IEC: The Job Hunt – How to find work, navigate temp agencies, update your resume and generally stay sane during this process!

It’s time to tackle the nightmare that is finding a job when you first arrive in Canada.  My experience is pretty Toronto-centric, but I imagine there is a heap of overlap with other places.  

After finding a place to live, the job hunt is probably the most stressful aspect of moving countries, and it’s going to be something that will inevitably shape your experience abroad.  Are you looking for something that you can apply back home and is in the field you’re qualified in or are you more focused on travelling and being able to supplement your savings with the odd bits and pieces of work?  It’s important and stressful but it doesn’t have to control your life.  You just have to be persistent, adaptable and realistic. Remember that unemployment is difficult – just do not give up! 

So below, I’ve popped some hints, tips and websites to help you with finding that perfect role during your time in the Great White North.  

 

  1. Your CV

Your CV is generally known as a resume here, later in my job hunt I decided to change the document title of my ‘CV’ to ‘resume’ – maybe that was pedantic (definitely).  I spent hours trying to figure out the differences between a British CV and a Canadian Resume and truth be told, there aren’t THAT many to get hung up about.  Pretty much the same rules apply, be clear, be concise and target to the job spec. 

For a while in my little personal overview I did have that I was on a Working Holiday Visa and looking for experience here in Canada.  When it comes to addressing the visa aspect, I would recommend you leave it to an interview or when you have someone on the telephone before mentioning it.  It’s probably going to be far easier to explain and show the visa and it’s restrictions etc when you’re face to face.  It’s going to be obvious you’ve not been in the country if your experience and education is all British/Australian/Lithuanian.   I’ve found that hiring managers are looking for a reason to throw your application away, so if you leave the visa bit off at the first hurdle you might have more of a chance to meet them and convince them of your suitability for the role, which might make the visa thing a bit less of an issue.

Some websites I find are godsends in the application department:

Askamanager.org (I’ve recommended this one before, but it’s great for tips and examples of cover letters and resumes!)

Guardian Careers (little taste of home! – they do some great examples of cover letters)

 

  1. What you’re applying for

There are a couple of options to go for when you’re looking for work.  Of course it will be more difficult to find permanent positions while your visa has an expiry date, but it’s definitely possible.  It’s going to be far easier to begin with by looking at fixed term contracts or heading down the temp route.  This gives you the option to flaunt your skills while making money and not being roped into anything long term. There’s also always the chance that an employer will like you and help you out with any permanent residency process you might decide to go down. With temping there are lots of agencies here and it all depends on what your skills are and what you’re looking for.  

A couple of specific agencies…

Where to look for a job:

 

  1. Some top tips for navigating Indeed.ca

For weeks – WEEKS – I trawled the dark depths of Indeed, finding a combination of jobs I would be perfect for as well as jobs I would hate.  There are all sorts of ads on Indeed, ones placed by individuals directly, ones Indeed has taken from other places and going through them all and applying can be a nightmare.

Things I would recommend you do:

  • Use the service.  Use it as an incredible search engine for finding different roles and positions you might be interested in.
  • If you decide to apply through Indeed write a thorough cover letter and be sure to send a resume along with it.   
  • If there’s a phone number, definitely call, if you can talk to someone it’s harder for them to reject you on the spot vs not replying to an email and you can get more information about the job before spending any time on an application.

Things I would recommend you do not do:

  • Create an Indeed resume.  If your education was in the UK, the translation doesn’t always work out and you could find that your resume states that you attended uni somewhere in the States that has the same town name. It’s very confusing.  
  • Be cautious about applying for roles directly on the Indeed.  If there are no other details about the job then go for it and apply on the website itself, but if there’s a company name or an alternative website to go to then I would recommend you do that.  I must’ve applied for 100 jobs on indeed to get one email notification that said an employer had read my application. 1/100 to have just READ it!?

 

  1.  Keep your standards reasonable

During this process you might find you receive some very strange offers; one job wanted me to pay them $300 for the ability to train and then work for them. Err, no. What I learned after attending a couple of interviews in very inconvenient locations and being asked to work for free, was that I had to try my very best to stay in a field I enjoyed – I was looking for long term stuff, so ‘hating mondays’ was not what I needed.

I’ve come up with 3 little questions that I think are key for deciding when to take a job.

