document that highlights your skills, knowledge, and relevant experience. Your resume is an important marketing tool that advertises the experience, education, skills and accomplishments you offer to potential employers. Your resume should present information in a manner and sequence that best connects your background with the requirements of the position for which you are applying.
A curriculum vitae or CV is commonly used throughout the world when applying for jobs, though in Canada it is used primarily for academic, teaching, and medical positions. A CV can be several pages long and highlights an individual’s education, research, honours/awards, publications, and much more. A CV is used by students at the graduate and post-graduate level for academic, research or medical positions that they are applying to.
Some employers require you to fill out an employment application form in addition to submitting your cover letter and resume. This form is often used by employers to pre-screen applicants, therefore it is important that you fill in all sections of the form. If a section does not apply to you, you should write in “N/A” (not applicable) rather than leaving any blanks. If you are planning to drop off your resume in person, be sure to bring a pen along with you and write neatly if you are asked to complete an application form. If an employer cannot read your application form, you likely will not be considered for the job.
In many cases, application forms can be completed online. Be sure to use the spell-check function on your computer, consider using bullet points rather than dense paragraphs and fill in all sections with the details requested rather than writing “See Resume”.
In Canada, jobs can be found in both the visible and hidden job markets.
The visible job market includes jobs that are advertised publicly in some way. It can mean a lot of competition, especially for entry-level positions. These types of positions are often found in newspapers, employer websites, and online job posting systems.
The hidden job market includes opportunities that have not yet been identified or have been identified but have not yet been formally advertised. These positions are often filled by or created for candidates who come to an employer's attention through employee recommendations, referrals from trusted associates, recruiters or direct contact with the candidate. It is estimated that 80-90% of jobs are not advertised. To access the hidden job market, you have to contact people directly through events such as:
Occupational research refers to gathering information on educational requirements, typical duties, salary ranges, and the outlook for that occupation in the future. Occupational research will help you to better understand how your chosen field of study is linked to specific occupations and career paths.
An interview is a common next step that follows a job application. The employer will schedule interviews with applicants whose resumes are of interest to them. The interview gives the employer the opportunity to learn more about your skills and abilities, and it gives you the opportunity to sell your experiences and ask questions. Interviews can take different forms, but generally they have a question and answer element to them.In order to have a successful interview there are certain behaviours that are important to portray. Arrival Survival Canada lists four important behaviours for newcomers to Canada to display at an interview in order make a strong first impression:
- Dress professionally and appropriately for the job
- Demonstrate confidence and self-esteem
- Make small talk
- Thank the interviewer at the end
Familiarizing yourself with the expected behaviours at a job interview is important. Greeting the employer by shaking their hand is customary, as are making eye contact and smiling naturally throughout the interview. Make sure you are punctual by arriving a few minutes early for the interview.
The interview structure usually consists of an introduction by the employer which includes an overview of the interview process, a question and answer period, and a conclusion that allows you to ask any questions you have about the position or company and allows the employer to tell you about the hiring process and when decisions will be made. At the beginning of the interview there may be a few minutes of small talk where the interviewers get to know you better. Make sure that you are friendly and confident as you converse with them.
After the interview an employer may ask to speak to your references in order to ask them questions about your past work experience. A reference is someone who knows you and who will speak highly of you, and is usually someone who has supervised you in a previous work experience, at school, or volunteering. A reference can also be a colleague, professor, peer, or mentor.
If you do not have any references from Canada, you may want to consider asking someone from your home country, such as a past teacher or volunteer colleague, to provide a character reference. A character reference letter (written in English) can be provided to employers in Canada when you are applying for work or volunteer opportunities.
References should be able to speak of your career accomplishments, educational achievements, work ethic, and interpersonal skills. It is very important to ask someone to be your reference and to get their permission to use them and their contact information before you apply for jobs. Providing your reference with a copy of your updated resume and communicating with them about your job search is important. Make sure that your relationship to your reference is clear to the potential employer when you give them your list of references.
