By Joanna Samuels

By applying these eight recommendations, I have helped countless newcomers to Canada build their careers – in their chosen fields

Client: Is Canadian experience really required for getting a job in my field in Canada? I am new to Canada and am looking for work in accounting. I have been interviewed several times, and the feedback is that I do not have enough Canadian experience. My Microsoft Excel, QuickBooks and other technical skills are top-notch. These are required for the jobs. What is going on here?

Over the years, I have discussed this common complaint of our newcomer clients with other career professionals, job developers and coaches in community agencies as well as several employers from all industries with whom I collaborate. The general consensus from the front-line is that Canadian experience is not vital to getting a job in one’s field in Canada, other than a few cases in highly regulated fields such as engineering, medicine, law, chartered accounting and architecture. However, the staffing employment agencies who have a fee-for-service business model often require Canadian experience as demanded by their “clients” (employers).

To support this consensus, I have heard from countless hiring managers that they recognize and value international experience. Of course, as with every selection process, add the recruiters, it is critical that the client have the skills and qualifications required for the position. There are some cases in which I have read a job description that requires Canadian experience, and I have spoken to employers who are specific that they are looking for candidates with Canadian experience.

Some employers have explained to me that the phrase “lack of Canadian experience” is often code from the interviewer that the candidate will not fit into the workplace or team culture. In addition, this feedback can also be code for “you do not have the technical or soft skills we are looking for.” Often this means that the candidate is not communicating (verbally and non-verbally) and not properly prepared to handle the interview questions, especially the behavioural interview. Another employer remarked that Canadian experience was important because his company’s projects required extensive teamwork as defined by the Canadian workplace cultural norms. He felt that newcomers were used to a different way of working together. It is challenging to figure out the workplace culture. This applies to everyone looking for work in the job market. This is a subjective criterion for hiring a candidate, but research demonstrates that likeability is key when interviewers make hiring decisions.

Here are eight suggestions for career professionals on how to tackle this obstacle facing your newcomer and/or internationally trained clients with their efforts to build their careers in Canada:

1. Prepare.

Together with your client, prepare a sector-specific and targeted resume and cover letter, and interview presentation and social media profile, especially on LinkedIn. Research the company, their website, the job descriptions, and identify the hiring managers who would be interested in your client’s skills, experience and education. Learn the values, the workplace culture and the nature of the business by helping your client arrange information interviews, connecting with a mentor and engaging in sector associations. Use social media resources such as LinkedIn and Twitter to do this.

2. Communicate.

Teach your client how to articulate his or her skills, experiences, projects and talents in a clear, concise and effective way for both networking and interviewing purposes. Role play with your client so he or she can practice interview skills. There are government-funded specialized employment programs for newcomers to Canada such as Enhanced Language Training programs that might be worth exploring for your clients at sector-specific employment programs for newcomers.

3. Look for internships or placements.

Some newcomer jobseekers report that taking an opportunity to get Canadian experience, even if it’s nominally paid (or even unpaid) may be worth it. They are able to acquire hands-on experience that is critical for their resume and LinkedIn profile, keep their skills fresh and updated, build a professional network and hopefully obtain references and sometimes even paid employment, eventually. One source of local placements for newcomers is provided by Career Edge in Toronto. Some Enhanced Language Training (ELT) programs offer co-op placements.

4. Secure a mentor.

Linking your client up with a professional in their field can be a very effective way to make contacts and learn about the local labour market. TRIEC’s The Mentoring Partnership, is a great resource for this.

5. Consider evaluating your credentials and degrees.

Figuring out how your client’s credentials are evaluated in Canada can help to add to their credibility and competitiveness. Information on this process can be found at This evaluation can be included in the resume under “Education” as: “evaluated by…. as equivalent to a Canadian Master’s degree…”

6. Build a professional network.

Since over 80% of the jobs in the labour market are hidden and can only be found through connections. It is critical that new immigrants (or any jobseeker, for that matter) network as much as possible through social media, associations, trade shows, conferences, career fairs and employer events, so to learn from and mingle with professionals in their field. Be sure to advise your client that the networking continues even after he or she secures employment!

7. Volunteer.

Although many of the newcomer clients that I worked with were hesitant about working for free, in our culture, giving back to the community is a value. It shows good citizenship to the employer in addition to helping your client help others, build his or her network, and sometimes gain a reference and experience. If possible, the client should find volunteer opportunities in his or her field (or close to it). If that is not possible, advise your client to spend time in a meaningful environment and meet people who might be in a position to refer them to others or to jobs. Once you come to an interview with a recommendation, your lack of local experience is less likely to be an issue.

8. Seek out Canada’s best diversity employers.

In an article in The Globe and Mail’s Ask a Recruiter column, Julie Labrie suggests that newcomers do research to identify organizations that lead the way in hiring diversely, such as the annual list of 100 companies that are Canada’s Best Diversity Employers. “See if companies in your field made those lists. Explore companies that market their services to the new-to-Canada segment, too. Many industries, including the financial and telecom sectors, are serving the immigrant population as a key part of their business strategy. Also consider applying for relevant government jobs related to your past experience,” she explains.

By applying the above eight recommendations in my practice over the past 11 years, I have helped countless newcomers to Canada build their careers here in their chosen fields. Further, I have educated many employers to focus on the strengths of the candidates regardless of their background rather than the lacking as good business drivers. I consider this as best practice and the strategies can be applied to any client looking for work in this competitive and complex labour market.


Joanna Samuels, MEd, CMF, RRP, is an Employment Resource Specialist at She has over 11 years of experience providing supported and customized employment/career coaching, job development, facilitation and program co-ordination to diverse unemployed and underemployed jobseekers in the community. Samuels is also a certified Life Skills Coach, certified Personality Dimensions Facilitator, and part-time instructor of employment counselling with George Brown College’s Certificate of Community Mental Health program.