  1. Does it make me happy?
  2. Can I make enough money with it?
  3. Is it a reasonable time commitment?

I’d probably lean toward a job that answers ‘yes’ to at least 2 of these criteria but if it does not satisfy at least ONE of those criteria, run. Run fast.  It might seem obvious to you right now, but 3 months into unemployment and that 12 hour a day job that begins at 2am and pays minimum wage can look pretty tasty.  Stick it out.  It’s going to be okay.  Sail through those hellish, rocky, shark-infested waters of being unemployed.  You’ll come out stronger for it and with your sense of self-worth intact.

ALSO

Generally, in my experience of the Canadian job market,  sometimes person specifications can be really specific, e.g ‘must be a wizard, have experience colouring in flowers and be a strong swimmer’.  Don’t panic.  If you’re a colouring swimmer go ahead and apply. Read the job description, think about your skills.  If there’s a named contact, drop them an email or even better, a phone call and say ‘I’m an Olympic swimmer and I have great attention to detail with colouring flowers, but I haven’t mastered pulling a rabbit from a hat yet, should I still apply?’ They might say no, or they might give you a really quick telephone interview and ask you to apply.  It’s not going to hurt to ask and if they’re horrible to you, you didn’t want to work there anyway!
You are a great person.  You will find a job. Life will be okay.  Stay happy and positive!

 

IEC: The Unexpected Language Barrier

Originally, this was supposed to be all about culture shock; however it’s turned into a linguistic analysis of British-Canadian communication.  Or as I’ve come to know it; the minefield that is everyday conversation.

I recently read a really interesting article on BBC News about how Americans and Brits swear differently.  It got me thinking about how fanny doesn’t mean ‘bum’ in England and how friendships are built on mutual disrespect and insults. I wouldn’t say I’m one to partake in ‘banter’- because generally when I am, I say horrible things to people I love, and I always sound far too horrible. And then I spend weeks reliving them and feeling like the world’s worst person.

Side note: sorry again Han about the thing I said at Christmas, I didn’t mean it at all and I’m really sorry.

Anyway, this led me to contemplate my experiences here in Canada and how our Canuck friends across the ocean, like Americans, use the English language far differently to back in old Blighty.

This is the Language Barrier

That’s right.  And I bet you weren’t expecting there to be one when you hopped on the plane at Gatwick/Heathrow/Birmingham/Manchester/Belfast to arrive in Canada not realising what anyone really meant when they spoke to you.  You still might not realise it.

I’ll tell you how I did.

So, after a couple of months of unemployment, I began working at a temp job in downtown Toronto at the end of April.  It’s an amazing office with lovely people who are some of the nicest and accommodating folk I’ve ever met.  Even when I inadvertently offend them.  Like the occasion I will now retell to you.

Here it is:

“Good Morning MJ, You all right?”

“Great thanks”

That was it.

It’s not like MJ, my dear colleague, was seriously offended and ran off crying and my previously Zen-like work environment was forever crushed. Not at all.

A few days later we went for a walk, and I was telling her about cultural differences and how everyone says ‘How are you?’ as a normal greeting.  Which to me (and maybe this is different if you’re not from Gloucestershire/ are me) sounds like something had been wrong, or as if I’d been going through a particularly traumatic event in my life and you wanted to check on me, like, ‘how are you during this tragic life event?’ or ‘how are you following the diagnosis of your terminal illness?’.

To me, that’s the level of sincerity with which I take a question such as ‘how are you?’  So much so, that I have only recently developed a decent response.

‘Good thanks, you?’

MJ cackled at this story.  It turns out that largely, in Toronto at least, ‘you all right?’ is exactly the same as my interpretation of ‘how are you?’

‘You all right after being hit by that train?’

‘You all right? You look tired’

I get it.  But she’d said that it had affected her so much, that she’d even mentioned it to a friend, who’s response was, ‘oh my gosh, did you have a sad/angry face or something?’

Who would have ever thought that this difference could cause so much anxiety?

Maybe it’s just me, and anyone else who experiences this move is able to adapt smoothly and seamlessly.  Not me! Not at all!

I love living in Canada and I love the food and the people and after almost 4 months I’m starting, slowly but surely, to adapt.

I’ve learnt that self-deprecating humour is regularly met with genuine sympathy.  Take for example, another classic Lorna + Customer Service People moment (previous experience is detailed here).

It was lunchtime.  I went to purchase my lunch in Sobeys, the local grocery store near to my workplace.  A common trend prior to these experiences is that I spend far too long contemplating a purchase or a food choice.  I had been stood in front of the glass pane deciding between a prepared chicken breast with sweet potatoes AND roast asparagus or just chicken and sweet potato and maybe grabbing an apple or something.  This truly was the source of the entire problem.

So, the nice lady behind the service counter arrives and asks me what I would like.