When a company has selected you as the successful candidate they will make an offer of employment. This is usually done in writing and should clearly indicate the following:
- Your salary
- Length of probation period (if included with the position)
- Starting date and length of employment
- Length of workday and work week
Although it may not be included on the job offer, before you accept an offer of employment you may want to ask about the following:
- Opportunities for growth
- Conditions for overtime, paid vacation, and holidays
- Staff regulations
- Any other questions you have about working for the company
Many international students or newcomers to Canada do not have work experience in Canada and look for ways to gain experience, to learn about the Canadian workplace, and to build important transferrable skills. Transferrable skills are skills that carry over to any job, such as communication, problem solving, and relationship building skills.
Volunteering is a very good way to build both social and work skills. Although the work is unpaid, you can gain valuable insight to workplace culture and practices, while building employable skills. You may also get a good reference from a volunteer supervisor.
Volunteering allows you to:
- Share your skills and experience
- Develop new skills (you can build your resumé through volunteering)
- Access new training opportunities
- Meet people in your field and expand your network
Volunteering looks good on your resume as it shows an employer that you are committed, involved in the community, and have experience working in a Canadian environment. Volunteering also gives you the opportunity to test out different fields of work, make social connections, and start building your network!
The Canadian Workplace
Just like other countries, Canada has its own distinct workplace culture. Although a variety of behaviours are accepted and workplace culture can vary between organizations, there are still basic expectations for behaviour at work. It is important to spend time learning these behaviours when you first start a job. Saskatchewan Immigration's Workplace Culture has great information and we have listed some of their advice below:
- In the Canadian workplace you shake hands when you first meet someone to introduce yourself. It is also common courtesy to shake hands before and at the end of meetings and interviews. However, if you see someone regularly, a simple ‘Good morning/afternoon’ will work.
- In Canada you generally call people by their first name, especially after you get to know them. Although when you first meet someone it is proper etiquette to address them by ‘Mr. or Ms. (Last name)’. It is also proper etiquette to address letters or emails in this manner.
- It is common to refer to professionals (Doctors, Lawyers, Teachers, etc.) by ‘Ms., Mr., or Dr. (Last name)’.
- Small talk is common in the workplace and involves discussing everyday matters such as weather, family, sports, or entertainment. Discussing personal information, such as religion, salary, or age is less acceptable.
- Interrupting people in a conversation to change subjects is considered to be bad manners.
- In Canada making eye contact throughout a conversation is highly valued as it demonstrates that you are interested in and are listening to what the other person is saying. Looking away or avoiding eye contact suggests boredom, disinterest or poor listening skills.
- Personal space is valued in Canadian culture and you should not move any closer than an arm’s length from another person’s body.
- Punctuality is valued in Canadian workplace culture. Arriving on time for scheduled shifts and meetings is considered a sign of respect, and arriving late a sign of disrespect. If you are going to be late it is acceptable to call ahead to inform your co-workers.
- If you need to prepare before your shift starts you should arrive early enough to do so.
- Canadian workplace culture places a high value on teamwork. Working well with others, listening to others’ ideas, and sharing responsibility are important skills in the workplace.
- Conflicts in the workplace are frowned upon, so it is important to value your teammates and work well together.
- The dress code in Canada varies between employers. It is important to ask your employer what the dress code is and follow the code. Business casual and business formal are two of the common dress codes found in Canadian workplaces.
In Saskatchewan, workers are protected by law in the workplace. Labour standards ensure that workers remain safe and are treated fairly and equitably. Employment legislation regulates hours of work, rates of pay, termination, and other elements of employment. Human rights protect workers from being discriminated against because of their age, sex, race, religion, or disability. It is important to know your rights. You can learn more about your rights by visiting the Saskatchewan Immmigration's Rights and Responsibilities website.
Once you have started a new job you will need to become acquainted with some new processes. It is important to understand how you will get paid, what benefits are available to you, how many holidays you get, and much more. Visit the Saskatchewan Immigration On the Job website for an introduction to common workplace practices.
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) requires you to have a Social Insurance Number (SIN) or Individual Tax Number for identity for income tax purposes. If you are eligible and would like to apply for a SIN number, please visit the Service Canada website for more information. If you are ineligible to get a SIN, you may need to apply for an Individual Tax Number using form Application for a CRA Individual Tax Number for Non-Residents. The earlier you do this the better as it will save you time when completing a tax return. Once you have your Individual Tax Number, you may be eligible for your GST credit.
If you do not have a SIN or ITN when you are ready to file your tax return, send an ITN application together with the tax return, using the address on the ITN form.