The only thing I’m confident I want is the chicken.

I’m about 90% on the sweet potatoes and 50% on the asparagus.  To this day, I’m not even sure if I like asparagus – but that’s not the story.

‘What can I get you?’

‘Can I get the chicken breast please’ – looks around the glass pane as if contemplating an additional choice, which I am. I just thought it was blatant.

Thinking about the sweet potatoes and about to pipe up when…

‘Here you go, thanks have a good day.  Next please’

I’m handed a plastic container containing a single, dry, refrigerated chicken breast.  No sides at all.  This was literally the worst situation that could’ve happened to me.  What do I do?  A chicken breast is not a meal.

It is now on reflection, and with a better knowledge of Sobeys and feeling much calmer, that I could’ve purchased a nice side salad and all of my problems would have been solved.

But that is most definitely NOT what I did.

Instead, I look at the chicken breast and all I feel is panic. I definitely will not be piping up to the lady who has just handed me this, in this context, random piece of meat.  I will also not be putting it down somewhere in a different section of the supermarket.  So I make a final decision.  There is nothing else for it but to purchase the chicken breast and LEAVE as soon as possible.  I have decided that in the middle of a grocery store I have no other viable alternatives.  Like buy a side salad. So I made the world’s most random and useless purchase and head back up to the office.  Where I promptly drop my new chicken breast off in my bag and decide to relay this, in my opinion, hilarious tale of ‘the time I tried to get lunch and came back with a single piece of chicken’.

And this is where the cultural difference comes in.

I thought, this tale would be met with responses such as;

‘You’re an idiot’

‘Why didn’t you just choose some sides?’

‘How is this a thing?’

Instead of the teasing and the jeering and what I had imagined would be some kind of clever new ‘chicken-for-lunch Pegram’ nickname, I was met with genuine concern and compassion.

Offers of alternative lunches.  Suggestions that I march back and ask for the sides I did not have chance to select.  Concern.  Assurances that service has always been terrible there.  Straight faces filled with sympathy for the poor British girl who cannot navigate a simple ‘I want food’, ‘good here is food’ transaction.

Instead, I decided to have the chicken breast for dinner, although I already had several chicken breasts at home, and went to get Subway.  It felt like the safe option.

But it is these responses that throw me occasionally.  I spent most of my first month at my lovely new job just trying to figure out what people were saying to me.

‘Have a good day’ – that’s so nice. Canadians are so polite.  It’s just BYE. Like any normal person would say, it’s just a regularly used alternative, akin to ‘see you later’ or ‘cheerio’ – I don’t believe anyone says cheerio anymore except my Gran, but it’s still an alternative!

It was exhausting.  But it gets better and more comfortable and after a while, like with anywhere else in the world, you adapt and you learn and you stop asking people if they’re all right, unless they’re red or blotchy.

There are also significant benefits to being ‘new in the country’.

When a joke doesn’t go over well:  ‘That would’ve killed in the UK’ – no it wouldn’t have but no one has to know.

When you accidently swear in the workplace: ‘oh that’s not rude in England’ or ‘I’m going to start saying bloody more, it’s so cute’.

It’s an excellent chance to practice all of your regional accents and to incorporate any regional slang you wanted to make your own but couldn’t before.  I used to live in Nottingham where everyone calls you ‘duck’.  But being from Gloucestershire I always wanted to refer to everyone as duck but felt a fraud. Not in Canada! Ducks are EVERYWHERE here!  And no one says I sound like a farmer and I can convincingly say things like, ‘I sound just like Fiona Bruce’ (BBC News presenter and host of Antiques Roadshow), and next to nobody knows who that is, so it might as well be true.

It’s also a great chance to hear about parts of your own country you’ve:

  1. Never heard of
  2. Never been to

Almost everyone has a UK story, just as everyone in the UK has a Canada story.

‘My sister lives in England, Norwich – I visited once, lovely place’

I’m not even sure where Norwich is.  I’m sure it’s lovely.  I don’t know.  But I still thank them for calling Norwich, a place I have no connection to, lovely and reinforce the notion.

‘Thank you! I’ve not been, but I’ve heard it is, indeed, lovely’ – from you, because you just told me.  It could be a terrible place.  I don’t know.  The whole of the East is a mystery to me.  If it even is East.  There is no pride in my lack of knowledge of Britain.  However I’ve been learning more from completing the county quiz on Sporcle in my free time.

There’s also times when you forget you’re abroad – which are some of my favourite times because that’s when I realise I’m starting to feel like I stand out less, and you forget that you should maybe try and adapt to the language you’re in.

‘I’m just nipping to the loo’

‘I’ll pop it in the rubbish’

‘I was just in the lift when…’

Sometimes there’s confusion, other times there’s a look of pure endearment.  My boss regularly says things like, ‘you can ask me anything with that accent’.  Not secured a raise yet though.

Initially, it can be daunting and tiring and it can also feel like people are being somehow insincere with you.  Or, you can become suspicious of what message is trying to be communicated.  Just ride this wave of uncertainty.  Add a layer to that thick British, or otherwise, accent of yours and embrace this new cultural change.  I imagine that this whole experience would be 50 – 100 times worse if English wasn’t my first language.  Generally, I’ve found that everyone is so keen to help here and if you get confused, just ask!! Who doesn’t love a little chat about comparing how you say things.  Just remember it’s AL-U-MIN-I-UM and OREG-AAH-NO. 🙂

 

IEC: Your New Currency

One of the trickiest parts of moving to a new country is navigating the currency.  I tell you now, that you need to try and see past the adorable beaver on the 5 cents, and the fact that a toonie is so named due to a singular dollar having a loon bird on it.  The toonie actually has polar bears on it.  This is your money now.

It can be quite satisfying (if you’re a brit – prior to potential Brexit) popping your currency into the Google currency exchange and seeing how many thousands of dollars your one thousand pounds is worth. This is a short lived luxury when you arrive and realise that you now have a limited supply of those pounds.  It’s easy for the first couple of weeks to get by halving everything and thinking that products are generally cheaper or similarly priced to back home, except this changes when you start to work and live in dollars all the time.

Value the Canadian Dollar for what it is not how many pounds it could be

You need to start seeing the Canadian dollar for what it is; not compared to anything else.  Think about in the UK, you know that a pound (frantically searches Canadian keyboard for pound sign to find it is not there ☹), is probably not enough to grab a decent sandwich at Tesco, you know that a pound might snag you a cheapy coffee somewhere and that it should buy you at least a chocolate bar.

You need to establish these cues in Canada immediately, before you find yourself converting your wages into pounds in order to calculate your monthly budget on groceries per pound. It doesn’t work, will stress you out and you’ll end up spending more money than you need to. Stop it.

In Downtown Toronto,  3 bags of milk (approximately 3 litres) is around $4.27.  A good deal on bread is 2/$5.  Chicken can be ridiculously expensive, I’ve seen $23 for 4 chicken breasts!

Do not view the Canadian dollar as the equivalent to your home currency

Avoiding this can be way harder than it sounds because this is absolutely how we operate on holiday and in the beginning, you’ll probably feel a little like you’re on holiday, we convert what we need and spend our holiday figuring out how much these flip flops were in pounds – what a deal! When you live in a new country, you can’t do this , because you can’t go home and make more of your home currency, or you can, but it would be very inconvenient.  You’re making Canadian currency now, so you need to work entirely in Canadian.  

Do not start trying to buy milk for $1 because it won’t happen. This is not Asda, this is Loblaws.  This is not Tesco, it is Sobey’s. This is your new grocery shop mantra.  You’ll also get really depressed at the conversion and will quickly decide you can never buy anything.  It’s difficult, and it will mean that your budgets are off for a while.   

Aside from groceries, working this way can screw you over in terms of rent, and the wages you’ll accept.  A 1 bedroom condo in downtown Toronto is approximately $1500-1800 a month in the downtown core, so based on the rule that your rent shouldn’t be more than 30% of your income you need to ideally make 5000 a month to cover it. Or live with someone else.  

Now, this also works in reverse.  “$45 for a shirt!!” I hear you cry – thinking in pounds. This happens to me a lot! You are allowed to think a little about the conversion here, but only to keep you on track in terms of allowing yourself new clothes. A good way to cope and help to find those cues is to start to thinking in number of hours you work per item. If you’re on minimum wage, then a shirt is about 4 hours work. That’s a good reference point to go by.  How many hours is this shirt – a strange but effective question to always keep in mind.  

The minimum wage here in Ontario is about $11.25 an hour. Be thinking about that milk & rent price in comparison. $11.25 is not 11 pounds 25.  Nor is it almost 6 pounds.  It is 2 lots of milk bags and maybe some M&Ms.  

Compare all the time, but switch currencies as little as possible.

TAX is sometimes included, and sometimes not

This is not a reason to not total your grocery shop as you go along.  HST in Ontario is about 13% so add about 15% (because that maths is way easier) and settle in for a nice surprise at the checkout, rather than the nightmare of not doing so. Classic experiences I have had have included preparing the correct change to find I owe the cashier an extra $1.65.  Fun.   Sometimes however, you will be expecting to pay extra for tax and have find that it was already included on your way round.  Hooray!

Things that are weirdly expensive:

  • Chicken, as previously mentioned
  • Makeup wipes, for some reason, feel extortionately priced, I have recently discovered that Winners do some excellent deals on makeup wipes –and they don’t burn your face off or anything!
  • Shoes! I am yet to find the equivalent Primark/New Look kinds of deals on shoes, however as it’s currently summer Ardene do some lovely flip flop/sandal basic shoes. So those are an option, also, H&M do a bigger range of shoes here in Ontario than in the UK.
  • Microwaves – just try and buy this handy appliance for less than $100. Would recommend Canadian Tire/Costco/Walmart for your hunt.

Weirdly cheap

  • This is generally food based because eating out feels a bit cheaper here. Tim Hortons for example is excellent for a snappy breakfast on the go. E.g my rushed breakfast this morning consisted of an  Iced Coffee and a Cream Cheese bagel coming to the hefty total of $4! Timmie’s is a great spot to rely on in your first weeks in the country because there are so many of them and they are usually an excellent deal.  It’s also one of those truly Canadian institutions, with Tim Horton himself being an NHL’er with the Toronto Maple Leafs back in the ‘60s.   Speak to any Canadian about this and they will know all about Tim – this mainly happened to me while on my flight over.  The tale of Tim Horton + the tale of his company is actually a really interesting one, despite partially marred by tragedy, but I digress.
  • Elaborate cakes.  Basically in all of the supermarkets I’ve been in there is a gorgeous section in Bakery, full of really ornate gorgeous cupcakes and cakes.  Cupcakes are around $2-3 each and cakes are anything from $9-20 up.  It’s incredible and will quickly become an essential.

 

Extra Money Info

  • Tipping is far more part of the culture here.  It’s pretty common to tip with each drink you buy at a bar and between 15-20% at restaurants.  You also tip at the hairdressers, in taxis and especially when you order take-out.  You can tip online when you get delivery here which brings up a whole new interesting debate of whether to tip when the driver arrives or online.
  • Canada is phasing out pennies, so while if you pay by debit or credit you’ll still pay 57c or the .99, if you’re paying by cash it’s normally rounded up or down – so try not to hang around for your penny change, it’s not coming.  However, if you do score a penny, they’re quite cute and have little maple leaves on!

IEC: International Experience Canada

My IEC Experience began back in late 2014 with the announcement that the first round of visas would be released in late January.  I think I remember this correctly – 2015 participants, let me know if I’m wrong.

So, the day the visas would be released was only announced two days before, so you can either rely on yourself to spend every day from around the 10th January checking the  IEC website or you can turn to a great and incredible forum – Experience Canada, or a more recent discovery, the IEC Facebook group.  Both are really supportive and exciting environments where all of us (soon to be) expats get together and talk everything from health insurance, to application panic, to hey – check out the blog I wrote about my experience!

When the day finally came, I was lucky that I’d already prepared everything – putting a resume into the CIC prescribed format is one of the most antagonising things I’ve ever done.  Cue visions of the visa processing office putting their fingers between my spaces and wondering what level of security risk radical I was for tapping the spacebar twice after finishing a sentence instead of one.  I would recommend that if you know you’re going to apply, keep as many documents as you can handy and prepared at all times.  Dropbox is a godsend! Especially because I was at work when the quota opened.  

I understand that the IEC 2016 application has changed this year so the experience wasn’t so akin to trying to buy hotly anticipated concert tickets, the Canadian government adopted a more pool style recruitment method – please do let me know how that was though!

Anyway, I’ve decreed myself a firsthand expert on the following: the application experience, the arrival, the apartment hunt, the job hunt (some tips for being unemployed here), opening bank accounts, home internet and a phone, then the actual life experiences like, the value of a dollar, making friends, culture shock, the surprise language barrier and homesickness, sports, places to go in Toronto and how to find out about places to go in Toronto, managing the weather, the Beaches, the Island, the postal system, the public transit, things people will ask you, things you should ask them, books that make the expat life easier and finally the food.  So, this is a fully fledged, blog series aimed to be published over the next 8-10 weeks or so (life depending) about how to move to Canada with a slight definite focus on the experience of Toronto.

So, sign up & follow along for all of the insider info and little guiding light to lead you on your way.  Also, absolutely comment any questions you have, I’m pretty much an open book about whole process!